According to philosopher Plato, “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good and just and beautiful.” It’s safe to confidently say Central New York’s Symphoria is abiding by moral law.
Regardless of unimaginable circumstances becoming realities in 2020, there’s a lot to be grateful for: spending time with others, learning new and continuing old hobbies, watching movies and binging shows, and music among other positive aspects. Last week, Symphoria performed for the first time since March. This weekend, Saturday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m., the musicians will be gathering together to perform John Williams’ greatest hits.
Wait. Greatest hits? Doesn’t Williams write for films?
Yes, he does. That’s what makes this installment of Symphoria’s Pops series even more enticing. It’s not only recognizing Williams, whose cinematic resume dates back to the 1950s, but a worldwide culture. He’s known to collaborate with Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, Chris Columbus, Ron Howard, and several others. He’s composed the music for films we’ve grown up with, watched countless times, and introduced to our own children.
“John Williams is so popular. Some people don’t relate symphonic music to what they hear in film,” said Lawrence Loh, Music Director of Symphoria and conductor of Saturday’s concert. “You can’t remove the music and have the same experiences.”
Can you imagine E.T., Jaws, Harry Potter films,Saving Private Ryan, Home Alone, and Star Warsfilms without their iconic music? No. However, when hearing those scores played live, your ears send the message to your brain and those warm fuzzies crawl all over your body. Depending on the sentimental attachment — perhaps shedding a tear or two.
Loh continued with saying that film scores represent certain themes and enhances what’s on the big screen. The music changes, too, with mood, tempo, and harmony.
Symporia’s musicians, like flutist Xue Su and bassist Spencer Phillips, are excited to be on stage with their fellow musicians. Due to restrictions set in place for COVID-19, the musicians now have to sit further apart and be separated by plastic partitions. However, it’s not bad, said Phillips; although Symphoria cannot cram musicians together on stage, they’re appropriately protected.
“We are not among a large group of orchestras presenting a season,” said Loh. “Many decided not to. [For this show] we’ll have probably the largest number of musicians on stage this season.”
Participation, as in having that human interaction and performing, of course, is important. Su said in a phone interview, she and her fellow musicians couldn’t rehearse in person. They’ve been utilizing Zoom and Acapella, a music making app, to play together and create music clips of their own performances.
She stressed the importance of practice, even with familiar songs. Practicing, she added, is a daily routine and it’s similar to staying hydrated or going to the gym. “I have to do it or something feels odd. It’s staying in shape.”
It’s also a great reminder and exposure for children. Phillips and Su said they’re constantly amazed by the children who attend Symphoria shows. Central New York’s symphony offers a gamut of performances, especially ones targeted at youth, instrument petting zoos, and offer free admission for those under 18 years old.
For kids to make that connection, for them to hear these familiar songs from the big screen and performed in front of their eyes, is priceless. Movies might be the first time these children are exposed to symphonic music. Phillips, who didn’t come from a musical family, reminisced about growing up on the classic Looney Tunes episodes. The soundtrack to those animated shorts stuck with him.
The music is conversation starters for parents and their children. Even the grandparents as well. The Millenials and Gen Xers are now parents and are Williams’ target audience, that sweet middle spot. However, if it weren’t for these generations’ parents and other adults, they would have missed out on the soundtracks of Star Wars, E.T., Superman, and Jaws.
Oh, that iconic Jaws theme. “The low E to F is the most recognizable half step,” said Phillips, who will be wielding his double bass on Saturday. He’s also the organization’s librarian and is partially responsible for the acquiring and keeping records of the music.
Those two notes also shine a light on Williams’ genius, according to Phillips. “That’s a fugue,” he pointed out. It’s a segment of a composition often revisited and reused, woven into other parts or compositions. Just like the notable great white, it can come out of nowhere. Williams frequently adapts older, classical techniques and implements them into his contemporary pieces.
Without giving too many spoilers away, Loh said that Williams has won five Academy Awards and Symphoria will be performing four of those five. Rest assured: Harry Potter fans to Star Wars fans will not be disappointed. “It’s a tribute to his greatness with wonderful surprises reflecting of our time,” he said. He also alluded to the theme of this season — expect the unexpected.
The music director added, “Everyone’s life experiences change. Every note we play is different. These are all pieces of art that represent something. I assume it’s the same for listeners. What makes this so different from visual arts? As it is happening, it is being created. It’s so in the moment.”
Unbeknownst to her, Su attested. “Every time you hear a piece of music on stage, they’re all different,” she said. Performance is personal and environmental. Although the same notes are necessary to make a song what it is, these notes may be played differently. “If I’m having a really great day, you can tell by how the music sounds.”
How will it sound? Tune in this Saturday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for individuals and $35 for a family viewing. Symphoria is also offering a live streaming service, too. An individual membership, which is $19.99 per month, gives local music lovers and supporters access to all concerts in the season. A family membership, which consists of four tickets (two adults and two children), only costs $29.99.
All images approved and provided by Symphoria.