Playing in the dark — Pit orchestra supplies authentic sound for musical production

Annie Matheis, News Editor

The sound of enchanting string instruments fill the room.

A resounding cacophony of trumpets, flutes and a piano complete the harmony.

The director assists the musicians to blend the varying tones.

The pit orchestra consists of 17 players who provide live music for the winter production, Beauty and the Beast.

Sophomore percussionist Bingjie Li said the pit appears to be a normal room, other than the low ceilings and dim light.

“It is a pretty tight spot, but if you are not moving around that much, it is not that bad,” Li said.

To be able to see their music, the players have booklights attached to their music stands.

When underneath the stage, pit orchestra director Paul Aubrey faces the same way the audience does. He is then able to see the whole musical, while the musicians cannot see any of what is happening on stage.

“My job, besides teaching the pit the music, is the coordinator between making sure that what’s happening on stage coincides with the music directly,” Aubrey said. “I’m watching what happens, visually, and I am making it happen, musically. I’m the glorified starter and stopper.”

Aubrey said he realizes the role of the pit orchestra is not always the most alluring because they are underneath the stage.

“I think at Blue Valley we do a good job of making a point to make sure [the pit] gets the recognition they deserve because it is hard work,” Aubrey said. “It is not a glamorous role — it is an important role, but not a glamorous role.”

The musicians are accepted into the pit orchestra by seniority and by the order of their chair in instrumental music classes.

Li said the biggest difference between being in pit orchestra and playing in performance band is the type of music. Most of the music the pit orchestra plays is the harmony and background music to the melodies that the vocalists are singing.

The music heard during the show is the same professional arrangement played on Broadway.

“Disney music has a very unique sound and style to it,” Aubrey said. “It’s cheerful. It’s lively. It’s romantic. It is always very well-written.  Disney puts out good quality music, and this is a good representation of that.”

When they are not playing, the musicians must stay focused on the action of the musical because all of their music is cued off dialogue in the show.

“Sometimes, it is hard to do, though,” Aubrey said. “It takes a lot of focus because otherwise you could miss entrances if your brain just takes a vacation.”

Aubrey said his biggest challenge is making sure he is able to get all of the cues.

“I am not only conducting what is happening, I am always thinking about what is happening next so I know what my next cue needs to be,” he said. “Sometimes, I have to cue things to start on the stage, too. I always need to know exactly what is coming up next.”

Li said she is glad they are able to play live music for the show, instead of featuring recorded music.

“It adds a way more realistic, authentic-type feel,” she said. “If you need to make adjustments you can, and you can change things according to how you need it.”

Junior Erin Moylan, who plays the wardrobe, Madame de la Grande Bouche, said she believes the live pit orchestra provides a much more professional atmosphere.

“When the pit comes, they can go off of our tempos, and they can set a different kind of mood,” Moylan said.

The pit orchestra plays 31 songs throughout the musical. Aubrey said the music they play adds emotion and excitement to the show.

“You wouldn’t get that same thing if you were just listening to music on a CD,” Aubrey said. “Hearing that live music adds so much flavor and style.”