The collaboration between rock n’ roll and the symphonic world has been a sort of rite of passage for years. Going back to the late 60s with bands like Procol Harum and The Moody Blues and, later, Electric Light Orchestra through most of the 70s, it was a meshing of sonics and ideals that for the most part worked out rather beautifully. The buzzing of amps coexisting with the regal hum of brass, the whistling of reeds and plucked strings seemed to be a match made in musical heaven. Of course, for it to be a truly transcendent musical experience, the songs should lend themselves to the orchestral treatment. A certain airiness should live within the songs, allowing space for an orchestra to move in comfortably.
I’m not going to say flat out that Metallica collaborating with a symphony orchestra was a bad idea, but it really wasn’t a good one.
Enter Fort Wayne’s March On, Comrade. The five-piece post-rock outfit will be performing with a 12-piece chamber orchestra on January 21 at the Parkview Physicians Group Arts Lab. I asked March On, Comrade’s Ryan Holquist a few questions about the show, billed as Sums & Differences.
“When we recorded our first EP around this time last year, we added a string quartet and some brass fairly last minute. Ever since then we’ve wished that we could play with the string quartet live,” said Holquist. “I put out some feelers for venues that might work, and Arts United pulled through in a big way. The ArtsLab Black Box Theatre is such a flexible room, in that we can arrange the seating and stage space however we want.
“We wanted to do something different and special and make an event out of it. We’ll be playing with a 12-piece chamber orchestra and will also have Alec Johnson doing live interactive projection mapping, along with specially created video content and a new light show.”
It’s one thing to say you’re going to perform with a 12-piece chamber orchestra. It’s another to actually do it. I asked Holquist what was the next step once a venue was established.
“Once we found a venue and a date that worked for what we wanted to do, the first step was to put out the feelers to see who might be interested and available to play with us”, said Holquist. “The arranging was done by [fellow March On, Comrade member] John Ptak and myself. On one hand, that’s very time consuming and daunting, but on the other hand, it’s cool to hear your own music take on new feels and shapes.
“There’s also a lot of strategy involved in this kind of thing – audio, promotion, ticketing, catering. Luckily, we started formally putting it together back in June and have worked steadily since then.”
And in regards to putting together a 12-piece chamber orchestra to perform with?
“The string players we had on our EP last year were all from the Philharmonic, but they have a performance at the Embassy the same night as ours, so that automatically took us back to square one,” Holquist said. “I had reached out to Bennett Spickelmier [of O’ Sister, Brother] quite a while ago, seeing if he’d like to maybe do something with us sometime, so he got the process started by helping me recruit the initial string quartet. The other musicians are either personal friends or recommendations from the friends or the other players.”
Besides the music, there is going to be an “immersive, multimedia experience.”
“The ArtsLab venue is a perfect venue for a one-time event like this because you can sculpt it to do exactly what you need to do,” said Holquist. “First off, there’s obviously the musical side, which will be all original music arranged for a type of ensemble you don’t see too often. Orchestral arrangements fall in line with our style very well – better than they did for Metallica, we’d like to think. We’ve written some new songs that will debut at this show, and our older material will be completely re-vamped. So musically it will be different for us and different in general as most local shows go.”
A newly redesigned light show and live interactive projection mapping will accompany the performance. What is live interactive projection mapping?
“Alec Johnson will be performing live interactive projection mapping on the wall behind us, which I’m really excited about,” Holquist explained. “Until I became friends with Alec this year, I was unfamiliar with that art form, but I can’t wait to see what he is going to do. Using a single projector, he can map out multiple projection surfaces and shapes to create motion, animation, combinations of video clips we’ve made and reactive textures. His setup will be responsive to sound as well as Alec’s physical interaction. It’s like jazz, or interpretive dance, only with a projector. Alec’s the only person I know who does this around here, or at all really.”
With everything that’s planned for the Sums & Differences show I asked Holquist if the overall preparation has been awe-inspiring or overwhelming.
“Definitely a little bit of both,” he said. “John Ptak and I dreamt up the original idea in the spring, and the rest of the guys graciously indulged us. It’s hard enough as a band to begin with to maintain a constant pace of writing, recording and performing, let alone orchestrating, rearranging and re-learning all of our own songs. With the arrangements, we tried to specifically not make them be the songs as they already exist with 12 more parts added on top, but rather tried to re-distribute parts and change things altogether.
“We’ve still managed to keep writing, some of which we’ll play on January 21. I think the true ‘awe-inspiring’ part will come when we pull this off, and I think that will be motivation for us to keep pushing ourselves.”
With the help and support from ArtsLab, the guys and gals in the orchestra and many generous folks and business owners in the Fort Wayne community, March On, Comrade will be able to pull off something quite unique on January 21.
Asked what’s left to do now, Holquist said “Now we just have to get butts in the seats and put on a good show.”
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