A splendid time guaranteed for all in Port Townsend: Orchestra plays 'Sgt. Pepper's' for audience sing-along
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Members of the Port Townsend High School Orchestra perform music from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as a sing-along. The words to “She’s Leaving Home” are visible at top. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A performance of the Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” music by the Port Townsend High School Orchestra could become an annual event, according to the teacher who assembled the production.

“This album is full of really brilliant songs,” said music teacher Russell Clark, who wrote five-voice arrangements for the performance that he transcribed from the album.

“The songs have been with us for almost 50 years, but they are still current,” he said.

“They are like songs from the Great American Songbook in that respect.”

The orchestra performed music from the album, which was first released in 1967, on Thursday night before an audience of about 150 people.

Many orchestra members and those in the audience wore vintage costumes, with no particular theme, to get in the spirit of the music.

The 37-piece orchestra — with no electric bass, drums or guitars — performed the instrumental section, while the lyrics were projected above the stage so the audience could sing along, though many of those present clearly knew the words by heart.

Even so, they tended to miss a few cues, such as on “When I'm Sixty-Four,” when several in the audience rushed the opening line and didn't wait for the intro.

“People really wanted to sing on that one,” violinist Larissa Freier said.

Added cellist Aidan McClave: “When I heard all those people singing along, it gave me goosebumps.”

Choral teacher Bruce Cowan was at stage left guiding people through the vocal parts, while sign language interpreter Annie Clark was at stage right.

Clark, who began writing the arrangements in January, presented the score for the first side of the album in March and the second side earlier this month.

Two songs, “Within You, Without You” and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” were left out of the performance because the orchestra didn't have time to rehearse, Clark said.

“Those two songs were the two weakest candidates for a sing-along, considering that the other songs on that side — 'When I'm Sixty-Four,' 'Lovely Rita' and 'A Day in the Life' — were quite complicated,” Clark said.

The two missing songs could be restored in a future performance, which could occur as soon as next month.

“After the show, quite a few people came up to me and asked if we could do it again,” Clark said.

“We are looking at maybe performing during this year's Rhody Festival.”

Clark, 55, who has taught in Port Townsend for two years, bought the “Sgt. Pepper” album at its release when he was 10 years old.

“That album contained some of the defining music of my youth,” Clark said.

“It was wonderful to be able to go back and revisit it, and share it with the community.”

Former WSU Director Katherine Baril, who retired at the age of 63 in December 2010, was in the back singing and cheering, though she was one of the few present who wasn't overly familiar with the music.

“I think it's amazing to have a full house with great talent and have the generations singing together,” Baril said.

“I'm sure I've heard some of the songs on the album, but I never heard the whole thing, so this gave me a chance to relive my youth, which I didn't do right the first time.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 20. 2013 6:02PM
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