Seated in Commonwealth Auditorium with the lights dimmed, eyes forward and attentive, the audience fell silent. The sophistication of the College of William and Mary Symphony Orchestra concert soon to follow seemed to demand it, in a form of unspoken agreement.
But for this particular event on Halloween, the orchestra provided a little twist. Rather than the vast array of black suits and dresses that normally accompany these performances, the students were dressed in full costume.
This orchestra ensemble featured two bumblebees, Tinkerbell, Smurfette, a giraffe, some M&Ms and even Gandalf, his tall, pointy hat noticeable like an elephant in the distance.
Adding to the Halloween cheer, concertmaster Benjamin Netzer ’22 walked in, holding his violin and wearing a pigeon hat. He faced the audience and bowed his feathered head solemnly. The performance was about to begin.
Oct. 31, the William and Mary Symphony Orchestra presented “A Trip to the Shire,” which was conducted by professor David Grandis, along with his guest conductor, Ayush Joshi ’22. The main highlight of the performance was its “The Lord of the Rings” theme. According to Tiana Johnson ’20, this thematic decision was a way to reel in new faces, and to warmly invite people to experience Frodo’s journey through music.
“The Shire is his home,” Johnson said. “It’s the idea of us being here and being together and creating something that is welcoming and opening for an audience. … That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Members of the audience identified with the theme of the concert, allowing them to connect with the orchestra’s musical selections.
“‘Lord of the Rings’ is a part of my childhood,” audience member Annalise Schader ’22 said. “I watched it growing up with my family, so hearing this was really nostalgic for me. It brought back really good memories like hanging out with my family and having movie nights. It was heartwarming.”
The student performers’ excitement for the show was no different. Preparations for the performance began as soon as possible, and so did orchestra members’ plans for costumes.
“People invested a lot of time and thought over the summer,” Johnson, who was dressed as the One Ring to Rule them All, said.
The orchestra began the concert with their rendition of “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. The song began with a slow and impressive crescendo of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussions, in that specific order.
The selection showcased the independence of each instrument, all contributing to one waltz.
Next the group performed “Masquerade Suite” by Aram Khachaturian, which is a collection of five movements: Waltz, Nocturne, Mazurka, Romance and Galop.
It featured a diverse range of sounds, from the somber violins in Nocturne to the booming tuba in Galop.
The suite was followed by “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” by Edvard Greig. It contains four movements, with “Morning Mood” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” being two popularly used pieces in modern culture.
During the show’s intermission, the orchestra hosted its annual costume contest. A group of judges selected a winner from the audience, the prize being an opportunity to conduct the symphony. The William and Mary Symphony Orchestra tried to engage the audience in their performance, using the music as a way to bring people together, and to help them connect.
“Music is what we can all understand,” Netzer said. “It reaches straight to the heart.”
The performance combined both aspects of classical music with music from an iconic book series and film, allowing different communities to pull something different out of every moment.
“You need to try to picture what’s happening,” Johnson said. “It’s a narrative. Music captures those feelings that are even more touching than words can be sometimes.”
After intermission, the “Trip to the Shire” was carried out with three excerpts from “The Lord of the Rings” soundtrack: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Lighting of the Beacons” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” which featured a young boy soprano soloist, guest performer Luke Brooks.
After the final song, and a brief moment of silence, the crowd erupted into applause, cheering for the costumes, execution, the music that ties people together, and most of all, for delivering their dear Frodo Baggins off to safety.