Your experiences playing in pit bands/orchestras for musicals?

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by CrimsonElf22, Dec 31, 2014.

  1. CrimsonElf22


    Dec 31, 2014
    I play both bass and guitar, but at my school I am mainly a bass player as I am one of the only ones. Two years ago I was asked to play bass in the school production of Godspell (my first pit band experience), and it was incredible. It was me on bass, another older student on guitar, a student's mom on main keyboard, my band teacher on auxiliary keyboard and his friend on drums, as well as the conductor. Music was very fun and we all had a great time.

    What are all of your experiences playing bass (or anything really) in musicals?

    I played Sweeney Todd last year and that felt kind of pointless as it was just my friend on percussion and me. The rest was a pre-recorded playback. It was for string bass, too, and I don't have one nor does the school.

    This year I am going to be playing bass on Legally Blonde, and the music is awesome and it will be much more fun than Sweeney Todd. My friend will be playing percussion again, another kid on trombone, maybe one or two kids on flute, a girl on guitar, possibly a kid on violin, anything we don't have will be on (sigh) pre-recorded playback.
  2. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    I love playing musicals! I've only done few: Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent, Forbidden Zone, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So much fun.
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  3. Chains


    Jan 22, 2014
    About 20 years ago, I had been hired right out of school with my first teaching job. It was a large high school with a great theater department. So, they needed an electric guitar to sit in the pit that season for "Little Shop of Horrors". As a new teacher I wanted to get involved, and I knew some power chords, so I got the gig.

    After the first rehearsal, I was talking with the musical director, cuz I wanted to get it right. He said that he could'nt read the guitar music so I could play however I want.

    A few full rehearsals and a some performances. I had a blast. As a teacher, I really enjoy working with the talented students.
  4. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    I've never done it ... but the keys player in our band is a high school choral director (Hartt graduate), and past director of a local theater troupe and has encouraged me to give it a shot. I might take him up on it, but I'm concerned about the amount of time spent in rehearsals might conflict with my other projects.
  5. Hi,

    I love pit orchestra gigs. I've been doing at least one production a year for the last 15 years. I don't get to read real music in my country/pop/classic rock band so I really enjoy 'shedding the book. Plus the whole experience is a cornucopia of multimedia input that I find exciting. In March I'll be doing "The Addams Family" with the San Marino High School drama department. I've posted about that gig before. That school cranks out some great talent. I can hardly keep up.

    My gig report from last year's pit gig:

    Thank you for your indulgence,

    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
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  6. mcarp555

    mcarp555 Guest

    Jul 14, 2013
    I did it once in Junior ("Community") College, so long ago now I don't remember what the musical was! I played upright, and while it took a bit of nerves, it was fun, being down in the pit with just the stand lights, etc. We had a french horn player who could circular breathe, and he'd end the first act holding a single note for sometimes up to two or three minutes, with people peering down into the pit trying to see how he was doing it. Used to get a bit of applause as well.
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  7. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    I do a couple musicals per year. It's tons of fun and good for your musicianship. I like that you only load in/out once and how you're totally immersed for two weeks then can forget everything. :woot:

    I've never done Legally Blond but I hear it's a tough book. Get a copy as far in advance as possible to woodshed.
    BassCliff likes this.
  8. Hi Mr. elgecko,

    Let me know the next time you play a pit up at Chaffey or thereabouts. I might like to stop by. Break a leg! :)

    Thank you for your indulgence,

  9. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    I used to do work for the Chaffey choir before my friend Gus Gil retired.
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  10. I spent a season running a monitor mixing console for a Bulgarian Opera Theater troupe that leapfrogged three sets and two casts from city to city on US travel tours.

    I was in charge of the in-ear audio feeds to the Stars, directors, and stage managers, and also the sidefills, foyer-feed, and the backstage hall and dressing room speakers (which were used so that everyone could keep up with the show's progress and stay on cue).

    It was a lot of fun, and having three or four dozen cute ballerina-types running around half-naked all the time was pretty cool too.
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  11. CrimsonElf22


    Dec 31, 2014
    The books came in a few weeks ago and I've been practicing a fair amount. The bass isn't the hardest of the books for Legally Blonde but it's certainly no cakewalk. I play trumpet too, and from what I've seen and heard the trumpet parts (and maybe trombone) are probably the hardest. Overall the score is just plain difficult, lots of stops and starts, changes in style and tempo, etc.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
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  12. +1 for musicals/shows. Although my experience with this was some years ago, and on trumpet, it was some of the most fun, and diverse musically, that I've had as a musician.

    Guys n Dolls, Hair, Oklahoma, Fiddler On The Roof, La Boheme, Oliver, and many more. The one I truly wish I had done was West Side Story. Incredible, demanding parts for everyone, and a cool show to boot.

    Do it! Woodshed, and have a blast! You will NOT regret the experience if your pit fellows are up to it as well.
  13. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership
    I've played a few. The toughest I have ever came across (other than West Side Story but I just have the book, never played in the pit) was Witches Of Eastwick. I was depping so I was going in completely blind but as tough as it is it has some great parts to play.
  14. thatoneguy9013


    Dec 30, 2014
    I did Oklahoma in November, it was really fun, but akso really repetitive
  15. CGremlin


    Nov 1, 2014
    Palm Bay, FL
    I spent about 20 years doing pit work - loved it! I've done dozens and dozens of shows (Fiddler on the Roof four times), but my favorites are:

    West Side Story ("Cool" by itself was worth going to work every night)
    Jesus Christ Superstar
    Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?
    The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (the first time, the second time was abysmal)
    The Wiz
    They're Playing Our Song (underwhelming show, but great bass part!)

    I also have a special place in my heart for "The Robber Bridegroom", since that was my first show and we had an absolutely RIPPING banjo player in the group. Most of my runs were 9-11 weeks, so only having to do load in/out every few months was great. I did a back-to-back of "Damn Yankees" and "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?", so my gear sat in the pit for almost six months for that one. For most of the shows, I worked with an absolutely top-notch bunch of guys - I was often the only player that wasn't a member of the Virginia Symphony, and the musical director I most often worked with was just phenomenal and a total pleasure to play with. I also played some real obscure clunkers ("Lucky Stiff", "Baby", and a few others), and those could be frustrating to no end when you could tell the audience just wasn't enjoying the show.

    I think part of what I enjoyed was making a really tangible contribution to the show, without having the same responsibilities the actors did. The theater where I did most of my shows had an interesting orchestra pit that was under the stage, but designed such that the sound could still get out and me and the MD could still see the cast. That meant T-shirts and flip-flops for everyone, plus we'd usually bring a cooler with sandwiches or other snacks.

    There was also the fun to be had when someone on stage missed an entrance or brain-farted and jumped ahead six pages in the score, and having to seamlessly accommodate it. It's awesome work if you can get it, and it'll do wonders for your sight-reading ("rehearsal? What's that?") and listening skills.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
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  16. CGremlin


    Nov 1, 2014
    Palm Bay, FL
    Yeah, a lot of the older shows are like that:

    "What's the next show on the schedule?"
    "'Annie Get Your Gun"

    I think "Guys and Dolls" was about the only 40's-50's show (aside from "West Side Story") that really perked me up, and that was mostly from looking forward to "Luck, Be a Lady".
  17. morgansterne

    morgansterne Geek U.S.A.

    Oct 25, 2011
    Cleveland Ohio
    I did four in high school. (Playing trumpet) My experience was pretty nerve wracking as everything is changing up to the last minute. "Ok cross out these four bars and we need to add sixteen measures in the coda cuz the director wants to add a dance here . . . " then two weeks before the show you have to change keys to accommodate a singer. But they turned out well in the end.
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  18. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    I'm in week 7 of a 9 week run of Les Miserables at a regional professional theater near Philadelphia, playing upright bass, seven shows per week. I've played in pit orchestras for over 30 years, and have probably done well over 100 productions.
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  19. Smooth_bass88

    Smooth_bass88 vaxx!

    Oct 31, 2006
    Western Hemisphere
    I very much enjoy doing 'pit work'. As basscliff said, it's an opportunity to keep your reading skills fresh plus it's a fun challenge- it's quite different than a pop/rock gig.

    I'd say there are 2 types of pit gigs. One being an actual stage production with actors, a director, stage manager, etc. There other kind I do often is kinda like a singer's showcase. I'm just part of the backing band off to the side, but I need to be able to make and/or read charts for the show. These shows are fun and can be very lucrative.
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  20. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    It is ususlly fun, and a chance to work on reading music, but some bass parts are awfully repetitive. I remember doing Brigadoon, and several songs were nothing but the suspended tonic for the entire song (it was about 27 years ago, and I still remember A flat....................).

    Also, some directors don't care about the band, and you get stuck in a tight corner behind the curtain where you can move or see anything ... but you can make your own entertainment.