Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra Director Brad Lambrecht was a little stuck when trying to think of a collaboration concert the group could do for its February concert.
In the past, the group has collaborated with the Andria Theatre, the Minnesota Opera, the Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota and the Brush and Palette Club of Alexandria.
But then, Lambrecht stumbled upon the new orchestral piece, “Vibe,” by Gregory Smith, per a recommendation by his former professor Wes Kenney.
“He said, ‘this is a really good idea for your orchestra, it would fit them really well,’” Lambrecht said. “And by God, he was right. It fits us very, very well.”
The CLSO will perform this piece at the Alexandria Area High School Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m. But this won’t be just a typical performance. There is a lot to learn from the educational piece, laughs to be shared and a children’s book written by Deb Mercier and illustrated by Faythe Mills that goes along with it.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students. The book, titled, “Catching the Waves: The Science of Sound,” will be released on the same day of the concert and be available for purchase. Children who attend the concert get a copy for free and Mercier and Mills will sign books after the concert.
The 35-minute orchestral piece is focused around telling the story of how music is created through sound, and how sound is created through molecules and the science behind it. The song covers the science of how echoes work, molecule collision and vibration and sound in water and space.
It’s geared toward children, but is not limited to them, Lambrecht said. There are some humorous jokes that will go over children’s heads but not those of adults.
“We just sit here and giggle as we are rehearsing,” he said. Sometimes he has to stop rehearsal to leave room for laughter. “It’s so funny.”
Instruments are used in unconventional ways, which adds to the humor. Some examples of the whimsical portions are when the tubas “turn into” a herd of elephants, which Lambrecht said they are very good at doing.
Narrator Kevin Lee will join the orchestra on stage as a “mad scientist,” and banters with the conductor and orchestra.
“It’s the most acting I’ve ever had to do in a concert,” Lambrecht said. “It brings me back to my musical theater and opera days.”
The orchestra also sings during segments, and at times the audience will be invited to join in.
The book’s origins
Lambrecht was at the Wine, Ale and Art Crawl event in downtown Alexandria last summer when he saw some art of Mills on display – specifically, one of her previously-illustrated books. The book was written by Mercier, one of the orchestra’s flute players.
“I didn’t know that Deb wrote children’s books!” Lambrecht exclaimed. “I went home and I thought, how cool would it be for us to have a children’s book written for the orchestra?”
Because it was something the orchestra had never done before, the project has been in the works ever since.
This was the first nonfiction book for Mercier, who saw it as a challenge and was partly why the project appealed to her. The timeline was another challenge, with a four-month turnaround is the shortest project she’s ever done.
Mills found the illustrations challenging because she typically draws realistic images, and this book has some fantasy.
Mercier drew rough sketches on a draft of the book that Mills recreated. Mills then composed images to base the artwork on. For some images, she used photos of hers and placed a filter from the phone app Prisma that simplified the colors and softened the edges, making it look more like a cartoon. For others, Mills used PhotoShop to create the fantastical image of kangaroos playing kazoos, for example. Her 15-year-old grandson was a model for the boy in the story.
“I think Deb’s imagination and ideas of how she wanted the illustrations was fun and I loved working with someone who knew what they wanted,” Mills said.
The 24-page book, printed by Steuben Press in Colorado, is geared toward children in grades 3-5 and Lambrecht described it as a supplement to what’s beyond the musical piece. Third grade classes are discussing the science of sound in the regular curriculum, so orchestra members have been giving presentations to classes and notifying them about the upcoming concert.
Mercier enjoyed learning about the sound and hearing process. However, she didn’t want the book to sound like a textbook.
“I wanted this to be a really fun book to read out loud for parents, grandparents, whoever is reading to the kids,” she said. Mercier used to read out loud to her children.
Mills is hard of hearing, and reading the book taught her a lot of things she didn’t know about how the ear works.
Some familiar Alexandria places are in the book, including Noonan’s Park. There also is an illustration of the full orchestra, which Mills said was a difficult task. “You can recognize who’s in there,” Mercier said.
Mills is excited to hear the orchestra and see the people she drew, and Mercier is pleased that kids can come home from a concert with a tangible book.
“It’s a really good feeling knowing that the orchestra is able to interact with the community and interact with kids in this way and have an impact on them musically and educationally,” Mercier said.
Lambrecht doesn’t know of any other orchestra in the world that has released a book on the science of sound with a piece similar to “Vibe.”
Audiences will still be able to get the typical orchestral experience, he said. However, this concert might have a different energy. It will tickle audience members’ funny bones and broaden their minds, challenging them to think about something even music geeks don’t normally think about.
After “Vibe,” the orchestra will play Alan Hovhaness’s “Mysterious Mountain,” which Lambrecht said will take everything the audience learned from “Vibe” and apply it. Animations from an Alexandria Area High School class will also be shown.
The symphony is planning on an initial printing of 500 books. To purchase the book after the concert, call 320-815-5168 or visit Cherry Street Books in downtown Alexandria after Feb. 10.