A behavioral question for pit musicians

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by mike57, Jan 30, 2023.

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  1. mike57


    Feb 12, 2009
    Our Fair City, MA
    Last week I attended a performance by a very prestigious opera company in a major Metropolitan area. It was something I've always wanted to do and it was great.

    Here's my question - one of the pit musicians, a trombonist, appeared to be on their phone when there was no call for the horns in the score. The trombone would be set down, something was retrieved from the floor and the person sat there, head down, now concentrating on whatever it was in their hands in their lap. Classic phone user pose.

    Is this acceptable, so long as you hit your marks and play the required notes?

    I dunno, to me it seems incredibly disrespectful to the stage performers, the conductor, the orchestra and the audience.

    (TB etiquette question- can this be double-posted in the Upright forums as well?)
  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Unacceptable unprofessional behavior. Fire them.
  3. mike57


    Feb 12, 2009
    Our Fair City, MA
    Haha, that's what I said when they sent me a satisfaction survey.
  4. Micha84


    Jul 11, 2021
    Not acceptable to me, especially as it was visible to the audience. Although it is not just as bad, but imagine the singer of a rockband checking his Instagram on stage during a guitar solo. Sends out the wrong message, if the performers seem to be bored by their own play.

    There is a point to be made for "as long as he delivers on his parts", but looking at your phone obviously increases your chances of not doing that by about a million. It is "Don't watch your phone while driving" and not "as long as you don't crash..." for a reason.


    Mar 5, 2012
    I would say not acceptable at all. I'm surprised the leader or conductor allowed that to happen. If your visible at all at the audience your should be on your best performance behavior. I see it as your there to give a performance as well. Your job is to play and then be silent and still so you don't attract attention. I played in a pit once which was actually behind the main stage and we were hidden from the audience. Even then you were not allowed to be on your phone. The most you could do was have a novel to read and that was only because there was a 15 min non playing part lol. No excuse and super unprofessional. You couldn't get away with that in HS let alone at a paying gig.

    Unless he had a baby due and was communicating with his wife about it. Very very special circumstances then.
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  6. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    If the kid was about to drop, he shouldn’t be at the gig in the first place.
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    it does seem odd, given visibility from the audience. The orchestra at the Met is pretty much in full view as the "pit" isn't really a pit, the Lincoln Center proscenium is pretty low in the Met Opera theater.
    But I also wouldn't classify the opera orchestra as a "pit band". Gotta run, more later...
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  8. mike57


    Feb 12, 2009
    Our Fair City, MA
    Excellent point.

    We were sitting 1st balcony, center, a few rows back. Orchestra is clearly visible.

    Third Act began with a number of the musicians unseated, but they all rejoined at an appropriate break and a signal from an attendant, including said trombonist. While out, the trombonist in the adjacent chair turned the page on the late-seated trombonists stand so they would be right upon return. Our trombonist played a few passages, and then was engrossed in their lap again.

    Didn't distract from the performance (La Traviata) but it was a curious side story.
  9. cosmicevan

    cosmicevan ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Don’t really have a horse in the race but as someone else pointed out…there could be some major life stuff going on. Perhaps it was cleared w the conductor to check?

    Now if you saw that person doom scrolling or playing a game then agreed. Not even cool to do that if you are in the audience let alone the band.
  10. mike57


    Feb 12, 2009
    Our Fair City, MA
    Major life stuff? Maybe they shouldn't be doing a gig.

    I should hope it was cleared through the conductor. But maybe the orchestra has a strong union.
  11. Smooth_bass88

    Smooth_bass88 vaxx!

    Oct 31, 2006
    Western Hemisphere
    More of an etiquette question IMO. Being on your phone mid-performance in this context is certainly a no-no. However, when confronted they might say something like “I was checking the set list” or “I was just double checking my note’s regarding this section”. People give speeches and read lyrics via smartphone all the time. Is it tacky and annoying? Absolutely. But they’re still gonna do it.
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  12. biobass

    biobass Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2007
    Princeton NJ area
    I do a lot of pit work, and I think that it is unprofessional, especially if you are visible to any audience member. That said, I know a lot of pit players on long running shows who do it. I think that being on the phone is especially potentially distracting since it involves a light coming on and off. I often will look at my phone or bring a book or magazine to read during intermission or the time between call and downbeat, but never during the performance. Anything can happen during a live performance, and I want to be ready if a cue comes early, or anything else. There was a show, I think that it was a regional theater production of Guys and Dolls, that I was playing where an expected three pages of dialogue were skipped and the actors jumped to the Havana big dance number.

    I remember being at a production of Meet Me In St. Louis on Broadway, where there were long stretches between songs. I’m pretty certain that the MD was doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in between numbers. I would note that it was one of the worst shows I‘d ever seen, and it closed soon after. My wife and I had gotten steeply discounted TDF tickets, and I not so much wanted my money back as my time.

    The very worst I ever experienced was when I was playing in the pit of a run of City of Angels at Wagner College. This was in the early days of cell phones, most people, including me, didn’t have one. The trombonist (hmm.) did. Not only did his phone ring during the performance - he took the call! The MD was livid. The band was backstage behind a scrim. I’m sure that the audience could hear him speaking to his agent offering him another gig! Not unexpectedly, we had a different trombonist finish the run.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2023
  13. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    No, it's not.
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  14. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Umm, the set list has one item.

    La Traviata.

    Not a lot of checking there.

    Come back for 2nd act: still La Traviata.

    Come back for 3rd act: STILL La Traviata.
  15. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    If there were important life events going on that were important enough to be checking his phone, then he shouldn't have been there to begin with.
    It wasn't important.
    I know what I'd be tempted to do if I were sitting behind him with a bow in my hand.
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  16. Terry Farmer

    Terry Farmer Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2020
    Just wait til we have cell phones implanted in our heads. It’s coming and it won’t be pretty.
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  17. LOL - I used to play pit band with a drummer put the newspaper on the floor tom, so he could read it. He never missed a cue.
  18. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    What if he was reviewing music for another gig? Would that be so bad? The light pollution would be a problem though if that wasn't a norm allowed for the audience members.
  19. Dominic D

    Dominic D DiCosimo Audio Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 9, 2008
    Winter Park, Florida
    DiCosimo Audio
    When I used to do pit gigs, the pit was below the stage. You couldn’t see us from the audience. It was pretty normal for us to be on our phones when we weren’t playing.
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  20. In my past experience this would have lead to an immediate dismissal, there is a certain decorum an d respect for the performance. But times do change and as noted there may be circumstances where an exception might be made. It may have been too late to bring in the second and the person may have had some personal crisis. If not then it is utterly disrespectful.
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