Salem Symphonic Winds to perform immersive celebration of Earth

Salem Symphonic Winds plans to immerse its audience in the sounds – and scents – of the rainforest in an evening showcasing new instruments and technology.

On Sunday, April 16, at 3 p.m. Salem Symphonic Winds will celebrate the planet with a program inspired by nature, environmental issues and galaxies far, far away.

It’s a show that had conductor John Skelton buying instruments, searching truckyards and testing out scent technology to bring the music to life.

The featured piece, titled “The Blue Marble,” is a symphony and accompanying film by composer Julie Giroux. Skelton said she’s a favorite of the band, and takes care to make her music interesting for every player.

This piece asked for more instruments than the Salem Symphonic Winds’ standard, a full range from the high pitched alto flute and piccolo down to the contrabassoon and bass clarinet. The symphony required 10 percussionists, twice as many as they typically work with. 

Giroux was inspired by NASA’s famous “Blue Marble” photograph, taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 on their way to the moon in 1972.

“That notion that when they first saw planet earth from their space mission, they became especially aware of how fragile our planet is. And she was moved by that to write this symphony,” Skelton said.

The symphony has three movements, totaling over 20 minutes. The middle movement is set in the Amazon rainforest, and Giroux spent hours listening to recordings of the birds, insects and animals there when crafting the music, according to Skelton.

A film showing nature and the human impact on the environment will play throughout the performance, along with a new technology that will fill the room with the smell of the rainforests.

“We’ll have about 20 bags of scent beads that we hold in front of fans in front of the audience and on the sides of the stage at the start of the movement, and the fans will distribute that scent,” Skelton said. 

The Salem band is the second in the country to use the technique, he said, which is regularly used at theme parks and performances in Las Vegas.

Skelton tested it at a rehearsal, to make sure it would be okay for band members who have asthma, allergies and reactions to strong smells.

“They were all just smiling and said, ‘Oh that’s really nice. We really like that,’” Skelton said and laughed. “Based on that review of our band and that nobody fell over coughing or running out of the room or anything… this is going to be fun to share.”

When the six-minute movement ends and the fans turn off, the scent should go away entirely without lingering, he said.

The concert will also feature selections from the original “Star Wars” trilogy, written by John Williams.

One song, the “The Forest Battle,” plays as the protagonists join Ewoks, aliens that look like teddy bears, to fight The Empire’s Stormtroopers. It sent Skelton shopping.

The song called for tuned “almglocken” bells. The type of bell is tuned to different notes, and used by Swiss farmers to identify cows from a distance. Salem Symphonic Winds owned some already, which they had purchased for a concert that got canceled due to the pandemic.

“As it turned out, we had all the notes we needed except for one, and that was the very last note of the solo. And so we had to buy one note that cost us about $340, for one note,” Skelton said, and laughed. “So I hope the audience really enjoys that note.”

Darth Vader’s theme called for a steel plate to be hit, which sent Skelton to a mutual friend’s truck yard in Dallas.

“We’d been hunting for the right sound for that. My friend took me out to this log truck company, where they had the brake drums from log trucks out in the field, and we hit on those and it was the perfect sound,” he said.

The group is also borrowing a celesta from the Portland Opera, a keyboard instrument that hits bells to makes a tinkling sound, identifiable in the main theme to “Harry Potter.”

The concert will also include “Symphonies of Gaia” by composer Jayce Ogren. He was inspired by the nature of the Pacific Northwest, and the piece has an environmental theme about respecting the planet, according to Skelton.

“We felt like both his work and Julie’s work, especially, were appropriate just a week before Earth Day,” Skelton said. “Both of them expressing the hope that the emotional content of their music could motivate people to reflect and to try to exert some influence to try to really be good stewards of our planet.”

The concert begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 16, with a pre-show by The Ventus Quartet at 2:40 p.m.

It will be at the Rose Auditorium at South Salem High School, 700 Howard St. S.E..

Tickets are available online, with reserved seating for $25 and general admission for $20. The show is $15 for seniors, $10 for students and $5 for people under 18. People with Oregon Trail Cards can get tickets for $5 after 2:15 p.m. on Sunday. 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

SUBSCRIBE TO GET SALEM NEWS – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.