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Topic: Pan settings for instruments in pit

  1. #1

    Pan settings for instruments in pit

    Just wondering what the pan settings should be for the various instruments/sections in a theater orchestra pit. Obviously, they are going to be different than on stage. There is much less room. There are fewer strings, so you are going to want to put them all together, rather than stretch them out across the front of the pit, so that they can hear each other.

    If there are two percussionists, does it make sense to put them together, or is it better to put them on the extreme L & R? How about two keyboard players? Does the bass go with them, near the drums, or near the string section. Do you want to keep brass and reeds together, or separate them on either side, with the strings at center?

  2. #2

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    In my personal experience as a conductor of shows in the West End here in London before full timing as a composer - and wasn't that a relief! - there are no hard and fast rules. As a conductor you will want the rhythm section nice and handy, but the pit shape and size will determine a lot of the rest of the geography. I've done pits that were like football pitches where everyone had loads of room, and ones like First World War slit trenches - 4 foot wide by 30 foot (or that's how it seemed ) - and have had brass sections under the stage on a microphone and tv link up (keeps 'em quiet but you never know when they've nipped off to the bar..) and percussionists in royal boxes looking down onto the stage from the side. A lot of it will be where you can fit people in - but obviously you will want to keep sections together and brass near drums so that they don't drift when it's all going off. It's often very difficult/impossible for some parts of the band to hear others, if you are sitting extreme stage right you won't be able to hear what's happening stage left!
    It's also pretty common to do front of house sound in more or less mono - i.e. no panning from centre - this is so that people on the right of the the theatre don't miss sound information from the left, and after all the front of house sound is only intended to lift and balance the natural sound of the pit orchestra and to take out any boxiness caused but the parts of the building that are in the way of direct sound.
    The other thing to consider is the cast recording scenario - which is possibly what you are thinking of here. That's when we all get out of the pit and go to a nice warm studio where a kindly engineer records you nicely separated by glass screens with lots of room and then mixes it with complete and sensible disregard to where the band would be in the theatre.

    Hope that helps - no doubt other theatre hands will chuck in suggestions too..


    Barrie B

  3. #3

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr
    If there are two percussionists, does it make sense to put them together, or is it better to put them on the extreme L & R? How about two keyboard players? Does the bass go with them, near the drums, or near the string section. Do you want to keep brass and reeds together, or separate them on either side, with the strings at center?
    Sorry didn't really answer this bit.. all depends on the score and any orchestrational effects - percussionists are probably best kept together unless there particular effects involved, but a tympani player could be opposite sides to tuned and toys for example - if it's a swingin kind of score I'd keep reeds and brass together near the rhythm section - keyboards pretty much anywhere because they tend to di into the FOH sound anyway, if it's a real piano space will be a consideration again, but as near the rhythm section as possible - strings? well I guess you'll be lucky to have many - so see where you still have a bit of room!!
    In the pit it's generally a case of getting the best possible ratio of who can hear who - or the band will never really gel and play together.
    And as I say - out front in the theatre as an audience member you'd be hard pushed to make out a seating plan for the band by listening alone.


  4. #4

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    Thanks for the input. I know that there are no hard and fast rules. I am an actor here in NY and I have seen Broadway pit orchestras in the wings, on stage, burried under the stage, etc. But you seldom get a good look because, most of the time, the musicians are all or partially hidden.

    What I am after is MIDI pan settings for a demo of the score that I can use in place the default pan settings in GPO and other libraries. The defaults aren't suitable because there won't be enough string players to spread out across the playing area and it won't be as deep. Though this may be ultimately mixed to mono if it is ever given a live performance, for my demo I just need a bit of separation so that every section and solo instrument has a little room to breathe and can be heard.

    This is what I have so far: Most Broadway pits seem to be long and narrow, with the players (other than the drummer) facing left and right, rather than out front, so that they can see the conductor from the extreme left and right. I'm putting the drummer at center, with the reeds spread out directly in front him. Brass to the right of them and strings to the left (so that the resonators of the violins an violi are pointing toward the audience). This seems to be the best way to insure that all the instruments in each section are reasonably close together and no one group is too far from the drummer. I'm putting the two keyboards on the extreme right and left sides, toward the back. The String bass will be near one of them. The other keyboard will be at to the extreme right of the brass. He will play mallet instrument patches in place of a percussionist, as well as organ and acordian sounds that support the brass.

    Any other suggestions?

  5. #5

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    You have a classic situation of using a concert orchestra library to recreate a smaller ensemble, it kind of goes against the grain to reduce the lushiousness of sections like the strings, but the best solution is probably to reduce the stereo width of pretty much everything to as close to mono as you can. The kit in commercial recordings is sometimes spread right across the stereo spectrum, but to emulate that pit sound it must be reduced so that it comes from one place in the 'virtual pit' only. You could use a mono channel or if you have an external mixer, bring the left and right pans together to the percieved source. This will apply to a small violin section, and to brass and reeds. Think of panning a section in the same way you'd pan an individual instrument and you should get that pit sound to a T - and remember that a recording is ALWAYS a different animal to a live performance and that if you want to enhance the sweetness of of the recorded version you're allowed to - that's what recording technology is for. Hence the recorded cast album sounding rather better produced than the real live thing.
    After all, some pits sound absolutely awful, you don't want to capture that, do you!

    best wishes from London,


  6. #6

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    Same thing: I emulate 5 violins by having two play the top, two in the middle, and one on the bottom. Because the orchestras you're thinking about weren't any bigger than 28 as opposed to the symphony and film orchestras of about 60 or 80, that's what should be considered, of the "Chamber" like sound. Especially since the modern pits these days aren't bigger than 19, with no more than just three violins if you've got brass. If you have five violins, and you're recreating the "live" sound, you can use the second keyboard's "string" sounds you have and record that in real-time. I do stuff like this all the time. In fact, on SIBELIUS, I recreated the original overture to "THE LITTLE MERMAID" (composed by Alan Menken, orchestrated by Thomas Pasatieri), using the GARRITAN sounds, plus my Roland Fantom (Key 1) and XP-30 (Key 2) keyboards. If I can, maybe I can put that in the listening room so you can hear.

  7. #7

    Re: Pan settings for instruments in pit

    Well, here is how I have been handling the strings (keeping in mind that this is what is best suited to the score I am composing):

    18 instruments (the current max under the Bway musician's contract -- the 19th is the conductor).

    3 violins, 2 violas, 1 cello, 1 string bass. As this is a period piece (19th century) I am not using synth sounds or synth strings. (I intend to use a sampling keyboard in place of a harp, harpsichord, organ, celeste -- where it is least noticable.)

    The double bass sometimes functions with the rhythm section, sometimes it plays with the strings (usually doubling the cello at the unison or octave.)

    When there are a lot of instruments playing, the violins + violas play together near the top of the treble staff. If it has to go higher, I use just the violins, doubled with the flute or piccolo. In this case, the violas either double an octave below (with the oboe or clarinet). Or they play in the tenor range, doubled with the cello.

    The above is for tuttis, when I want a big sound (overture, scene changes, dance music). If I want it really big, I leave out the strings all together and have the bass double the lower brass or ww.

    When I want a light accompaniment (under dialog, or for solos, etc.) I will divide the strings like a string quartet, with each instrument on its own line. I don't use all of them for this and I only do it in a couple of places.

    More often, the accompaniment is somewhere between the two extremes, favoring the strings and keyboard in the softer passages and adding the wind instruments in the louder parts (4 reed players, and sometimes a muted trumpet or softly played euphonium for color effects). Here, I score the strings according to Don Sebesky's "The Contemporary Arranger" (which I highly recommend, even though it is somewhat dated): 3 violins play the top line, 2 violas on the second line, the cello on the third line if needed (or playing the bass pizz, if I want to keep it light or the bass part is in the high range.) In small groupings Sebesky acually recommends 3 violins and 2 cellos (the second cello replacing the violas) but I found that this was not suited to my music. The first cello part was consistently playing in its high range -- which was a big clue to me that the part should be scored for violas instead.

    I applied similar reasoning to my brass section. I noticed that my French Horn part was almost always in its lower range. So I replaced it with a Euphonium (and reassigned the few higher parts to the English Horn and Oboe.) I know a Euphonium player who plays on Broadway all the time and he says nearly all the Broadway trombonists double on the Euphonium. So my brass section is 2 trumpets, 1 Bass Trombone, and one Tenor Trombone player doubling on the Euphonium.

    I really like the warm, rich color of the JABB Bass Trombone. (And one of the GPO Bass Trombones offers a very brassy alternative sound that I am using in my overture.) I don't like the trumpets and the tenor trombones in JABB. I am only using the muted versions from JABB. When I want open trumpets or tenor trombone, I use the GPO versions.

    To emulate sound evocative of the era (marching bands a la Suza, waltzes a la Leher, etc.) I really needed credible sounding string and brass sections that could be done with just a few instruments. I found that the use of the Euphonium helps a lot in suggesting that era (as does the use of a piccolo and Eb clarinet) -- thanks to my trombonist friend for the advice. I have four reed players, with a fair amount of doubling -- which is pretty standard for Broadway these days. I am not using saxes anywhere in the score, although they were certainly of the period. It just sounded too contemporary to me. I have two percussionists. I have found that the timpani, orchestra bells and triangle also help a small orchestra sound lush and large (if used in tutis). That's what I am basically trying to do here.

    My other problem is learning how much of the melody to put into the accompaniment -- and how much rhythm you need to keep everybody together. Just from my own experience as an actor in several musicals, it seems to me that live accompaniment needs more of both and than you would normally apply in the studio.

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