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ARTS & EDUCATION

Carolina Pops Orchestra An Out-of-this-World Experience

w ritte n by SH E R I L BE N NE T T T UR NE R photo g raphed by K R I S DE C K E R

A whole new world A new fantastic point of view No one to tell us no, or where to go Or say we’re only dreaming… Lyrics from “A Whole New World”

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hen Dr. Arthur Field started the Carolina Pops Orchestra in 2004, he envisioned, well, a whole new symphonic world. With major symphonies folding every day because of lack of interest on the part of audiences and aversion to change on the part of symphony directors and boards, preserving live music by attracting new audiences became Arthur’s goal. His idea? It was a concert experience that was musically enticing, socially interactive, and just plain fun. And with sell-out concerts that appeal to ages 9 to 90, as well as to listeners who wouldn’t normally step foot in a grand symphony hall, Arthur’s fantastic point of view seems to be working. I caught up with the Carolina Pops while they prepared for their latest concert, Planetary Pops, to find out what exactly sets this orchestra apart from others. “The word ‘pops’ in musical terms,” Arthur explains, “means popular music. Like most pops orchestras our performances include light classical music from the late 1800s to early 1900s - music everyone’s heard in cartoons like Bugs Bunny, in movies, and on commercials - plus movie and show tunes popular from the late 1940s through today. But we also play rock music from the1960s on, that we arrange ourselves into symphonic music, which most orchestras don’t do. This is very unusual from the typical pops idea.” Arthur also believes in something that he calls the three-minute rule. “Every human being can stand anything in the world for three minutes,” he says. “Once you pass the three-minute mark, people are no longer happy. I think it’s because technology has changed the attention span of the world. If you want to attract younger people, their world moves in three-minute segments because they assimilate much faster, so we change up the pace of our concerts every four minutes. We move from a classical piece to a show piece to a rock piece so that you never hear two pieces of the same type – it’s always mixed up.” The Carolina Pops holds four concerts each season, each with a unique theme carefully chosen a year in advance. For an added twist, Arthur incorporates crazy costumes and props befitting to the theme. “I want these to be very light-hearted concerts,” he says. “Often I have no idea what costumes I’m using until the day of the concert. I come

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home from Saturday rehearsal, I lay down and take the first nap I’ve had in days, and it usually hits me what I’m going to do.” Even the orchestra doesn’t know what will happen. “One time we did a concert with a Rod Stewart medley,” Arthur laughs, “and I came out dressed totally as Rod Stewart with the big blonde hair. The musicians were laughing so hard that they couldn’t play. They were shaking.” Other favorites have included Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof and Frida, the blonde singer from Abba, complete with four-inch heels, wig, and make-up. To get the community involved, Arthur incorporates local entertainers into the concert, sometimes gleaned from area dance schools, high schools, and colleges. “One time though,” he says, “for an Irish concert, I had planned the song ‘Danny Boy.’ I had met a waiter at the Thornblade Club who had a beautiful voice and I asked him to sing it for the show. In the middle of the concert I called out, ‘I need a volunteer to sing Danny Boy. There must be someone who will sing it? Well, is there a waiter who can sing it? Everyone knows waiters love to sing.’ That was the waiter’s cue. I figured no one in the audience would say anything, but this guy stands up and says ‘I’ll sing it’ and the audience is yelling, ‘Oh Bob (not his real name) will sing it, he’s wonderful.’ Well, I had to do some fast thinking, and he led the next song. The audience just loved it.” As an avid Beatles fan, Arthur knows that you “get by with a little help from your friends.” Coincidently, his friends just happen to be talented conductors, composers, and musicians in their own right who volunteer their services to the Carolina Pops for free. Along with Arthur, each concert has three or four other conductors which may include Dr. Thomas Joiner, professor of violin and orchestral activities at Furman University, Dr. Jay Bocook, director of marching bands at Furman University and principle composer/arranger for Hal Leonard, Dr. Andrew Levin, professor of orchestral music at Clemson University, and Dr. Gary Malvern, professor of music at Furman University. “This is also something different then the typical concert. Usually they have one guy at the podium and he stands there for the whole two hours. I find that boring, up to a point, unless the conductor is very inspiring. With different conductors, they each do what they’re best at doing, and the GreerNow MARCH 2008

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Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” which featured Furman vocalist Ben Moore, a bold Star Trek medley, and a witty Beatles medley. They also played a rousing Sun, Moon, & Stars medley incorporating the Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun,” Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow,” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” accompanied by Jay Bocook on electric guitar. And of course, there was Alan Menkin and Tim Rice’s “A Whole New World.” The conductors had fun with the costumes: Star Trek uniforms, Sgt. Pepper coats, and groovy hippie duds. But I think the thing that impressed me the most was that the audience, myself included, was having a blast at a symphony concert! “It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had,” laughs Arthur, who donates his own time and money to keep the orchestra going. “I get to conduct, I get to arrange music, and I get to please people. It’s all about the audience; they need to be entertained and I think a spoon full of sugar really does help. I care about the music - I want it to be great - but I also want the concert to be interactively original. When people wake up the next morning I want them to say ‘Wow, I had a great time last night. I can’t wait for the next concert.’” d audience loves it. It works extremely well.” The musicians, on the other hand, are paid talented professionals sprinkled with top local college students. “I look for a local musician whenever possible,” Arthur says. “My belief is that you have to have jobs for musicians or they’ll move elsewhere. Plus, you keep money locally, and I’m all about keeping money in town. I look for a special kind of musician. Unlike a symphonic concert, which has four or five rehearsals, we only have two. We move quickly. Every minute of rehearsal is programmed in advance. Because we only have 240 minutes of rehearsal time for fourteen pieces of music, it boils down to 4 minutes of rehearsal for every 1 minute of music. I need musicians that can deal with that instantaneously. But that doesn’t mean that the musicians don’t enjoy playing. I’ve actually had musicians call up and beg to work with me because their friends tell them this is the most fun gig they’ve had. It doesn’t hurt,” Arthur adds with a smile, “that I feed them, too.” As I studied the orchestra at their first rehearsal for Planetary Pops, I was struck by the fact that even though they had never heard the music performed as a whole, it sounded good - really good. I left anticipating concert night, and when it came, even though snow threatened the area, every table was packed. And Arthur and the Carolina Pops Orchestra did not disappoint. It was truly an out-of-thisworld experience complete with heavenly music including the first movement of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, Bart

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Dr. Arthur Field was a professor at Clemson and is an accomplished pianist. He conducted the Greenville Symphony in Dvorak’s 9th and is a Director of the International Conductor’s Guild. The Carolina Pops Orchestra performs at the Thornblade Club in Greer. Seating is at intimate tables of ten and the ticket price includes food and drinks. For more information on the Carolina Pops Orchestra or to become a sponsor, call (864) 297-7679 or visit www.carolinapops.com.


08-03 Carolina Pops Orchestra