February 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm #35029
This is a question that comes from my experience playing in pit orchestras in high school and in college as a hire-out.
Most high schools put together a musical or two each academic year, and that requires either the band or orchestra director (or both) to enlist students to play in the pit orchestra. There are many shows – particularly more recent ones that have been on Broadway – that have incredibly difficult wind and string parts (Beauty and the Beast and Wicked immediately come to mind). If you have students who can play in the pit, but the parts are too difficult for them, what should be done? I do not see simplifying the parts as an option; every part is so exposed one small change could drastically alter what the music sounds like.
If you have the budget to hire professionals to cover certain parts, do you still allow students to play with them just for the experience? Regardless, how do you tell your eager 1st trumpet player that you are bringing someone in to cover their part?
Second question – Is it ever preferable to use a keyboard synthesizer to cover string parts?February 21, 2014 at 1:41 am #35064
I think a lot of this is determined almost entirely by situational things. I know that in my high school, we only had students play in the pit- but my high school has a very strong instrumental program, and also designated a lot of time to rehearsals for the musical. Sometimes, parts would have to be slightly adjusted, but it was almost entirely student done. I’ve worked with a lot of other programs that hire the seats out. I can see the validity in that when the program isn’t strong enough for the top parts, but I think that the pit should always include students in it. Whether you hire out some seats or no seats is up to you, but a student musical should give most of the opportunity to the students.
As for using a synthesizer, I think that should be a last resort. To me, synth strings have such a distinct “cheap” sound to them, and really just takes away from the entire performance. In all reality, this is for a high school musical, and the quality of the music expected by the audience is just that. I would rather hear just-okay real strings over solid synth strings any day.October 22, 2014 at 11:51 pm #42296
Based on my experience, depending on the show, a simplification of the different parts can be done, so long as the tonal and stylistic nature of the line isn’t compromised. If you can’t afford or do not want to hire a professional for a part, and a line is entirely unattainable by a student, sometimes it can be covered by the pianist to some success. I have seen some really exposed parts in the show, Jekyll and Hyde covered by the keyboards and it sounded great. Making this work may require some ingenuity, but it is worth it to keep as many students involved as possible, especially when there are only a few sections in a part that a student is unable to play.
Avoid synth strings, but if you don’t have any string players at your disposal, and you can’t afford to hire, I say to go for it. It still beats some places that still use tapes for their orchestras, and that synth chair can be taken by a student.October 23, 2014 at 12:51 am #42299
I do not think, given the monetary resources, that hiring more experienced players and having the students play alongside them would be in any way a bad thing. I would see this more of a learning opportunity for the students, as they could learn a great deal listening to, conversing with, and playing with these more experienced players. I would communicate this to the eager 1st trumpet player. As a trumpet player myself that has performed in a pit orchestra before, I know I found it exciting and educational to play with the more experienced players. If some of the part to to difficult for the students to handle, I would suggest having them possibly sit out during those parts and then play the achievable parts, switching off with the older player. This would also give both players’ chops a break. In regards to your second question, I would say only use a synthesizer for strings if you absolutely have to. In no way would this ruin the performance.
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