Saturday, April 14, 2007

Confessions of a Pit Fighter

As a guitarist a block away from perhaps the largest concentration of guitarists I'm not exactly swimming in gigs. So my recent less-than-triumphant return to the role of pit musician for a student-directed production of Floyd Collins at the Conservatory, while clearly not the best choice considering the docket I'd already accumulated, was a welcome if exhausting change.

I'd been out of the game for awhile and the last time I'd taken a pit gig was certainly not a typical case. That time, three years ago, was a production of Grease at a Catholic school back in Wisconsin. (Pause for inherent hilarity) Quite a daring choice, but I was very proud of them for only cutting one toss-away line that may or may not be talking about smoking weed. There are a number of idiosyncratic things about coming in as a ringer for a high school gig, among them a cast in the hundreds and an epic rehearsal schedule. Two weeks of rehearsal before a week of performances, including three days of two-a-days, in this case. Having the deal with high school freshman circling like flies (pulling shit like confusing Marshall Amplification with Marshall Mathers, this was 2004) was awexome, but things came to a head when I was informed the evening before the show opened that I would be only compensated in hugs and kisses. Accordingly I told the director that it had been a wonderful time working with them and best of luck with the run.

That evening featured several phone calls, mostly from parents berating me for having the audacity to expect to be paid just for playing the guitar. However, one was from the director saying that we could work something out. Despite this snag the show went as smoothly as a high school musical can expect to. As to not sound like an asshat, I certainly wasn't expecting to be paid handsomely but was only hoping acknowledgement (a figure was never discussed, bad move). I was expecting a modest check, perhaps, but instead was presented to a Nintendo freaking Gamecube that had been diverted from a fundraising auction. I hadn't planned on buying one, despite owning its three predecessors, but now can't imagine how my life would have gone without the Wind Waker.

This gig was much different, considering that I knew it was for hugs and kisses from the start. Also, rather than getting the book two months in advance I got 20 hours before the show went into tech. Also, rather than 50 pages of chord changes it was 90 pages of metrically shifting brutality with banjo doubling. Banjo doubling! Adam Guettel writes some gnarly work, although I've later been told that his Rite-like primalism may come from actual music illiteracy. He works with some wicked orchestrators then, I had to deal with the previously mentioned banjo doubling, tuning changes, percussive effects, and mid-song capo shifts. All in all I've found that my classical guitar skillset leaves me woefully adrift for this sort of gig. Yikes. Not to mention I can't follow a conductor to save my life! Whispers around the department talk of a course dedicated to conducted playing and doublings, but surely I won't still be around the see it.

One thing I did wonder to myself, will real gigs be more like Grease, with a impenitrable division between student and faculty (that I bridged uncomfortably), or this like one, a vague hierarchy but a overwhelming sense of we're-all-in-this-together-and-we-might-die? Well, maybe not die. I'd rather the latter, even if it doesn't pay as well it's more fun.

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