Beyond the enchanting story and colourful characters, The Wizard of Oz is perhaps best known for its iconic music. “Over the Rainbow”, “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” are all songs that are instantly recognizable, and most of us can probably sing along to them word-for-word.
And when our Middle School students act, sing and dance to The Wizard of Oz next month at the McPherson Playhouse, they’ll be accompanied by a live orchestra made up of skilled adult musicians – and three of their talented peers.
Grade 7 violinist Seung, Grade 8 violinist Amy and Grade 8 violist John aren’t busy learning lines or getting fitted for Munchkin costumes like their classmates, but they are working hard every day to learn the music for the show.
“It’s very challenging music, actually,” says Seung. “There are a lot of notes on a page and some of the songs are really fast. Sometimes it feels a bit awkward when you’re practicing by yourself, like it doesn’t sound right, but when you have all the instruments together and you hear it all it sounds really good!”
John, the lone young viola player, credits the composer of The Wizard of Oz music for really challenging the violists with the music.
“There’s always a motto for the violas: ‘Give the notes that nobody wants to the viola,’ so I was expecting a lot of chords and harmony lines. What actually came out was some very challenging chromatics; it turns out that even the harmony of The Wizard of Oz is very challenging.”
All three string musicians say playing alongside a group of talented adults is a new, but very exciting and rewarding experience; one they wouldn’t get at their age had the Middle School not been performing a musical.
“I thought it was going to be nerve-wracking, but they’re all friendly and nice and there to help you. It’s pretty comfortable working with them. It’s a privilege,” Amy says.
“Because they’re adults they know what they’re doing. I’m pretty nervous, but there’s a lot of people there that can support you. I find I’m less nervous to make mistakes when there’s other people there, especially adults, because they’re also playing pretty much the same music,” adds Seung.
All three students say “The Cyclone” (the song performed during the infamous scene with the twister) is far and above the most challenging piece.
“It’s not really a song, it’s more like a sound effect; a bunch of chromatics going up and down, up and down really fast, many layers of music and every single instrument gets its own layer, and everything falls on top of each other. It’s very interesting,” John says.
With just three weeks until opening night, the musicians say they’re very excited (and a little nervous) to experience their music come together with all the other elements of the Middle School musical.
“During a musical you don’t necessarily think of the accompanying music. If you’re a performer, you’re usually more worried about lines and what you’re saying. It’s very interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes to produce that supporting music,” says John. “I am at a stage where I know I belong in the musical, and I know I belong in the orchestra pit.”
“I just can’t wait to see my classmates actually be on the stage acting. We haven’t really played with the actors yet, so I’m really excited to see them actually act with our music playing,” Amy says. “From what I learned in Grade 6 with Annie, the final product is just amazing. Before I came to SMUS I had never seen something like this. When it’s your own classmates up there, you feel so proud.”
The SMUS Middle School presents The Wizard of Oz, playing March 5-7 at the McPherson Playhouse. Tickets are available online or through the Royal and McPherson box office.