The Auburn Community Orchestra is taking the idea of performing center-stage literally. The group will set up on the tiger paw in downtown Auburn next Friday to perform an outdoor concert for patrons in the heart of Auburn.
For Orchestra at the Oaks, community members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or meander about downtown, grabbing a bite to eat and letting the kids play while the roughly hour-and-a-half concert plays on.
"Here is something you can come to and walk around. If someone is shouting at their sister and chasing down the street, it's really not that big of a deal," said William Schaffer, horn player and Auburn Community Orchestra board vice president. "This is not a formal concert, which is a term I hate, by the way."
The idea is for people to relax and enjoy the atmosphere while being reintroduced to the orchestra, which has been around for decades, though Schaffer said he believes several generations are unaware of that fact.
"One of the things (orchestra members) discovered is that we really are not well-known to a lot of people who are younger than me, and I’m going to be 60 in a month or two," he said. "The demographic from me down doesn’t know us as well as we would like them to, so we’re trying to do a reintroduction to the community with the Orchestra at the Oaks."
The performance will feature numbers recognizable to many movie-lovers, like scores from "Star Wars," "Jurassic Park" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," and classical pieces with a big sound.
"Choosing the repertoire was just trying to find a great blend of exciting pieces that people would essentially know or recognize, and we also needed pieces that would work well in an outdoor setting," said Richard Prior, an award-winning conductor and composer who was recently named the community orchestra's conductor for the 2019-20 season. "So, bright pieces with lots of good energy to them and also something that would have enough basic volume to kind of come through everything else that’s going on."
Prior said he feels it is important for people to experience music live, to watch it being produced by others.
"It's really wonderful to just see and experience the orchestra and the individuals who are playing, where you can get up close and really see it as a living thing," he said. "Most of the time when we interact with music, it's a recording or a part of a movie soundtrack, and I think it's really important to remember it's a very human activity."
Schaffer said it's also important for people to be exposed to orchestra music, which is in their lives more than they may realize — for example, through movies and television.
"This is the music from which everything else that we listen to flows," he said. "If you listen to popular music, that is music that came out of this, what orchestras have been doing for the last 300 years. Secondly, it's just good music."
While Orchestra at the Oaks is meant to entertain and shine a light on the community orchestra, both Schaffer and Prior said they hope it inspires local musicians to get involved with the group. Fliers will be on site for those interested in joining or learning more about the orchestra.
"There are a few areas we still need to fill in some numbers," Schaffer said. "Certainly starting with the next concert, we are actively seeking members in most areas, especially in strings."
There are currently about 40 to 50 musicians involved — both community members and Auburn University students.
"We’re really making music a universal connecting thing between local semi-professionals, good local amateur musicians who maybe have another career but have always had music in their lives, and really terrific young students who get the opportunity to play in a full orchestra," Prior said.
Schaffer stressed that there is no criteria in seeking a position in the orchestra other than a willingness to play.
"There's no requirement to have any affiliation with anyone other than your instruments to come and play," he said.
The Orchestra at the Oaks performance will begin at 6 p.m. on Toomer's Corner.
The event is hosted by the Auburn Community Orchestra, Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center and the Downtown Merchants Association.