I don’t know if it’s the same for “civilians,” but for theatre folk, the orchestra pit is a mythical place.
Okay, heck. I don’t even know if the actors even think of it that way. I just know that the musicians do. It’s a little clubhouse. The temple of a secret society. Dark. Usually cramped. A little room all its own for the musicians. No one else ever goes there. You can imagine.
Of course, that mythology grows more shallow or deepens with the depth of the pit. A pit that’s just a flat space in front of the first row? Not so much. There’s still some magic there, but it’s minor. One of those pits that is dropped six inches or so, maybe with rails and curtains around it? Considerably better. A pit that’s sunk a foot or two? Not bad. Not bad at all.
Pits have gotten deeper over the years, as audiences have become more fond of TV and film, and no longer want to see the musicians. I think the perfect pit would be about four feet deep. Deep enough to hide, and to consolidate the sound, but shallow enough to still be in the room. Oddly enough, in a 20-year career, I’ve never played in a pit like that. Used to be, most of the Broadway pits were like that, about four feet deep. You just caught the tops of the musicians’ heads as you watched. You can see it in pics of older shows. Nowadays, they’re nearly buried in the basement.
I was recently asked to sit in the piano chair for The Sound of Music in Lake Placid. I thought it might be fun, and I also remembered that they have at least some kind pit at the Arts Center. It’s usually has the cover over it, bringing it up to floor level, but I knew there was some kind of hole underneath there.
With my score in my hot little hand and The Lonely Goatherd in my head, I visited the Arts Center website to check the tech list and see if I could find out how deep the pit is. (Yeah, I’m obsessed.) One foot, six inches. Ah, well. At least we’re in the moderate mythology range. Meanwhile, I continue my search for the perfect pit.