"A conductor is a lot like a football coach," explains Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops.
Football comes up a lot in the conversation, probably because his beloved New England Patriots are days away from playing in the Super Bowl but also because of what he sees as obvious similarities.
"I'm the person who calls the plays. I help keep a solid beat and get people 75 feet apart to be synchronized. You can say, 'Who needs a conductor?' But you can also say, 'Who needs a football coach?' until you see the players running in 11 different directions."
Lockhart is very comfortable explaining the complexities of his job to people whose only familiarity with orchestras may be the occasional Bugs Bunny cartoon and a recurring character on Seinfeld.
"You have to know a lot about every instrument. You spend a lot of time talking to the players, getting to know their specifics. I consider the conductor to be the go-between for the composer and the orchestra."
In other words, a conductor does a lot more than point a funny stick at musicians.
Lockhart got his start as a pianist at 7 years old. It was a few years later, at the age of 11, when he played clarinet for the school orchestra that he gained a real love for making music with a larger ensemble.
He holds an undergraduate degree in playing piano and considers himself at an equal level with the clarinet but has working knowledge of just about every instrument in the orchestra.
However, he brings up football again, in order to not overstate his tuba-playing ability.
"Just because a football coach knows what a quarterback should be doing doesn't mean he can throw the ball 50 yards or run 40 yards in four and a half seconds."
After gaining a graduate degree in conducting, Lockhart spent years apprenticing with other conductors. He took lessons from what they did right and tried to avoid their mistakes.
On February 6, 1995, he was named conductor of Boston Pops. The world-famous orchestra was founded in 1885, and as Lockhart says, it is "an orchestra for people that don't know they like orchestras. We're about playing music in an engaging manner."
The current tour (which will be popping off on Sunday, February 8, at Kravis Center and Monday, February 9, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts) is billed as the Very Best of the Boston Pops.
The first portion will consist of works by famous American composers like Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland. The second half will feature famous film music from a previous Boston Pops conductor, John Williams, who did the scores for Jaws, Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, and basically every other movie you loved from the '70's or '80s. The Pops will also be playing classical arrangements of popular songs like Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a special sing-along to music by the Beatles.
Even though all that rock, pop, and movie music is inextricably embedded into our cultural consciousness, those great classic songs and movie scores still hark back to the past century. So it begs the question whether there are any new songs that Lockhart's heard on the radio recently that he'd like to translate to the orchestra.
"It's harder these days," the conductor admits. "Years ago, every new song could get the orchestral treatment. Now someone like Mos Def wouldn't work for our purposes.
"But we are trying to do something a little tongue in cheek," he reveals. "We're going to do a variation of Meghan Trainor's 'All About That Bass,' using all the bass elements of the orchestra.
"I know that's not what she meant with that song, but we're doing it anyway."
Boston Pops. Sunday, February 8. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. The concert begins at 1 and 7 p.m., and tickets cost $30 to $150 plus fees via max.kravis.org. All ages. Call 561-832-7469 or visit kravis.org.
Boston Pops. Monday, February 9. Au-Rene Theater at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. The concert begins at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $40 to $135 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 954-462-0222, or visit browardcenter.org.
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