Heleen Du Plessis: A perspective from the orchestral pit, literally!

Can you spot 'the pit'?
Can you spot ‘the pit’?

Writing to you at 1:00am after our first dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute in the Mayfair.

With my observations from the perspective of an orchestral player in the pit I have to clarify that my point of view is not exactly based on having a viewpoint –with my back to the wall and the stage partly hanging over my head in this ‘lowered’ concert space, I can’t see a thing! As usual I am unable to sleep after a rehearsal/concert since I (pà!) continuo playing, counting, anticipating entries, getting (pà- pà) something stuck in my head – my own part, yam pam pam pam pam , or more adventurously, ha- ha- ha- ha- hah hah … haaaa!.

'The view from the pit'
‘The view from the pit’

Entering the pit I recalled my early career as cellist in the National Orchestra of South Africa, playing for operas in the State Theatre, Pretoria – glamorous décor, costumes, standing ovations, internationally renowned singers, inspiring conductors (although some would have given me nightmares were I sleeping now), but also, a pain in the neck and acute sinusitis.

Turn right and duck your head to enter 'the pit'...
Turn right and duck your head to enter ‘the pit’…

There are a few things pits seem to have in common…a lack of space and a draft! Soon I realised why experienced players brought thermometers to work and threatened to strike – nothing makes up for the discomfort of having to sit with your instrument, the stand and the conductor in 3 different directions while having to play all dynamics, expressive/ articulation markings in the middle of the bow, with little room to move to avoid a collision and nasty stares from fellow awkwardly positioned colleagues feeling the draft!

This and a previous experience in the Mayfair [Heleen played for Opera Otago’s This Other Eden in 2014]  made me come prepared with wearing all the orchestral outfits I collected, making sure my socks are made of pure NZ merino wool. I am pleased with the amount of space, thanks to the small sized ensemble and arrangements allowing us to see, hear, move, and avoid stand lights from glaring into each other’s eyes! I find comfort in the confinement permitting glances, facial expressions and comfortable sitting positions, which might not be appropriate were we to be seen.

The ‘sweetest’ thing was Nick[Cornish – Bassoon]’s caramel slices that made me realise – it is about whom you know, choosing your friends wisely, no matter where you are. Here’s to an enjoyable 2nd dress rehearsal – pure intonation, articulation, ensemble, balance and turning pages in time without too many unwanted sound effects.

Have you got your tickets yet? Opening night is only two sleeps away!

Heleen with her cello,  in the opposite of 'the pit'
Heleen with her cello, in the opposite of ‘the pit’

Post by Heleen Du Plessis, Cellist

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