When I’m playing Nutcracker I get into the pit before nearly everyone else, and I rarely leave the pit during intermission. I’m in a location that just isn’t convenient to escape, and I prefer getting into the pit before I have to step over a bunch of people and avoid knocking over instruments. (Early on in my “pit career”, as I was maneuvering the nearly full pit, a violist plainly said to me, “Those that are in the center of the pit should enter before those who aren’t,” or some such thing. I took his advice.)

I’m usually in the pit about 30 minutes prior to the A. I have a lot to unpack what with two instruments and a number of reeds I need to dip in water. I want to warm up. I need to check a few things on the instruments, making sure an adjustment is still correct. So I have my little routine and I’m happy with it.

During intermission I usually pull out a magazine and attempt to read. I don’t do very well, because I’m frequently distracted by the “pit audience” peering at us. There are times when I think I understand how a zoo animal feels; it does sort of seem as if we are caged down there, and parents and children don’t feel at all uncomfortable pointing at us and talking loudly about what we do. Sometimes I wonder, though, about the parents. They talk louder than necessary. Are they talking to their children, or are they attempting to let us know they know what they are talking about? Hmmm.

Sometimes they ask me what I am playing. I’m fine with that, although getting into long conversations about how they played in high school and think maybe they should get back into music so they can play in our orchestra is a bit frustrating. Hearing someone marvel at the fact that we are professional musicians and actually do receive an income (no, I never divulge what I earn) is frustrating too, as they sometimes imply we should do this for free. But oh well!

Sometimes they really do know. Yesterday I got a lesson in how the harp pedals work.

Sometimes they really really really (get the idea?) don’t know. They point to an oboe and call it a clarinet. They call a bassoon an oboe. They share their knowledge loud enough that I wonder if I should look up and say, “Well, actually this is an oboe!” But I hate to disagree with a parent in front of their wide-eyed children. Hmmm. What to do, what to do?

Me? I sit there and stifle my little laugh. Who needs to embarrass a parent … right?


  1. As you can imagine, I *TOTALLY* relate to your pit experience.

    Early on in my decade of touring, I dubbed the phenomenon of audience members gathering around the edge of the pit “The Zoo Factor”.

    The Zoo Factor is affected by the access to the front of the house. Some front rows are wedged closely to the pit, which makes it more difficult for audience members to come close to the edge.

    What always amazes me is how these people stand and stare at the musicians, not once considering how this might affect the folks they’re staring at. How would THEY like to be scrutinized in this way? It’s as though they think the musicians are invisible or something.

    Yet…yet…they make it possible for us to get paid, so of course we grin and bear it.

  2. well naturally its because we must be all deaf musicians and can’t hear them…
    the same thing happens to us as livestock exhibitors at fairs, parents become experts about animals they know nothing about, it gets pretty funny to hear animals totally misidentified for one thing..and again, its as if we are invisible and totally deaf to them.

  3. It’s such a strange thing … but I try to just keep a positive take on it and figure they are mostly just interested in what we do.

    So far not one has thrown any peanuts. (Money would be okay, I suppose.)