No tricks, just musical treats

By David Rauch

NIU Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Brett Mitchell grew up with “Star Wars.” As is true of most kids, the music, the light sabers and the force struck a note that would have a lasting impact.

“Often I’ve thought about why I conduct and some 1 percent of me knows it’s because the baton is so much like a light saber and the conductor’s hands influence, so much like the force; even if it is only on the orchestra,” said Mitchell.

When given the opportunity to play recognizable classical tunes for a predominately younger audience during the Philharmonic’s 2005 Halloween Concert, Mitchell jumped at playing some of the most recognizable music ever written – the “Star Wars” score.

Along with the “Star Wars” score, the Philharmonic will play another recognizable score, Strauss’ “Sprach Zarathustra,” used in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and a lesser known work by György Ligeti, “Atmospheres,” also from “2001.”

The concerts will be performed at 6 and 8 p.m. in the “Boo”tell Memorial Concert Hall in the Music Building and the combined concerts have been attended by 1,300 students, kids and community members in the past.

Before both concerts will be a trick-or-treating extravaganza open to the community. Volunteers flood in from numerous music-related organizations, dress up in Halloween costumes and hand out candy donated by the School of Music to the nearly 300 children who attend each year.

New this year is a school sponsored carnival in the Music Building, Room 171.

“We want the little kids to feel free to have a good time, be loud and hopefully; have a good cultural experience,” said Lynn Slater, coordinator of music admissions. “I know the volunteers and performers have a great time.”

To get into the Halloween spirit, the Philharmonic chooses a costume theme and runs with it.

“All the costumes are already picked, but it’s an incredible secret who’s wearing what, even between department heads,” Slater said.

The Halloween Concert, while it may seem laid back and fun, is actually incredibly important and challenging, from musical and community outreach standpoints.

“Williams’ score is incredibly challenging, and the Ligeti piece is something very different than what most students are used to,” Mitchell said. “The Halloween Concert is also extraordinarily important in that it might not be just the only time some community members will go to an NIU musical performance, but it might be the only classical musical performance they’ll attend all year.”

Performer impressions are equally enthusiastic.

“I think it’s great that we’re reaching out to the community, making even the kids feel welcome,” said Abby Fitzgerald, a freshman music education major and member of the Philharmonic. “I’ve always been interested in ‘Star Wars’ music and I can’t even describe the Ligeti work we’re playing.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently started a Friday Night at the Movies series, sensing the growing interest in hearing the memorable and impacting movie scores live.

“By doing film music and classical music together, people will definitely see that all music just tells a story,” Mitchell said. “To hear any of these pieces live is simply a different experience entirely.