In the Pit at George Mason High School

In the Pit at George Mason High School

The orchestra is an enjoyable and interesting part of any musical. At George Mason students are able to participate in orchestra as a fun extracurricular activity. "It’s not like a class, it’s an extracurricular so people come because they really want to...and we like watching the play," said Elena Martinez a junior clarinetist.

Elizabeth Fortenberry a junior oboist adds, "It doesn’t take long to learn the music, people who join the orchestra are enthusiastic learners...I also like having the string instruments there." (The regular band class doesn’t have strings).

Mary Jo Webster, the director said, "The students at GMHS are always excited to perform in musical orchestras and become part of the production."

Students in orchestra put in a lot of time and effort. For most plays the orchestra starts rehearsing six weeks before the play and then rehearses every night two weeks prior to opening night. Depending on the musical, there can be as many as twenty students or as few as ten. Clearly, managing and directing the orchestra is a huge task, the orchestra would not be possible without band director Webster, who spends so much time working after school with students. This is Webster’s tenth year at George Mason, her favorite musicals include “Chicago,” “Fiddler On the Roof,” “Music Man,” “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific” and “West Side Story.”

From Webster’s view, directing an orchestra for a musical and directing the symphonic band for a concert are very different. Many of the directing decisions such as tempos, and performing music for scene changes are based on the actors and the characters they are playing. The orchestra has to be coordinated with the actors and whatever the play needs. In fact, musicals combine all kinds of fine arts as Webster points out, "Musicals are one venue in which theatre, art and music can merge together and create one production simultaneously; music with the orchestra and singing, art with creating scenery and sets and theatre with acting and lines and dance. Symbiotically, the entire production rises to an entire new level with all three disciplines working together. It’s a thrilling experience for students and faculty."

Even though it takes time and energy, live music is a great element to add to a show and makes a huge difference. Webster, commenting on the effects of live music, said "Live orchestra music happens with musicians performing with the actors in real time and in the case of a high school production, this means that every performance is a new performance. It’s an invigorating experience to be the conductor and line up music and lines with tempos, knowing every night there will be slightly different tempos and pauses with the lines. Many singers practice with a recorded CD and are surprised when they realize the orchestra is a live entity, capable of change. Our goal is to both provide the singers with the artistic license to change the tempos and express their character’s music as well as providing toe tapping dance music, scene changes and overtures."