Michigan Pops Orchestra
Smiles all around
by Shelley Daily
As U-M students stream into the Michigan Theater on a Sunday evening to attend a Michigan Pops Orchestra performance, the space is alive with chatter and laughter. Known for peppering its semiannual themed concerts with videos, costumes, and guest appearances, the student-run, student-directed orchestra--in its seventeenth year at U-M--is a favorite on campus and in the community. And tonight, as "Pops Takes Flight" (this evening's theme) begins, I've settled into a middle seat with my ninety-four-year-old neighbor on one side of me and my seven-year-old daughter on the other. It's a test of trans-generational entertainment value.
The hundred-member orchestra opens with Gustav Holst's "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity"--played with such passion by the string section I fear they might fall out of their chairs. An eclectic mix follows, including audience favorite "Flight of the Bumblebee." A video backdrop features a Pops member in a bumblebee costume buzzing around campus in fast-forward. Later, when Pops plays "Superman March," Superman makes an appearance on screen and flies through campus--with the help of a rolling cafeteria cart--and meets up with the bumblebee for extra laughs.
Eliciting smiles is part of the plan for director and U-M orchestral conducting doctoral student Elim Chan, and for the Pops board of directors. "I want to bring an experience to the audience," Chan explains later. "It's about the music, but I also want people to leave happy, thinking, 'Oh, I didn't realize this could be so great!'" In the past, Chan's dressed as Princess Leia for a Star Wars piece. This evening, as she conducts the players (mostly nonmusic majors who've auditioned to be part of the orchestra) in a piece from the motion picture Up, she dons a "house" made out of a cardboard box--with colorful helium balloons attached. The balloons, however, get in the way of her baton, and the audience giggles along with her as she rearranges her costume mid-performance.
Chan says she enjoys introducing contemporary composers, pop culture, and musical
theater along with the more traditional selections. One of her special guests this evening is singer Madison Micucci, a U-M musical theater senior, who appears on stage in a red gown to accompany the orchestra in "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.
I periodically glimpse my neighbor to gauge her reaction to the concert--yep, she's still smiling. And my daughter's been sitting at the edge of her seat the entire show, awaiting the next surprise. It's a win for all ages.
Chan promises more costumes, more videos, more special guests, more fun--and of course, more music--when Michigan Pops presents "Revolutionary Pops" April 14 at the Michigan Theater.
[Originally published in April, 2013.]