For untrained listeners, a night at the symphony can be an intimidating prospect. Is it necessary to rent a tux, wear a monocle, understand French or Latin? Is there a secret handshake? That's where symphonic "pops" programs come in. They're happy compromises between the accessibility of pop-rock with all the formal training and technique (but none of the perceived stuffiness) of classical. As David Deacon-Joyner, professor of music and director of jazz studies at Pacific Lutheran University, puts it, "The ‘pops' concert format is much like meeting in the middle. The fact that we're gonna put a jazz ensemble and people from a classical background together, including the director, is a chance to have equal parts bourbon and water ... You'll see something that's not as formalized as far as the ritual you'd have in going to a symphony concert, but you will not feel as loose as if you went to see a band in a club or a bar somewhere ... You find that cultural middle ground ... I think it's refreshing for both musical cultures."
Consider, for example, Symphony Tacoma's upcoming collaboration with the PLU jazz band: Symphony Sweethearts. It's a pops program, arranged partly by Deacon-Joyner, that includes a Duke Ellington medley alongside such familiar tunes as "My Funny Valentine," "Over the Rainbow," and themes from James Bond movies. It's been packaged as a slightly fancy date night. It's fitting, then, that the event marks a new collaborative relationship between Symphony Tacoma and PLU. It was the idea of symphony music director Sarah Ioannides, said Deacon-Joyner, but "I jumped on it, because I wanted my students to have yet one more unique experience in their training as musicians. We haven't had an opportunity to do what I call a studio-orchestra-type thing with our orchestra at school. My students are gonna be thrown in there with pros and be expected to rise to that level ... For Sarah to reach out to us to do this kind of thing is just a tremendous gesture to music education and our community ... To invite us to be on the stage with them - that is really a leap of faith."
For this program, the combined orchestra will be joined by guest soloist Jens Lindemann, a trumpeter who's played with the Canadian Brass, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and solo by command for no less a personage than the Queen of England. "A great trumpeter is one who's very stylistically diverse," explained Deacon-Joyner, "one who obviously has a beautiful tone and is lyrical, but is virtuoso enough to be exciting as well - a good showman as well as a good technician." That aptly describes both Lindemann and solo vocalist Stephanie Porter, described by Nick Morrison of KNKX (National Public Radio) as "a favorite not only among jazz listeners, but among jazz artists." Now, doesn't that sound sweet?
Symphony Sweethearts, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 22, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $19-$80, 253.591.5890, broadwaycenter.org