Rock stars for a night: Louisville Youth Orchestra amped to play big arena with My Morning Jacket [Music]

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If you've ever seen one of those poor kids lugging around a huge instrument case, knowing they were bound for hours of practice while their cohorts were probably shooting hoops or settling in with the PS3 – maybe you felt a little sorry for them. Well, you can stop now. Because for at least one night, 55 members of the Louisville Youth Orchestra get to play the real rock band, taking the stage this Friday night, October 29, with one of the premier purveyors of rock music in the country, My Morning Jacket, at the shiny new KFC Yum Center. LYO will open, followed by another local favorite, Wax Fang, and then return for a set with MMJ.

In case you've been living under a rock, and don't realize it, My Morning Jacket is a very big deal, and not just because three of the five band members were born and raised in Louisville. They've achieved both critical and popular success, been nominated for a Grammy, appeared in movies and television, and through indefatigable touring over the years, have built a thriving fan base, not just in this country, but internationally as well. Lead singer Jim James, bassist Tom "Two-Tone Tommy" Blankenship, and drummer Patrick Hallahan make up the Louisville-bred contingent. Guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboardist Bo Koster hail from not too far away, Indianapolis and Cleveland, respectively.

MMJ just wrapped up a five-night stand in New York City, where they played each of their studio albums in their entirety at Terminal 5 and made an appearance on Letterman. Word on the street (or at least in the music press) is that MMJ is currently working on a new album that will probably arrive sometime next spring.

So how did a high-profile collaboration of famed rockers and the LYO actually come together? I asked LYO Music Director, Jason Seber, now in his sixth year with the organization, to fill us in on how the concert came together, as well as the preparation and coordinating work that went into it.

What kind of early preparation did you do with the band in selecting songs and coming up with a program?

When we did the arena walk-through and press conference this July, we started to discuss the possibilities for collaboration. Then over the next few months we had several conference calls and email exchanges to come up with a specific program of which tunes we were going to play with MMJ.

What were some of the criteria for choosing what that they will play together?

Because MMJ has already played with the Chicago Youth Symphony and the Boston Pops, they already had several songs orchestrated. I took a look at all the charts that had been orchestrated so far and we discussed what we thought would work best for the program that night. Then I suggested that I orchestrate another one, and Jim James asked me to orchestrate a new song, which I did. In the end, we decided on nine songs that LYO would play with the band in their set.

What is the age range of the LYO members that will be playing?

This is the LYO Symphony Orchestra that's performing with MMJ, our most advanced orchestra of the four in LYO. There will be about 55 kids on stage playing, and they range in age from 13 to 18.

What is the reaction that the kids have to working with a rock band?

They are thrilled to have this opportunity. They know that this is a possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to play with a band of MMJ's caliber in such a neat setting like the Yum! Center. Their enthusiasm and excitement has been building with each week as we get closer to the big night. They're psyched.

What do you think the impact will be for them and on the profile of LYO in the community because of this show?

I think the kids are going to have the time of their life. All their hard work, not just for this show but all the preparation and practicing and lessons and rehearsals for the past several years, will all pay off that night. I think they're going to leave the experience on cloud nine. I'm excited that many people in Louisville will have the opportunity to witness and hear what I get to see every week - a group of dynamic young people achieving great musical things!

It's going to expose a whole new group of people not only to the LYO, but to orchestral music in general. We certainly understand the power of that ability to reach people, and I think the kids are committed to showing the crowd just how cool orchestral music can be.  My biggest hope is that their enthusiasm and passion shine through onstage that night.

What are the most challenging aspects of rehearsing and getting ready for the big day?


First, we have a ton of music we're preparing in a short amount of time. Our season begins in mid-September and usually we don't have a performance until mid-November. We've had six weeks to learn 14 different charts ;well over an hour and a half of music, when normally we have nine weeks to learn
about half-hour of music. That's probably been the biggest challenge, but the kids have worked extremely hard and risen to the challenge. They're ready.

Another challenge is just learning a new style and genre of music. They're used to playing with refinement and lots of self-discipline and control. The difference now is they still need those same skills to play rock music well, but they also have to let loose and not be afraid to jam and really rock hard. Some of them have really come out of their shell, which is exciting!  There's a vulnerability in letting yourself get swept away by MMJ's amazing music and not caring what people think of you for dancing in your chair or banging your head along to the beat.

What are your thoughts on how MMJ has supported their hometown arts groups?

For the past five years, MMJ has been my favorite band. Not only are they truly outstanding musicians who are eclectic and electric in both the studio and live on stage, they are also really true to themselves and to their roots.  When I finally met them in person this summer, I felt like I had known them for years. They are all great guys who are proud of their Louisville roots (Jim, Patrick, and Tommy having grown up here) and they are just as ecstatic as we are about this collaboration. They believe strongly and have spoken many times about how important the arts are in peoples' lives and especially the importance of music education.

One of the reasons why they asked us to join them for this show is precisely for that reason. They realize the power and potential of the arts to affect kids' lives and all of society for that matter.  I wish more bands had the level of appreciation and support for their hometown arts groups as MMJ does.  They are all about collaboration too, having played not only with orchestras, but groups like the Preservation Hall Jazz band in New Orleans as well. I think people will be singing, "I’m amazed" after they hear the possibilities of just how great music can be when you combine an incredible band with the power of a full symphony orchestra, especially when that orchestra is made up of terrific young musicians. Louisville's in for a real treat Friday.

Get ready to rock!

Tickets for the Wax Fang, LYO, MMJ show at 7:30 p.m., October 29 are $46, reserved. Tickets are available at the Kentucky Exposition Center, Kentucky International Convention Center and KFC Yum! Center ticket offices and all Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets are also available by calling 1-800-745-3000 and online at www.ticketmaster.com.

The Louisville Youth Orchestra will have a booth set up on the day of the show in the KFC Yum Plaza, starting at 3:00 p.m. They will be raffling off signed MMJ memorabilia.


For a taste of what you can expect Friday, check out this video from MMJ's appearance with the Boston Pops on Letterman in 2006:

(My Morning Jacket Photo Credit: Autumn DeWilde)

About Selena Frye
I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville for 14 years. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.
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