111717 NACO plays An American In Paris, Ottawa, ON

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Attending the National Arts Centre Orchestra performance on November 17th, 2017 was a no brainer for me.  In addition to being a big fan of our national orchestra they were playing along to a film, which is something I always enjoy seeing them do.  And the film was An American In Paris, with music by George Gershwin, and I like I Gershwin tune (how about you?).  As a final touch of icing on the cake, I had scored the tickets free from my boss, so it was also a no-spender, making it even more of a no-brainer.

Heck, how brainless can I get?

Anyway, the show was really great.  I had never seen the movie before but man-o-man, I had listened to the soundtrack a million times.  I just loved the angular, onomatopoetic nature of the music, how it really sounded like a bustling, mid-20th century New York City, with bells and whistles and new melodic fragments around every corner.  Gershwin’s score informed this young composer in the ways of connecting unconnected motifs through sheer confidence of placement; damn the torpedoes, if they all play it at the same time it will sound like it is supposed to go there.

And Gershwin was right.  Pretty much all of my contributions to my old rock band Bob Loblaw went exactly like that: different keys, different rhythms, entirely different ideas forced together snippet by snippet and made to sound natural through nothing but enforcement (also known as “rehearsal”).  Much of my composition portfolio from my university years falls firmly into the same category (or rather, the forced integration of categories).

Okay, I might have taken things a little further than Gershwin did, which is one of the countless reasons why I studied him and nobody studies me, but then I wasn’t looking to George and his brother Ira for musical restraint.  


I really enjoyed the show, as I have enjoyed every time I’ve seen the NACO play along to a film.  Just thinking of the experience makes me long for the days when silent films were accompanied by a live pianist.  Gosh, that must have been something.  I’m sure those performances that took place nightly in every movie house in the world were unscored and freely improvised…it makes me wonder if movie patrons would find their favourite accompanists and would prefer one movie house over another as a result?  Probably.  

Of course when the orchestra does it it’s a whole different story.  The conductor not only has to work from a specific score, but surely such distractions as click-tracks must be employed to keep the musicians in synch with the unwavering action onscreen.  Come to think of it, conducting a show like the one I saw on this evening is probably a pain in the butt compared to the freedom of working within your own time at any other concert.

But what do I care?  Hand me some popcorn and turn down the lights…

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