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.

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