Snapshot: Musical Instruments in YEOMEN


(guitar) (guitar) Hi, everybody, I’m Jesse Baldwin and I
play Charming Yeoman, in The Yeomen of the Guard here at the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival and I’m also the band leader for the show which means that I corral
the orchestra and make sure that we faithfully replicate the score at each
performance . The Yeomen of the Guard is a lesser-known opera of Gilbert and
Sullivan and one of their best collaborations musically and it really
lends itself to this country western adaptation. And the score is essentially
Gilbert and Sullivan played by an acoustic string band and so the score
itself has been stripped away of the French horns and the cellos and the
timpani and replaced with guitars and banjos and mandolins and fiddles and
all that fun stuff. All the actors had play an instrument behind the score and many of them were
coming to these instruments for the first time and so we had to learn how to
put together a country-western song. So in a typical Gilbert and Sullivan
opera you’ll have a lot of pieces: your string section, your horn section your timpani collaborating together to create
the rhythm of the show and instead, in this particular production, we have
guitars as the essential driving instrument that under pins pretty much
the entire score. So another instrument that helps propel
the rhythm in this show is the baritone ukulele. We have a couple different ukuleles in
the show. This, in particular. is a baritone and baritone ukulele is
actually strung like the bottom four strings of a guitar. You have a D string, a G-string, B string
and an E string. You can play it like a guitar just without the top two strings. It’s very
easy to wrap your head around if you have any familiarization with a guitar. We also have a pair of banjos in the
show. This is a traditional five-string banjo that you hear a lot in bluegrass music. Then we also have a unique instrument
that is one of our rhythm instruments that is played by Jan Point in the show
and this is a ban-gitar, also known as a guit- joe and it’s a guitar banjo hybrid.
The ban-gitar, is actually strung like a a guitar and so it’s familiar to guitar
players, kind of like the baritone ukulele. You play the chords like you’re
playing guitar chords but you get the banjo sound. That was a sweet lick. The
instrument that we get the most questions about in the show is this
fellow here, a bass ukulele. It’s got the body
similar to a baritone ukulele, smaller than a guitar but bigger than a soprano
ukulele but it has these polyurethane strings
which are huge and rubbery, and it gives you these great bass undertones. But people always wonder, where is the
bassist? They don’t look at this instrument and
think, oh you’ve got these low notes. So people come up to us at intermission and ask “Do you have
a bassist hiding behind the house, there?” It has such a deep, rumbly tone. So once we got the foundation laid with
the rhythm instruments–the guitars, the banjos, the ban-gitars, the ukuleles and
bass ukeleles, we were able to start layering on some lead instruments to
provide a little bit of harmony and texture to the show overall. And while we do have a couple
instruments that were originally in the Yeomen of the Guard score that Gilbert
and Sullivan wrote, we actually have a clarinet and a flute
in the show as well as a violin. We also have a fiddle which is pretty
much the same instrument, just played in a slightly different way. We have a mandolin, which is also in the
fiddle family. It’s strung the same way, just with twice the strings with frets
and a different style of playing. Another instrument that we get a lot of
questions about is the dobro. A dobro is in the same family as lap steels and pedal
steels. These are instruments that are played with a slide and with a slightly
elevated fretboard played through a resonator cone inside a guitar body. And
so what you do is you get interesting twangy tones that you will immediately
associate with country. (plays) How’s that? So we would learn the chords, the
articulation and then you had to get to a point where you just had to forget
all about what your hands were doing so you can concentrate on singing. (Plays) So that’s a brief introduction to the
musical instruments in Yeomen of the Guard. We also have some percussion instruments
in the show. There’s a toy drum, there are some musical spoons. There’s a washboard
that’s played with thimbles, and then we also have an accordion, and we also have
a musical saw in the show which I won’t explain too much. You’ll just have to
come and see what it is. (plays)