Secondary Characters Present The Hunchback of Notre Dame

My horns getting all prettied up for The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, dressing room, Secondary Characters, Chilliwack Cultural Centre, bari sax, bass clarinet, clarinet, soprano sax

My Mark VI soprano, Leblanc Bb clarinet, Richard Keilwerth bass clarinet, & SeaWind baritone sax all in the dressing room at the Cultural Centre

For the second time this year I find myself surrounded by a sea of instruments—all my own and that I am responsible for—as I am in the pit orchestra for Secondary Character’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

It feels like just yesterday that I played what seemed like a ton of horns for The Music Man. (Or at least they started feeling like a literal ton towards the end of show’s run.) Now I’m playing similar horns for Hunchback.

This was then, this is now…..

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, my pit orchestra set-up, bass clarinet, clarinet, soprano sax, bari sax, microphones, music stands, sheet music

We are on the Rotary Stage at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, which doesn’t have a pit. Therefore both the orchestra, as well as the choir, are both on stage—under elements of the set. The choir is stage left, while the orchestra (as well the musical director) are stage right.

The photos below show some of our set-up. Not all of us are directly under the bell tower. For example I’m not, and because my footprint is as large as that of our drummer’s, I am at the very back where I get to spread out a bit more and brush up against the curtains.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chillilwack Cultural Centre, Secondary Characters, set, pit orchestra

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chillilwack Cultural Centre, Secondary Characters, set, pit orchestra

Due to size constraints,  we are a 10 piece orchestra only. We are made up of:

  • Piano 1
  • Piano 2 (auxiliary sounds)
  • Drums
  • Trumpet
  • Trombone
  • French horn
  • Flute/piccolo/clarinet
  • Clarinet/alto sax
  • Soprano sax/ clarinet/ bass clarinet/bari sax
  • Violin

All the parts not listed are covered by one or another of the players listed. Yes, all of us are doing double, triple, quadruple, or more duty.

Here are a couple more pics of what I see of the set from where I’m sitting…

Yes, those stairs are really steep, and incredibly narrow. The guys were practicing walking up and down them the last couple of rehearsals. It was scary to see. I jokingly mentioned to the fellow who plays Frollo that we would catch him if he falls…. Not… What would break his fall is my bass clarinet though…

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chillilwack Cultural Centre, Secondary Characters, set, pit orchestra, clarinets, mic

Yikes! I’m sure it won’t come to that. Frollo is getting more and more sure-footed every day. At last night’s dress rehearsal he was much more secure in his stair climbing.

My saxophones are safe and secure on the other side of me, and protected from anything that might happen on set.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chillilwack Cultural Centre, Secondary Characters, pit orchestra, saxophones

Playing both soprano and bari has its challenges. Not being a primarily small-horn player makes it tougher on me to nail the intonation with 100% confidence on my soprano sax. Luckily I still have really good soprano chops from The Music Man.

The sound guy and I were joking about the soprano sax in general, and he came up with a really good analogy for them: they are the bagpipes of the saxophone family. You can hear them from a mile away (but who wants to.) ;)

All joking aside, soprano saxophones do add a certain tonal colour that is instantly recognizable. In Hunchback there is quite a bit of soprano work where this little beastie is heard loud and proud over the din of the rest of the orchestra… Even without the mic. ;)

This is my first time doing an extended job with the SeaWind bari. I must say, this horn is dead-on in its intonation.

Since the score is primarily classical, I’m using a HR Selmer scroll-shank D MP. The SeaWind is perfectly capable of playing low A to high F# with 100% perfect intonation. I am using Légère Signature Series reeds for this pit gig since they provide me with a smoothness in sound that I need, and don’t need to be kept wet.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame premieres tonight and runs through Sunday. Next week we do it all over again.

If you are local and would like to check it out, check out the Secondary Characters website for more info. Tickets are available through the Cultural Centre box office.

© 2018, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. What I find surprising is that there is not a single iPad (or equivalent tablet) in sight. That seems to be the new-fangled way of handling books of sheet music, and since this production was edited down to a very specific instrumentation, I’m surprised they didn’t go that route. It’s obviously different if they’re handing out the same books they’ve handed out twenty times before.

    • Yup, you’re right. Not a single i-Pad or Android tablet in sight. We have the MTI books that some people, like myself, have photocopied pages of in order to literally cut and paste (tape) stuff with. EG: I’m playing Reed 3 that normally doesn’t have soprano sax, but I have all Reed 1’s soprano parts. I transcribed all the bassoon parts from Reed 3 to bari sax, since I still haven’t—and perhaps never will—gotten my bassoon chops ready for prime time.

      For Music Man, there were a number of players who used e-versions of the books, but again many of us chose to print them out instead.

      There is a core group of about 10-15 of us who do most of the musicals around here, and we are pretty old school. Although some of us like to work with e-Books, by far and away most of us still like the tactile feel of paper. I’m waiting for the day when that’s no longer an option. I suspect that day is not that far away. :(

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