The Two Towers at Ravinia, August 15-16

Chorale begins rehearsing tonight, for our performance of The Two Towers with the CSO at Ravinia, August 15 and 16!  We work two weeks on our own, then join Lakeside Singers and the Chicago Children’s Choir for one joint rehearsal,  before getting together with the production’s conductor and mastermind, Ludwig Wicki--  who will put the finishing touches on us, then fit us in with the CSO and the film.  The same forces did this two summers ago, for The Fellowship of the Ring--  and we had a great time, attracting the largest audience Ravinia has ever experienced, to view one of the American public’s favorite films.

The musicians fill the pavilion’s stage, as per a usual concert.  An enormous movie screen hangs above and behind us; smaller screens hang from trees and poles throughout the park’s grounds.  The production team, of which Mr. Wicki is a part, presents all of the film except the music track; the performers on stage perform that live, under Mr. Wicki’s direction.  He, in turn, keeps his eyes glued on a laptop which is is right in front of him, on his music stand; he watches a cursor, and exactly matches his gestures to the location of the cursor on his screen, keeping all of us together.  Volume levels are controlled from the control booth at the rear of the pavilion, so that the music never overwhelms the dialogue and special effects.  The whole thing is an amazing operation.  Singers and players must react immediately and confidently to every gesture, though they cannot see the film themselves, or the whole show slides off the road into the ditch.  That it never does, is very much to the credit of Mr Wicki’s steel nerves and intense powers of concentration, as well as to the amazing skill and dexterity of the orchestra players, who do not put in anything like the amount of rehearsal, that the singers do.

The singers perform in elvish, orcish, and some kind of early English (at least, it says so in the score instructions!).  It all looks like gibberish on the page—written first in some phonetic system particular to the composer, then transliterated into a rough International Phonetic Alphabet, and then tweaked at will throughout the course of rehearsals, according to what we hear on the movie soundtrack—which often follows no rules at all, but sounds good in the given dramatic context.  The transliterator/transcriber leaves many questions and issues unresolved—we often plug our noses and jump, during rehearsal, and hope it all turns out OK.  Frequently, as well, the singers have to find and sing pitches which may look clear in the piano reduction in our scores, but actually come from the timpani or some other barely pitched or audible instrument, across the orchestra, perhaps while an explosion is occurring on the screen-- and just pray we get it right.  I am working from a score used in a previous performance—and frequently see the symbol for a tuning fork, drawn in the score a bar before a choral entrance-- the previous singer was taking no chances.

Many of Chorale’s singers are out of town, or are otherwise unavailable, for this performance; we have filled in our ranks with other singers, drawn from throughout the city, many of them fans of the Tolkien trilogy, who want to have this chance to participate.  So the overall experience of learning and performing this score, with a large group of familiar as well as unfamiliar singers, is intensely social, as well as musical, providing a break in routine during the late summer, when it is most needed.  And the music isn’t bad, either… Howard Shore, the composer, is skillful both with lyrical beauty, and with large effects, and his music is a surprisingly large part of the movies’ success.

Ravinia is a long ways out there.  But the trip is doable, by both public and private transportation; and an evening in the park provides a welcome, exhilarating break from the urban routine most of us experience all summer.  Bring a picnic! Come see and hear us.  August 15 and 16, Ravinia Park, 'way up north near Wisconsin..