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How to give nuns starting notes in The Sound of Music

I am assisting with a community theatre production of "The Sound of Music." We have about 20 nuns ages 15-70, mostly inexperienced singers. We are struggling with two places in the musical where the nuns must start a piece a cappella. They are already onstage both times, so it is hard for someone to unobtrusively give notes with a pitch pipe such that everyone can hear, and it is critically important that they be spot-on, because the accompaniment track comes in part way through and will reveal if we are not in the right key! We are using the Rodgers and Hammerstein accompaniment tracks and have checked with the company if they can provide any supplemental accompaniment/cues, and they cannot. We also want to find something that will blend seamlessly into the rest of the accompaniment so the audience will be none the wiser that something was insterted just for the nuns to find their notes!
 
1) The scene where Maria is preparing for her wedding: The track plays a sort of modal version of "My Favorite Things," and then fades out. The nuns (already onstage) break into "Gaudeamus" starting on a big C major chord. (One idea we have had for this is to replay the chapel bells recording from Act 1 where an E chimes three times, and find our notes from that).
 
2) The "Finale Ultimo": Mother Abbess quotes Scripture to the VonTrapps while the nuns begin "Climb Every Mountain" on "ahh." The accompaniment comes in at "Follow every rainbow..." 
 
Has anyone encountered this issue before? If so, what solution did you find? We would welcome any ideas! Thanks!
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on June 14, 2014 8:27am
We did live chapel bells for all the cues; much more effective than anything else I've tried.
 
Hope that helps.
Michael A. Gray
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 15, 2014 4:13am
Hi Heidi -
We did chimes from the pit. Your chapel bells idea is great!
Best wishes,
Mike
on June 15, 2014 5:27am
You can also use hand bells or hand chimes to sound the actual notes which you might be able to borrow from a local church.  Hand chimes are gentle and unobstrusive and could be played just offstage but even if heard by audience would fit into the show.  If they are inexperienced singers, trying to locate their notes from the E might be difficult even though it is a C major chord.  Otherwise, repeating chapel bells would be your best bet.
Catherine
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 15, 2014 10:41am
I'll double-ditto that on the hand chimes.  Very simple, doesn't require a whole lot of knowledge, just ring it out several times offstage in the wings...
 
Ron 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 29, 2014 8:53am
Thank you to everyone for the suggestions! As we didn't have any access to hand chimes, we ended up using a recorded chapel bell sound giving the root of the starting chord before each piece, (chimed three times) and did lots of practice with the nuns on finding their notes from that one. We also had the assistant director up in the tech booth with a light pointed at him conducting so the nuns could see him back there over the audience members' heads and keep together. That helped a great deal. After some weeks of messy rehearsals, it was so gratifying to get many compliments on the quality of the nuns' sound. It really turned out beautifully and was a wonderful, memorable production!
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