The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra knows that Canada’s population is getting older. And that’s a good thing. Marketers, the health care system, and anyone who pays into the national pension plan have all realized it. But what can an orchestra do about it? The Robbins Pops series, and The 1950s: The Golden Age of Black & White is one answer. The series, and this performance, gave Generation Y-ers like myself with little knowledge about classical music a comfortable introduction by playing popular music on classical instruments.
The 1950s: The Golden Age of Black & White, conducted by Jack Everly, took the audience through a whimsical, and multi-faceted, musical tour through the 1950s. “Black & White” refers to the television, which was a game-changer for both music, and popular culture as a whole. Televisions brought popular culture, and music accompanied by visuals, into people’s homes, and allowed them to become more intimate with the people performing the music they were listening to. Rock and roll originated in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, and increased both the volume and the speed of popular music. And this was really where the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by the Chapter 6 a-cappella ensemble and singers Farah Alvin and Karen Murphy, really shone. Quick-paced hits such as “Mambo Italiano” and the medley of Elvis music had the audience dancing in their seats along with the music.
Were the songs radically different from how I remember them? A bit. For me, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra put life into them. The ESO’s songs were inherently louder, and the sound quality was fuller, and deeper than the recordings. In the 1950’s, technology advances increased the quality of the recordings and the variations that could be heard in recorded music. At the time, it was revolutionary. By today’s standards, however, the sound quality of these recordings is poor. For me, attending The 1950s: The Golden Age of Black & White modernized the hits of the 1950s. I like my music loud and with a strong backbeat. The ESO gave me that.
The Chapter 6 a-cappella group was amazing. I must admit, when they first walked on stage, I was a little surprised. My first thought was, “how am I going to pay attention to the orchestra when there are singers on stage?” It turned out that I didn’t have to worry. The singing and rhythm provided by Chapter 6 a-cappella was spot on. Not too distracting. Not too theatrical. Not to quiet, and not too loud. The vocal mixture of the group itself was surprising – although it is only composed of 6 members, I found myself constantly searching for who was making which tone. Once you thought you knew one members’ voice, they would reach a new octave or tone.
Farah Alvin and Karen Murphy really rounded out the performance. Their voices were larger than life, and both women’s broad experience in live theatre really shone through, as they sang and acted their way through the stories that 1950’s music told.
Also tying in with the “Black & White” theme were the performances of much-loved television show theme songs such as for I Love Lucy, and various game shows. One unexpected – but delightful – addition to the program was the performance of several commercials and a re-enactment of the show “The $64000 Question”. This was completely unexpected – I came to the Winspear Center thinking I was going to sit and listen to an orchestra run through some great songs that defined the beginning of rock and roll. Instead, I was treated to a mixture of television, theatre, and live music.
The 1950’s: The Golden Age of Black & White was a fantastic introduction to the ESO for me. The ESO’s fun-filled performance of hits from the 1950’s gave a new lease on life to these songs, for attendees both young and old. Before I had even left the concert hall, I was saying, “I would definitely come to another performance”.