About two weeks ago, I got a call from a friend and fellow horn player. She does a lot of musical theatre gigs, playing in the orchestra, so she's made her way up the local amateur call-list. It seems a production of Man of La Mancha had lost their previously arranged horn player and was having trouble finding a last-minute replacement. Someone gave them her name, and since she was coming off of two shows back-to-back in the last 6 weeks and fighting exhaustion, she called to see if I could take it. Of course, I have such an enormous amount of free time (since sarcasm isn't obvious in print, let's say it now, that was a snark), so I jumped at the chance. In all honesty, I would like to do more musicals, but I haven't made the contacts to get my name out there and on "the list". I would have been crazy to turn this down.
But - since we're on full-disclosure here - I really don't have a lot of time right now. So she and I agreed to split the work. We would both attend the 4 remaining rehearsals, and then each do 4 of the 8 total show dates. And that is how I ended up in the pit for one of my favourite shows ever. Pure luck. I was so excited after she called (and terrified - I have three papers to write in less than a month!), that I dialed up the ITunes music store and bought the most recent Broadway soundtrack, which I've been meaning to buy for ages anyhow. Then I called Mom, who is a long-time musical theatre accompanist, while it was downloading. It's one of her favourite shows, too.
But no matter how much you listen to a show, or how many times you see it live, it can't prepare you for playing the score. I lucked out, the horn parts for this show are wonderful. That's not always the case, as I found out the last time I did this (for Annie Get Your Gun, which is most definitely not one of my favourite shows). I feel a little bad for the trumpet players, though... they were playing their trumpets upside-down at one point this evening just to make it more interesting (and no, they didn't miss a note :) ) I wanted to snap a picture of them with my fancy-schmancy camera phone, but that would have been bad, especially since the orchestra isn't in a pit below the stage, but on-stage, against the upstage wall, behind a thin curtain dividing us from the action. Visible for all to see, at least, for those with good night-vision.
The score calls for two horns, but we're only using one. Not certain if this is due to budgetary constraints or some other reason, but it's the only bummer in the whole experience. In the rehearsals with two of us there, we occasionally played both parts for fun, and it sounds so much better... this show is lushly and beautifully scored for two horns, with wonderful harmonies. But given the utter lack of space in our playing area, we don't dare try to play a performance together. We briefly considered it, but one of us would have to sit on someone's lap, and that would not be pretty. Alas, it's their loss.
So here is where I put in my plea to musical theatre directors everywhere: if you've decided to use a live orchestra for your show and the score calls for more than one horn - DON'T SKIMP ON THE HORNS!! For goodness sake. No one ever skimps on trumpets, even when half of their part is flourishes and the other half is 'tacet'. Ah, but we can get by with one horn, right? Sure you can. If you like stereo sound with the right channel missing. I understand that horn players might not be plentiful where you are, but surely there are options. In a pinch, you can have a trombone or baritone cover the other horn part - it's better than nothing.
My plea is made. I am off to bed, to dream of knights, dragons and windmills.