Stepping Outside Our Musical Comfort Zones: Review of the Duke Ellington Orchestra

Author: Ciara Loughnane

Cover Photo by the Numerica Preforming Arts Center 

Honestly, I was a little worried about going to the Seattle Symphony to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Up until this show, my only experience listening to a band or orchestra on its own, was high school groups that I was forced to go to because my younger brother was a part of them. They were long, boring, took themselves way too seriously, and were just not that good. But a friend of mine had asked me to take them to the show, so I figured I would suck it up and go.

The empty stage before the performance. We weren’t allowed to take photos once the show started.

So going into this show, I had lots of preconceived ideas about what the Duke Ellington Orchestra was going to be like: stuffy, long, and boring. Well let me tell you, everything I thought was WRONG.

Firstly, the show was anything but stuffy. The music they played was so upbeat and fun, I just wanted to get up and dance! One thing I forgot before going to the show was that the Duke Ellington Orchestra rose to prominence by playing in jazz and night clubs, so of course their music is made to dance to. It was fun and upbeat and that feeling radiated throughout the concert hall.

Throughout the show the members of the orchestra actually made jokes between songs and had the audience roaring with laughter, something I noticed doesn’t seem to happen much with artists and bands that are supposed to interact with the audience and make them laugh.

One thing that really made the show stand out for me was that they told stories before many of the songs, explaining what had originally inspired Duke Ellington to write the piece. It really gave the audience history and context for each song, so that we could have a greater appreciation for it. I personally loved the story before the “Queen’s Suite*”.

In 1958, Duke Ellington had the pleasure of meeting Queen Elizabeth II. He was so taken with her grace and poise, that he composed an entire suite for her, entitled “The Queen’s Suite”. Only a single copy of the record was made and given to Queen Elizabeth II. The suite was composed of six songs and has a 20 minute run time. The songs are “Sunset and the Mocking Bird”, “Lighting Bugs and Frogs”, “Le Sucrier Velours”, “Northern Lights”, “The Single Petal of a Rose” (my personal favorite), and “Apes and Peacocks”.

After telling us this story, the composer announced that for the second time ever in the history of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, they would be playing the Queen’s Suite in its entirety, with the first being the show in Benaroya Hall the night before. Knowing that we were hearing such a beautiful and historic piece be played by such talented musicians was such an amazing experience. I loved every second of it.

Overall, the Duke Ellington Orchestra surpassed any and all of my expectations. Yet again, I had such a wonderful time at the Seattle Symphony. I encourage everyone to step outside of their musical comfort zones and go to a concert in a genre of music that you don’t normally listen to. That’s definitely what I did and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the results.

*A Suite (which I didn’t know until this show) is a grouping of songs written around the same theme. The songs can be played individually, but are typically supposed to be listened to as a group.

CIARA LOUGHNANE | KXSU Digital Media Director

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