Les Misérables has held a tremendous presence in my life over the past several months, and the experience was incredible. As a member of the pit orchestra for my school’s production of Les Miserables, we held our finale performance this past weekend.
One of the things I loved most about the pit was being able to play and listen to every song in the soundtrack (all 2 1/2 hours of it), an advantage you usually don’t get in the cast. Within the music, there were plenty of defining moments (usually in the main melodies) where I found so much confidence and triumph, and would get very expressive and joyous in my playing. That feeling was amazing.
And even then, I could really appreciate playing the smaller melodies that serve as the backbone of the play, especially with the accompanying vocals (which were phenomenal). The soundtrack as a whole is wonderful.
So, I’ve chosen a few of my favorite songs from the play, all for various reasons. Here they are:
I Dreamed a Dream
Perhaps the piece I was most sentimental about playing, I go into full detail about what I love about one of the most prominent pieces of the play here.
Look Down (Prologue)
This piece is part of the perfect opening to the play, and the rhythmic, brass-driven melody is a really grand and heartening beginning, especially when playing the music. It really gave me a feeling of, “this is it” and “this is going to be great”, especially since, as a viola, we didn’t play in this section and got to listen to the melody.
Come To Me (Fantine’s Death)
This slow, sad melody is beautiful, and the emotional compassion displayed by the characters is so powerful and heartbreaking. Imagine playing it.
These qualities were also present in Castle on a Cloud and On My Own, two other exceptional pieces from the musical.
A Heart Full of Love
This piece was full of compassion and warmth, and just a joy to play in general.
Do You Hear the People Sing
The chorus alone is so pretty in the first place, and as it crescendoes along with brass and strings, the track is so passionate and compelling. In the string section, we have a very rhythmic part, but I loved playing those sections, as you got to really feel the inner workings of the song, and get a chance to listen to the melodies around you.
At the End of the Day
This is also a great chorus piece. The triumphant, fast, and uplifting beginning is amazing to play and listen to, yet the piece itself constantly changes tone to be sharp and solemn. It’s yet another masterpiece of Les Miserables.
Master of the House
Easily the most entertaining song of the musical. The witty humor of the vocals is amazing, and the soundtrack is staccato yet really uplifting. What was really great as part of the pit is being able to just listen to the music at the beginning (we had a lot of fun with that), and then play the core melody itself not only later in the song but in reprises as well. This was the song I most looked forward to playing, and the ‘tag’ aspect of the play made it even better (where the Orchestra played by itself during a transition).
Speaking of reprises, this piece serves as a reprise of primarily Look Down. The vocals were what really struck me, especially given the relationship between Javert and ValJean. The part that I felt had the most emotion, though, was the small yet significant reprise of I Dreamed a Dream. The violins play this part in a key that is so tender.
What I also loved about the reprises is that many of my favorite songs from Act 1 (like Master of the House and Red and Black) reappeared in small portions in the much more despondent Act 2, which left much to look forward to near the end of the play.
Red and Black
This piece is just so powerful. Between the brass at the beginning and the Orchestral harmony that closely follows the vocals, it’s another very strong moment in the soundtrack not only to play but to hear.
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Shivers. Heartbreaking. The slow melody and the despairing solo vocals are what make this piece a tear-jerker.
This piece is incredibly sad, and the opening lines are heart-wrenching after everything that has happened up to that point, especially as someone who is familiar with the play and the music already. It felt like the right way to end the play, and even incorporated reprises of other pieces to contrive a powerful and effective end to the story.
One Day More
I would have to say this is the hardest piece to play because of the constant, fast-paced eighth notes that we had to play, but it also served as the song that most improved my playing abilities and techniques. That’s just one way Les Misérables positively affected me.
This was also the most emotional piece for me, since we played it (in addition to the Act 1 Finale) for our bows, so after One Day More, c’est la fin. At that point, it didn’t matter for the audience, who was drowning us out with applause for the cast, but for the Orchestra, it was so powerful, especially at the last performance. It was incredibly emotional.
There were many other notable pieces in Les Miserables, Javert’s Suicide, Bring Him Home, Stars, Who Am I, and On My Own, to name a few, that I loved so much.
Les Misérables will be an experience that I cherish for so long, and I look forward to continuing to express my love for theater in the future.