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When you attend a theater performance, the music can be an integral part of the entire experience. Live orchestra music has a way of carrying the audience along with the rest of the performance, serving as a powerful force. Members of a live orchestra typically remain hidden from the audience, seated out of sight in the orchestra pit. While the audience cannot see the orchestra, they can certainly hear it. Explore the history and technical acoustics of the orchestra pit to learn about this important theater feature.

History of the Orchestra Pit

Acoustic-NotesRichard Wagner, a German opera composer, receives credit as the creator of the orchestra pit. Wagner worked tirelessly in opera composition, with great concern about theater practices and the overall presentation of the orchestra in performances. Bayreuth, located in northern Bavaria, Germany, is the location of the Margravial Opera House, built between the years of 1744 and 1748. King Ludwig II of Bavaria financed a complete overhaul of the opera house under the supervision of Wagner. Part of the new design was a sunken orchestra pit that would hide the musicians from sight. The premier of the orchestra pit occurred in 1876 with the performance of The Ring of the Nibelung.

Characteristics of an Orchestra Pit

The orchestra pit sits between the audience and the stage, situated at a lower level to remain out of sight of the audience. Some orchestra pits have curtains further hiding the musicians. The acoustical design of the orchestra pit is exceedingly important to ensure that the music flows freely up and out of the recessed area. The walls serve to move the music toward the audience and not toward the performers on stage.

Musicians in the Orchestra Pit

music conductorMusicians performing in orchestra pits may feel removed from the performance because they cannot see the stage, the performers, or the audience. The conductor conducts the music, and the musicians simply follow this lead to produce the theater’s music. Shows may last up to 2.5 hours, and musicians usually dress in black to appear both nondescript and professional. With concerns about hearing damage for musicians performing in orchestra pits, newer acoustical designs dampen the decibel levels in the pit. Lighting is important to ensure that musicians can see adequately when performing in orchestra pit seating. Orchestra pits may also feature guard rails and nets to prevent accidental falls.