Technology is a Wonderful Thing . . Until it’s Not

One of the terrific things about playing keyboard for shows these days is the introduction of Apple’s Mainstage product. Through the use of very inexpensive software and a Mac laptop, players can use their keyboards to generate hundreds of unique instrument sounds, particularly when budget limits the size of the pit one can hire. (On a more controversial note, programmed keyboard parts have become the norm in newer Broadway shows, which has led to the hiring of few professional musicians – not a great development.)

I’ve been integrating Mainstage into my shows as needed, often doing the programming and handing off the playing to another pit member. However, recently I had a need to play my own programming while also conducting my small but mighty pit. And of course, near-disaster stuck. Somehow, in the middle of a song, the programming simply stopped working, and no sound came out of my keyboard. (You have to shut off your keyboard’s local control in order to generate the sounds via the Mainstage setup.) I managed to somehow quickly switch my keyboard back to piano mode so I could continue playing, while also trying to check the connections at the same time. Turns out it was human error after all. My power adapter cable simply wasn’t fully plugged in, and the laptop’s battery was fully drained. Intermission was just around the corner, so I was able to discover and remedy the problem.

What pit pitfalls have you encountered? Feel free to comment below!

Where are the cymbals??

. . . Or how a disastrously late principal actor allowed me to solve an unforeseen percussion calamity.

The production was Side Show, a show with contemporary-style music, reliant on solid traditional drum kit to anchor the pit. Mind you, the pit was only four or five players total. My drummer had engaged a sub for one performance, which I was comfortable with. However, he hadn’t told me that he would be taking his cymbals with him for his night off. I learned then that this was not unheard of, and many drummers bring their cymbals with them, given the high value drummers place on fine cymbals. But, he hadn’t told me. The sub showed up, and he was clearly not in the category of cymbal protectors, surprised and dismayed to see a nice drum kit with empty cymbal stands.

That night, one of our principal actors was driving back from an out-of-state trip and ran into a delay. We literally could not start the show without him. While the producer explained the situation to the audience (and opened up the bar!), I remembered that a childhood friend of my sons, an accomplished drummer then in high school, lived five minutes away. I called his parents and arranged to borrow his cymbals. After a 45-minute delay the actor arrived, and we were able to start the show. The audience was none the wiser and definitely in a forgiving mood, thanks to the extra bar time!