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September 23, 2019

Musicians Go Rogue

For this mobile orchestra, the symphony can be wherever they want it to be.

What is it about listening to classical music while sitting on a blanket in the park or in your lawn chair at Sir Winston Churchill Square?  Perhaps some Puccini at a patio barbecue? The incongruence of listening to what is usually regarded as serious, formal music while stacking your burger at a casual get-together may raise some high brows, but there’s something in that tension – Birkenstocks and Bach, Chopin a la chinos – that is appealing to wider and often younger audiences.

That’s precisely the goal for Edmonton’s newest company of classically-trained musicians, The Edmonton Pops Orchestra (EPOP). Described as the next generation of young professional musicians, and willing to haul violas, horns or a synthesizer to a fundraiser marathon or even busking on Whyte Ave., EPOP aims to bring orchestral music to wherever people gather.

“We’re like a reduced symphony orchestra, (smaller string section, plus drums, sax, keyboard), so we’re flexible in what and where we perform – from three to 30 of us – we can play any genre and we’re arranging most of our music too, so it’s fresh, local, adaptable, and accessible to more people,” says EPOP Artistic Director Michael Clark.

It can take 28-year-old Clark – working with EPOP President Glenn Skelton – two to 10 hours to arrange instrumentation for one three-minute song, but Clark says it keeps costs down (by arranging its own performance pieces, EPOP can save anywhere from $200 to $500 for a small ensemble piece) and allows each event to be a custom, one-of-a-kind creation.

“We don’t want to perform what’s already out there, and we won’t be pigeonholed because we play every genre, from light classical and jazz to Michael Jackson – Irving Berlin to Ben Folds. If you enjoy symphony pops, you’ll enjoy this. If you listen to the radio, you’ll enjoy it too,” Clark says.

Depending on what’s called for, this band of predominantly U of A music grads wear suits and tails or shorts and tees for their gigs, transporting instruments, lights and mics in their own SUVs. Electronic music, percussion, the sound of watery piano – Clark says EPOP can offer what traditional orchestral ensembles can’t.

And because collaborating with local arts groups is high on EPOP’s wish list, coming gigs include playing in the pit for the musical Anne of Green Gables this Christmas at Festival Place, and a concert of political thriller movie music in the spring.

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