How Was Your Fisrt Orchestra Gig?

June 23, 2004 at 06:27 PM · I was just wondering if you guys' first paid orchestra gig stinks as much as mine.

I'm playing for this musical theatre company in the pit orchestra. Playing viola because they didn't want any more violinists (and I only had to audition on viola). The orchestra is pretty bad, and we get paid on salary (weekly) so they can work us as little or as much as they want. Usually it's a few 2 and a half hour rehearsals a week, plus 2-3 hour shows every night except Monday and Tuesday. The pay sucks and so does the group, but I guess this is just paying my dues before I actually get to pay my union dues.

Anyone have a similar experience(s)?

Replies (29)

June 23, 2004 at 07:24 PM · man i hate playing in pits, eveyr time i have done it the experience has been negative. but its generally a good exercise in learning how to hang on for dear life. I love it when the director leans down and says "hey, skip forward a little bit, i think the singer just skipped about 30 bars."

June 23, 2004 at 08:02 PM · hahaha, oh i know that drill. i think it's even worse when the singer comes in on the second and a half beat of a vamp measure and the conductor gets that "nooooooo!" look on his face and tries to get the orchestra in at the right spot.

i really like playing in pits, especially opera. i loved playing for "die fledermaus" earlier this year. musical theatre, however, can get old, especially when the pit sucks.

June 23, 2004 at 10:33 PM · My first paid orchestra job was playing for a church's Christmas concert of Handel's Messiah...which I've done several times, for a few churches, since then. Not a salary, just a single check at the end, but it was the first time that I got money for playing violin. =)

Overall, it's never been too terrible of an experience; the pay is usually in the range of $150 for 2-3 rehearsals and 2-3 performances... which is very low from a professional point of view, but as a high school student it wasn't too shabby.

June 23, 2004 at 10:31 PM · In my experience, playing in pits can be both awful and fun. Most recently I played for a highschool production of a Gilbert and Sullivan show. It was kind of horrible, because all these kids on stage would come in early or late - and not even in reasonable places! It wasn't like they'd skip a measure by mistake, or a few measures of a vamp... they'd come in two and three-quarters of a measure early, or something ridiculous like that. Try following singers who are that clueless - hah! But in the end it was kind of fun, aside from the moments of panic. And the pay was pretty decent.

June 23, 2004 at 11:32 PM · Greetins,

I think it depends on the show. I did a long run of WEst Side Story and was never bored. On the other hand, The Merry Widow left me deeply prune deficient.

Just remember that if we did not suffer in the pit at time, we would not have all those silly pit stories to amuse other people with,



June 24, 2004 at 02:04 AM · My first pro gig was as the only percussionist in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience when I was seventeen. The timpani were the ancient type with tuning keys around the diameter, and it was up to me to retune the drums surreptitiously between songs (and I never knew how much/little time I had). I was also in charge of the drum kit, and was so nervous I kept losing track of my millions of bars rest - I missed nearly every roll and the MD was looking daggers at me; not suprisingly, as the soldiers' song sounded really weird without the snare drum... ditto the silent gunshot...

June 24, 2004 at 02:49 AM · When I got into the Anchorage Symphony, I was delighted just to have the chance to play orchestrally in this northern city that, at first glance, seemed completely devoid of culture. When they slipped a $400 check into my hand after the first concert, I was shocked. Three years and two non-profit jobs later, I thank my lucky stars for the extra income.

June 24, 2004 at 04:34 AM · Oh man...every week I would play solo stuff at a local restaurant...alone and for each hour I would receive 40 dollars...I did this during christmas for a few weeks, usually playing for about 3 hours on saturdays. It was pretty good money- when you consider the fact that most people have to work at burger King for minimum wage at my age...and I got to play the birthday song for a bunch of people....which was both enjoyable and embarrassing for them!

I have also played some small wedding gigs alone...they usually go for about 75-100$ a pop...which is always fun...but I'm dead broke now which isn't fun.

June 24, 2004 at 05:44 AM · Haha, my experience is worse. A company called Theatre in the Park, just put on a musical production of "The Sound of Music". I decided to play to put it on my resume. Was the pay good? It was fantastic: None. Hah. Yea, not one single penny, for about 20 hours of rehersal and another 20 of performance. Woot..?


June 24, 2004 at 08:42 PM ·

June 24, 2004 at 09:02 PM · marriage of figaro is such wonderful music though, its actually enjoyable to play

June 26, 2004 at 03:18 PM · My first paid orchestra gig was a real challenge. I had only 24 hours to learn the music and the situation of the orchestra was not so great, they are a good orchestra, but it's been going through a lot of political turmoil, so the enviroment was extremely intense and the tension in the air was very thick. I, as an outsider at the time, found it a really good and interesting experience, I got to see a bit of what was going on behind closed doors and experience it first hand, not just read in-accuracies about it in the paper. I'd say overall, my first professional, paid gig was a good experience.

June 27, 2004 at 07:00 AM · Sarah,

I would play with you if Soldotna was any closer to Anchorage.

I worked my butt off this spring on a musical and in the community orchestra. We had a total of ten performances, and I was asked to pay $25 for dues to become an official orchestra member. About 800-1000 miles of traveling and gas, overnight stays in Homer, and stockpiles of food that I bought to keep myself entertained through the dialogue in the musical, and they not only didn't pay us, but they asked us to pay to play. I could understand if I was some horrible trumpet player who couldn't hit a single high note without cracking, or an oboe player who plays a quarter step sharp consistently, but I don't think I really suck that bad to pay other people so I can play. I actually practiced.

I've noticed a strange trend in the music field. People think that if you love to play, you don't need money to play, you just do it because you love doing it. People have no problems asking me to volunteer my time to play for events. They don't seem to understand the hours of practice and the years of training I logged to get to that one performance. They also don't know what a good case of nerves can do a few days leading up to the event and on the day itself. I love to play, but I'm about done with playing for free.

I love the fact that I can charge to play for weddings because for the right price I can put up with just about anything and have a great attitude!

Here's to professionalism. Professionalism all the way!

June 27, 2004 at 09:23 PM · haha... my first gig -playing for a wedding -didn't actually happen, as the wedding was called off...

June 28, 2004 at 10:35 PM · I admit it--I kept my day job. Only one paying gig in well over a hundred public performances. Sometimes I wish I had become a professional, but usually I am glad to be an amateur and not have to depend upon my poor playing for a living.

I too pay dues to play in my community orchestra. Sometimes I even make extra donations, it helps persuade the orchestra to play music I like if I promise to pay for the sheet music. Right now I'm lobbying for us to do the Ives second symphony. Unfortunately, the others keep reminding me that when we did the Ives third I was the only player in the orchestra that liked the piece.

We've played in the pit for 5 or 6 productions of the (professional) ballet. They gave the orchestra a check, us individual musicians got only comp tickets. But I'd do it again, it's always fun. Once, for Swan Lake Act II, we kept telling our conductor we could play this piu allegro coda faster. So, every performance it got faster. By the last we just about reached our limit, but it was exhilarating!

June 29, 2004 at 06:49 AM · I thought about it a little, and I realised I had opened my mouth to complain about community orchestra in a rather one-sided fashion. The logistics of where I live do not provide the support needed for anything other than a volonteer-based community orchestra. I wish we could have performances that would pay for our labor, but it's just not possible at this time. The only way we can keep playing is if we choose to be volunteers and even pitch in money to keep things running. That's just the way it is. I only wish things were diferent. Like, I wish people thought it worth twelve dollars to go see a live performance, versus eight dollars to see a lame movie. The only way anyone shows interest is if you say you're playing Beethoven's 5th, which we are in fact playing this August.

Anyway, all that to say I'm still hoping for the paid gigs. I'd probably have to move for that, and at this point in my life, I'm not willing to do that, so I'll keep playing for free.

June 30, 2004 at 05:38 PM · I have my first semi-professional pit job right now… I get paid only about 600 dollars for the whole summer, but I also get 6 college credits for doing it. I must say, I’m doing it mostly for the experience. It’s a lot of fun, except the things get stuck in my head way too much! The people (mostly other students) in the orchestra are nice.

I’m playing Bye Bye Birdie and Into the Woods. They each show about 18 times from June to August.

An advantage is that I can get anyone tickets for 6 dollars instead of 17. So by the way, if any of you are in the Santa Rosa/North Bay Area or would like to come up for a show, contact me.

June 30, 2004 at 06:12 PM · bah, you should have spent yo8ur time learning the wieniawski isntead :)

July 1, 2004 at 01:03 AM · Bah.. You should spend your time learning grammar!

July 1, 2004 at 04:21 AM · i dnot lkie spennding mre tme thaan neccessarrry tping correcctly

July 1, 2004 at 05:10 AM · dmna ritgh


July 1, 2004 at 05:11 AM · Greetings,

besides, Ryan has yet to specify which grammar? Nor has he inquired as to whether or not you learnt grammar and then rejected it...

Also, my grammar was a real pain in the butt after she passed 100.



July 1, 2004 at 05:25 AM · amen, theres only so many times you can hear the story about the flowers she bought and they only had one red one left so she bought a red and a yellow one and aren't they pretty? and you find out later she didnt even buy them, her neighbor did...

July 1, 2004 at 05:59 AM · Greetings,

I didn`t know we were related. Did you know you have a mad Swede as a cousin?



July 1, 2004 at 09:26 AM · Sticking to the topic, my first orchestra gig stinks, literally. We did not get paid as it was a charity concert. I remember it was about 12-13 years ago, when the war was raging over Kuwait. I was in 2nd violins and was in the middle of a Mozart when a smell wafted over the entire 2nd violin section. Apparenlty someone had a bit of flatulence and had decided to dispose of some excess bodily waste gas. It smelt of "durian". To westerners, this is a local fruit famous for its pungent smell. When it is fresh it smells horrible, what more when it has been processed by the human body. Gross!

I think I detected it first and I looked at the girl on my left and she looked back at me. I shrugged and looked at the guy on my right and he made a face and stared back at me. It was really hard concentrating on the piece. I actually lost track of the piece for a couple of seconds. For many years after that it was a mystery as to who the culprit was. Naturally nobody would own up and I guess it will remain a mystery forever. I guess that was my most difficult time in the orchestra, trying not to breathe. AARON

July 1, 2004 at 03:35 PM · i was unaware, although according to my father i'm now part swiss, maybe he's gone over the edge

July 1, 2004 at 07:11 PM · You better have not been getting an attitude with me.. Ok? Thanks..

September 21, 2004 at 01:09 AM · okay... my first gig was supposed to be at a christmas orchestra church concert, but from reading some of your experiences, i'm not sure that i wanna do it anymore!

December 23, 2004 at 09:12 PM · One of my first paying gigs was in a dinner theater pit in a building newly renovated for the purpose. It wasn't bad. The singers were fine. The orchestra was bad and too small. It was the best gig in town and I got it only because I was the only one without other commitments in the middle of the run. Lots of funny people. Cute waitresses. Alcohol and appetizers at the bar after the show. My ego didn't factor in. Pits can be kind of cozy.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine