PICNIC in the Park is back with a bang.
On Sunday, October 8, thousands of Savannahians will feel the earth move under their feet as the Savannah Philharmonic performs with accompaniment from real, live cannons.
It’ll be a bold ending to an evening of family fun and symphonic bliss, just in time for National Arts and Humanities Month.
Creating a program for the Savannah Philharmonic’s largest audience of the year is its own unique challenge for Artistic Director and Conductor Peter Shannon.
“Playing in front of 18,000 people in the park allows us to serve the needs, the requirements, and the wants of everybody,” he explains. “We want to offer the possibility for people to come to the concert with their kids and hear symphony orchestra. These programs are quite challenging...you’re talking about connecting with a massive, massive amount of people. Some people like to hear soft, enigmatic, beautiful pieces of music, but maybe that doesn’t work in a particular environment. Or maybe it does.”
In the hours leading up to the Philharmonic’s performance, audience members stake out their favorite spots on the lawn and begin decorating for the big picnic venue contest. Riffing on the theme of “Lights Camera MUSIC,” competitors will create elaborate sets with on-theme Hollywood décor. The first, second, and third place picnic table contest winners will be awarded a $500, $250, and $100 card from Parker’s, the Picnic’s big sponsor.
The cultural event, contest, and community celebration is quite a different environment for the Philharmonic than, say, The Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
“We have a very supportive crowd,” Shannon says. “People are waiting for the Orchestra to be onstage. Trying to motivate people to listen, you can only do that through the music. There are going to be a lot of kids, a lot of families, and older people who come out to Picnic in the Park...it’s up to use to worth them up into a fever pitch.”
In keeping with Picnic in the Park’s theme, the Philharmonic will perform the music of classic films and cinematic favorites.
“We like to play music that everybody knows and is familiar with,” says Shannon.
He notes that, often, film is the first place people discover classical music.
“A friend recently said his introduction to symphonic music was through Bugs Bunny,” the conductor laughs. “We try to find those pieces, push other pieces, and we’ll have a lot of stuff from the movies.”
Expect to hear a James Bond medley, the music of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and melodic classical staples.
The Philharmonic has even invited a few special guests for the occasion, including Gretchen Kristine Stelzer and Michael Zaller of The Historic Savannah Theatre; together, they’ll belt out favorites from The Phantom of the Opera in a dynamic medley.
“People like that make us sound good!” chuckles Shannon. “Everyone’s going to love that.”
The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division Color Guard will participate, and the 3rd Infantry Division provides the cannon accompaniment to the 'William Tell Overture.' Shannon describes the sound as “crazy, crazy loud.”
“We’ve done this before with other orchestras where we’ve had literal insurance claims against us,” he says. “They’ve taken out the windows of a car if it’s parked too near! This is the real deal and a massive undertaking. Cover ears if you’ve got small kids! It’s not even rock! It’s classical music! Classical music wins out in the end. Take that, James Bond!”
Before the Philharmonic takes the stage, Savannah’s young talent will perform for the audience. Students from Savannah Classical Academy’s Strings Conservatory, Savannah High School Band, and Garrison School of Visual and Performing Arts all provide a unique pre-concert performance.
“Every year, it’s a really important element of Picnic in the Park,” Shannon attests. “And Savannah Philharmonic has some kind of educational outreach with every single concert. We bring our musicians into the schools to teach, we do master classes with the kids, give them the chance to work with professional musicians.”
The Philharmonic looks forward to connecting with its audience and sharing beautiful music with Savannahians in the beginning of their season.
“Throughout the whole Philharmonic season, there’s things that are going to make you jump out of your seat and start screaming,” Shannon says. “We have great concerts with the energy level and visceral response equal to anything at Picnic in the Park.”