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My Favorite Things – The Life of a Pit Musician

I confess.  I really DO love to perform as a pit musician.  Whether it be playing for opera, ballet or Broadway shows, I find that there is a special excitement, energy and camaraderie that comes from being a part of a bigger spectacle.  My life this month has included a lot of pit work…to date, 22 Nutcracker performances with New York City Ballet.  Here’s what a a typical day has been like for me.

Arriving at the theatre, viola on my back…

Photo of shadow, taken by Joana Miranda

I pass under the giant Nutcracker banner.

NY City Ballet's Nutcracker banner, photo taken by Joana Miranda

Backstage is quiet since musicians are still arriving.  A lone bass rests from the commute…

Photo of double bass with transportation wheel, taken by Joana Miranda

While inside the pit, a cello is waiting for its owner.

Photo of cello in orchestra pit, taken by Joana Miranda

Here he is!  Mr. Alessandro B, known as much for his fine music making as for his wonderful Italian cooking (and excellent taste in ties.)

Photo of NYC Ballet cellist, taken by Joana Miranda

It’s still a half hour “to curtain”…

Photo of curtain at David Koch Theatre, taken by Joana Miranda

And the house lights are up as patrons pour into the theatre to find their seats.

Photo of ceiling at David Koch Theater, taken by Joana Miranda

She’s tired of waiting for the show to start, but at least the activities of  the musicians in the pit give a modicum of entertainment.

Photo of young patron at New York City Ballet, taken by Joana Miranda

Mark tunes his cello…

Photo cellist's hands, taken by Joana Miranda

While Mitch and Gary, two members of the clarinet section, warm up.

Photo of two New York City Ballet clarinetists, taken by Joana Miranda

Tchaikovsky’s score to the Nutcracker is some of the most popular and beloved ballet music.  The cellists sharing this stand obviously REALLY love it!

Photo of Nutcracker score adorned with cute holiday stickers, taken by Joana Miranda

(And they’ve had plenty of time in the rests to paste many more stickers.)

Photo of music adorned with lots of stickers, taken by Joana Miranda

Meanwhile, in one of the viola parts, the shows played are kept track of very creatively.

Photo of Christmas tree made out of hatch marks, taken by Joana Miranda

On the nearby Celesta (think Sugar Plum Fairy music), generous musicians keep the goodie plates replenished.

Photo of plates of candy on top of celesta, taken by Joana Miranda

It’s nearing showtime, and the atmosphere at Lincoln Center is festive as patrons enter the David Koch Theatre.

Photo of David Koch theater taken at night by Joana Miranda

I put away my camera and take out my viola…no more pictures now, but you can come and see the show and hear the music for yourself.  If you’re lucky, you might even get a pair of signed toe-shoes from your favorite dancer.

Photo of signed toe shoes backstage at the David Koch Theater, taken by Joana Miranda




  1. we’re playing butterfly this spring…i will have to find some appropriate stickers!

    • Hi Nina,

      Apparently, these are new parts…I wonder what the OLD ones looked like?

      🙂 Joana

  2. la mammma says

    oh this blog is SO adorable! I just loved it, all of it. You make it sound like a magical ………
    (which is REALLY is, of course!)
    love, la m

    • Hi Ma,

      Glad you liked this post! I really do like playing in the pit…always have. (Well, not exactly in Milwaukee, but the circumstances were quite different there.) See my MSO friend Helen’s reply to this post!

      Love you,

  3. Helen Reich says

    In defense of your Milwaukee colleagues, I would say that the less-than-fabulous experience of playing in the pit in our fair city has more to do with the preparation we had for our operas. I mean really, consider who was conducting us most of the time, and consider the short amount of time we had to slop stuff together. As for myself, I try to avoid playing operas when
    I can, but mostly because they’re so damn long, and they make my back hurt.

    • Hi Helen,

      Thanks for setting me straight. I wrote the response to my mom early this morning after having gone to bed at 2:30 a.m. last night. I wasn’t expressing myself clearly, and I didn’t mean to imply that MSO musicians have a bad attitude. (See my revised reply to my mom:-)

      That said, I have found that even despite a fair share of cutting up, goofing off, etc., regular pit musicians tend to approach pit work from a different angle than symphony orchestra or chamber orchestra musicians.

      Now off to bed so that I don’t stick my foot back in my mouth!
      😉 Joana

  4. I think (speaking as a musician in an opera orchestra) that we are more accustomed to assuming a different role in the performance. As an orchestra, we aren’t moving between the roles of featured event and accompaniment. Individually, of course, we all perform in many venues: solo, chamber and orchestral, where we the instrumentalists are the main event. The opera orchestra as a group expects that we are only a part of the performance, and that our job is to accompany the singers and set the mood for the stage. Both roles are challenging, and both roles are rewarding, but they are different. When there isn’t enough rehearsal time to prepare an opera, or enough space for the string players to play with proper posture, it’s especially difficult to be in the pit. The freedom we have to share a joke or a smile with a colleague during the performance (perhaps while adding new stickers to the part) helps us bond as a group.

    • Couldn’t have said it better, Nina! And I remember my MN Opera days (and all of the other pit work I did during my 3 years living in Minneapolis) very fondly.

      🙂 Joana

    • Hi Paola,

      Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for connecting with me on Twitter! I look forward to getting to know you better and keeping up with you on Twitter.

      All best wishes and Happy New Year!

  5. Pingback: Joana Miranda, Artist (Whimsical Illustrator, Jewel Designer & Professional Violinist) « Living My Passion

    • Thanks for the wonderful feature on your blog! I’m so honored to be included.

      With all best wishes,

  6. Pingback: Joana Miranda, Artist (Whimsical Illustrator, Jewel Designer & Professional Violist) « Living My Passion

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