Music and superheroes make for an exciting educational mix inside Southam Hall

Alexander Shelley doing his best Clark Kent interpretation.

When Alexander Shelley was a child he had heroes. His young world was filled with people such as Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Superman as performed by Christopher Reeves. And he had another figure, one who wasn’t captured in the kinds of small collectibles that young men acquired.

His name was John Williams, whose music underpinned the movies of the day. And, on Saturday, Shelley will conduct a concert featuring a massive orchestra made up of NACO and the Ottawa Youth Orchestra. Some 150 players will perform Williams’ scores along with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It’s the concluding concert of a series that aims to engage, and hopefully, capture the imaginations of young people and their parents.

“I was born in 1979 and in the 1980s (and ’90s), Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Superman with Christopher Reeves, all these John Williams’ scores are there in my belly. It feels like home.

“I don’t know if everybody looks back at their childhood in this way but when these movies came to the cinema or out on television they were events … they were big moments. People would watch them and talk about what they saw. We all had the little figures.”

The music that John Williams created is demanding and sophisticated, Shelley said. He is, the NAC’s music director added, one of the greatest composers for film.

“People aren’t really aware of the virtuosity of the orchestration. It’s demanding of the players, especially the brass. I know that our players, when they look at this program, know that it’s a helluva blow. It’s a lot of work for them; the trumpets, horns and trombones. They have to play high and for a long time with a lot of power.”

The event on Saturday will feature two shows and lots of educational opportunities outside of Southam Hall.

“The concerts are designed to be accessible to young people and families; to present music in a way that is more digestible. The hope is that the sight of young musicians mixed in with the professionals and the great sound they produce will inspire the kids in the hall and also the kids on the stage.”

There will be an actor and a dancer and even Ottawa’s 501st Legion of Star Wars fans will be on hand. There will also be a massive screen that will allow audience members to see the musicians up close.

“It’s always interesting to see the musicians close up when they are playing. It is also always interesting to try out different things. You don’t have to do the same thing over and over again.”

Shelley will even give up his baton to a young member of the audience who will get conduct the beginning of Star Wars.

For the members of the OYO, this will be a chance to work closely with professional musicians of the highest calibre.

Shelley, who has a strong connection with the OYO, has led the groups in sectional rehearsals. The final tuneup will take place just before the first concert on Saturday.

“The main aim for me in these side by sides is to give a snapshot to the young musicians of what is involved in playing at a high level. It is different from sitting in the audience and observing. It’s the opportunity of getting on the ice with the pros and really feeling the the level that the professionals play at, their sound, the expression, the connections between the players on stage, how they listen and how they focus.

“It is just a snapshot but my hope is that they will take memory of this experience and carry it into their other work. That could be in music or in other endeavours too. When you see people at the top of their game, be it a musician or a manager, you can take some of their ethic and focus with you for the rest of your life.”

The NAC is active in music education across the country and in the centre too.

“It is incumbent on us all to open young people’s minds. The idea of being open and interested, of understanding and applying yourself to something with an open mind listening to what people say will make the world richer for them and in turn make connections in their lives. That’s the bottom line.”

Superheroes with the NAC Orchestra and the Ottawa Youth Orchestra
Where: Southam Hall
When: May 26 at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.