Monday, June 26, 2006

The TOP TEN Questions People Ask the Pit Musicians

I was recently asked the question (paraphrased), "Do people from the audience talk to the musicians in the pit orchestra?".

Yes, they DO!

Some pits are more accessable to the audience seats than others; it depends on the theatre.

The front row of seats can be so close to the edge of the pit that people cannot move freely along it; it is only accessable to the occupants of those particular seats. So interaction between audience members and musicians is reduced.

Other times, the pit-rail is either too thick, covered with stage lights which separate them from the audience, or the pit itself is considerably lower than the seat level of the auditorium. In these cases, conversation between audience members is minimal.

Occasionally, people overcome these obstacles by yelling "Hey YOU!" or "EXCUSE ME!" at the musicians. In those cases when they're particularly rude, we simply ignore them; otherwise, we usually respond.

After nine years and thousands of performances of "Phantom", a definite pattern of recurring questions from audience members has emerged! We in the pit call it "The Top Ten Questions People Ask":


1. Do you travel with the show?
2. How long have you been playing with the show?
3. Where are you from?
4. Where are you staying?
5. Where do you go next? (or, where were you previously?)
6. Don't you LOVE playing this music? (or, do you ever get TIRED of playing this music?)
7. Where's the trumpet? (or organ, trombone, oboe, bassoon, harp etc.)
8. How many musicians are playing?
9. How do you like St. Louis? (or Denver, Buffalo, etc. We've been to most big cities.)
10. Is this all you do?

It is a very interesting process, answering these questions which people have asked us pit musicians so many thousands of times. We are flattered that they show an interest, so we try to answer as politely and completely as possible. On the other hand, it is a challenge to keep from being annoyed at being confronted with the same old questions, over and over again, year after year.

But it is just part of our job, and we accept that. We musicians are on the "front lines"; "ambassadors" for the company as it were -- the first ones to interact with the audience members before the performance begins, as well as during intermission.

This is quite different from my previous jobs with symphony orchestras, where there is virtually NO interaction between audience members and musicians; we're tucked away onstage at a considerable distance from the audience seats.

Most folks are polite, but occasionally we'll get a real stinker! In the worst cases, we usually ignore them, which is often possible because of the distance between the edge of the pit and the musicians' chairs; we can always pretend that we didn't hear them, or that we're about to tune, or that we're diligently caring for our instruments, or we're looking over our parts (like we NEED to, after all these years!)

Yes, it is a very interesting job. In a future entry I will document some of the more interesting questions people have asked over the years, that are NOT on the Top Ten list above.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Young Woman Horn Player's Visit to the Pit

Last night, I came back into the pit at the Fox Theatre at the end of intermission and witnessed the tail-end of a conversation between the Principal horn and a young woman from the audience.

She was leaning over the pit rail to look at our music. E. asked her how long she's been playing the horn. She replied, "Since sixth grade, about eight years ago, but I don't play much now that I'm in college".

E. commented that playing the horn for FUN is the "best way"....not to try making a living at it! (I laughed inwardly.)

The young woman asked, "How's the music?" and E. said, "It's fairly difficult, with a lot of high notes and loud playing". She peered at his part again and noticed a high C-flat. "That's not so hard. The music looks only 'medium' to me".

E. held up his horn towards her and said, "Here, would you like to play it?"

"Oh, no", she muttered, and quickly disappeared into the crowd.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Explosion Follow-up

The night following the explosion, my colleague on Principal horn gave me the inside scoop on the gun's "premature emission" last Tuesday night. His girlfriend works in the Wardrobe Department, so he hears about virtually everything which happens in the company.

Apparently, the actor who plays the Marksman got some of the gunpowder in his eye and had to go to the Emergency Room at a nearby hospital. His eye was flushed out successfully and he's all right, thank goodness.

He insists that he did NOT pull the trigger prematurely; that it was a "pyro issue" with a overly-hot mixture of powder. This is what I figured had happened.

It is interesting to note that although the actor is supposedly "okay" now, he has NOT made a return appearance as the Marksman for the remaining shows this week!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A VERY BELATED HAPPY NEW YEAR! -- An Un-YOO-usual Night at the Theatre

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Now that it's half over...

Many apologies for not keeping this blog up-to-date! It would be a daunting task to document everything that has happened since I last wrote in December, and I'm not very good at writing a short, concise "Reader's Digest" version. But I'll do the best I can!

J. and I took possession of our "new" 1976 Airstream travel trailer in February, and we truly enjoy being back in the RV lifestyle after living in gloomy, cold corporate apartments for nine months. I'll try to post a picture of our 23-ft.-long silver baby in a future entry when I can figure out how to do that.

Phantom is in the middle of a four-week run here in St. Louis. We're staying at an RV park right downtown; the only big city in America that we know of that has an RV park in such a central location. (They're usually way out in the 'burbs.) We're only a few blocks from the Fox theatre where the show is playing. My commute is all of seven minutes, which is great.

It's VERY hot and humid here right now; temps are expected to exceed 95 today (with high moisture, being near three big rivers: the Mississippi, Missouri and Merrimac). J. and I are pretty much staying inside our little air-conditioned trailer for the rest of the day.

Last night, something happened at the show which has NEVER happened before.

The marksman, who carries a gun into the pit during Act II accidentally pulled the trigger about thirty seconds early. Or, perhaps there was something wrong with the mixture of powder; sometimes the pyro guys get excited.

No-one -- least of all the conductor, standing right next to him -- was prepared for the unusually LOUD explosion which usually takes place after a series of lines exchanged between the marksman and the actors onstage.

The explosion occured directly next to the conductor's head and stunned him to the point where he sank to his knees on the podium, moaning. The doltish actor didn't know what to do; clearly he was more worried about dropping his lines than anything else. A few seconds of shocked silence followed, then the marksman finally got off the podium while the actors fumbled around for their dialogue, which they eventually locked back onto.

Meanwhile, our conductor stumbled off the podium and croaked out to one of our keyboard players, who's also the assistant conductor to replace him on the podium. None of us knew if the regular conductor was seriously hurt or not.

He sat with his head in his hands for only a few moments, then indicated to the assistant that he was ready to resume conducting, and got back onto the podium.

He seemed okay after that, but everyone in the pit was obviously concerned. After the final chord in the exit music, people asked him how he was, and he said that he was all right.

Whew! Live theatre sure can have its "Special Moments"!