View from the pit

Thomas Birmingham, writer

For four hours a week, six weeks before the debut of a show, an elite group of musicians practices under the KHS stage. Because they play from inside a makeshift “pit,” the audience of a play at KHS might not be aware they are there. Their job is providing music for the performance, in addition to guiding actors and actresses through the show. 

Polly Rekittke, freshman, was an eyewitness to the work that goes into prepping the pit for the show. She played the oboe and English horn for this year’s musical, Mary Poppins.

“There is a lot of responsibility on the pit to just kind of keep the musical together,” Rekittke said.  “If you don’t have your part down, it can all fall apart for the singers.”    

Even when the group was at practices before the show, the expectations were always above average according to Rekittke. She said there were times before the show’s premier where a sense of hopelessness loomed over the group and things often fell apart during practice. There were also some parts of music that members of the group had never gotten right before their first performance.

Jeff Melsha, pit orchestra director, said although the pit requires the most serious and proficient players, he believes this year’s score was a good testament to the group’s capabilities.        

“For many, including myself, this was a very difficult show and the musicians rose to challenge,” Melsha said. “Were there mistakes? Yes. But we were pleased with our improvements throughout the production.”           

According to actress Sydney Jones, freshman, who played the role of Jane Banks, the pit orchestra also had to overcome the challenge of staying in time with actors on stage. Despite the stage and pit only having one rehearsal together before opening night, they communicated through Melsha.

“If we did something wrong, we would just have to watch him and he would give us cues on when to say our lines or start singing, because we had a lot of dialogue over the orchestra,” Jones said.

Jones said Melsha played a large role in the entire production, including promoting improvements from the Thursday night opening to the Saturday closer. In addition, she said the pit had a greater effect on the play as a whole than most people would realize.

“We rely on the pit a lot [when we are] on the stage. They put the show together, really, with the music and the orchestra; they just brought the whole show together,” Jones said.

And while the group is hidden from the large audiences that pile into Keating Theater, their melodies are not. Most of the time, they sound as musically qualified as a professional soundtrack, which according to Rekittke leaves the musicians breathless yet proud.

“As a freshman I wasn’t able to see what the outcome would be like, but everyone was telling me that it would turn out well in the end, that it’s hard but it will turn out well,” Rekittke said. “I think it definitely was worthwhile.”