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Halls are hazardous workplaces

1 Robert Levine

Among other problems, you could fall into dark holes and break things:

A Florida Panhandle conductor is recovering after falling 14 feet into the empty space below a moveable orchestra pit on the opening night of an opera he had written.

David Ott fell Friday after the debut of “The Widow’s Lantern,” an original work written for the Pensacola Opera. Ott told The Associated Press he fractured nine vertebrae, dislocated his shoulder and may have broken an ankle.

It happened when the lights were off and he went to retrieve his music, not realizing the Pensacola Orchestra pit had been raised to stage level. He says he landed flat on his back on the concrete basement floor below and that he was lucky he did not injure his spinal cord.

He was recovering at home Monday and hopes to conduct again soon.

Something like this happened to a friend of a friend about 20 years ago in New Jersey, except that it was more like 30 feet and the fall pretty much ended her playing career. I know other people who’ve been badly hurt in pits, including a current AFM staffer who was nearly killed when a bunch of (real) logs rolled out of a cart on stage and onto her head in the pit.

Our hall has a very special version of this hazard: a pit at the back of the stage in which the organ is stored. A fall into that would lead to a very messy and almost certainly fatal impalement. Fortunately the hall management is well aware of this, and the pit is almost never lowered or raised when anyone is around. But even just thinking about the open pit with all those pipes looking up hungrily gives me bad dreams. This job is tough enough without nightmares about walking on stage and ending up in a real-life slasher movie.

And then there’s the occasional exploding lightbulb in the overheads, and the mics flying around, and all the lovely unlit areas backstage with things to trip over, and the low-hanging pipes in the basement hallways. It’s enough to make conductors seem positively harmless.

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  1. Comment by Elizabeth Volp
    October 1, 2019 at 4:07 PM

    I can’t believe this is still legal to have such unsafe workplaces. If there aren’t laws protecting workers in these pits, then the local politicians need to be brought onside and urged to lobby for them. What about netting across the pit to protect musicians from falling debris? In the case of a movable pit, how hard would it be to have barriers placed between the hazard and the pit before any people are allowed near it? A piece of wood nailed in place would probably do the trick, or a railing that could be bolted into place.