Happily ever after: Spring musical’s pit orchestra makes a dream come true

The pit orchestra performs at a dress rehearsal for the April performances of Cinderella. “I wanted to join [pit orchestra] because I’ve always wanted to be involved in the theatre program…I think part of the reason I wanted to explore something different,” Sophomore clarinetist Anna Guieb said. Photo courtesy of Kelly Cooper.

A quiet hush falls over the theatre, the house lights dim, and the spotlights fall over the red curtain. The upbeat pep of the overture floods the room. The spacious stage and the colorful backdrops are a stark contrast from the dark right wing, illuminated by the nineteen lights making the sheet music visible. Behind the red curtain there is a whole other world that is pivotal in making the transitions from the castle to the ball seamless, the magical moments whimsical, and Cinderella and Prince Topher’s long-awaited wedding grand and exciting. A world inhabited by the dedicated and committed members of band to form the pit orchestra.

This year for the spring musical East Theatre presented Cinderella, which ran from April 25th through April 27th. With Cinderella being a musical, instrumentals were required to accompany the cast. For the duration of the two hour show 19 people played in increments throughout.

The pit orchestra had about four or five rehearsals without the cast and two weeks before the show the cast and the orchestra rehearsed together for the first time. A week before opening night Pit Orchestra Director Stevan Rexroat said that even though there were still some things that need to be worked on, the pit orchestra was still very prepared.

“Right now we have a couple of problems that can quite frankly ruin the show; the pit essentially cues and plays along with the performers and if we confuse them, the show is ruined. I feel like before I’d say we’re prepared, we’d need to all be on time, cue the performers confidently, fix any wrong notes or rhythms, and work on intonation more,” sophomore clarinetist Owen Ginnet said.

According to Rexroat any mishap on stage results in a change in how the pit orchestra is playing in order to create the illusion that nothing went wrong. He also said that any mistakes made by the pit orchestra could have similar ramifications.

“If the pit orchestra makes [a mistake], that can throw off everything on stage, so it’s a delicate balance between the two. Everyone needs to be spot on and really trust each other for it to be successful,” Rexroat said.

While Rexroat directed the pit orchestra and Choir Director Chelsea Rhoades worked with the cast on vocals, Theatre Director Nicole Chandler worked with both of them to make sure that the pacing was right. They worked to make sure that the cast and the pit orchestra were performing seamlessly. Despite the fact that having live music requires a lot of coordination, it is something that is essential for the production of a musical.

“The beauty of theatre is that it’s live, and with live musicians it provides another opportunity for students to get involved, it’s another creative outlet, it’s another style of music for our band students … the beauty of a live orchestra is that it can move with the … the show,” Chandler said.

After a week of preparation, on opening night, the female lead in Cinderella junior Amy Keca said she appreciated the effort the pit orchestra put into their preparation and how they were incredibly open and flexible when it came to making adjustments for the cast.

“It’s been a pretty smooth process, we did have a little bit of a rough day last week, but again, it’s just adjusting and becoming comfortable with each other, making sure … we trust each other in what we’re doing and what they’re doing,” Keca said.

The effort that pit orchestra put into preparing started before spring break and by the time the entire orchestra had their first rehearsal they were expected to be able to play with proficiency. Senior trumpeter Kris Bentel said that there was a lot of pressure and high expectations for the pit orchestra to perform to the best of their abilities and that the entire orchestra worked hard in order to improve their sound for the people who attended the show. During rehearsals, the pit orchestra stopped and revised the music constantly in order to perfect every note.

“I do feel pretty overwhelmed on account of how demanding pit is in general, but nonetheless I feel like I fit into the overall environment of pit orchestra and I love spending my time at rehearsals,” Bentel said.

The pit orchestra is responsible for their own preparation for the most part. With the workload requiring so much individual effort, orchestra members must be extremely dedicated in order for the show to be successful. For Bentel, the work could be quite strenuous because it was two hours of music that needed to be perfected in a short amount of time, but the experience was also extremely rewarding.

“Pit requires a lot more independent work and it was definitely a lot more stressful [than traditional band] but it’s also more fun to be a part of because it’s all music that’s fun to learn and play,” Bentel said.

The fact that the pit orchestra mostly learned the music on their own means that Rexroat’s role was mostly reserved as a liaison between the cast and the orchestra in order for the instrumentals and the vocals to be synched up. Sophomore clarinetist Anna Guieb, while being nervous about her own performance said that she was confident in the performance as a whole and that a large part of that was because of the communication that was needed in order to perfect the music.

“You constantly have to listen for cues … you are relied on by the cast and you also rely on the cast. So, it’s a lot of communicating with your director and also the cast,” Guieb added.

The two weeks leading up to the performance, the pit orchestra spent four hours after school perfecting the music. And in the cramped right wing it is difficult not to form a bond with other members. For senior violinist Satomi Radostits having been in pit orchestra since her freshman year, the only year she didn’t play being her sophomore year, this show meant saying goodbye to some of her closest friends.

“Now [I’m] the only violinist in the group. Freshman year we had 4 and last year there were 2 of us but now I’m the only one left and it’s [kind of] bittersweet to be leaving with this show as my last,” Radostits said.

Ginnet was a part of pit orchestra last year and coming back this year he said that the community has been a lot more diverse and that the atmosphere has been a lot more light-hearted, but everyone is still very hard-working.

“I’ve started to realize the importance of emphasizing and bringing out what you bring to the table in pit. For example, if I have the main theme of a song, it is my job to play it louder so the audience can hear the most interesting part of the song currently playing,” Ginnet said.

Behind the curtain, everyone moves quickly and efficiently between transitions. It is a common sight to see people switch between instruments in the middle of songs. The timing is practiced and perfected. Every note played has a purpose, no one is there without reason, and there is something interesting within every measure.

“I think just preparing and perfecting music for the show has been the hardest part because we want to sound as good as we possibly can for the people who are paying to come see the show,” Bentel said.

Mythreyi Namaduri is a staff writer for Oswego East’s online news magazine the Howl

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