First off, tell our readers what the Salt Lake Pops Studio Orchestra is, for those who are not already familiar with it. What’s the vision for the group, what are your overarching goals, what philosophies guide your choices, etc.?
I recently went to talk with local high school orchestras and their directors about the Salt Lake Pops Orchestra and I was shocked to find very small orchestras. They were all very talented and dedicated to their instruments, but it seems that playing in an orchestra is no longer a popular or fun thing to do for most teenagers. When I was in high school for example, we had over 100 members to our orchestra. Now, some of these schools were lucky to break 30.
In contrast, I visited my old high school choir teacher Mr. Larson whom I admire greatly. We chatted about how different the choir is now. Strangely, it was a fun and popular thing to be a part of in our high school, though I know a lot of other high schools were struggling for members at that time. There were around 100 members to our a capella choir when I was there. I thought that number was huge back then. No one rivaled the numbers our choir could produce. Now there’s over 160 members! That blew me away. I knew that part of why his choirs were so successful was because he was an amazing director and always expected a lot out of the choir. However, many of the local choirs have increased in numbers by a huge margin as well!
When I drove home I talked with my beautiful, and pregnant, wife about it. She simply stated that it was the “Glee effect”. Suddenly it hit me. Choir has become cool! Glee is a television show that puts together popular music for choirs and makes it fun! Instead of singing the traditional madrigals and hymns the choirs are now singing Gloria Estephan, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga! No wonder it’s popular.
This is music that is current, relevant, and speaks to the emotions of these teenagers. High school bands started updating their repertoires 50 years ago with modern compositions and have grown in size compared to the orchestras that I’ve seen decreasing in number everyday. Why are orchestras dying? Because they think playing only Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart is the only way to educate our kids within an orchestra.
The Salt Lake Pops Orchestra would like to present a solution. Play music that speaks to the people in your orchestra, potential orchestra members and your audience. Continue to play the incredible music of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, but supplement that music with something that will excite kids: popular music from artists they already listen to! Play Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” or Katy Perry’s “Firework”! We’d like to make orchestra current, relevant and FUN again! Even one song every concert could change things for your orchestra. To help, we’ve decided give our sheet music away for free. The individual parts. The score. Everything. People can even email us if they have special needs for their orchestra. We do ask for donations so that we can continue this revolution. It simply helps provide free music for others who don’t have any money.
In choosing your group’s music and “covers,” what do you look for? What pop music really “pops” your interest?
Honestly I just look for really popular music on YouTube (typically over 50mil views) that speaks to me and the lyrics are clean and meaningful. Because we’re trying to change the culture of orchestras we need to present music that is currently popular. That may change a little bit down the road, but I’m sure that we’ll always have some music that’s current. Continue reading “The Salt Lake Pops Orchestra: Interview with Founder Nathaniel Drew”