Help! Putting together a pit orchestra for 1st time!

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    Hi all,

    My school is putting on Peter Pan (school version) this year (in May) and I am charged with figuring out the pit orchestra situation. They have always used recorded music in musical previously however with this musical, only the scores exists — no canned recordings which I, personally, am happy about. However it does require me to figure out the accompaniment situation for the musical. We don’t have much of a budget at all for musicians however I also don’t want the show to sound badly. I am a pianist and am agreeable to play but would like to know what other instruments would be most essential if I were able to get a few other musicians on board. Any other information that could be given in how to get a pit orchestra up and running would be greatly appreciated!

    Best, David


    Hey David-

    Conducting pit can be a lot of fun. I’ve done it even at the middle school level, so depending how your school music program is and what level you’re teaching, you may find a pit among your best students.

    I would offer as a minimum that piano and drum set could work out fine. If you don’t have a student who plays drum set well – really well – then hire a local person.

    If you do have kids that can handle the parts, you could do something with as little as a violin, couple of woodwinds, trumpet and trombone – on up to whatever the instrumentation is for Peter Pan. I haven’t done it but its probably scored for a few strings (violin, cello, maybe bass), 2 woodwind books (doubling different instruments, but your kids probably wouldn’t be able to do doubling yet, so just have more than one kid in a book – i.e. flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone), couple of trumpet books (maybe 3), possibly french horn, and 1 or 2 trombone books.

    You’ll want plenty of rehearsal with the kids before they play with the cast, because shows have a lot of music. Also, keys can be difficult, and just as a note – the instrument books usually do not place the key signature on every line, only at the beginning and at key changes (like in jazz band music).

    It’s totally doable and a great, great experience for kids. If you want any more info on it feel free to email me at

    Good luck!



    Generally speaking, you’ll want at least one of each voice: violin, reed, trumpet, trombone, percussion. From there, you add more kids as they are available (or hire pros if you can afford them). Obviously the most important thing is to have capable musicians. Pit music is among the most challenging music out there, with myriad key changes, tempo changes, oddball time signatures, etc.

    If you don’t want all those instruments, you can probably do without the trombone. The higher instruments are going to be carrying any melodies.

    When you say “school version,” do you mean the junior version? If so, then the music will be a lot easier. But my experience with junior versions is that they only give you the piano part–if you want other instruments, you have to arrange them yourself. That’s a ton of extra work for you.

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