Alex Giosa's setup for You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Cirillo Summer Theatre, in Windsor, Connecticut.
Alex's write-up and gear list below photos.
Above: Read below to find out what Alex is doing.
"After a year and a half of little to no work at all, it’s great to be back in the orchestra pit doing what I love!! To me, it’s also great that my first show back is at the Cirillo Summer Theater, a youth theater in the Connecticut town where I grew up. I tried my hand at acting there when I was in high school before joining the orchestra pit on a last minute basis to cover for a drummer who couldn’t make a few shows. After that first experience, I was hooked. Taking over the drum chair in the years that followed helped me to absorb a lot knowledge in the art of musical theater orchestra pit playing; knowledge that helped me to work my way up to subbing for Andres Forero on the Broadway show Hamilton starting back in 2019.
The show this summer is the 1999 revival version of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I’ve been a Peanuts fanatic for most of my life, so this show has been on my bucket list for a long time. I sung along to many of the songs as a kid, so I was already familiar with some of the music long before I got the book.
I’ve heard a lot of divided opinions on this next subject from other pit musicians, but whenever I play a pre-existing book, I always reference cast recordings to try to understand the feel of the show. Joe Mowatt’s drumming on the 1999 revival cast recording is groovy, bouncy, and tons of fun, so I wanted to try to capture as much of that vibe as I could. I spent a couple of days in the practice room figuring out parts and setting up the rig in order to come prepared to the first rehearsal.
One thing that I feel is important to point out is that a lot of these community and youth theaters operate on extremely small budgets. Because of this, my colleagues and I often have to adapt to fill multiple rolls in order to help some shows get off the ground. For example, in addition to playing drums for this production, I also handle the sound design, mix the monitors for the pit and actors, help out with the sets, and deal with the sound effects. Because of these added responsibilities (as well as limited space in the pit) I handed off the vibraphone parts to the Keyboard 2 player so that I could be freed up to deal with other stuff. It’s not always ideal, but it gets the job done and allows us to do a lot with a little.
On the subject of sound effects, there are a lot of them in this show and some can be quite comical. I use a mix of 'analog' and digital technology to pull them off. Some items, like slide whistles and wood blocks, are pretty standard. Some are a little more unique, like a duck quack effect that I got a few years back when I took a duck boat tour of Boston.
Whatever sound effects I can’t produce acoustically, I program and trigger from a Yamaha DTX Multi 12. After going back and watching some old Peanuts cartoons for inspiration, I set out to either find sounds on the internet, or make them myself. Some sounds, like alarm clocks and school bells, are pretty easy to find. Some sounds, however, needed to be created or modified to achieve the desired effect. I was able to come up with a great cartoon punch sound effect by layering a couple of realistic punch sounds with a synth bass drum sample and the 'woosh' of a dowel being whipped through the air, pitched down to simulate a flying fist. When I get the timing right with action on stage, I can hear the audience laugh!
My favorite sound effect for this show, by far, is the sound of the teacher talking. It’s an iconic sound from the cartoon. I was planning on ripping some sounds straight from the cartoon, but then it came out in a rehearsal that our Keyboard 1 player used to play trombone in high school and still had one lying around. He brought it in and, although he doesn’t play anymore, he still has just enough of his chops left to 'voice' the teacher every night!
Another fun effect that I get to use in this show is the old pitch bending of the floor tom trick. The instructions in the book tell you to tighten and loosen the floor tom head with your hand while playing it. I found this to be a little cumbersome, so I bought some vinyl tubing and stuck it in the vent hole on the side of the floor tom. Blowing into it stretches the drum head and raises the pitch. I was actually very surprised at how high I could raise the pitch of the drum, and it makes for a really cool effect when Snoopy is swooping through the clouds in pursuit of The Red Baron! Some World War I airplane sounds from the DTX complete the scene.
Thank you for reading! I hope that I was able to provide a little insight into what makes some of these small community theater productions happen. To those who love doing this as much as I do, I wish you all a safe return to theater. Play with heart, intent, creativity…and have fun!!"
- SonorLite drums
- Sonor Vintage Series snare drum
- Sabian Artisan and HHX cymbals
- Pearl Eliminator pedal
- Musser glockenspiel
- LP Cowbell
- LP Blue Jam Block
- RhythmTech Hat Trick
- RhythmTech Barbells Bell Tree
- TreeWorks Classic Chimes
- Grover Pro Miller Machine with Black Swamp Triangle
- Slide Whistle
- Duck Quack
- Yamaha DTX Multi 12 (timpani, chimes, SFX)
- Yamaha 01V (for mixing monitors for the cast and pit)
Sticks and Mallets:
- Vic Firth
- Innovative Percussion
Alex Giosa is a freelance drummer/percussionist with over twenty years of experience on his instrument. Fluent in many styles and on a wide variety of percussion instruments, Alex began studying percussion at age six. He continued his studies through high school, where he played in several ensembles, formed his own musical group, and also played in the orchestra pit for his town's summer theater.
After attending Western Connecticut State University where he studied orchestral percussion, Alex changed his focus to drumset and began playing everything from rock and pop, to jazz and Afro-Cuban music. Eventually, he found a home working in the professional theater scene from New York to Massachusetts.
In addition to holding chairs in several regional theaters, he has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and is currently a sub drummer on Broadway's Hamilton: An American Musical. He also continues to study, teach, and is beyond grateful for every musical opportunity that comes his way!