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Grand Rapids Symphony “Beams Up” Live Star Trek Performance

I was recently asked “Are you going to dress up as a Wookie?” and the question had nothing to do with the approach of Halloween, or the upcoming Star Wars movie. Rather, I was discussing plans for the weekend with a co-worker, and mentioned that I was going to the Grand Rapids Symphony to watch their performance of Star Trek. My co-worker is clearly someone who hasn’t settled on a side in the ongoing Star Wars vs Star Trek debate, and is sadly lost somewhere in the middle.

I’ve traditionally fallen on the Star Wars side of that age-old debate, largely due to more Star Wars exposure growing up. The story in our family goes that the first time I watched “A New Hope,” my default action every time a bad guy appeared on the screen was to hide behind the couch, if that gives you any indication of my age at the time. Eventually I was able to sit through the whole film series without hiding, and the movies became part of my lexicon. I think there’s still a box set of the original trilogy on VHS floating around my parents’ house, although goodness knows where you’d be able to find a VHS player these days.

My first real introduction to Star Trek didn’t happen until the 2009 film by the same name was released. I went into the movie with slight trepidation, only having the vaguest ideas about what I was getting into. Most of my Star Trek knowledge at that point consisted of being aware there was some sort of trouble with tribbles, and you never wanted to be the one wearing the red shirt.

So what did I think of the movie? I very much enjoyed it! There was none of the “kitsch” that people seem to bring up when you mention the old television shows, and you walked out of the movie feeling almost like a part of the Enterprise’s crew. I loved the feeling of camaraderie that you got to witness grow among the characters fighting together for survival in space, and the cheeky confidence that saw Kirk grow into his role as Captain.

And I also loved the music. I’ve been enthusiastic about film scores for years, and love the power that a good soundtrack provides. A well-done score has both the power to influence your emotions with you barely noticing its presence because of how well it integrates into the film, as well as the power to jolt you from your current state and introduce an entirely new idea. The replay value of a good film score is enormous as well, with certain songs taking you back to key parts of the film, allowing you to revisit them in your imagination over and over again.

That all being said, you can imagine I was quite excited when I heard that the Grand Rapids Symphony would be performing Star Trek: Live in Concert! If you’re unfamiliar with this type of production, the movie is shown on the big screen in the concert hall with the recorded soundtrack removed from the playback; the symphony then adds the soundtrack via live performance. I’ve been to similar performances at the symphony when they provided the soundtrack for Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersLord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Singin’ in the Rain, and was eagerly looking forward to a chance to attend a new film performance.

As we walked into DeVos Performance Hall the evening of the show, I could see signs of extraterrestrial life all around us. I saw a woman with a prominent Klingon forehead, numerous members of Starfleet, and the “live long and prosper” greeting being flashed by plenty of people. We made our way to our seats, and eagerly waited for the start of the show.

As soon as the film began, the symphony was put through their paces. Star Trek begins with an action-packed fight scene in outer space, which then quickly transitions to feelings of loss and despair. The live soundtrack provided by the symphony perfectly beat through the fight scene, and helped the audience mourn the death, loss, and sacrifice that follows.

An amateur musician myself, I can appreciate the precision and skill which is required to pull a performance like this off. With traditional classical music performances, the audience may not notice if the tempo is a bit off from what the original composer intended, or if the song doesn’t begin at exactly the same time as when rehearsed. But when your performance is linked to a video projection, the entire symphony had better be spot on to time the rousing drums with the on-screen explosions, the cut-offs with the end of the scene, and the melancholy tunes with the characters’ lines on screen. And the Grand Rapids Symphony is certainly up to this challenge. Their entrances, cut-offs, and everything in between were timed perfectly to integrate with the movie watching experience.

I walked out of that performance with a new found appreciation for both the music that Michael Giacchino composed for the film, and for the skill and dedication of the members of the Grand Rapids Symphony. I can only imagine the hours of practice and rehearsals which were put in by these numerous musicians, all for a single performance. The musicians were met with the standing ovation they deserved once they played us through the final scenes and the credits began to roll.

If you missed this performance but like the concept of watching a movie with a live soundtrack, the Grand Rapids Symphony will be performing Fantasia Live in Concert on November 13th, 14th, and 15th at DeVos Performance Hall. This performance will feature scenes from the original Fantasia (1940) and Disney’s Fantasia 2000 with live orchestra accompaniment. Selections from both films, including Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite and other iconic moments, such as Mickey Mouse dabbling in magic in Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the mythical unicorns and winged horses that accompany Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, will be shown in high definition.

If you’re an audio-techie, you may think you’ve got the perfect setup at home with your fancy Dolby Surround 7.1, but I can guarantee that you’ll be blown away experiencing this music live at the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Story by Courtney Sheffer, West Michigan Tourist Association