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Senior Member
Username: pauldo

Post Number: 485
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 - 7:37 pm:   Edit Post

I recently picked up a gig with a pit band for a local theater group. We have two more weekends of shows.

Soulstice Theater - the musical is Chess.
August 6,7,13 & 14 at 7:30pm
Marian Center for Non-Profits 3211 S. Lake Drive, St. Francis,WI

Never heard of the musical Chess? Well the famous mid 1980 hit "One Night in Bangkok" is from the play. Get your kicks above the waistline sunshine - this show has 80's pop, classical, heavy rock and funk in it. Plus a torrid love affair!
Senior Member
Username: 2400wattman

Post Number: 815
Registered: 11-2005
Posted on Monday, August 02, 2010 - 9:22 pm:   Edit Post

Very cool Paul. Let us know how it goes and what it's like working in that enviroment.
Senior Member
Username: dadabass2001

Post Number: 1478
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 - 8:54 am:   Edit Post

Excellent, Paul!
Have tons of fun :-)
Username: dlbydgtl

Post Number: 93
Registered: 7-2008
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 - 1:19 pm:   Edit Post

Paul, Enjoy!Other than Sunday church stuff, most everything i play is Community theater. Gives me a chance to meet and jam with different people. Of course, once they see my bass, i get re-tell the Alembic story. Right now in the middle of a run of Grease at Peoria players Theater. I have never played Chess it sounds like a fun show. John p.s. side l.e.d.s come in real handy in the pit.

(Message edited by dlbydgtl on August 03, 2010)
Senior Member
Username: pauldo

Post Number: 487
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 - 5:55 pm:   Edit Post

The "pit" is two keyboards, one bass, one drummer and a kid who plays flute/ clarinet and tenor sax - all very well.
It is sad that not one question as to "what kinda bass is that?".

Mike - it really is fun - hard but fun.

John - you are so right, last Saturday I was thinking "I need some light blue side led's" - however most of the time my nose is buried in the songbook.

Adam - I think John can attest to this - it is really difficult when an actor decides to skip a few lines and the band has to (as one entity) catch up and make him/ her look good. This is really challenging music for me, tons of time signature changes (3,6,9 and 12/8's abound with some 2,3 and 5/4, the best one . . . 1/4 - yep one measure of 1/4).

Then there is the key changes 5 flats to 6 sharps in one song. But really I am not complaining - it is hard but the challenge is making me grow as a musician. I bet John will also agree, this is almost an addiction - it is such a rush working with a live theater group - it's like flying without a net - you either make it or you make it - no opportunity for a do-over, no second chance. But the tech week will break a man - we rehearsed for at least 34 hours working out bugs - like the pit monitor that didn't work and the sound lady saying "well that's all we have and you just have to work with it" - which would be like me showing up with 2 strings and telling the music director that "this is all I've got and you just need to deal with it" - OK - now I am complaining -- see what booze and the internet will get cha?
Username: charles_holmes

Post Number: 58
Registered: 3-2009
Posted on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 - 6:09 pm:   Edit Post

I love pit work! I have done quite a few myself, sometimes with a "pared down" orchestra and I must say that I have not encountered too many problems "knock on wood" I did do a show with Clay Akins (remember him from Idol?) anyway, I had an extremely long piece of music (two stands worth) and during the performance the damned music slid! needless to say that that tune stunk on my part!I couldn't find where we were at in the music at all! (arrgh)In addition, Some stage hands are simply "out of touch" to say the least when it comes to being in sync with what is necessary to make a "ship sail smoothly"
Keep it low Pauldo!
Chalie Holmes
Username: dlbydgtl

Post Number: 95
Registered: 7-2008
Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 5:21 pm:   Edit Post

Grease is done. O.K., rehearsing for the musical Curtains at an outdoor theater. On stage, Gotta wear black and like rest of the country it's hot! Then it's back indoors for Frankenstein the musical. I know all this work has a lot to do is with the sound i get from my Alembics but, really struggling with the decision to take the Alembic out in 70% humidity and 90 deg +weather.
Senior Member
Username: pauldo

Post Number: 491
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 6:41 pm:   Edit Post

John - Grease sounds like a blast.
At the after party we discussed Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy (the Rock Opera) - I told the musical director that if either one of those came up that I was in! :-D

So that's it for Chess and me - I took the time to write a brief memoir of my experience of being a pit virgin. It is the next post, it is long winded, get yourself a drink.
Senior Member
Username: pauldo

Post Number: 492
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 6:45 pm:   Edit Post

The PREVIOUS POST explains this long winded post:

A new chapter for me started with an ad on Craig’s List for a bassist who could double on upright and electric for a musical called Chess. Seeing that my current gig was on hiatus it seemed like a good idea. My upright skills are not as polished as they could be as I have only played it for 6 ½ years, the electric bass has been in my hands for about 30 years; starting in high school playing in the jazz band as well as various rock bands. My recent gig had me reading music again after not looking at sheet music since the early 80’s, so I figured I could handle whatever requirements were being requested by the Soulstice Theater. I had no idea as to what Chess (the musical) was, although my wife said she knew of it and the song One Night in Bangkok that was from it. At one time in my life I was the Treasurer for the Menomonee Falls Chess Club and figured with that experience combined with my newly rekindled music reading ability that I would be sitting pretty in the pit – I had no idea. . . .

Brian Meyers, the musical director for this show contacted me after I replied to the ad. He asked about my musical background, if I have ever played in a pit ensemble before and explained that we would have musical scores that are rented from Samuel French. On June 28th I met Brain and he gave me the music book along with the directive of desiring a ‘driving, heavy bass’ underneath the music. He asked several times if I felt that this was something I could do; of course I said, at a quick glance the music didn’t look particularly difficult. Playing in a pit? No problem I played on stage in a high school musical revue 28 years ago, this will be easy (so I thought). At home that evening I decided to see what I could find on the internet and listen to some of the material, I found some songs but they were mostly mellower, ‘classical’ type songs. Looking through the songbook revealed a vast array of time signatures, not by song but within a single song! There would be multiple time signature changes back and forth and even a measure of ¼ time – one measure of ¼! Then there were key changes, 6 sharps to 5 flats, in the same song! I started to sweat. I tried to find solace in the fact that there would be a dozen or so musicians in the pit and maybe I could get by with taking some short cuts through these written parts. So off to the first rehearsal I go.

I get to the rehearsal and find a keyboardist, a guitarist, a multi-instrumental woodwind player, Brian and myself. The music was transcribed in a loose manner, one line of a song would have two measures stretched across the page and the next line would have 5 measures crammed across the page, my head began spinning, I was feeling that with any luck Brian would approach me after rehearsal and tell me that I wasn’t quite what they were looking for. We hacked our way through a fistful of songs, Brian showed great patience with us, having us repeat passages and explaining what the intent of the music was in regards to what the actors would be doing. Fortunately there was a lot of focus on the other musician’s parts and not so much on the bass parts (this would change). I still couldn’t get past how difficult this seemed, this was serious business. We stayed late that night, Brian mentioned that we should be having a drummer show up and hopefully he could get another keyboardist.

Now is time to work, I have to get through this stuff anyway possible. At the same time there was a medical crisis in the family that deserved more attention than the music. The next few rehearsals were as difficult as the first; there was a lot of seriousness in the practice room. I found out later that Andrea noticed how I didn’t have much to say when I came home after these first few practices. Sure I didn’t have anything to say, I was scared! I even started thinking that after going through two guitarist that maybe it was still early enough that I could come up with some excuse,,,, any excuse to gracefully bow out. In the back of my head a tiny voice was saying, “This is the kind of thing that you will look back on and find it worth the strain and pain”. But this is really hard and the time commitment for rehearsal on my own is not right because there is so much else going on with life and work and ugghhh! One of the recent bands I was in that called for reading traditional classical music had a bassist who told me that when there were passages with really busy lines that she would play the first note and the last note of the run and what ever happened in-between would be irrelevant. So yeah, I can still do this; I will fake my way through the stuff that appears to be too difficult.

At rehearsals I was feeling really intimidated, the caliber of musicianship around me was much higher than mine. The quote that I remember says something about surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and it will only make you better. I’m not afraid to improve, but cripes, the keyboardists, Carol and Colleen are playing from multiple song books, Jon the woodwind player has three instruments and 5 songbooks, John the drummer has a magical electronic kit that plays a fugue with a crash of a cymbal and here I sit with one song book and an instrument with 4 strings! What am I doing here? Is this why they call it the pit? Unwavering, Brian continued directing us with his patient demeanor, explaining how he would be graduating to the stage and Carol would actually be the one conducting us, but Carol would be playing! How am I supposed to get direction? Where do I go? When do I play? When do I stop playing? Is it too late to slam my fingers in a car door? Maybe Brian has a small part and would be able to stand at the edge of the stage and kick me when I go astray. Thankfully John the drummer said he had a recording of the Broadway version of Chess, it wasn’t exactly what we were doing but a fairly close representation, he said he would make me a copy. Yes, that’s the ticket to success! My reading skills are currently taxed beyond belief but I am good at picking things up by ear, now I can play along with the recording and try to make sense of the mass of written notes and what they are actually suppose to sound like.

This recording really straightened a lot out for me, it did absolutely nothing for the stress level but it sure did make things clearer. It wasn’t just ‘the other musicians’ that had the burden of playing the correct parts, there are a lot of bass parts that mirror the vocal lines, I can’t just play the first and last note of a run and call it macaroni,,,, oh no, I need to learn these parts ‘as written’, no short cuts, no pretending. On the plus side hearing the vocals married with the music started to draw things into focus. Florence/ American (If You Want to Lose Your Only Friend) was one of the first songs on my list for learning as written. This song smokes with intensity, the busy intricate bass part chugging along with the vocals, had a weird Frank Zappa type feel to me, good gravy can I do this? I think there were four sharps in that one, first thing first; learn the notes in the pattern, and play with a metronome at a slow speed and then start speeding up. Its times like these that I truly appreciate my loving wife who has to tolerate hearing a small segment of a bass line repeating itself over and over and over. Once the first 16 bars of the song were worked out I realized that I learned it, but I learned it while looking at my left hand, if I looked at the music and tried to play it things would just stumble and crumble – back to square one! And so it went slowly progressing and getting better and more confident throughout the songbook of Chess. Then came Tech Week.

Tech week? They should call it Heck Week or something worse. I think I lost 7 pounds and thrice as many hours of sleep. Starting the Saturday before we hammered through an incredibly long day and parts still were sketchy. Sunday we were in the pit and we met the actors and the sound crew and the light crew and everything technical – oh my god Brian is one of the leading men! Tech Week should be stretched out to Tech Month, bugs here bugs there. What cue is where? I’m flipping to what page when? My light on my music stand doesn’t work! We can’t hear each other! The actors are giving me what appear to be dirty looks. Did I play that in the wrong key? So is this why Brian asked several times if I ever been in a pit ensemble before? Besides getting home from work, grabbing a sandwich and bass, rushing through the city and then getting home late every night, there was the pressure; huge, loathing relentless pressure to have everyone do everything correctly. Tensions were running high; doubt and fear were in a close second with frustration jabbing in and out like an eighth note rest in a mad descending run. Quicker than anyone wished Thursday came, Pre-View Night. I was nervous, but there Jon sat cool as a cucumber, books stretched across multiple stands, instruments perched at the ready on every side of him and me stuffed in a corner. I asked Jon, “You have done these pit things before right? Are they all this hard?”, he said ‘No, this one is particularly difficult’. As odd as it sounds I found comfort in those words, maybe this isn’t above me, maybe I know as much as I need to know, maybe things aren’t that bad, maybe this will turnout alright. So began the run of Chess with the Soulstice Theater.

It was a blessing to have Andrea in the audience; she provided feedback that was honest and constructive. Knowing she was out there also provided me with the belief that she would be able to rescue me when I curled up in a ball and hid from everyone! We pushed through the first night, slipped into the second night with too much confidence and hit our stride on the third night. I found that notes were still required to be jotted down in the margins of my music sheets as new hiccups showed themselves. The actors were amazing; here I was with my parts in black and white on the pages in front of me and they were up on stage with nothing but their memories of what spoken and sung lines were to be proclaimed in front of the surprisingly well packed shows. It became fascinating as the shows went on, every night had a rock star moment and every night had an ‘oh shit’ moment, there is no such thing as perfection but the thrill of almost attaining it was absolutely delightful. Even more thrilling was the way that we failed, maybe fail is too harsh, the way we stumbled but didn’t fall. A line was dropped (or added) a cue was missed or eagerly over anticipated, and we (the stage and the pit) didn’t stop, we couldn’t stop - we had to push through it and make it work. Every night we did just that and every night it was amazing to hear feedback from various people about how good things went and how “I didn’t notice any mistakes”. It just solidifies the statement that the great Billy O’Neill once said “. . . an audience won’t necessarily know if you didn’t do something quite right, but they’ll know if you nailed it.” And nailed it we did, there were shining moments where everything happened as it was suppose to and a chill of goose bumps would run up my neck regardless of the awful heat and humidity. Just as it started to get comfortable it finished.

The seventh show, our last show, in front of a live audience was what I would consider our best. The actors were confident in their characters and there was a higher level of charisma and passion coming out of their roles. The pit was well versed in cues and parts and I was actually able to look up from my music (for brief periods) and actually see what was happening on the stage (at least on stage right as I was tucked far left in the pit). I regret not being able to see the whole stage, I regret not being able to see the whole performance; through the whole ordeal the musical Chess has become a part of me. The songs are in my head at random times throughout the day, during the play I would always crack up at the yogurt scene, it was funny; Brian’s face as he stared down ‘Freddy’ whilst eating a spoonful of yogurt was priceless. There were lines in the play that I had memorized and would mouth as the actors said them. There were tender moments, moments of heartbreak and of course there was the music behind it all. Being a part of this holding down the low end for soaringly beautiful songs, funky little ditties, heavy rock and bubble gum pop, it was all there. Being next to Jon as he played his multiple instruments with such ease and hearing the hauntingly beautiful flute part on You and I, put me in that magical position of being an observer and a participant in the whole of the song(s) – this IS worth the strain and pain of getting here – this is why I love being a musician, there is power in sound. Everyone who was involved with this understands the sacrifices and joys of being a part of something bigger than the individual. The incredible effort put into this by the actors was inspiring. My fellow musicians who carried me through this, Carol and Colleen who appeared to effortlessly play their multiple parts, Carol who took over the role of director with a strong understanding of what weaknesses needed to be corrected. John being my metronome throughout and me looking forward to his 2/4 measure hand gestures, and Jon being there to whisper measure numbers to me when I was obviously lost. What a trip, what a thrill, so sad for it to end so soon. I wish more of the people that I invited could have shared this experience with me, I am extremely grateful to those who did share this with me, this was a milestone for me and to know that I satisfied others expectations makes it that much more rewarding – a huge thanks to everyone.
Senior Member
Username: gregduboc

Post Number: 464
Registered: 11-2008
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 6:59 pm:   Edit Post

Paul, usually I don't read big posts...
But man, I don't regret reading yours at all!!
What an excellent experience you had! I can only imagine the emotions and moments you found yourself in.
Very cool of you sharing this with us, and very well written.
Congratulations on another life achievement!!

Username: artswork99

Post Number: 1261
Registered: 7-2007
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 8:12 pm:   Edit Post

Paul, What a great experience, thank you for sharing. Congratulations on the rewards! Best regards, Art
Senior Member
Username: dadabass2001

Post Number: 1487
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Friday, August 20, 2010 - 10:54 am:   Edit Post

Your experience sounds marvelous and is truly well and evocatively written. It resonates with my own feelings having worked on the Dubuque Rock Veterans Rewind show August 6th and 7th (a smaller and less complex production but similar in value and emotional connection). I'm so glad you got to perform in this fashion and make those connections.
Senior Member
Username: richbass939

Post Number: 1108
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - 8:19 pm:   Edit Post

Paul, what an experience! I know you have had a lot going on lately. I think we can all relate to taking on a gig that stretches us to find out what we can accomplish. Glad you made it through.
Username: ivartshiva

Post Number: 48
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Friday, October 22, 2010 - 5:42 am:   Edit Post

Loved hearing all of this! I played for a run of the Rocky Horror Show (easy music!) and went through a lot of this same stuff - real f'ing charts, actor logic, etc. Much better experience than with any band I've ever played in - the music is appreciated on a deeper level and you can dig in for a workmanlike product rather than be the whole show. And yes the LEDs were definitely needed.. Thanks for the long post, well done
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 1857
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Monday, October 25, 2010 - 5:52 am:   Edit Post

I'd enjoy playing for Chess. My favorite shows to play have been JC Superstar and West Side Story thus far. I love pit playing in small doses. People who do it night after night for a living are indeed troopers. Now that you've got a pretty good taste of it, I'm eager to hear what show(s) you're playing next!

Senior Member
Username: pauldo

Post Number: 510
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 - 4:50 pm:   Edit Post

Thanks John.
No pit shows but I am sitting in with the Milwaukee Police Band on Nov.6th and we are playing at the Pabst Theater! There have been so many wonderful shows that I have viewed from the audience at the Pabst - being on stage there is going to be awesome!

We are doing a group of songs, one of them is Birdland but it is more of a high school marching band arrangement - nothing but a burpy bridge pickup sound for that one!
We also are doing a Michael Jackson medley, one of the songs is I Want You Back by the Jackson 5 - that is one super fun bass line to play!

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