Monday, 20 January 2014

Tales from the Orchestra Pit: Guys and Dolls Part 6

As with my last post, here I’m going to write all about yesterday’s events. This is going to be how it will work from now on, to save me having to write new posts in the middle of the night when I’m tired after a performance.
The day effectively began at nine o’clock with yet more rehearsal. This took place in the same room as yesterday, and I turned up (more or less) on time. However, quite a few of the musicians didn’t arrive until considerably later, which was frustrating for all concerned because this was one of the only times that the entire orchestra really needed to be present in order to go over some new alterations and cuts. In fairness, though, we hadn’t been told this, and I can understand why people didn’t make a great effort to be there on time when for the past two days we’ve spent most of our time sitting around waiting.
Once most of us were there, we made a start on the day’s work. One of the main focuses was the Crapshooters’ Ballet, which (like the Opening Street Scene, and Havana) required considerable alteration in order to make it fit with the dances that had been prepared. Again, this shouldn’t have been an issue if everything had been coordinated properly, but clearly wires have got crossed along the way so it hasn’t quite worked out as it should. Anyway, what this involved was introducing some of the most complicated and diabolical cuts that I’ve ever seen. It’s a testament to the musicianship of all those concerned that we managed to follow the new version and get it pretty smooth despite having to jump back and forth between sections of the music.
Havana also required some work, but this time it involved coordinating the small snippets of dialogue that alternate with snippets of music. At this point it really became apparent that the orchestra were taking the initiative when it came to conducting. Instead of trying to follow the musical director’s unusual style, we’ve taken to just telling him exactly how he should beat everything so that we are able to follow it. This turned out to be a big help, and I think he was probably grateful to get some tips which made the whole thing work a lot better.
The other big focus was Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat, specifically the final vocal section which contains some fiendish syncopation that the cast still hadn’t got their heads around. We’d tried various solutions to this, including adding extra bars in the music to make it fit with the rhythm that they were doing, but it had always ended up falling apart at the end. So the radical decision was made to actually play/sing the entire thing as written, and therefore there was a masterclass for the cast regarding how it should actually be sung. They got the hang of it eventually. I just hope they remember it for the dress rehearsal, because I don’t fancy having to go through it all again on the day before opening night.
The rest of the rehearsal was spent tidying up little bits in some of the other songs and dances. I must confess that the music is actually sounding really excellent now that we’ve got used to the musical director and he’s getting used to conducting us. It also helps that the orchestra now knows the music so we can follow it much better. I’ve no doubt that it will sound great in the performances – it’s just been rather laborious getting it there.
The rehearsal finished at around half past one, which was a nice surprise because I’d been expecting to be there all day again. Once we’d finished it was time to pack away all the percussion and ferry it down to the theatre for the evening’s sound checks. I left that to the percussionists and the people who understand how these things are disassembled. It was a new experience for me, though, to witness a vibraphone being dismantled. Not something you see every day.
At seven o’clock that evening, after a pleasant afternoon off, I arrived at the theatre along with the rest of the musicians in order to go through the sound checks. That was the moment, when I entered the orchestra pit, when things started to get genuinely exciting. The past five days of rehearsals have been a real bore, and at times I’ve wondered why I continue to put myself through this. But I always find that when I get into the theatre, and I sit in the pit, and I see the set (which, by the way, is absolutely unbelievable) being assembled on stage, that’s when it really becomes highly thrilling.
Each of us in the orchestra has our own microphone, although this is more for the purposes of adjusting the balance than for amplification. So a significant amount of time was spent testing those and making sure they were all connected to the correct channels on the mixing desk. For this it was necessary for each of us to speak into our microphone for a minute or two whilst the sound engineers checked that it was working, so when it came to my turn I treated everyone to spoken-word renditions of Baa Baa Black Sheep and Humpty Dumpty, in my ‘Radio Voice’, which caused considerable amusement.
After all the microphones were set up, we ran through some of the big orchestral showpieces, namely the ‘Overture’, ‘Opening – Street Scene’, ‘Havana’ and ‘Crapshooters’ Ballet’. Now that we all know the music, it’s sounding really fantastic. In fact one of the crew members described our performance of the (heavily edited) Crapshooters’ Ballet as the best thing they’d ever heard. Even though I say it myself, I think they may well be right.
What I’m particularly pleased about, though, is that I will actually get to see some of the show this time, as I am sitting right at the front of the pit just below the first row of audience seating. It’s so often the case with orchestra pits that you get positioned at the back of the pit, just under the stage, and it’s therefore impossible to see any of the performance itself, which is a real shame. So I’ll really enjoy this chance to watch some of the actual show.
We’ve also made a little prediction among ourselves in the orchestra. You see, there is a scene set in a sewer where a dice game takes place, and one of the characters has to roll two dice from the back of the stage to the front. We have agreed that at least once during the seven-show run, those dice will overshoot the end of the stage and fall into the pit. Watch this space to see if our prediction is fulfilled…
The sound check finished for us at around half past nine, and I left the theatre in high spirits, very much looking forward to the dress rehearsal.

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