It’s been a very productive summer thus far for The Orchard School choir and theater director Dustin Klein. First there was his early July trip to New York City to attend a four day Broadway Teachers Workshop. And shortly after his return he attended the Feinstein Foundation Songbook Academy competition last week which included a masterclass, performer’s showcase and finals concert, all of which were held at Carmel’s Palladium. Both of these professional development opportunities were especially timely for Klein because prior to his New York trip he began work on his first musical
Recently Klein sat down with atombash.com at his far northwest home to talk about his recent experiences and his newest project, which is a natural progression for the 37-year educator who has taught at Orchard for 13 years.
Originally from Noblesville, Klein said that he “developed a passion for music through my mother, who was one my biggest influences. She always filled the house with old records of musicals, great singers of the American Songbook including Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand. She even purchased a piano for me when I was 13. I grew up doing talent shows in the house and she supported my interest in piano lessons and my desire to study music as a career. My high school vocal teacher, Debbie Wittstein, also influenced me to teach and direct.”
Klein graduated from Indiana State University with a Bachelor of Music Education degree in Choral/General Music in 2002 and then went on to obtain his Master of Music degree in Music History from Butler University in 2010. He was chosen twice as one of 25 teachers nationally for the National Endowment for the Humanities institutes to study music in Vienna, Austria, and throughout Germany in both 2008 and in 2014.
A pianist, Klein, whose favorite composers include Debussy, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and American George Gershwin, also coaches private voice and piano lessons.
Klein’s tentative plan is for the musical to have its Indianapolis premier at the 2016 IndyFringe Festival. It is based on the life of sculptor Alexander Calder with the working title “Calder: The Musical.” In the meantime, a scaled down version will be created and performed by his Orchard students this fall. The lyricist for “Calder” and Klein’s overall collaborator on the musical is this writer.
Does Klein have any illusions about creating a musical? “I am sure that I will learn a great deal throughout this creative process. I have written two adaptations of children’s musical plays for Orchard, but realize that is much different from a full scale musical designed for adults,” he said.
Considering that Klein had begun the process of writing “Calder” it was indeed fortuitous that he was able to attend the series of workshops which provided training for 200 teachers selected from across the country. Conducted by some of Broadway’s leading professionals, a few of the workshops attended by Klein were “Directing Scene Work,” “New Musicals in the Making,” “Directing Song” and “A Path to Broadway.”
According to Klein, his favorite workshops were with the “Story Pirates,” a group known for their highly entertaining adaptations of stories created by students, and “Singing Cole Porter: Musical Theatre Song Interpretation” about which Klein said, “I hope to bring what I learned into my music classes and focus on the importance of Cole Porter especially because he is from Indiana. A lot of young people don’t even know who he is and that is truly sad. David Loud, a music director who led the workshop, nearly started crying at the end because he said, ‘I hope if you all take away from this workshop one thing it is that you help this history live on for the next generation. These genius classics that were written can’t be lost.’ I think we have to make sure we honor those pieces.”
In addition to the workshops, Klein and his colleagues also saw five Broadway shows which featured Q & As afterwards with cast members. Shows seen were “An American in Paris,” “Something Rotten,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “Kinky Boots” and “The King and I” at Lincoln Center.
On his own, Klein also saw “On the Town,” with a cast that included Indianapolis native and friend Cory Lingner “It was really well done. It was my favorite show and also the first one I saw during my trip. Since the show is set in New York, it reminded me of when I saw ‘Mary Poppins’ in London, the city where that story actually takes place. I was impressed that “On The Town” was so relatable. Of course I love the ‘40s and that is the reason why I probably loved it so much. Also, Leonard Bernstein’s music is remarkable. He is a musical genius,” said Klein.
Asked how he benefited from seeing the shows, Klein said, “They inspired me and challenged me to new levels of performance. They were perfection and so top of the line. It makes me want to aim higher.”
In terms of his own project, Klein was asked if seeing the shows helped him feel confident about creating a musical, to which he replied, “Absolutely. I think it gave me more of an idea about what works for an audience. I think that is something I have a good awareness of…what people like. I hope audiences can be fascinated by his (Calder’s) imagination as an artist. My goal is for the audience to experience the magical feeling that I did when reading the children’s book, ‘Sandy’s Circus’ upon which the show will be adapted.”
As mentioned previously, Klein also attended the Great American Songbook Academy competition. It was sponsored by the Great American Songbook Foundation and featured 40 high school students from 16 states participating in events that included a masterclass conducted by founder Michael Feinstein and Broadway star Laura Osnes, both of whom Klein met backstage afterwards. Coinciding with his goal “to create a general appreciation, if not further the passion for some, in theatre and music” Klein said the competition also demonstrated how “very important for the next generation it is to cherish different styles. I hope I can make my students open, besides what is currently popular, to such music as that of Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter and Gershwin.” About the competition, Klein also said he “was gratified to see that those talented young people were so passionate about and willing to carry on the music the American Songbook.”
When asked to sum up what he hoped his legacy as a teacher would be and what his future might hold, Klein said, “I hope that I will be remembered for helping kids feel that they could reach their dreams in the musical and theatrical world. I care most about making a difference in lives through teaching, which is what I am doing right now. I have found that teaching is one of the hardest, but most rewarding professions. Teaching is one of the most important jobs in the world, and sometimes least appreciated by American society. At the same time, I have always had extended dreams of working in show business so I hope to pursue my other passions as an artist, performer, or songwriter in order to inspire and leave my contribution for others to enjoy.”
For information The Orchard School visit www.orchard.org.