Thoughts from above a stage
This week, Miss Haleigh shares a little bit about the important role music plays in live theatre.
This spring, a number of the Learning Allegro teachers, myself included, have been playing in the pit for local theatres. If you’re not familiar, “playing in the pit” is a term we use to describe a small, live orchestra that plays for the actors in musical. Normally, pit musicians are literally seated in a pit in front of the stage, but that’s not always true. My “pit” for Titanic: the Musical at SALT Performing Arts was actually in a recording booth above the stage.
I’ve played in orchestras and wedding quartets before, but this was my first experience playing in a pit for live theatre. Here are a few of my observations.
MUSIC IS IMPORTANT. LIKE, SUPER IMPORTANT.
I often tell my Learning Allegro students that language is largely effective because of its musicality. I can say something as simple as “Yes, mom!” with many different tones behind it…and in my younger years, some of those tones might even have gotten me grounded! How we say something is often just as important as what we say.
Playing for a live show really underscores the musicality of simple speech (pardon the pun). It gives the actors an idea of what emotions to put into their words, and it gives the audience a framework for interpreting the mood of the story.
LIVE MUSICIANS HAVE A TOUGH JOB.
While the actors are delivering lines onstage, the pit musicians might have to speed up, slow down, or repeat segments of music to accommodate the speed of the actors’ conversations. The orchestra has to stay attuned to what’s happening onstage and be prepared for sudden changes.
In a normal orchestra setting, the music is the main event; in a pit, the story is the main event. That means the role of a pit musician is much more interactive than that of an orchestra violinist. You have to stay flexible and make sure the emphasis stays on the actors — all while playing beautifully.
FORMAL MUSICAL TRAINING HAS FAR MORE APPLICATIONS THAN MOST PEOPLE REALIZE.
Playing in the pit has reminded me how many ways a trained musician can truly use his or her skills. When we think of violinists, flutists, or cellists, we normally associate them with classical orchestras. We sometimes fail to remember that classical training will benefit a musician in tons of different performance situations. Wedding quartets need trained musicians. Pit orchestras need trained musicians. Cruise ships, black tie formals, big-shot recording artists, film scores, and even simple, local functions need trained musicians.
When we put our kids in private violin or piano lessons, I think we fail at times to remind them that their talents have applications beyond school band — applications that are fun and exciting! Which leads me to number four…
PLAYING IN A PIT ENCOURAGES COMMUNITY.
As a kid who grew up in music lessons, I almost never heard about community-oriented ways I could use my instrument. My middle and high schools did not have an onsite arts program. I took private lessons for 13 years before I ever got a chance to play in a group setting. And I have a feeling that many young students today have a similar experience. They know music academically, but have no idea how much fun it can be in a group setting.
In three short weeks of playing at SALT, our orchestra pit has become full of inside jokes, hilarious mishaps (that the actors hopefully didn’t hear!), and a general sense of community I never expected. I hope my students find that musical experience earlier in their careers than I did!
Thankfully, kids don’t have to wait until they’re orchestra-ready to see the community side of music. Sign your child up for a summer camp. Look into a youth orchestra. When your child insists that there’s nothing to do, encourage him to go write a song. There are many ways that you can convince your child to see music as fun and interactive. No pit required!
Learning Allegro offers fun, interactive summer camps for musicians of all ages. For more information, visit our main website.