Filmed and Edited by Ilana Arougheti

Orchestra: Pulling all the Strings

March 14, 2020

During the production of any musical, the audience focuses on the stage, the set and the actors. The audience hears the music and the sound, but they wonder: from where are these beautiful sounds flowing?At a lower level in front of the onstage production sits a collection of 30 or so students who make up Cherry Hill East’s pit orchestra. Conducted by Mr. Tim Keleher, the pit orchestra plays the music and creates some of the sound effects for all of the theatre productions at East. Composed of students from both the symphony orchestra and the jazz band, the pit orchestra’s members are subject to change for each new show.

Listen to our interview with Mr. Weaver about Orchestra!

This year’s spring musical, Ragtime, features a very specific style of jazz. In fact, this style “ragtime” is historically the first form of jazz music. Thus, students who played in the pit last year for Beauty and the Beast with a more classical style of music may differ from this year’s compilation of students, which leans more toward jazz band than symphony orchestra. “Each Broadway show is different for what they write for, as far as what instruments… Ragtime has more jazz band with saxophone and brass and a rhythm section on top of the strings,” said Keleher.

Also different from Beauty and the Beast, the pit orchestra continuously plays throughout Ragtime as the production is nonstop. A traditional musical play like Beauty and the Beast provides the orchestra an opportunity to rest and switch sheet music in between songs or scenes, unlike the vigorous pace of Ragtime.

Keleher said, “It’s a very intense concentration, you can’t let up and kind of think about something else while the play is going on. You’re concentrating for the whole two and a half [to] three hours of the show, and that’s a new skill for our young musicians to develop… its requires a great deal of focus.”

In order to prepare for such a task, Keleher said the pit starts with reading rehearsals in December in which they play through the music casually to simply get an idea of the music. In January, the pit begins its more intense rehearsals for the musical starting at twice a week for two hours and adding more rehearsals as the production approaches.

“We do practice separately, just the musicians first learning the music, and then we begin integrating the singers,” said Keleher. “Especially for Ragtime we started doing this because the music is very difficult and very complicated, not just for the orchestra but also for the actors.”

Despite the severe change in musical style, the advanced pit does not encounter trouble, but rather challenges which grow into learning experiences. The students indulge in their current works and learn to adapt to the new style like professional musicians.

“[The pit orchestra] may be a little bit ‘overworked’ but not under appreciated,” said Keleher.

A lot of hard work goes in on pit orchestra’s part as it contributes to more than just the music in the show and need to work accordingly with two casts of actors, the crew, the conductor and one another. Hidden below the production onstage is more than just violins and cellos; there lies a compilation of immense talent and grand effort.

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