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She’s Got the Beat: Broadway Drummer Emma Ford of ‘Come From Away’

Category Broadway

|by Robert Peterpaul |

This Australian musician helps Broadway performers keep time

Emma Ford has come from far away to chase her dreams in New York City – roughly 10,000 miles. Armed with an impressive degree in music and unwavering passion, the 25-year-old Australian native left her home in Sydney for opportunities in the Big Apple. Fortunately for her, the move paid off, as she's now a Broadway drummer on the rise, having played in shows like Head Over Heels and, currently, the Tony-winning smash hit Come From Away.

Drummer Emma Ford, currently playing for ‘Come From Away’ (Photo: Hamilton Media)

Drummer Emma Ford, currently playing for ‘Come From Away’ (Photo: Hamilton Media)

What's your training background?
I have been playing drums for about 13 years, and I have my Bachelor of Music (Jazz Performance) from The Sydney Conservatorium of Music. 

Very impressive. Is anyone in your family musically inclined?
Yes, my Nan is a classical pianist – we actually both went to the same University, just 60 years apart. She has always been a huge supporter of my musical dreams, and is my number one fan!

You took the leap and relocated from Australia to America – no easy move. What steps did you take to break into the NYC music scene?
It was definitely not an easy move, but I was lucky enough to know a few people here, including Michael Lavine and Andres Forero (drummer for Hamilton). As soon as I arrived, I was determined to meet as many people as I could, and both Michael and Andres were very helpful in passing on their contacts and introducing me to musicians in the Broadway scene. From there, I began to contact and meet up with as many drummers and Musical Directors as I could!

How did you first get involved with the show Come From Away?
I had gotten in touch with Larry Lelli, the drummer for the show, he was kind enough to let me sit in the drum booth with him to watch him play the show. A few days later I had a lesson with him, we chatted about my goals and why I moved to New York, I played a little for him, and then the next thing I knew he was asking me to sub for him! So crazy! 

Did Larry give you any advice that has really stuck with you?
Larry has been an incredible mentor to me, and has helped me with so many things, from drum things to general life advice, I go to him for everything. When I first arrived here last year, he gave me advice for starting out in New York, he told me to say yes to every gig no matter how much it pays, be extremely reliable and make yourself available to anyone that needs you. This advice has already led me to play a lot of really cool gigs, and I have met a lot of great people.

How much rehearsal (if any) did you get with the rest of the pit before playing your first show?
I only had about an hour of rehearsal with the band right before playing my first show. As a sub, the majority of work we do to prepare is on our own, using recordings and videos to learn the show. It was actually great to get a short run-through beforehand, because when I subbed on other shows, I would go straight into the first show with no rehearsal. It’s pretty scary, but also very exciting! 

How much notice do you generally have before having to fill in?
It varies, I can get notice a few weeks to a few days in advance, sometimes even a couple of hours. I’m basically on-call for when the main drummer has another engagement, or for emergencies like getting stuck in traffic or getting sick. So I usually keep my phone with me at all times, just in case I get that call telling me to “Get to the theatre ASAP!”

The drums and percussion in particular are a vital instrument to this story. Do you have a favorite moment to play?
I love how well the drums and percussion are used in this score. At times they build tension in serious moments, and at other times they are the backbeat for uplifting feel-good tunes. I don’t have a specific favorite moment (there are too many), but I get really excited to play “Me And The Sky” and “Somewhere In The Middle Of Nowhere." Those songs are both really epic and emotional tunes to play. The drum parts are challenging, but lots of fun!

Your kit is isolated in a little soundproof booth backstage, and you see the cast/conductor on a monitor, does that affect the way you play at all opposed to being right there with the rest of the musicians?
I feel pretty lucky, because for this show all the musicians are on stage, the drum booth is located slightly off-stage, and there’s a big window in the front, so I am able to see straight out onto the stage. Being in the booth doesn’t really affect how I play, because I am able to hear the whole band through headphones, and I can see the conductor on the monitors as well as in front of me. It’s actually a great set up because even though I’m in my own room, I’m still close to everyone so I feel connected to the band and the cast, we all still interact as if I was right there with them. 

There's an impressive amount of varying percussions, hardware, sticks etc. in that booth, which infuses the songs with a nice mix of Celtic, country and pop sounds. Is there anything you play that you weren't as familiar with before you started?
No, not really. As a musician, I think it’s important to have many different styles in your repertoire. You could be called for any type of show or gig, whether it’s Latin, Jazz, Hip Hop, Country, Orchestral. You have to be prepared for anything. So, luckily I have learned a lot of these styles over the years, but it’s been great to learn more in detail about the instruments and music of Newfoundland.

Come From Away lovingly gives their band bows at curtain call. How does it feel to have your own Broadway bow?
It’s amazing! So often musicians go unnoticed and underappreciated because they are tucked away in a pit under the stage. In the past, I have even heard audience members say, “Oh! There was a live band? I thought it was a recording!” But this show celebrates its musicians and their contribution to the creation of the story. Hearing that applause from the crowd and knowing they appreciate your work is a very, very special and rewarding moment. 

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from working on this show?
I have learned that the people you work with and are surrounded by heavily influence the quality of your performance. This company is the best group of people I have ever worked with. It’s a big supportive family, and it comes across in everyone’s performance. You can see and feel how much everyone loves working with each other. This kind of vibe lets me relax and enjoy every moment. Knowing that we all have each other's backs allows me to play so much better. 

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.

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