Behind the Scenes at Music From the Screen
A wave of dissonance from the woodwinds grew to a climax filling the gymnasium from floor to ceiling then suddenly cut off. As the echo of the chord hung in the air, the Hunger Games movie poster on the screen behind the orchestra changed instantly to a wash of blood red with four figures silhouetted against it. They raised their mallets high above their heads and a triumphant rhythm rumbled through the orchestra as the brass joined in with the climbing main theme.
Last June’s Spring Concert was comprised entirely of soundtrack themes from Pixar’s Up and Ratatouille to Baba Yetu, a Swahili setting of the Lord’s Prayer written for a video game called Civilization. The orchestra Swapped out the traditional all-black outfits for elaborate movie costumes. The woodwind section chose characters from Toy Story. Rex, the green dinosaur could be seen holding an oboe and a clarinet player was covered from head to toe in slinkys that bounced in every direction as she walked. The second violins all donned matching chef’s hats except of course for the rat with the pink bow on the end of her tail.
Planning for Music From the Screen began in January. Putting together a dazzling show requires that repertoire is chosen and staging ideas are formed many months in advance. However, the secret behind YOSAL concerts is that most of what the audience sees the night of the concert was likely changed or added in the dress rehearsal or even the day of the concert.
In the case of Hunger Games, the silhouetted drummers were inspired by a scene from the movie series of a line of one hundred muscled men playing timpani (kettle drums) that stretched into the distance as a flaming Katniss and Peeta flew by in their chariot. As a musician, these three seconds were the most epic and memorable moments in the entire trilogy and we absolutely had to re-create them.
In our initial planning, the drums were set in front of the orchestra. Like most last minute changes, they were moved to the stage out of acoustical necessity. The drums were too boomy and the tiny stage behind the orchestra was acoustically very dry – the very same reason we had to move the whole orchestra off the stage and onto risers. As they say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Using this to our advantage, we moved the drums to the stage only to realize that the screen we projected the movie posters on for each piece would cover up the drummers. Making the best of an unfortunate situation, we added a red wash for effect and an extra off-stage conductor and stumbled upon some of the most exciting staging in YOSAL concert history.
YOSAL is about building and sustaining a thriving community. The making of Music From the Screen was certainly a manifestation of that community. Less than a month before the concert, we found ourselves short on percussionists. In the YOSAL spirit of “making lemonade,” we turned this into a learning opportunity for the students. Harry Potter-robed cellists and Pirate-clad violists could be seen in the percussion section crashing cymbals together and playing glockenspiel.
After the final encore, a choir and jazz combo piece, the lights dimmed and the audience went home. As the last clarinet player left the building, slinkys bouncing, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better it could have been in a real concert hall. Because YOSAL is a place where dreams come true, we will get to find out. Music From the Screen will be recreated on October 4th at Hartnell College’s Western Stage. Time to start planning for the unexpected…
By: Miran McPoland