Amateur overture

Harvard's Last Minute Orchestra takes on the 1812
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  May 6, 2008

Even at Harvard, with its many time-honored traditions, the best rituals involve kazoos. Lots of kazoos.

“Is anyone playing oboe?” asked maestro Channing Yu, doling out parts for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to the Last Minute Orchestra, less than an hour before they were to perform it. A venerable annual affair, this Last Minute Orchestra welcomed any Harvard student or community member who could play an instrument, or couldn’t (hence the kazoos), and who lacked the time to rehearse or perform more than once a year. Yu didn’t know what he was getting into, as planned.

Soggy weather, however, was not in the plans — which is why the Orchestra was hastily crammed into the back of Lowell House Dining Hall instead of cluttering the courtyard. Hydrogen balloons (substitutes for the famous cannons of the 1812’s finale) floated outside and were projected onto a wall behind the orchestra, multi-media style.

Kazoos are fantastic, but so are the 17 pre-Revolution Russian bells that have hung in the Lowell House tower since its opening. This would be their final springtime sounding of the 1812. Donated to Harvard in the early 1930s, the bells are slated to return from whence they came, the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. They sing their Harvard swan-clangs for commencement on June 5; their removal and replacement with shiny new bells will take require all summer to complete.

“There may be sadness at seeing the old set leave, but it’s wonderful that they’re able to go back to their original home, and to have a beautiful new set,” said lead bell ringer Ben Rapoport after the concert.

How reduced historical significance will affect future 1812 recitals remains to be seen.

“We thought last year was going to be the last with the Russian bells,” said kazooist and singer Sarah Eggleston, who’s participated in the 1812 since 2003. “It’s gotten a little bit more sentimental over the years, I think. Hopefully we’ll still get the turnout we always get.”

Rehearsed or not, the performance proved that much of the LMO were no novices. If Napoleon needed a kazoo-loaded reminder not to fuck with Russia, he got one. The bad news is that I was under a table fumbling with electrical cords during a particularly good chunk of the Overture. Yu, perhaps mistaking me for a techie, asked me to plug his laptop into the wall midway through the piece. I made room in a nearby outlet by unintentionally unplugging the camera filming the balloons. Oops. I only hope the climax’s explosions drowned out my cussing.

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  Topics: Live Reviews , Harvard University, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
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