There I was, crawling around on the floor backstage in the Hennessy Theatre, desperately attempting to pick all of my
drumsticks up without missing my cue for the next song. The glint of my two antennae-like stand lights, far up on my
music stand, was all that illuminated my way. As I scrambled to collect my sticks and mallets, organizing them as best as I could with my limited time and light, I silently slithered back onto the drum stool and grabbed the glockenspiel off of the stand. Flipping a page ahead in my music, I flicked on my mini light, snatched up my mallets and was ready when our music director, Lauren Craven, raised her hands to cue us in for the song.
Sound like a lot? That’s the life of a pit musician—at least during a show. Although usually your instruments are right by your side and don’t fall all over the floor during a performance, there’s still a lot to keep track of. But there’s nothing like the high of performing and the energy you get after hearing the audience clapping and cheering in response to something that you were a part of—even if you played just a very small part.
On the weekend of February 13-15, I played drums and percussion in the pit for Spring Awakening, a show put on by UNH’s Mask and Dagger Society. Senior Rachel Bergeron was the director and choreographer with senior Janais Axelrod serving as the assistant director. Both individuals brought an incredible shared vision to life and made a musical about 19th century Germany feel relevant in modern- day America. There were six members of the pit in total, including freshman Wyatt Garrett on piano, sophomore Sam Graff on guitar, junior Juliana Good on viola, senior Lucy Kirby on cello and junior Lauren Craven, our music director.
I’ve been in several pits before this, and that one single moment of adrenaline in the show consistently reoccurs show after show, completely unmatched from the rest of the musical and rarely found in everyday life. That one moment fuels you, feeds you with energy, leaving you completely exhausted yet satisfied—like when you’ve just gone for a long run or sang your heart out for three hours at a concert for your favorite band. In Spring Awakening, that moment for me was the song “Totally Fucked” in Act II. For context, in this song, the male lead Melchior (Matt Soucy) is being questioned by his schoolteachers; they found an inappropriate essay that they believed he wrote (spoiler alert: he did). Melchior realizes that he has no way of getting out of this, no matter what he says or does. The song that ensues, “Totally Fucked,” describes this realization of being completely stuck without “an inch more room to self-destruct.” For me, this song was the best part of the show, the mountain peak, the vanilla icing on the chocolate cake. It’s a fast-paced ensemble number featuring Rachel’s impressive, upbeat choreography, and I could tell the cast loved it as much as the pit did. At every show, without fail, the cast and pit’s energy mutually fueled each other, which sparked the audience’s engagement, which only inspired more energy and excitement in the cast. That three-way loop of energy felt endless and incredible, something you don’t always get to experience. Whenever this song was over, my heart was always pounding a million miles a minute—in a good way.
Though “Totally Fucked” was my personal favorite, each pit member had different moments that they enjoyed the most. Lauren loved “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind,” which everyone agreed was a favorite. Juliana referenced the final song of the show, “Song of Purple Summer,” a wistful ballad that looks to the future while still reflecting on all that had occurred. “I think ‘Left Behind’ is where we peak as a pit,” Wyatt noted, citing a particularly emotionally-charged moment that required all six of us to lock in even more tightly with each other and the actors to ensure that we were on the same page rhythmically, tonally and dynamically.
Even though all of us pit members had our favorite moments in Spring Awakening, just like the actors and audience members did, being in a pit is incredibly different from acting in a show, and even more different than being in the audience. Yes, you get to watch pieces of an amazing show, but you never get to see the entire finished product; you can’t exactly watch the choreography and play your part at the same time. You get to hear how the instrumentals and the vocals blend together, but you don’t get to sit in the audience and see how everything blends together— the dialogue, choreography, lighting, set design.
But don’t get me wrong, the pit is still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Our music director, Lauren, recounted working with the cast from the very beginning as being incredibly rewarding, especially “starting from scratch... [where] no one knows anything yet, and then building it all together, layering and layering, until we get to this point, and you can see it all happen.” In fact, as we neared the last day, all of us realized what a journey we’d been on and how we were going to miss the energy that came with performing Spring together in Hennessy every night.
“I’m probably going to cry,” Lauren said as we realized we only had two shows left. “It’s going to happen.” The rest of us chimed in our agreement. “I’m just in a constant state of emotion for this week,” Juliana agreed, “and then it’ll be over after today.” Most of us had already cried at least once, and most likely would again, both because of the show’s emotional content and the realization that this incredible journey was over.
But such is the life of a pit musician: a little chaotic, exhausting and emotional, but incredibly rewarding and energizing.