Oberlin Blogs

And now, a love letter to pit orchestras

April 4, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

One of the reasons I decided to come to Oberlin was the amount of music that occurs on campus. I've been playing the violin since fourth grade, and while I knew I wouldn't be applying to the Conservatory, I still wanted to be able to keep playing at an advanced level. I haven't been disappointed. If anything, I've had too many opportunities to be playing music--sometimes I just have to say no so I can have some time to devote to studying.

This week, for instance, I'm playing in the pit orchestra for Music Man, which the Avon Lake high school is performing. I should probably have said no. Most nights this week, I haven't gotten back to Oberlin until nine o'clock or later, at which point I have to find something to eat and then actually try to get work done. It's probably not the healthiest of schedules.

However, I've probably said it before, but I'll say it again: I love pit orchestras. There's something about providing the music for a whole show that is just really cool. That is a lot of music to get under your fingers, but I think for me that's probably half the fun. That extra dash of terror because I don't really know what will happen next in my part is always exciting. Plus, it leads to me writing awesome notes in my part to myself, such as "Haha, you should have been counting."

Also, playing in the pit is like actually performing the musical, except without people staring at you. And you don't have to sing. For me, this is a very good thing. Besides the no singing aspect, I like performing for a good two hours but knowing that the audience's attention is elsewhere. Is this a bit of an odd mindset to have? Probably. But that might also explain why some people really don't like pit orchestras.

On a completely unrelated note, here are the top three books I read over break (in no particular order):

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall
Running Out Of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Responses to this Entry

I agree that pit orchestras are a unique and very fun aspect of any musical; I can definitely relate to the enjoyment that one gets from knowing that the audience's attention is elsewhere. It takes a little bit of the pressure off, so you're able to have some fun. Last summer, I had the pleasure of playing Prof. Harold Hill in our local civic theatre's production of The Music Man; that show obviously holds a special place in my heart.

And I would just like to add as a postscript that I love reading the blogs here. Keep up the fine work.

Posted by: Josh Cartee on April 4, 2009 10:00 PM

Hi I also have been playing the violin for a while (since 3rd grade). I want to be a science major, but also want to keep up with the violin and become more skilled. Anyway, this summer will be my 2nd year playing pit for the youth musical in my county. Last year, we did Seussical and it was amazing. So do Oberlin Musicals and Operas have pit orchestras and can anyone join them?

Posted by: Harriette Carrington on April 5, 2009 7:51 PM

Josh - Yay! Thanks for the comment.

Harriette - You sound a lot like me, actually (biochem major, started violin in fourth grade...) There's a lot of opportunity for you to keep playing at Oberlin. I definitely recommend checking out secondary lessons, especially if you want to keep improving. As for opportunities to play in pit orchestras, they're definitely out there. The trick is finding them. I've played for a couple of OGASP's (Oberlin Gilbert and Sullivan Players) pits and I found an ad looking for people for Music Man on the Oberlin website. Both were very welcoming of non-Conservatory students. Operas are a different story. Generally, the Oberlin Orchestra (in an abbreviated form) plays for those. (Although an actual Con student can correct me here, if they know something I don't.) Hope that helps!

Posted by: Zoë on April 6, 2009 7:31 PM

re: Books -- which one should I read?

re: pit orchestras -- you are awesome. I feel similar in a lot of production roles. It's nice not to have the spotlight on.

Posted by: Aries on April 6, 2009 10:42 PM

Wow, Aries - completely missed your comment. (I need to check my spam folder more frequently.) But if you happen to stalk my blog, read the Sarah Hall. Definitely.

Posted by: Zoë on June 18, 2009 10:06 PM

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