In 1966, when Beach Boy and genius pop music composer Brian Wilson described his masterwork LP Smile as a “teenage symphony to God,” he likely envisioned something akin to a massive orchestra and chorus performing each track on that infamously abandoned and ultimately revered record.
It took Wilson almost 40 years to fully realize the majesty of his initial vision for that hallucinogenic mélange of cutting-edge pop-rock and fairly complex symphonic arrangements, hinted at by the smash No. 1 hit single meant to hype the album’s initial (and later aborted) release, “Good Vibrations.”
Similarly, it’s taken members of the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus several months of rehearsals to prep for their own crack at “Good Vibrations,” as well as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and hits by the likes of Swedish supergroup ABBA, British Invasion royalty the Beatles and others contemporary icons of the AM and FM dials.
This local ensemble’s unique take on pop music of the ‘60s through the ‘80s will be on display this Friday night at the Trustees Theater when Maestro Peter Shannon trades his baton for a seat behind the keyboards.
Shannon, who’ll play piano and organ —and, who knows, maybe even synthesizer— along with electric bassist Doug Povie, drummer and percussionist Tom Hoffman and electric guitarist Bart Zipperer, is the driving force behind this unique concert, which finds the 90-voice Chorus interpreting modern styles of music they have never attempted as a group before.
“The whole philosophy is a little bit grand,” admits the always enthusiastic conductor. “Basically, we always offer a high-end product that some people may associate with ‘difficult’ music: things like La Traviata in Italian. This is as much to show Savannah that we’re capable of doing more pop-oriented shows as it is to help open the chorus members’ minds to all sorts of music.”
“Some in the orchestral world are so caught up in the classical realm that it’s easy to ignore the rest of the music world. I got that from my father all the time. He’d tell me to ‘turn off that rubbish and listen to some Tchaikovsky!’ It’s been that way for many of us. Yet, there are plenty of amazing pieces of pop music that contain many of the elements we normally associate with classical compositions.”
“I can certainly hear the complex structure in ABBA songs, for instance. I can hear it in the vocal harmonies on a tune like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen. The cryptic meanings, the excitement, the drama, those are the same vital ingredients that make classical music so appealing. The only difference is, these works were written by Elton John or Freddie Mercury or The Beatles!
“Now, maybe The Beatles don’t have the certain quality a Mozart symphony has, but for their genre, they’re simply the top of the bus. And people need to have an appreciation for the very best that any given style of music has to offer.”
Shannon says he’s always looking for ways to broaden the horizons of his Chorus members, and he feels taking them outside their comfort zone is a novel way to help them improve their skills at interpreting the classical pieces they are most known for.
“Listen,” he exclaims. “Some people think that when they’re singing classical music that they can get away with doing it in a very straight and boring manner. I’m saying to hell with that! Beethoven’s Fifth was the rock music of its day! The crowd was shouting over the first performance.”
Good Vibrations - The Savannah Philharmonic Chorus with special guests, SCAD Honeybees and SSU Concert Choir
When: Fri., 8 pm
Where: Trustees Theater
Cost: $15 - $29 at 525-5050
Info: thesavphilharmonic.org, trusteestheater.com