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Drummer sent to room

jeremy c

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This article comes to us from this morning's New York Times


Broadway Pit Shrinks; Drummer Is Sent to Room



Published: October 5, 2004


n the seventh floor of the St. James Theater, two musicians in the orchestra for "The Producers" give new meaning to the phrase "phoning it in."


The theater's pit is too small to fit a harpist and a percussionist, so every night (and at matinees) Anna Reinersman and Benjamin Herman cram themselves into a 10-by-20-foot room draped in crimson velvet curtains, with water pipes running above.






As an air conditioner hums, they watch a little man - the conductor - on a television monitor. Headphones pipe in the music from colleagues in the pit downstairs, and close-range microphones transmit Ms. Reinersman's and Mr. Herman's own playing to a sound board. Their parts are mixed with the other players' and broadcast through loudspeakers to listeners in the audience, who cannot tell the difference.


"I could play there in my underwear, and they would have no idea what's going on," Mr. Herman, the percussionist, said.


During a performance last week, he actually happened to be wearing khaki pants and a denim shirt, unlike the black clothing required in the crammed pit below. This was not the only difference.


Mr. Herman and Ms. Reinersman, the harpist, talked freely with a visitor throughout the show, occasionally interrupting the conversation to jump in with a harp glissando or a timpani whack, then immediately picking up the thread. Ms. Reinersman wrote a letter to a long-lost high school friend; Mr. Herman had a book by his side ("The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America").


"I just find this much more civilized," Mr. Herman said.


Remote rooms in Broadway houses are unusual but not unheard of, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are becoming more common.


As pits have grown smaller, so that more seats can be sold or set designers' fancies indulged, a string quartet or a woodwind band, say, is moved into exile. The shrunken pit can be lucrative: add two rows of seats at $100 each for eight performances, and that could add up to $40,000 a week. Moreover, technology has made it easier to deploy musicians elsewhere. Shows have grown more heavily amplified, so the audience more and more hears what speakers are emitting.


"Once you're hearing an orchestra solely through a sound system instead of hearing them acoustically, then it doesn't really matter where they are," said Jason Howland, a composer and musical director.


Spending an evening in a remote room - it's affectionately called the "sky pit" at the St. James - gives a glimpse into the lives of pit musicians, many of whom are highly skilled graduates of elite conservatories who, to make ends meet, play the same score hundreds, even thousands, of times in what can be an exercise of stupefying boredom.


Mr. Herman sits surrounded by 20 percussion instruments, including two timpani, vibraphones, glockenspiel, chimes, cymbals and sleigh bells. A bass drum hangs from the ceiling. A television monitor and tambourine hang from water pipes, as does a telephone hotline to the conductor, fastened by a wire hanger. When not playing, Mr. Herman often sits back with his leg draped over a drum.


For Mr. Herman, 54, a Juilliard graduate and a busy freelancer, his is the ultimate Broadway job. The absence of a loud orchestra around him removes the worry about hearing loss, a common occupational hazard, and the playing requires less effort. because the sound mixers regulate the volume. He can bring percussion students to visit. He has a chance, rare for a pit player, to interact with the actors in the understudy dressing room next door, who have been known to offer margaritas. "Of course we say no," Mr. Herman said. "You can put that in the paper."


Ms. Reinersman, 33, a Yale graduate with a degree from the Manhattan School of Music, sometimes checks in on Yankee radio broadcasts during breaks and plans a summer music festival she helps run in New Bern, N.C.


Not quite anything goes in the sky pit. Ms. Reinersman recoils at the thought that she could use the time to make phone calls. "I have to pay attention," she said. "For some reason, it strikes me as fundamentally wrong."

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I saw a Broadway play last year (Beauty And The Beast) and was sure I could hear the two lead's voice beyond the PA. Not the orchestra - although I thought I heard a french horn part (I'm used to listening for that because my son plays). I see that they can do this and the audience is hard pressed to know the difference.


Originally posted by jeremyc:

He has a chance, rare for a pit player, to interact with the actors in the understudy dressing room next door, who have been known to offer margaritas. "Of course we say no," Mr. Herman said. "You can put that in the paper."

A drummer who doesn't drink on the job. Uhhh right. ;)


Originally posted by jeremyc:

"I have to pay attention," she said. "For some reason, it strikes me as fundamentally wrong."

Although I like the idea of having students visit, you have to pay attention. That's because you are being paid for working and should feel responsible to be paying attention. I'd expand on that, but I have a program to finish today :eek:




Acoustic Color


Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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The real drummer for Hanson used to be stuck underneath the stage while the kid made it all look good. I guess if you are getting paid.....

Let your speech be better than silence, or be silent.


For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice.



"Rendirme? Que se rinda su abuela, *#@!^$"

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Somewhat smaller scale than that. In my local theatre I used to play for we were often found having food fights and on more than one occasion jaw breakers landed on the keys causing the actors to "improvise" due to the added cue.


Professional? I think not....


Did I get paid and have a blast? Most of the time.

"Remember this son, No matter how hard you try there is always someone better than you......"
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