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The people in the pit

Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
The people in the pit#0
Posted: 12/20/05 at 12:25pm
I remember hearing an interesting fact once at an Encores talkback. Someone said that in the 1940's and 50's, the orchestras of Broadway musicals were much better sounding because many of the musicians and conductors had been trained in Europe, and during WWII and its aftermath, had fled Europe and come to America. So classically trained musicians were getting work in the Broadway pits.

Do you think audiences back then were hearing a better orchestra than we are hearing today? (And I guess this really only applies to the Golden Age revivals, because the musical style of Broadway has changed).
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Updated On: 12/20/05 at 12:25 PM
Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
re: The people in the pit#1
Posted: 12/20/05 at 12:27pm
I cannot say because the recording quality of the soundtracks back then prove otherwise.
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Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
re: The people in the pit#2
Posted: 12/20/05 at 12:50pm
Good question, Gothampc... and good point jasobres.

It's hard to tell. I can only imagine what the OBCRs of Oklahoma! and Brigadoon would sound like if they were recorded with today's technology. We would hear many nuances and better sound mixing, to be sure.

Sometimes the technology is enough to sway me into saying today's musicians are equally as good (at least) or sometimes better. There's more competition today, which would be another reason.

Yes, they were trained differently, and certainly the classical-sounding scores benefited from that training. But today's orchestrations involve synthesized "augmentation" of string sections, etc. They can make a 25-piece orchestra sound more like an 80-piece. Is it cheating? Or scientific advancement? Or probably both.

I do think that some of the jazzier scores sound a bit more "authentic" with the older recordings. When "big band" was the popular music of the day, and musicians knew how to play it. Actually some of the pit musicians invented it. Check out the pit players for "Girl Crazy" sometime and watch your jaw drop. Several of them turned out to be the superstar band leaders of the big band era. All in that one pit. (Okay that was before the war, and during… not after.)

I think musicians in pit orchestras were more "conservative" in their playing than today's are. Modern pit musicians (especially lead trumpet players) like to "show off" more with crazy riffs and high notes. Just listen to the different recordings of "Gypsy" or “Sweet Charity” and you'll see what I mean.
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Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
re: The people in the pit#3
Posted: 12/20/05 at 12:56pm
well b12b, that could also be seen as musical direction/interpretation choices. it might not be the individual players' "show-off-iness"...

however, it's very hard to judge, because obviously today's recordings sound better, and i can't just randomly go back to the 50's to hear how they sound live.. i am sometimes surprised hearing the orchestrations live versus the recorded versions... but good question/discussion none-the-less
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Broadway Star
Broadway Star
re: The people in the pit#4
Posted: 12/20/05 at 11:34pm
Interesting, and I couldn't say...but I can say I am friends with one Broadway musician and aquaintances with/worked with a Broadway musician/conductor and they are both AMAZING at what they do, extremely talented, and take their work very seriously. I have so much respect for professional musicians, as I competitively played the flute for ten years and I know how much work goes into being able to play a song perfectly, let alone an entire score every day with live performers.
--Like an odd exotic creature on display inside a zoo, hearing children asking questions makes me ask some questions too...--