Funomusica Family Concert: Intergalactic Adventure
Sunday 4th March 2018
It takes a true musical geek to realise how well The Macarena dance fits with Handel's The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and a true storyteller to invent a backstory that works it into a Space-themed concert. And it takes a truly nice person to get people of all ages doing the dance happily, without feeling like we're at a bad panto rather than a quality classical concert. Fortunately Funomusica frontman and deviser, Alasdair Malloy, is all these things and more. He's also a master of disguise, managing to transform completely into character, and as you can see on his website he's also a serious musician - percussionist with the BBC Concert Orchestra, recording with Bjork, and a master at the Glass Harmonica.
The programme for our Intergalactic Adventure is a well thought out mix of classical pieces and film classics. There are pieces everyone will know, like the Star Trek theme, plus some surprises like the Clog Dance from La Fille Mal Gardée, but always cleverly linked to the theme. Then there are some extra surprises, like a snippet of the Wallace and Gromit theme, a dun-dun-DUN or two, and an encore of the Dr Who theme to bring us all home to Earth. These extras seem conjured up out of nowhere, and it's fun to watch and hear something so familiar just come into being under the musicians' fingers.
As well as themed music, there are costumes and props. Oxford Philharmonic show consummate musicianship in playing so immaculately while wearing antennae and tinsel wigs, or dressed as Captain Kirk, or in one case in a Wookie head. Alasdair conducts with a lightsabre, and in one piece the Jedi violin players all flick switches and their bows also become lightsabres, red, green and white, leaping about over the strings. Half of the fun of these concerts is exactly this - so much is treated as a bit of a joke, but the music really isn't.
Before the concert there's time for crafts, so if the children didn't come dressed up they're soon adorned with antennae or sparkling planets on faces. There's also a chance to try out some instruments. There's always lots of percussion, but also a guitar and a violin, with careful supervision and help. During the concert it's very relaxed. The pieces are short, plenty have actions and story introductions, some are just for listening, and in some individual instruments are highlighted. No-one's frowned on for not sitting still or being silent, and it's suitable for children but also older people with a variety of disabilities or other reasons that a serious formal concert might be hard.
The whole event is so thoroughly themed it's hard to imagine them doing any other theme so well. But having been to Pirates and Intergalactic Adventure I can say for sure they employ the same inventiveness, imagination and intelligence. It's really nice to find an event aimed at such small children that is not at all patronising or pressured. Everyone's encouraged to take part, not picked on or picked out. I hope it's as much fun for the performers as for the audience.
What do we want to teach our smalls about classical music? If it's that it can transport you, amaze you, create pictures and conjure worlds, or just that it involves a whole team that's fun to be part of, then Alasdair and the Oxford Phil have really nailed it.