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Mini Nutcracker Survival Guide

Graham Emberton

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Published: December 8, 2013 at 6:54 AM [UTC]

As I wrap up a weekend chock-a-block with Nutcracker performances with Butler Ballet, I wanted to write up a short list of some things that have helped me make it out of the pit alive.

1. Stretch

Playing for hours on end can be slightly uncomfortable at any time, but the risk of injury is increased when performing in the cramped confines of a pit. Take the opportunity during periods of rest to shake out your hands and do some stretches (subtly!). I highly recommend reading Janet Horvath's "Playing (Less) Hurt" which is a thorough guide to injury prevention and has plenty of suggestions for stretches.

2. Hydrate

Perhaps it goes without saying, but drinking water is so very vital. Keeping a water bottle at hand will not only quench your thirst, your muscles and tendons will appreciate the lubrication water provides.

3. Adjust

Depending on the size of the pit it can be tricky to find a perfectly comfortable playing position, but try your best: talk to your stand partner, adjust the height of the stand, shift your chair… while playing Nutcracker this weekend I swapped my glasses for contact lenses so that I could watch the conductor peripherally rather than craning my neck all the time.

4. Breathe

When the going gets a tad frantic (Battle Scene, Presto of Snow), it's important to remain calm and present in the moment. Some of the runs become nigh impossible if you're rushing! One of the more effective remedies for a quickening pulse at the sight of formidable sixteenths is a simple, deep breath (or two).

5. Sneak a peek

***highly unprofessional***
For the first violins in Nutcracker, the best time to do this is during the harp cadenza in Waltz of the Flowers (better know your entrance though!). Combine with your stretching for full sneaky effect. If you get fired at least it was for the sake of seeing quality dancing.

6. Enjoy

Tchaikovsky wrote some seriously good ballet music, so relish the opportunity to perform! I don’t think I will ever tire of this score. Certainly not until I can play that nasty overture impeccably :)

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 5:40 AM
I don't know this for myself but I have a good friend who played 11 years in a ballet orchestra. His quiz question for Nutcracker musicians is "what is the starting key, what is the key at the brak and what is the ending key?" The follow up question us "Why?" I will not be supplying an answer.
From Graham Emberton
Posted on December 9, 2013 at 9:24 PM
Interesting question! It starts and ends in Bb, and Act II begins in E major... perhaps the distantly related key connotes the magical land Clara/Marie has traveled to?

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