• Drum Set and Percussion Setups from Musical Theatre and More

Les Miserables - Regional - Don Sanderson

Don Sanderson's setup for The Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of Les Miserables in Orlando Florida.

"The book also calls for a scrape across a wind gong and because I don't own one I used my 20” Zildjian K Flat Ride. I tipped it sideways like a hanging gong and it works fine."

“Developing this setup took a bit of thought. I was very thankful to see the setups of Guy Gauthreaux, Jason Degenhardt, Alex Sikorski, and Michael Blancaflor on the Miller Machine's setups gallery. Billy Miller saved me much work in creating my setup by providing me with pictures of other percussionists who’ve done this show before. Unlike the previously mentioned percussionists, I am not a trained legitimate orchestral player. I am primarily a drum set player so the challenge of incorporating the almost 30 different sounds in the book took some creativity. A suggestion to anyone who tries the more electronic approach is make 28 separate kits in your drum brain. I edited the names of factory kits and spent two days changing sounds to accommodate most of what each song required. At the end of each number I quickly advance the brain to the next kit and knew that my required toms and such were all ready to go.

The book has a significant amount of timpani work in it. I don't own timpani, and the limited size of the pit would have prevented me from using even if I had. Fortunately, I do own a malletKAT which I used for the timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone and chimes.

The book calls for concert toms and Rototoms. I owned a set of three Rototoms when I was 16 but sold them years ago. I didn't want to buy another set on eBay for just one show, so I opted to used Roland V Pads with a TD-6 brain. There was a large assortment of tom sounds in this brain and it accommodated all my needs. The director and musical director were not exceedingly picky about the sounds I chose. I had found a tom sound that sounded like a Rototom but the directors said just stick with one tom sound for everything.

I put the Gran Cassa on my Roland KD-120 with a foot pedal and used the concert bass drum sound from the TD-6 Sound Module. I also put the Gran Cassa on a Roland PD-7 Pad and my PD-105 V-Pad so when the book required rolls I played on those pads. I put it on two different pads depending on which kit I was in. If it was a kit where all my Roland Pads were toms I used an additional pad normally used for rimshots and such. However, if I was in a kit setup with no toms, I played the rolls on my PD-105 V-Pad that was in my floor tom position because the mesh head allowed me to get a more refined roll. The PD-7 is a rubber pad so there is not as much subtlety.

I put the hand crash cymbals on my left foot Roland Hi-Hat Control Pedal and I decided to use real cymbals instead of electronic ones for the rest of the cymbal work. My cymbal set up is primarily from the Zildjian Dark Custom line. I am using a 16” Crash, a 9" Hybrid Splash and an 18" Steve Gadd Session Series Crash Ride which I also used for most of the cymbal swells. In the ABC Cafe number a closed high hat is required so I mounted a remote closed hi-hat to the left of my Roland Toms. The book also calls for a scrape across a wind gong and because I don't own one I used my 20” Zildjian K Flat Ride. I tipped it sideways like a hanging gong and it works fine. I used a Paiste 2002 China Cymbal and a Roland CY-12 Cymbal Pad specifically for the gong parts.

Then came the snare drum work. There is a good deal of it. The book calls for a snare drum, a Gavroche drum (never heard of it), a field drum (which I could get) and a smaller snare drum. I used a variety of snare sounds on my Roland PD-105 V-Pad which sits to my right like a floor tom. I felt too much of the Roland PD-105 would sound cheesy so I brought in my Yamaha 13" Musashi Snare Drum. I used the Musashi for the bigger snare sounds and a 10” for the smaller snare sounds. I bailed on the field drum. However by the time we got through three days of rehearsal I decided I would just use the Musashi for everything. No one said a thing.

The book also calls for crotales. That was another item I do not own and they are very expensive. I opted to use the glockenspiel sound on my malletKAT. For the Innkeeper’s Song I am using an LP Red Jam Block and an LP Ridge Rider cowbell that I have mounted to my right. I also use a ratchet for just one note. The rest of my percussion sounds are sampled and on my Roland SPD-S. I used two agogo bell sounds for tin cups, a bell tree, a whip crack for the opener, and a tambourine. I used a Rhythm Tech Double Row Wind Chime and the invaluable Miller Machine which really is required for this show if you are the only percussionist. In the Wedding number you have to go between timpani attacks and lengthy triangle rolls. I can't imagine trying to do that with a standard triangle setup. Thank God for the Miller Machine.

Finally (and this is where I had to get most creative) there were a couple of sounds required that I was at a loss to find. Percussionist Guy Gauthreaux (who I called by the way and picked his brain) made a trine and went to a junk yard to find the brake drum. He is very ambitious. I wasn't quite as ambitious. I found an anvil sample in my Roland TD-6 and used that sound for the brake drum. The trine, which I also have never even heard of, was a whole different animal. I did a search for trines and found that you could buy them for around $150 bucks. But for the eight times used in the opening number that seemed crazy to me. I found a YouTube video of a trine being played. I downloaded the video, dumped it into GarageBand, edited it and made a sample of a one second trine splang. I turned it into a WAV file and put it in my SPD-S. It sounds great and saved me a lot of money. If anyone reading this gets called to do this show and wants to use my WAV file for the trine email me at [email protected] and I will send it to you.

This show was definitely challenging. I spent a lot of hours listening to YouTube videos that I found of the 2011 UK tour (the version we did). I was wondering why I got the call on this when there were plenty of Orlando Symphony guys with all the gear and expertise. I was nervous, to say the least, and poured myself into this for two weeks.

As the other guys have mentioned, this show requires you to play practically non stop. It's a long show but it moves along quickly. Our cast is pretty amazing. We had a great orchestra and many actors who came down from NYC for the leads. You can see them on Facebook doing a flash mob of One Day More at the Millenia Mall in Orlando. It got national news coverage on all three major networks.

Here’s a link to the YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cn8PiqIXEjQ

To my percussive contemporaries out there, I apologize in advance for doing Les Misérables on an almost complete electronic setup. I had to make this work with the gear I owned. Everyone was very happy with the work I did, so it can be done this way.

Thanks to Billy for sharing people's setups. It definitely helped me. I hope my words will help someone else down the line who sees this.”

Don Sanderson - October 2014