ASIJ’s Pit Band: The Students Behind the Sound


Article by Sam Quade, Writer

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A booming voice asks you to silence your phones and enjoy the show. Lights dim, murmurs cease, and the air is still. Before any entrances on stage, before the spotlight beams down, before the grand reveal of the curtains, a drumroll creeps in from the background and crescendos around the room without ever being seen.

Recently, I was lucky to see where those vibrant sounds come from as I shadowed a rehearsal of ASIJ’s pit band for this year’s musical, Legally Blonde. At 3:00 p.m. sharp on a Tuesday afternoon, students loaded into the cramped pit in front of the main stage, where instruments, music stands, wooden support beams, large blocky black speakers, and snaking chords sat like obstacles in a fifth-grade P.E. course. As soon as they were seated, the musicians began warming up. Scales up and down from the saxophones on my left clashed with elongated notes from the violin section in front of me. 

Fortunately for my research (although unfortunately for my ears), Ms. Schwartz, the pit band director, sat me on the stairs right next to a speaker, meaning every note, squeak, and even whisper shot straight into my eardrums. From this corner, I observed what I first thought was chaos. Yet, as she whisked her baton and counted rhythmically, the whole band came together and the energy absolutely soared. 

Heads began to bop, feet began to tap. Despite the already sweltering body heat, claustrophobia-inducing space, and the random Hanabi writer sitting on the steps taking notes on his phone, it was clear to see everyone in the pit enjoys being in the pit. As someone who’s been onstage many times before, it was an entirely different atmosphere beneath the stage. Music flowed through their bodies, and yet I couldn’t find a single member whose eyes weren’t glued to their music. They could be playing, waiting, counting under their breath, or grabbing even a drink of water from under their seat, but not for a moment did their eyes leave the page in front of them. 

As incredible as it was to experience, you can’t learn everything about pit band from watching one rehearsal, so I spoke with a handful of the pit’s musicians. 

“Usually for the first month and a half we practice on our own,” said percussionist Aaryan Kumar when asked about pit rehearsing with the actors. “We try to get the music down in some form. And little by little we start integrating the singers. Usually, it’s like we start with the lead, and we keep adding bigger and bigger numbers.” 

Hoping for a few highlights to look forward to, I asked about some of their favorite pieces. “My favorite is ‘What You Want,’” answered Kota Fujioka, one of the trumpeters. In referring to the whole musical, he then said, “It alternates between slow and fast pieces with heavy emphasis on brass, percussion, and woodwind, which is very nice because everyone has their own part or own song that they really like.” 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a high-school experience without a few bumps in the road along the way. 

“I think the struggle for pit—and it always has been—is being in tune with the tempo the singers dictate and the tempo we’ve been practicing in,” said pianist Shaun Kono-Peck. The recording that the band practices with often has a drastically different tempo than one sung by the actors on stage. 

“I think you get out of it as much as you put into it,” said saxophone player Kentaro Mathis, on a final note. After sitting in on just a couple of hours of practice, I could tell how much each member has put into their coming performance. Overlooked both figuratively and, because of their positioning underneath the stage, literally, the musical’s pit band blew me away. I swiftly purchased a ticket for one of their shows. 

It wouldn’t be a musical without the music. It seems an obvious statement, but the band provides a crucial role in the performance and deserves their fair share of kudos for it. On the behalf of my interviewees, I urge you to buy yourself a ticket for ASIJ’s Legally Blonde: The Musical. While you’re there, close your eyes and open your ears. I guarantee you that your experience will be enhanced thanks to the pit band.