Gaining Experience: A2SO's "Music From Harry Potter"
“I’m going to have to make you a wand. You can’t be out with me without a wand.” --My son
On more than one occasion, my son has pointed out to me that I’m lucky that he, a teenager, still wants to hang out with me, you know, a mom. With that in mind, as soon as he mentioned that the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra would be at Michigan Theater playing songs from Harry Potter, I pulled out my debit card and secured tickets for the Sunday, March 4, afternoon matinee performance.
The show consisted of eight pieces, one for each of the Harry Potter movies, selected by Arie Lipsky, music director and conductor of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. The Boychoir of Ann Arbor and its music director, John Boonenberg, joined the orchestra for one song, "Double Trouble," performing the Frog Choir role from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Between the songs, Jonathan LaChance, assisted by Tori Zaharia and Becca Zaharia, performed illusions specially created for this performance.
I probably would have missed Harry Potter were it not for my mom and my son. He had a preschool obsession with witches and it was only natural that she would introduce him to the world of Hogwarts, which he came to love. It was only a matter of time before I joined them, now the meat in an intergenerational Harry Potter sandwich.
The show began with a few nuggets for Harry Potter insiders. Maestro Lipsky said backstage he talked with Harry Potter, who taught him a few tricks. Using the “lumos” spell, Lipsky lit his wand, which he used as his conductor’s his baton, setting the stage for an afternoon of magical music.
The first piece was “Harry Potter Symphonic Suite.” As I looked at the stage, the violinists in their concert blacks reminded me of a murder of crows in flight. When you watch them, it is clear they are moving together as a group. But if you focus on each individual bird, you can see how it moves differently from its neighbor. If you take a moment to really look at them, they mesmerize.
Because afternoon’s promotional materials encouraged costumes, I expected the auditorium to look like a feast at Hogwarts’ Great Hall. I was on the lookout for Hermione, Hagrid, and Professor Snape. While I saw a handful of cloaks, several pairs of Harry Potter glasses, house-themed scarves, and a wand or two, I felt very overdressed -- or maybe outrageously dressed. With much encouragement from my son, I had come as Luna Lovegood. I had the blonde wig and the spectrespecs. My son fit into the crowd a bit better with a wand and his Hufflepuff T-shirt, which looks like it could have been borrowed from an old-fashioned wizard.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” was a sneaky-sounding song. LaChance reminded us that the second movie is when we met Fawkes the phoenix, Gilderoy Lockeart, and Moaning Myrtle. Remembering Moaning Myrtle’s general strangeness, I found myself listening for “off sounds” in this piece. But it just sounded stealthy, which makes sense considering how much time Harry Potter and his friends spent sneaking about the castle in the second movie/book. This song sounded like a suitable soundtrack for a child creeping out of bed and into the kitchen hoping to score an illicit midnight snack.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was a larger and darker sounding song. It sounded like it could be the soundtrack when you’re on the way to a date you know in your heart you shouldn’t have accepted. The beginning was mildly ominous, something to make you a little nervous. You’re pretty sure you’re not headed to your death but not 100 percent certain. The composition morphed into a sprightlier song that suggests this imaginary date might not be so bad, like you’ve turned the page from dread to curiosity. The tune became more aggressive, almost like the pump-up, pre-date song your date is listening to in preparation for your evening together. Then the song sounds like a moment when you catch a glimpse of your hair and it looks great. You feel good. You decide to make the best out of the evening. Maybe the evening isn’t going to be a competition. When the song becomes quieter, it encourages you to slow down, take a breath. Maybe you can even smile a natural smile. Finally, when the song comes to a peaceful and satisfying end, you’ve reached the part in the imaginary date where you get out of there, immediately, and protect the unexpected good time that you had.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” surprised me. It was, well, jazzy, even reminding me of Duke Ellington's “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” I don’t remember anything in the Harry Potter books or movies that I would describe as jazzy. This is the first song where I really noticed the cymbals and drums. Here, Lipsky reminded me of Albus Dumbledore. He led the orchestra with the confidence of someone who could successfully pull off half-moon glasses. I decided to have a little fun at my son’s expense as this music played, so I decided to boogie in my chair, thinking I’d get a gratuitous cringe out of him. I caught his attention, but he caught me off guard by bobbing his head with the music and answering my shimmy with a body pump.
On the way to the event, I saw a young woman with green hair. To my son, I said, “Look! Tonks!!” He looked over and said, “Her hair is usually purple.” Then, with the tone of someone who feels compassion for something pitiful, he added, “That’s OK. You’re a beginner at this.” When I found myself distracted at various times during the show, I was reminded I’m also a beginner at attending orchestral performances. I looked at the cellists and bassists and was taken away by the tender-looking way they held their instruments. When you watch someone play one of the large string instruments, there is an intimacy on display, a relationship. The instrument leans on the musician. The musician envelops the instrument.
My mind then flitted to the way the conductor moved. It was so different from song to song, based on the piece’s characteristics, that I found myself wondering what language was used on the conductor’s score to communicate each piece’s mood. I also wondered whether conductors have defined muscles that the rest of us don’t from the many practice hours of enthusiastically communicating to a group of musicians with their bodies. The conductor’s arms reminded me of the wings of a majestic bird slicing and soaring through the sky. Then he transitioned into a movement that reminded me of someone soaping the back of his beloved. When I heard the bassoon, I wished I had known it would be there. I love the bassoon, this Barry White of woodwind instruments. I wished I had been primed to listen for its deep song.
“It was cool how they had it set up in there. They had the candles and the howlers and the letters from the ministry." --My son
I think that this was his way of saying Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s Music From Harry Potter was an experience. I agree with him, even if I never did get my wand.
Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.