No matter how you cut it, pit musicians are an easy target for falling debris (whether confetti, props from the stage, or even singers sometimes!). After all, we are crammed shoulder to shoulder in a small dark space, with a stage full of (gasp!) singers emoting onstage without necessarily watching out for that pit.
Danger From Above
I was recently playing an opera performance where, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something rolling quickly toward the lip of the pit. The musician next to me heard this same object and, with lightning reflexes, pulled herself under the lip of the stage, just as a giant knife fell into the pit right onto her chair, missing her by less than an inch.
This knife, while thankfully folded up (it was like a giant wooden switchblade), was a big heavy hunk of wood and metal that would have conked this musician on the head, back, or shoulder as it fell into the pit. Yikes!
At intermission, people from the balcony came down to the pit, convinced that this falling knife had smashed one of our instruments. The sound of the knife falling was audible from the balcony, and to them it sounded like it had solidly impacted something.
Ah, the perils of pit playing!
The Last Banana
A conductor recently shared an amusing story about a similar situation that occurred years ago at the New York City Opera. A staging of Prokofiev’s "The Love for Three Oranges" featured a whole bunch of paper mache fruit being thrown around onstage. Apparently, a whole lot of it ended up in the pit during the rehearsal process, with big painted apples and oranges sailing into the pit, bonking musicians and causing……well, a little frustration in the pit!
After being bonked repeatedly, the musicians requested that some alteration be made in this scene’s staging that wouldn’t involve big pieces of novelty fruit sailing into the pit. The action was moved further upstage, hopefully keeping the bouncing fruit as far away from the pit as possible.
All was proceeding smoothly when, all of a sudden, a big yellow paper mache banana got loose, bouncing end over end downstage….and directly into the pit.
The music instantly ceased from the pit–one could hear a pin drop. This was the last straw for the musicians. The stage director, furious that the music had stopped, ran up to the conductor, who turned around to explain the situation.
You can push musicians to a point, but there’s always a line that you had better not cross, and that big bouncing banana was apparently the last straw.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30666479@N00/2396948964/