The jumbotron at St. Pete Times Forum welcomed nearly 5,000 students to a teamwork-themed Florida Orchestra youth concert on October 19.

Root Root Root for the Home Team

Symphony orchestras, like professional sports teams, are ideally the embodiment of coordinated group effort and a healthy dose of esprit de corps. Like pro sports teams, they also identify strongly with specific localities, both in their names and in their fan base. Orchestras playing for the home team is nothing new, but as the current season gets underway the spirit of collaboration seems especially high, with orchestras in St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Winnipeg, and Tampa linking up with the flagship teams in their respective cities. 

As the St. Louis Cardinals began their World Series battle with the Texas Rangers this week, they had the hometown wind at their back, musically speaking. On October 5 the Cardinals prevailed against the Philadelphia Phillies with a little help from three Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra trumpeters, whose stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner launched that evening’s game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Nine days later the full orchestra, garbed in Cardinal red and led by Music Director David Robertson, gathered for a videotaped performance of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, this time in anticipation of the Cardinals’ faceoff with the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The St. Louisians trounced their rivals in that contest, and on Sunday at Milwaukee’s Miller Park they clinched their bid for a shot at the World Series.

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra President Fred Bronstein throws the first pitch at a Cardinals game on September 7. Photo: St. Louis Cardinals

Orchestras elsewhere have displayed active synergies with sports teams. At a community concert in suburban Troy, Michigan, during the final days of the regular baseball season, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Leonard Slatkin performed a new arrangement of the 1968 fight song Go Get ’Em, Tigers, prepared at Slatkin’s request by DSO librarians Robert Stiles and Ethan Allen. In a nod to Cleveland’s pro football team, Music Director Carl Topilow and the Cleveland POPS Orchestra recorded an upbeat music video of the Browns’ Hi O Hi O for Cleveland, which was viewed by a stadium crowd during a Cleveland Browns Legends induction ceremony on September 25; the song, dating from 1946, had been updated with a new orchestration by Cleveland POPS Principal Trombonist Paul Ferguson. And hockey fans got a patriotic jolt from a rinkside rendition of O Canada by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Brass and Percussion Ensemble prior to the puck drop at the Winnipeg Jets season-opening game on October 9.

While Canada may be the land of puck mania, the most extensive sports-music partnership this season is happening with hockey fans well to the south: on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Under its new owner, Jeff Vinik, the Tampa Bay Lightning has recently invested in a major rebranding campaign, with a new logo, an arena (the St. Pete Times Forum) refurbished to the tune of $40 million, and a new focus on local assets—the culture, the architecture, the geography, even the weather. (Tampa Bay prides itself on being the “lightning capital of the world.”) All of these elements are manifest in a music video, produced by the Tampa firm Mindclay Creative, that debuted before a sellout crowd at the Lightning’s opening home game on October 17. The musical centerpiece of the video is the team’s newly commissioned theme song, Be the Thunder, performed by the Tampa-based Florida Orchestra under the direction of its composer, Gregory Smith.

Florida Orchestra Artistic Administrator David Rogers says that the Lightning’s goal was to commission “a signature piece of music that really sets the tone for the players as they’re coming out [on the ice], and for getting the fans completely riled up. And the whole thing with this video is to tell a story that relates the team and the game to the fans, and to the environment and the landscape and being in Florida.” The video features orchestra musicians wearing headsets and Lightning T-shirts during the studio taping of Be the Thunder; team members dressed in dark suits or battling it out on the ice; Lightning coach Guy Boucher “conducting” the orchestra; and back-to-back shots of pre-game and pre-concert preparations—taping a hockey stick, rosining a bow—that serve as visual tropes for the synergy between sports and musical performance. “When the team first approached us about this concept,” says Mindclay Creative’s Marc Battaglia, “we were excited by the idea of teaming up hockey with an orchestra. The more we started to put it together the more similarities we found. The metaphors you look for from a creative and storytelling standpoint are perfect, and we used those to our advantage in creating the video.”

Composer Gregory Smith says that the idea for a new theme song originated with  Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke, and that his Be the Thunder commission was partly the result of his having worked with the team’s marketing director on a previous sports-related commission (a theme song for the World Series-winning New York Mets in 1986). “When you think about it,” Smith says, “having a pro sports team getting music played by the pro orchestra team is a wonderful thing. I’m terribly glad to see it, because the whole thing is to bring the orchestra to the population in general. So many people have the perception that symphony orchestras are people in dark suits and bow ties playing music by people with long European names. This makes the orchestra accessible, as it should be. And I’m sure there are a lot of hockey fans among the orchestra players.”

“Having a pro sports team getting music played by the pro orchestra team is a wonderful thing,” says composer Gregory Smith. “The whole thing is to bring the orchestra to the population in general.”

The video (below), which will be shown on the St. Pete Times Forum jumbotron at all of the Lightning’s home games this season, is just one part of a major cross-promotional effort on the part of the orchestra and the hockey team. Information about upcoming concerts will appear on numerous electronic boards throughout the arena. Ticket vouchers offering “two best available seats to select Florida Orchestra concerts” were mailed this week to some 5,000 Lightning ticketholders. And two days after the team’s opening home game, 4,600 third- through fifth-grade students in the Hillsborough and Pinellas county schools came to the St. Pete Times Forum for a free youth concert by the Florida Orchestra led by Daniel Boico.

The theme of the concert? Teamwork, of course. Boico conducted works by Wagner,  Bernstein, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, and briefly ceded the podium to ThunderBug, the Lightning mascot, for a try at Waldteufel’s Skaters’ Waltz. After a botched beginning—and the cue “When we play together as a focused team, we sound more like this”—Boico took over, and the piece began again.


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