032819 NACO plays The Wizard of Oz, Ottawa, ON

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On March 28th, 2019 I found myself at the National Arts Centre for another one of the orchestra’s Pop’s concerts.  As usual I was attending with free tickets supplied courtesy of my higher-ups at the NAC, but unlike usual the tickets proved a little challenging to get, requiring a bit of email back-and-forth and some wait-and-see time.  When the tickets did arrive I did something I had never done before: I checked online to see how much the tickets would have cost me.  Let’s just say I was utterly shocked to discover that face value of the tickets I got was well over $100 a seat.

Not that the orchestra isn’t worth that kind of coin – quite the contrary; we’re talking about a fine collection of exceptional musicians under some seriously qualified baton-tutelage, but in this case the music was somewhat incidental as the orchestra was tasked with supplying the soundtrack in real time for that wonderful 1939 classic bit of cinematography: The Wizard of Oz.

So basically it was $100+ per ticket to see an old movie, so yeah, I was a bit surprised.  And it was a packed house too.

All that said, I must say I always love watching the orchestra when they play along with a movie, something I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing on a number of occasions.  It really does add a lot to the cinematic experience; the extra-oomph-y sound of the live soundtrack, the peripheral visuals of dozens of bows sliding almost ballet-like across all those strings in perfect unison, and of course they only play along to the most well-loved of classic movies.  I doubt anyone would pay good money to watch the NAC orchestra play along with Meatballs II or similar tripe (as if anything committed to cellulite could even come close to the torturous horror that was Meatballs II), though I guess you never know.

Curiously, during a movie that would have been costing us more than a dollar a minute to attend m’lady ended up being quite tardy.  Her mother had made last-minute plans to celebrate her birthday in Montreal with her two daughters which forced m’lady to make a mad dash from the train station that saw her plunk down in the seat next to me just as the screen switched from black & white to colour.  Luckily we were on the aisle.

I actually spent a good chunk of the time trying to figure out how they extract the music from the film yet still manage to keep the sound effects and the vocals/dialogue intact.  In the end, I think they don’t.  It seems that the sound is merely turned down as often as possible so the orchestra can play snippets of background music unperturbed, but I think during the vocal numbers the music is still coming out of the speakers (if equalized down a little); the orchestra just plays loud enough to cover it up.  As a matter of fact, there was a moment during the show where the live music seemed a hair out of synch with the movie music, just enough to produce a little sneakers-in-the-dryer rhythmic cacophony that quickly rounded itself out.  And the only way the live and recorded musics could have been out-of-synch with each other is if we could actually hear both of them at the same time.  Hence my conjecture.

Regardless, it was a good night out seeing an old, overacted, slightly-psychedelic Hollywood romp that everyone on the planet has seen countless times, though probably not at $100 a ticket*.

But no matter how many times I see it, man, those flying monkeys still creep me out.

*If, however, the orchestra had been playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon along with The Wizard of Oz instead of the standard soundtrack…well, in that case I might have considered shelling out serious money to see it.

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