Not everyone realizes that ERHS has one of the few high school theatre programs to use a student pit orchestra to play the musical scores for their productions. Many high school programs use pre-recorded music, which often lacks the immediacy and energy that make a live pit orchestra so exciting. At the Loft Stage, which champions a holistic, student-centered approach to high school theatre productions, student musicians are already in the pit working on the score for White Christmas. What a great way to sharpen skills and give our talented young musicians an opportunity to participate in a professional-level live-theatre experience.
Chris Tank, Musical Orchestra Director for the Loft Stage and professional trumpet player with the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra, weighs in on the trials and tribulations of crafting a dedicated student pit orchestra: The biggest challenge for the pit orchestra, Tank believes, is that there are more than twice as many students who want to join the pit orchestra as there are spaces to fill. This year, 45 students were in attendance, so this interest has grown greatly since the inception of the ERHS theater department. “Though it’s exciting to have a great interest,” he notes, “decisions have to be made due to the instrumentation and facility restraints.”
For students, Tank observes, the greatest reward of pit orchestra is that ERHS offers one of the one of the best high school musical experiences in the Twin Cities. “As a professional educator and performer myself, I feel I can validate this statement. Personally, it is a thrill and privilege to be a part of this annual event.” He adds that the biggest reward and greatest challenge comes from training young musicians to be semi-professional players.
Finally, Mr. Tank gives a shout out to his theatre program colleagues. “The privilege,” Tank says, “comes from working with a great team that I have worked/grown with since my tenure in District 833: Amanda Hestwood – director, Dr. Christopher Russell – Choral and Voice Coaching; James Stocco III – technical director, many others on staff that I admire and honor for their professional vision and friendships. I am humbled.” To that, we say: Mr. Tank, you rock.