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 Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Gandalfe 
Date:   2006-12-06 21:23

Suzy and I were part of the Second Story Rep Pit Band and I was playing soprano, tenor, and bari sax. Suzy was playing clarinet and tenor sax. After the month-long show closed we were packing out three stands, three light kits, music books, padded chairs, and our instruments.

My brother was helping us and it was no easy task. We were up in a loft that had a ladder simular to what I'd expect to see in a submarine. Once up the ladder, you had to negotiate three water pipes that were 3.5 feet off the ground and two feet apart. Then we had a 12' by 4.5' space for piano, drum set and eight musicians and their instruments. Further back in the storage area were two musicians who could just see the pianist/director.

The next day I got an email from the trumpet/french horn player saying he'd found my soprano sax up in the loft! I didn't even know it was missing. This was an instrument that cost me over $3K and I'd had for less than a month.

I guess I'll need to make a check list from now on. I'm just feeling very lucky that the other musicians took care of me.

Jim and Suzy

Quinn the Eskimo Vintage Horns
Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra
Seattle, Washington

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: FrankM 
Date:   2006-12-08 13:57

Jim, I can come close ! Years ago I did "Chicago" at a local college. The band was on a raised platform on stage the entire time. In one scene, some of the girls came up on the bandstand and delivered a line or two. They were wearing flowing dresses, and as one of them exited, her dress caught on my friends soprano sax , which was on a floor stand. This actress got annoyed when she realized she was hung up, grabbed her skirt and yanked....the soprano was airborn ! It flew about 6 feet into the air....and one of the other guys in the pit caught it before it hit anything !!!!! The look on my buddies face was not one I ever hope to see again on anyone !

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Terry Stibal 
Date:   2006-12-08 20:03

My favorite was playing in a roofed over orchestra pit in an old vaudeville theater that had just hosted the community's Christmas pageant prior to our production of Gypsy. Only three small hatchways for access, and the pit was used (when it had been open to the audience) for the pageant's live animals in the prior production.

Playing in a former stable is no fun...

leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra
info@sotsdo.com

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: clarinets1 
Date:   2006-12-09 16:27

Just recently I was playing in band for "A Chorus Line". great show.
anyway, about halfway through the first act, all of the lights in the pit went out! I could just barely make out my music from the glow of the television being used as a monitor. no such luck for the brass players behind me. of course the show can't stop, so while the director and tech guys try to figure out how to get the lights back on, the dancers backstage with us lit up our music with the glow from their cell phones. after about two minutes of faking it, the lights came back on and we finished the rest of the show with no incident.
another time, i was in a pit playing "you're a good man charlie brown". there is a baseball scene in that musical, and the actor swung his wiffle bat, and lost his grip, flinging it into the audience. no one was injured, but it was funny.
the show must go on.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Hank Lehrer 2017
Date:   2006-12-10 00:38

Hi,

In a recent performance of Anything Goes by a local theater group (good group), the band was up high at the back of the stage. To simulate an on-deck location, there were two stairs from the lower stage to the upper deck; a railing was in front. During the dress rehearsal bows, one of the stairs collapsed under the weight of several cast members standing on it. None of those people were injured but one of the leads (Moonface) who was back stage was struck by part of the stairs and knocked down.

Someone called 911, the paramedics and police came, and there was a lot of excitement. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries to the guy and the show opened a 4 performance run the next night.

However, I avoided those stairs from then on with my several nightly trips up to the top deck with bari, tenor, soprano, and many stands.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Erik713 
Date:   2006-12-11 21:03

Heh...must be a thing with "Chicago."

I conducted a performance in college and the band was on several tiered platforms. The lead trumpet fell backwards off the top tier (about 3 feet up) during one of the rehearsals. Luckily he and his horn were fine.

WHEW!!!

~~~~~~~

~Woodwind doubler - sop./alto/tenor saxes, clarinet, oboe, English horn, flute/picc.
~Woodwind Teacher

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: DorMcD 
Date:   2006-12-29 17:12

I've seen a few things go wrong over the years...

1. I've seen a woodwind player (no it wasn't me) knock a violin bow off a stand while walking by, and the bow managed to fall through a small crack around the edge of the pit floor to the no-man's-land below the pit floor. it couldn't be retrieved until the end of the run.

2. During a run a couple years ago of Smokey Joe's Cafe, one of the singers must have lost his bearings, because he kind of rolled right into off the stage and into the pit in a way that looked almost on purpose. Luckily, the orchestra was on stage, so he fell into an almost empty pit. Even more luckily, the pit was raised enough to not be too deep, and he landed on the piano and sort of rolled off of it. He was a little sore but OK.

3. During a large fund raiser last year, the mayor's wife lost her bearings and couldn't tell where the edge of the stage was. She walked right off the stage and feel into the pit. She ended up in the hospital for quite a while with some pretty serious injuries, but it could have been a lot worse. The fund raiser was a big review with different acts from town appearing one after another - a logistical nightmare/masterpiece depending on how you look at it. Just 7 minutes before she fell, the group I was playing with was performing in the pit. After we played, it was lowered for a quick load out, and then raised back up. This is the deepest pit I've ever been in - it must be a good 20 or 25 feet to the stage when it's completely lowered. If she had fallen before they'd raised it back up, she really could have been killed, and she probably only missed it by a minute or two.

4. One time I had my bassoon reeds soaking in a cup on the floor instead of clipped to my stand, and someone walking by in the crowded pit kicked it over with one foot and stepped on the two best reeds with the other. I don't leave them on the floor anymore.

5. I have seen someone have to go get stitches on his forhead after having a piece of scenery fall into the pit.

6. And one time the conductor let his baton slip out his hand and it flew back into the audience. That was funny enough, but to top it off, after the song ended, we saw the little baton come peeking back over the wall and tap the conductor on the shoulder to be returned by a kind audience member.

Dorothy

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Caco185 
Date:   2006-12-31 17:56

I have a two-in-one story. I was playing clarinet in the pit for Cinderella. During the lengthy wedding dance scene, the bass clarinet player had a seizure. I had no idea what to do, I couldn't stop, the director didn't stop, and I had a few solos coming up.. I just kept trucking along, feeling extremely guilty. She knew where he medicine was, retrieved it and began playing near the end of the scene as well.

SAME SHOW! Cinderella, just a different night. All of the power went out for a few minutes. We had to add an intermission. :-)

Dale Huggard
Clarinet Performance Major, Michigan
Buffet R-13 - Silver plated
Genussa Excellente
Spriggs Floating Rail Ligature
Vandoren V12 #4

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Ralph Katz 
Date:   2006-12-31 23:43

1) A theater here has a very deep pit and had put mirrors on the house side so that the musicians could see the actors onstage. During a the first performance after they were put up, the anchors holding one of the mirrors pulled out of the concrete wall and the mirror fell onto a cello player, who was miraculously unscathed.

2) (different theater, same town) In "Annie Get Your Gun" there was a *very*good*looking* and excellent dancer, costumed to look like a Native American, dressed only in a loin cloth and about two quarts of body makeup. During one matinee performance, perhaps after having a good time at the previous night's cast party, whirling about, he lost track of the stage lip and went off the edge into the pit. At the last moment, realizing what was about to happen, he managed to get a toe-hold on the edge of the stage and pushed off as hard as he could. He landed just inside the railing on the house side of the shallow pit, and fell backwards onto the woodwinds. He knocked down a half dozen stands, but nobody and no instruments were hurt. The dancer immediately jumped back onto the stage. The musicians scrambled about to pick things up. But the conductor was totally spooked, until someone in the brass section shouted "Bar 237!". This snapped the conductor out of it; "yeah, 237," she said. She started the orchestra at bar 237, and everyone continued just where they had left off. The audience applauded wildly.

3) During an awful community theater production of "Fiorello", the set had these 3-sided towers on wheels. Every night we watched wide-eyed as the set crew rolled these things around the stage. One night, the crew almost dropped one into the pit and we were not surprised.

4) During a really good production of "Promises, Promises", there was a scene with a young lady, in bed, and her office lover. He keeps repeating, "I can't believe I did this" or something similar, until she says "Same time next week, Mr. Jones?" and he says "Sure." Then there is a laugh, blackout, music, and a scene change. One night, the lights didn't go down quite on cue, but at the appointed moment, the young lady jumped out of bed anyway. Apparently she had omitted several items of clothing, which was apparent only to orchestra members in the string section.

5) Some stagehand friends of mine were on the road with a drama, playing at a community theater in Frederick, MD. There were some difficulties, because the producers had not provided any local stagehands. The locals made enough of a weak showing, though, so that my friends finally mounted the show with minimum lights and sets. But afterwards there was nobody to help, and they had to be in Baltimore at 8AM the next morning. Finally at 4AM they had the truck loaded, only to find that the locals had chained the parking lot fence shut with their trucks inside. The truck driver just said "no problem", and pulled out a huge sledge hammer from under his truck. He gave each fence post a good whack or two right at the base. Then he drove his truck up slowly in the lowest gear, pushed the fence over, and they all drove out.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2007-01-29 02:34

During a scene in JC Superstar, Jesus goes nutso and starts throwing stuff around the stage. In this particualr performance he tossed a small footstool across the stage; instead of going straight into the wings like he wanted it to, it took a 90-degree detour and flew straight into the pit where it banged me on the back of my head. Talk about a surprise! (Later during intermission, I told Jesus what happened--he said he was sorry and I forgave him!)

Then during a performance of West Side Story, they had the rumble sequence right at the end of the first act. Riff gets knifed in the chest as he's running toward the front of the stage. In this production they had the actors wearing bloodpacks. Well, no sooner than he gets knifed than I feel a slap on my back and all of a sudden my music and back are drenched in stage blood!

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2007-02-05 17:21

I just remembered a real mind-bender. Near the end of this particular production of Peter Pan, there was a slow clarinet solo accompanied by piano. The piano player couldn't play in the more difficult keys, so he had gotten an electric piano that had a transposition switch on it. So, for example, he could read a piece in Db while playing it in D and have it come out sounding like Db.

So one night I'm playing the solo and it sounds all wrong. I double- and triple-check my key signature. I check my horn to make sure all the keys are working. After the show was over the trumpet player (who was seated next to the piano) explained to me that sometimes the piano changes keys by itself! The pianist was in his own world and there was no way to get his attention, much less explain to him the problem. So the trumpet player told me that each night during that section he would check the keyboard readout to see what key it was in, and then he would signal to me from across the pit and mouth the name of key signature. At that point I would have to sight transpose my part immediately.

Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn't. The things we have to put up with.



Post Edited (2016-04-25 19:26)

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Wind, Woman, and Song 
Date:   2014-01-27 10:12

I was playing flute/picc for South Pacific and it was my first pit gig. I was so excited to be playing for an up and coming Seattle group called, MusicComedy NW. We started to play the final song before intermission, and were suddenly alarmed by the strong smell of smoke!. We all kept nervously playing and were able to look up on occasion and see a stage light smoking directly above and in front of us. (we were behind a scrim). The song didn't end soon enough before a crew was up a ladder and putting out/removing the lamp. It was quite the introduction to Musical Theatre "pits!"

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: super20bu6 
Date:   2014-02-02 14:08

I guess I've been lucky in pit orchestras, for the most part. Last year, I was playing Reed 5 for "Titanic"...the unusual combination of Bassoon and Eb Contra Alto Clarinet. The pit was on hydraulics and if we got there early enough, we could get on the pit portion and ride it down into position. Only about 6 feet down...but low enough that we were out of sight. At the end of each performance, they'd raise the pit back up and we could merely walk off the stage. Stair access on either side was inconvenient for a few of us. They were basically half flight stairs...go 4 steps and make a U Turn...4 more steps..another U Turn...etc. Now, my Contra Alto is the one piece type...so the case is 52 inches long. Just too long to carry down the stairs with a Bassoon, music, and instruments stands. I either had to make two trips or pass the cases down to someone in the lowered pit. String Bass player just could NOT fit on the stairs with his String Bass. The last performance...the hydraulics were out...and the string bass player was running late. He had to pass his string bass down to those of us already in the pit...and had to pass his string bass any my Contra Alto case up to someone on stage. Not a disasater by any means....but just an "oh crap" moment to get into or out of the pit.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Brian P. Butler 
Date:   2015-04-24 04:52

Back in '99 I was playing a summer stock production of No, No, Nanette. There is a scene during the show where the maid loses control of the vacuum cleaner. To accomplish this, the tech crew mounted a vacuum cleaner on top of a remote control car chassis, and would have one of the techs "drive" the machine during the scene. As we were in a deep pit, the conductor would sometimes mouth the action to us as the audience laughed at the slapstick comedy. One night, however, his face went from glee to terror - including sitting forward in his stool - which got our attention. As I looked above me, I could see 3 wheels of the vacuum cleaner off the stage and a hand snatch it back at the last second! That would have been disastrous!

Butler Musical Services
Performance. Education. Dedication.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: mikeW 
Date:   2015-04-24 21:49

Not really a horror story, but my wife was playing a production of, I think, "Crazy for You" and for "I got Rhythm" the choreographer had done a very complicated routine with lots of props. An unfortunate upshot of this was that they had to play the song at dirge tempo. Also, the music director and producers had been feuding throughout the rehearsals and run. One night he apparently had enough so he kicked off "Rhythm" at a brisk tempo to the sound of great cacophony from the stage. Another horn player near the front of the pit looked up and said, "They're going down like ninepins up there!" A new music director was there the following night to finish the run.

She also did a run of "Phantom" where they had two problems with the stage smoke. First, it drifted into the pit which made reading music and breathing almost impossible. The solution: fans! The second problem and result of first solution: stage smoke setting off the fire alarms and emptying the theater on multiple nights.

And I think anyone who's been in the pit for "The Student Prince" has dodged numerous flagons during the drinking scenes.

I once did a production of "Chicago" where the band was on stage. I got caught behind a traffic fatality and so was late to the show. I was calling back and forth with the MD apprising him of my progress and was about 15 minutes late. They actually held the curtain for me. Got a round of applause from the cast as I rushed through the dressing room to get set up. Very embarrassing...

Similarly, a couple of principals were caught in bad traffic for a Christmas show and they held the curtain for over an hour while we play some seasonal tunes. For whatever reason, the theater never announced exactly why they were holding the curtain. Nor did they offer the patrons free goodies and drinks to appease them. Unfortunately, this was also media night. Worst review ever...



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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: dclarinet 
Date:   2015-04-27 23:27

Several years ago I was playing "Chorus Line". The director had condensed 5 woodwind books into 2, so both of us had 4 or 5 horns. She did a wonderful job except she didn't put any horn changes in, so we had no idea what horn to play. Took us all of one rehearsal and part of the second to get it figured out.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: gsurosey 
Date:   2015-11-04 09:05

I was playing Reed 3 for "Into the Woods" last spring (clarinets in Bb and A) at a local high school. There was still snow on the ground here in NY as it was March. Bored school children were running between inside and outside when they weren't onstage during rehearsal, thus letting in cold, dry gusts of air. The auditorium was right next to a building entrance and the auditorium doors were propped open. I picked my Bb clarinet off it's stand waiting for a downbeat for one of the last sings of the rehearsal when the area above my register key felt weird. I looked and saw what I was hoping wasn't there: my clarinet cracked from the top of the upper joint through the register tonehole down to where the register key is attached on the back. So, I made $300 playing for that show and paid my repair guy half of it to put 5 pins in the upper joint of my clarinet.

I may be playing "Cinderella" this year for them. I may have to invest in a synthetic clarinet. My Eb and bass already are, so they're not problems in that respect.

----------
Rachel

Bb/A: Buffet R13
Eb/Bass: Bundy

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: concertmaster3 
Date:   2015-11-06 17:58
Attachment:  20151023_203058.jpg (1912k)

Most recent story...
I was subbing in on Oklahoma on Violin 2. For some reason my violin kept slipping out of tune, but I'd tune it up in a second, and be back to playing. Well suddenly, I hear a loud "POP" and watch my bridge fly through the air, and my strings and tailpiece fly forward. My tailpiece gut nut had stripped and my violin was in pieces! After the initial shock, I found the pieces and began to piece together what happened.

As I was doing that, the violist playing the show passes me her violin...She had taught violin lessons just before the show, and brought her violin/viola double case. I played her violin for the rest of the show, and put my violin back together with a new tailpiece gut the next morning while waiting to teach lessons. I think the entire pit won't forget my exploding violin (which sounds like an awesome metal band name)!

Ron Ford
Woodwind Specialist
Performer/Teacher/Arranger
http://www.RonFordMusic.com

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2016-04-25 19:33

My dad grew up in 1930s Brooklyn and went to live radio shows in Manhattan theaters, complete with pit orchestras. He once saw a show with acrobats on stage accompanied by music.

On one unfortunate occasion, an acrobat fell into the pit and landed on top of the bari sax, which was on its stand at the time. The player was okay, but the sax became a pile of parts. No word on the acrobat.



Post Edited (2016-04-25 19:35)

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: fromsfca 2017
Date:   2016-05-04 05:46

I played a summer stock in the round theater with the pit under the stage. Acts I and II began with the orchestra marching onto the stage and down the ladder into the pit with our white dinner jackets, bow ties and tuxedo pants. One night, the stage manager said orch call for act II was delayed 10 minutes...I lit a cigarette when the stage manager called orchestra to the pit. As I was 4th reed, I was last guy in....I stuck my (newly lit) cig into the sand ash tray...it looked out, so I stuck it in my jacket pocket.

We walk down to the stage and I'm standing waiting for the guys to descend looking for cute girls, when I feel someone tugging on my jacket. I look down at a guy in the 1st row who says "excuse me, but I think you're on fire".... The white side of my jacket smoking a great deal. One of the guys tears the jacket off my back and throws it on the stage stomping on it.

We got the best ovation of the night.

Although I had to wear the jacket for another 4 weeks with the right side smoke blackened...try buyin a white dinner jacket in August.

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2016-09-19 23:32

I was playing in an outdoor amphitheater once with a lowered pit. During one of the numbers, the bass player's instrument stopped working. He needed some kind of tools to fix it, but he'd left his bag on the other side of the pit. So he told the person next to him what tools he needed, and that person whispered to the person next to them, and so on until the word got to the person seated next to the bag. One by one, they passed the tools back to the bass player, much like hot dogs at a ball game. All this while the music was playing!

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 Re: Pit Band Horror Stories
Author: Mark Cookson 
Date:   2016-09-21 13:43

Nobody quite made it off the stage and into the pit, but still a good read...

http://www.lse.ac.uk/intranet/LSEServices/communications/pressAndInformationOffice/PDF/SamplesofBernardLevinsWriting.pdf

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