Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Film Music Fun

On the fourth day of Christmas, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, in which I sing, came together for an afternoon rehearsal to prepare for two sold-out concerts of John Williams film music on the following two nights, December 29 and 30. The New Years Eve surprise-party concert was also sold out, by the way; but that was a totally different program. It's concerts like these that give us the financial freedom to do stuff like John Adams' Harmonium, coming up next month.

First, the Symphony Chorus got to sit out in the hall and listen to the St. Louis Children Choirs' Concert Choir sing their numbers with the orchestra: "Star of Bethlehem" from Home Alone (which is way too good for the movie), and "Double Trouble" from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Then both the kids and the grown-up chorus together got to rehearse the jubilant "Dry Your Tears, Africa" from the wonderful movie Amistad.

I shall not embarrass myself by saying that it was a dream come true, being part of a concert in which excerpts from the Harry Potter film scores are played, as though I was part of the film itself in a way. Rather (and this is an update from after the concerts themselves) I might say that about being onstage while the orchestra, seated right in front of me, played the daylights out of the Main Title, Imperial March, Throne Room Scene and End Titles from the original Star Wars trilogy.

I felt the same feeling even more strongly as I actually stood up to sing in the terrifying "Duel of Fates" from Episode I: The Fandom Menace (pardon my slip). Though it wasn't until the opening night of the concert that I learned from conductor David Robertson's introductory spiel that the words I was singing were a Sanskrit translation of a Welsh program about a battle of the trees, which seems to have also inspired certain scenes in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings cycle. I even sensed a kinship between Williams' music in this piece and some of the LOTR material I have sung over the past few years.

Other numbers that the chorus sang include the glorious "Exsultate Justi" from The Empire of the Sun and the wordless yet movingly expressive "Hymn for the Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan. Our voices joined again in the first of two encores, a "Call of the Victors" from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; and finally we sat down and enjoyed, from an orchestral point of view, the Superman theme, which the audience welcomed with wild excitement.

Our part of the concert came after the intermission. The first half, for us of the chorus, was spent relaxing in the comfort of the Whitaker Room in the basement of Powell Hall, where there was plenty of room and furniture for us all to sit on, men's and women's lavatories, a cooler full of drinking water, and a subterranean route directly to where we needed to line up before walking onstage. In other words, it's way better than the Green Room; it's just too bad it took having the children's choir in the latter to force us downstairs! Meanwhile, piped in from upstairs, the music of the first half lent a festive background to our comfortable waiting—including still more excerpts from the Harry Potter films, themes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park. And we were visited by gorgeously made-up dudes dressed as storm troopers and Sith lords (pictured).

The music was easy to learn, fun to perform, and a standing-room-only success at the box office. And as I said, it pays for some of our more daring artistic ventures still to come. I guess that's worth a bit of bother during the week after Christmas!

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