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 Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2010-06-07 18:03

Hi Everyone,

I'm in the midst of a 6 show run of Victor/Victoria by a very good local rep company and something is bothering me a lot.

My book is Reed V (bari sax, BC, clarinet, and bassoon; I use either bari or BC and transpose for fagotto since I do not own one. Additionally in the woodwind section are Reed I and Reed II. Evidently Reed III and IV, although part of the orchestration are not being played. Also eliminated are Violin II, Trumpet III, Trombone II, and guitar. So for an orchestration that calls for 20 bodies we are using 14.

Here's the problem. Everyone is playing their parts well but all too often, some weird harmonies and voicing are readily apparant. In fact, a clarinet friend chatted with me during internission and said "What's wrong with the arrangements and the band ..."

Obviously. the cost saving are at the root of the issue and the harmony be damned. Is this becoming a common practice in places outside of NYC?


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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: mamashep 
Date:   2010-06-07 18:28

I've played in a regional musical theater for years, and unfortunately yes, the first thing to go when the budgets are cut are the "unimportant" books in the pit. Unfortunately, often the musical director doesn't even look at the books that were eliminated, so one of two things happen:

1. Key parts of the melody or big solos are left out, and there is nothing we can do to cover the part because we don't even have the book, or

2. We end up playing a lot of chords as root, octave doubled root, 7th because the III and IV books have the 3rds and 5ths. This is especially egregious in shows that are jazz/sax section heavy in the writing (like 42nd street or Thoroughly Modern Millie).

These have been the least fulfilling experiences I've had in pit orchestras because even though the ww section is stacked with 3 great players, there is no way we can make the parts sound good!

In the past, I've been able to get the conductor to hand over all 5 books a couple of weeks before rehearsals begin. I then spend every waking hour up until the first rehearsal condensing the 5 books down to 3 and cobbling together arrangements that at least are not offensive to the ear.

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Ed Palanker 
Date:   2010-06-07 18:45

As I understand it this is become the norm even inside of NYC. Every time there's a new contract with the Broadway musicians the houses are asking, and getting it in many cases, less musicians to have to guarantee. Many of the new scores are being written using less and less musicians to accommodate them. When they take shows on the road it is not uncommon to use an electric key board to fill in the missing voices. I had a student that toured the country for several years playing shows across the USA in big houses and cities with an orchestra of 6-7 live musicians doing scores that required many more in their original score. He told me in many cases he couldn't even hear himself because the electric keyboard would be louder then the "live" musicians. ESP http://eddiesclarinet.com

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Merlin_Williams 
Date:   2010-06-07 18:48

It's staggeringly common.

I did a show for a music theatre school in a large city. The MD wanted to use just the first and third books, since he wanted to make sure the oboe parts were covered. Unfortunately, that meant that all of the significant clarinet solos were gone, because they were in the second book. I ended up re-writing the reed books myself to make it work with two players. No extra pay, of course.

I've turned down a lot of shows lately that have been arbitrarily cutting books. I even offered to re-score a show completely for an amateur theatre group. It would have meant having a period appropriate society band (3 reeds, 3 brass, violin, rhythm section) with good sounding charts. They would not agree to the instrumentation, saying they wanted only one trumpet. I refused to compromise and walked away.

It saved a lot of time for me, but I think that the production would have sounded so much better with the re-write.

Remember, there's three reasons to take a gig:

1. Money

2. Good contacts

3. Fun

If it doesn't have 1 (preferably 2!) of those, just say no.

Jupiter Canada Artist/Clinician
Stratford Shakespeare Festival musician
Woodwind Doubling Channel Creator on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/WoodwindDoubling

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2010-06-07 20:15

We left out a book in HONK! last year because the music director thought that the ensemble was well balanced without the extra low voice. But, since we worked for nothing much, there was no savings.

(And, the audience hardly noticed the band anyhow.)

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Tony Beck 
Date:   2010-06-07 20:20

It's not just shows either. Last winter my daughter's teen idol came to town. His recodings feature a lot of unusual instrumentation, so I was looking forward to hearing some of the strange combinations, especially the Theremin stuff. What did they show up with? The usual rock band, two string players and a keyboard. Not surprisingly, the sound was very different, and less interesting than the recordings.

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2010-06-08 03:09

I guess I should be happy to have a paying gig with 10 services but this is "less fulfilling" and at my age, that's one of the key ingredients.

And don't even get me started on crowded pits with trip hazards all around that are fire traps as well. Last summer in July for the Full Monty, the band was above the back of the stage (very hot) with one narrow and poorly lighted stairway down to a corridor behind the sets that you had to go through sideways and clear to the other side of the stage to get out. Where's the Fire Marshall?

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2010-06-08 03:13

Dr. Hank, the things you and the other folks are describing are why I've stopped playing shows. Nowadays the going rate for playing community dinner theater in the DC area is about the same IN CONSTANT DOLLARS (that is, with no adjustment for inflation) as I was making 35 YEARS AGO when I was a teenager playing in the local dinner theater's pit band.

That's pretty bad.

Sorry for all the uppercase words. Had to make a point.

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Phurster 
Date:   2010-06-08 11:24

Money talks b@#$%^t walks...

The financial side of things has always been an issue even in the original arrangements.

I just did some performances of 'Little Women'. The part I did was for Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet. All these parts are done by the one player, not for artistic reasons but purely to have different tone colors without hiring extra players.

It is a rare Clarinet major who can match a professional flute player on the flute and visa versa. I have heard many doublers and have yet to hear anyone who can. However, I have heard quite a few who can do an adequate job at both.

Another show i have just done is 'Kismet'. Difficult to read, hand written and done in a hurry presumably for 'time is money issues'. Thickly orchestrated, this one could do with a few instruments left out. Why do arrangers bother doubling melodies with the trumpet in loud sections? This show has over the top demands on the player for little artistic reward...this one hits a high C# in a fast passage in one section.

As most musicals are done as 'entertainment' not as part of some lofty artistic statement. Why not rewrite some of them and even drop a few players. In some of these works it might improve the sound.


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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2010-06-08 12:12


I hear ya loud and clear and I know we have had this same discussion before. I like the 35 years ago comment as that's so very true. It is very sad that you work on your playing skills and then end up not being properly compensated.

The pro bono jobs that I do (church, community bands, and similar venues) still bring me great joy. I guess that's what I seek most as the dollars are not commensurate with skill/experience. But I don't ever see a lot of young players that do much doubling.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky?


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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: LarryBocaner 2017
Date:   2010-06-08 12:56

Unfortunately, nothing new about this. Many years ago I was hired to play a production of "Flower Drum Song" at Washington's outdoor Carter Barron Amphitheater. Arriving at the first (and only) rehearsal I discovered that the notoriously cheap producers (Feld family -- now the owners of the Ringling Bros circus) had decided to save dollars (never mind that the venue seats a couple of thousand people) by reducing the number of wind books. As it turned out the remaining two books were both for alto sax! After the first hour of rehearsal we complained to the conductor, Lehman Engel, that we were playing in parallel fourths most of the time; he sighed and said "Well don't worry -- it's a Chinese show!"

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: grifffinity 
Date:   2010-06-08 14:50

In my experience with musical theatre, most MD's I've worked with have no idea what books are important. Full scores either don't exist or they only have access to the piano/vocal score that may have orch cues and a CD. At the local and even non-equity tour level (of which I've played) many MD's are vocalists/pianists who have very little interest in full orchestrations or are restrained by budgets limiting them to hiring a certain number of musicians.

I recently played in a production of Fiddler on the Roof where the MD and AD had no idea that the clarinet was an important part of the score. I kid you not - I was the only wind player in the pit comprised of a drummer, piano and strings.

I also did the non-equity tour of Bye-Bye Birdie which was "arranged" by the MD. Turns out most of the stuff was doubled in keyboard II which was so loud you could not hear the live winds in tutti parts. Nothing like having to tune to synthed sax in Telephone hour.

Post Edited (2010-06-08 14:53)

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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2010-06-08 17:24


That's kind of what we had in several spots since Reed I and II were soprano and alto saxes respectively. And I'm resting for 8 measures from bari (I think Reed III and VI books probably called for tenor at the time).

A Chinese show! That is really hilarious.


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 Re: Pit Orchestra Parts: Elimination to Save Dollars
Author: Bassie 
Date:   2010-06-09 06:52

I know a guy who makes money writing & hiring out reduced arrangements of G&S (i.e., keeping most of the music but on fewer instruments). Clearly there is a demand for this.

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