Opening night! It is usually quite a stressful time for me. The long months of planning by the production team and the many, many hours of often tedious, detail-laden rehearsal are over. The orchestra has worked hard over the dress rehearsals to get everything together. At this point, my score is usually layered in pencil markings—noting repeats to be taken during complex scene changes, blocking details, and etc. As the crowd arrives and the house crew does their thing, I usually find myself in the pit, reviewing my responsibilities, contemplating what can happen. What if an important prop is not in its correct location? How efficient have the scene changes been? Where are the critical costume changes that might need more time? Finally, will this group of actors, most of whom do something else for a living, balk at the sight of the crowd in the house and drop a line, forget their lyrics, or skip a verse? Are the new people prepared for this?
Up to this point, I have been one piece in a complex machine, trying to get the blobs of ink on the page of my score to line up with the events on stage. Unlike my regular gig, where I conduct a large ensemble, the pit conductor works more as a manager (or firefighter) than a podium dictator, adjusting to on-stage problems and offering solutions. Now, while I wait in the pit for the stage manager to give me the word to start, my role transforms—because when a performance starts, it's all on me. If there is a problem, I have to solve it right NOW! If a line is skipped, or a repeat missed, then a quick yell to the orchestra will have to get us all back together. If the stage crew has an unexpected problem during a scene change, what music should the orchestra repeat to provide some cover? I like having that pressure on me, and when I make the right call, it's a pretty hefty emotional rush.
More than anything else, though, I find conducting at MTVArts inspiring. I am one of just a few people in the group whose company job is similar to their full time gig. Watching people from the community—office managers, realtors, factory workers, farmers, students, etc.—memorize their lines, work on their blocking, learn a long list of prop and costume changes, and hash out their singing, really stokes me. Those of us in the pit represent as wide a range, and all of them have sacrificed many hours to play in the pit orchestra. So as I stand there waiting for the house lights to be turned all the way down, I often think about how the cast, crew, and orchestra have volunteered to step into a different world, one requiring the discipline to show up to rehearsal at the end of a long day of work and an ability to take and learn from constant, detailed criticism. To have seen them put many tough hours into a rehearsal, often after the end of an already long day, motivates me to do whatever I can to help. Now, with the lights down and the orchestra looking at me for the overture downbeat, it's on me. Motivated by the passion and courage of those around me, I can’t help be smile and commit myself to help them in everyway possible. Game on!