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orchestra pit too loud & too shallow?

Does anybody have a solution for hear the stage performers over the orchestra pit other than drastically reducing the pit players?  I think our pit is really shallow & we have a hard time hearing the singers over the orchestra.
on July 10, 2014 12:23am
Shawna, while you've probably thought of all these already, here's what we've done in various productions to improve the balance: 
1) Mic the singers (individual, overhead, floor...)
2) Have the orchestra play softer
3) Put carpet under the orchestra
4) Put thick absorptive fabric/material between orch and audience
5) Cover the back of the pit with absorptive material
6) Design sets that help bounce the sound out to audience
7) Incorporate acoustical panels suspended above the stage and audience
8) Use absorptive and reflective materials/treatments to enhance house acoustics overall
9) Use plexiglass (glass?) "walls/cages" to tone down drums and horns
 
Best of luck! 
 
Tom
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 10, 2014 6:36am
Our local community theater (theatre) came up with a creative solution when they had the same issue in their new building.  They didn't want to lose the live orchestra, but it was too loud in the pit.
They moved the orchestra into a room off stage and into what is actually the carpenter's shop, closed the door and mic'd the room.  The musical director has a video feed to watch the action, and the sound board has control of the master volume.
 
When I worked with them for some off stage vocals in "White Christmas", they set up a 2nd vocal mic in the room for some 5-part vocal harmonies, added to the orchestra.
 
I don't know if it's a possiblity for you, but I thought it was a creative solution, which has worked well for them.
 
on July 10, 2014 11:29am
Most orchestra pits built in the last 20 years are too deep, so a shallow pit isn't the direct cause. We have a contstantly mic-ed performing culture emphasizing looks; in light of that, you end up with singers and casting directors who don't value volume and projection or even consider it.
 
One trick is to constantly emphasize to the orchestra that if they cannot hear the singers, they are playing too loud. You have to say it several times, but it does work in the end with good players. I've conducted good orchestras and bad orchestras in this regard, and there really are such things as sensitive and insensitive players. You are completely within your right to communicate your concerns about insensitivity to the personnel manager and the union and you should name names. Engaging the right concertmaster to enforce this can really make a difference here. The gold standard is the concertmaster who, on his/her own initiative, asks for the text, synopsis, and translation when he/she gets gets the parts to mark bowings.
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