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Symphony Orchestra takes new approach with 'The Haunted Melody'

UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Sandy, the concert has been rescheduled for Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. - Ed.

William & Mary Symphony Orchestra promises a scary good time as it presents “The Haunted Melody” for its annual Halloween concert, this Sunday afternoon in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium. 

This year’s performance marks a departure from the orchestra’s traditional Halloween concert approach with the addition of a storyline written by young adult author Taylor Morris and narrated by her husband Silas Huff.

Maestro Grant Gilman, director of orchestras at the College, is excited about the freshness this new approach will bring to the concert.

“If you have a Halloween concert every year, you can’t even go one year without repeating some of that music,” he said. “The idea I had was to have not just the pieces as the focus, but a ghost story as the focus.

“That allows for the possibility of inserting musical selections that are not necessarily obviously associated with Halloween. For example, there’s a point in the story where there are two kids who are tiptoeing, so the first thing I thought of was ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,’ which is from ‘The Nutcracker,’ and that’s definitely not supposed to be a scary thing at all.”Poster

Phoebe Benich ‘14, concertmaster for the symphony orchestra, notes how the combination of music and narrative marks a departure from a traditional concert. 

“Usually, we structure the Halloween concert very similarly to how we would structure any other concert,” she said, noting that the orchestra would normally play pieces separately. According to her, the only difference between previous Halloween concerts and other concerts is that the pieces were typically more evocative of the Halloween milieu.

In a distinct contrast, this year, “the program is structured by the story,” Benich said. “The story becomes more interactive as you hear the sounds of it – there’s definitely a soundtrack to the story. It should be a really fun time.”

This substantial departure from a traditional concert, however, has not taken place without some concerns.

According to Benich, “there are some tricks to getting the two to match up” whenever you have an orchestra and a narrator performing together.

Benich also notes that there are some portions of the performance requiring the musicians to perform roles more suited to musical theatre, such as gasping or chattering.

“I think it will probably work out best when it’s in the moment and people are excited,” she said. “It’s definitely different than playing music…That’s a little bit new for us, but I think we’ll pull it together.”

The addition of a narrative is not the only aspect of the performance designed to involve the audience further.

Concertmaster Benich encourages audience members to join the orchestra in donning costumes in order to participate in the mid-performance costume contest.

“Everyone comes dressed in costume, and about halfway through, we get some of the key orchestra members to pick out some finalists,” she said. “At the end of the concert, the judges announce a winner, and that winner gets to conduct ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ with the orchestra.”

Beyond taking a different approach to this year’s performance, Gilman describes the concert as also being “localized,” noting that the author, narrator and violin soloist are all from the Peninsula region. 

The narrative behind “The Haunted Melody” was written by Morris, an author specializing in young adult literature who recently moved to Newport News from New York. 

Her husband, Huff, who will be narrating the performance, is an experienced conductor who has founded separate symphony orchestras in New York and Texas and currently is an assistant conductor of the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band at Fort Eustis.

Norfolk resident Simon Lapointe is principal second violinist of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and will join the Symphony Orchestra, performing selections from Sibelius' Violin Concerto in the role of the violin-playing ghost.

In past years, the Halloween concert has typically been W&M Symphony Orchestra’s most popular event, with each performance selling out.

This year, the symphony orchestra will present two performances of “The Haunted Melody” on Oct. 28, one at 3 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. 

Concert tickets are $3 for students and $5 for adults and can be purchased at the Sadler Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. until Saturday or through reservation by e-mailing wmorchestra@email.wm.edu.

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