Large Ensembles: A View From the Wings

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Although Jake Humphries writes about music as magic (and we agree), as you’ll read below there is no magic to getting concerts organized. Jake has taken on the role of Stage Manager for the past few years and has been instrumental in seeing that everything runs smoothly. The music teachers are deeply in his debt and consider him an honourary member of the music department.

Watch the full concert online or see SMUSTube for some of our favourite pieces. For more images of the Large Ensembles concert (and to download them) visit our photo gallery.

Music is Magic!

It’s 6:50 am and a cold fog lies like a blanket over the University of Victoria as a SMUS truck pulls up to the stage door at the Farquhar Auditorium, followed by a second truck and some SMUS teachers and a handful of students. It begins.

For months, the Concert Choir, the Orchestra, and several bands have rehearsed and prepared a program of music. Parts perfected, conductors ready, UVic technical crew briefed and complicated logistics for 300 musicians arranged.

The stage door opens and the UVic techies Mark and Dallas are waiting. Members of the SMUS stage crew — often not performers — busy themselves unloading choral risers, instruments, amplifiers, drum kits, an impressive set of timpani and other percussion instruments, music stands, chairs and boxes of music. Like clockwork, the students arrange the first rehearsal set and pre-set the second. By 8:00 am, the choir arrives and begins its rehearsal under Mr. Butterfield’s baton. Fun and laughter and the strains of the “Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen end the rehearsal. The first item for the crew in striking this set — great care and attention taken in storing the grand piano off-stage.

The choir heads for the waiting buses. As they head back to school for the rest of their academic day they pass the Orchestra on the walkway; they have just arrived and within minutes, the SMUS stage crew has cleared the choral risers and the orchestra set is constructed.

There are more than 90 players on two levels of risers and seated in 65 floor-level chairs. Six double basses, the conductor’s podium, dozens of music stands. Mrs. Williams is helping students tune violins and cellos, while the crew checks seat and stand numbers. The concert master tunes the orchestra. Play. A stunning sound emanates from the ensemble: “The Barber Adagio”. Mrs. Williams pulls that extra bit of commitment and expertise out of her players. Now, it’s the “Katchaturian Suite” – delightful. Sound and balance checks. Microphone for Danny Park, violin soloist. Play it one more time and we’re good to go.

The Khachaturian Waltz by the Orchestra

The orchestra files to the buses as members of three bands (just off those same buses) flood the front six rows of seats in the auditorium. Mr. Reid’s organizational logistics are flawless — everything runs like a Swiss watch. The stage crew is in the last seconds of converting an orchestra set to a concert band set. With the SMUS percussion experts adding a dozen complicated percussion instruments and the seats being re-configured, the stage is alive with worker bees.

One band, two bands, three bands rehearse, ending with “The Best of Glee“. Bands head back to school for the remainder of their day and the stage crew reset for the concert: Mr. Snowden’s microphone, the podium, the choir risers, the piano (very carefully). Now the stage crew return to school to have lunch and attend afternoon classes, due back at UVic for the 6:30 pm equipment and stage check.

The Best of Glee by the Concert Band

When Mr. Snowden delivers his welcome speech at precisely 7:00 pm, the choir is ready on their riser, the orchestral stage is pre-set, and the performers are waiting in their assigned seats.

For the next two hours, the music is wonderful and the energy is palpable. Smiles and congratulations abound. The transitions between sets go well. Truck drivers and bus drivers are on time to the minute. In one day, staff helpers have solved a thousand little problems.

A great success.

At the end of the concert, Mr. Reid thanks everyone and, within seconds, the stage crew is loading the trucks at the stage door. It takes thirty minutes; many hands make light work. The UVic stage crew put the precious grand piano to bed under its protective blanket.

Large-scale musical events like this produce exceptional value for those involved. Of course, there is the music, which is wonderful and soul-satisfying for the players and audience alike. But for those involved as performers, there is also the camaraderie, the serving of a common purpose, the sacrifice of time, energy, and commitment for one’s fellow musicians. The recognition that a team can achieve a marvelous thing. The knowledge that “the show must go on” even when there are challenges. Music is magic!

Photos by Darin Steinkey
Video by Lumera Productions

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