Friday, 22 August 2014

Music at WorldCon - and Queues

There was a whole filk "track" to the WorldCon programme that we managed to miss entirely, with concerts running from Thursday afternoon to Monday night - though we were entertained in the queue to register by a chap playing a ukelele and singing "Who the Bloody Hell was Tauriel?", a musical critique of the Hobbit films.
The queue, by the way, moved at a reasonably fast rate, and there were plenty of volunteers marshalling the queue, unlike certain ComicCons my Young Man could mention (four hours in the queue, and volunteers who didn't know what was going on and didn't have access to a radio). Here it went smoothly, and with good humour, and the people behind the desk (also volunteers) were working as fast as they could.
I was talking later to a lady who had spent five hours volunteering on that first day - she had gone off to a talk she wanted to see after a couple of hours, come back, seen that there was still a need for help, and pitched in again. She said that the organisers hadn't realised that everyone would come at once on the first day - but they rose to the occasion and got through it, despite only having one sharpie! More sharpies arrived on the second day, to write names on badges that hadn't been printed, mainly for the people who were only coming for the day.
Queues for events, and the escalators, were also well managed, with volunteers coming along and making sure that people knew how late the previous event was running (the play before the Astronomer Royal's talk over-ran, for instance) and making sure, too, that people with mobility problems were sorted out properly. I was very impressed that the lifts were reserved for mobility scooters and wheelchairs and people with related mobility problems, and there were spaces in each room for mobility scooters to park that were nice and central, rather than being corralled into one corner or at the back. There were quite a few mobility scooters zipping around, as well.
There were also talks about music, and other concerts happening around the convention - I hadn't known, for instance, that Iain Banks, who had been one of the Guests of Honour until his untimely death, was a musician as well as a novelists, although I was aware of his book Espedair Street, which is about rock musicians. There was also a pipe and tabor workshop for the medievalists - I thought about going to that one, but left it too late to pre-book (there were limited places available).

And then there was the Philharmonic Orchestra.
ExCel has a huge Auditorium - even with the thousands of people at the Con, no event managed to fill it completely - and it also has a large stage with three big screens above it. And this is something else impressive about this sort of Convention - the tech volunteers who were able to manage the sound desks and lights and man the cameras that fed into the screens live, and even provide film clips to go with the music at the concert.
I think I'm right in saying there were something like 86 musicians on the stage, drawn from the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia. They had an open rehearsal in the afternoon, and the concert on the Friday evening.
They alternated between well-known film, TV and game music and classical pieces, and it really was a superb evening. The standing ovation they got at the end was thoroughly well deserved. For instance, they ended the first half with Mars and Jupiter from Holst's Planet Suite, which are so well known, and they made the music exciting to listen to. The Song to the Moon, from Dvorak's Rusalka, was accompanied by film footage from the Apollo 11 mission that I'd never seen before.
In the second half there was a tribute to Iain Banks by a composer who was a friend of his, Gary Lloyd, who wrote The Bridge Redux, named for the Forth Bridge and Iain Banks' novel The Bridge - this finished with a crescendo that the audience were invited to join in with, as loud as we could!
The Hugo ceremony also featured music, from violin and guitar, as the names of all the SF novelists and creators and well-known fans who had died in the previous year were projected onto the big screen overhead. They even managed to include Robin Williams. I didn't manage to catch the name of the piece they played, but it was beautiful.
And there was dancing - period jazz and swing from the Brideshead Ballroom Stompers after the Retro-Hugo Awards, which were given for SF from 1939, and a Regency ball the following afternoon (I saw several beautiful Regency dresses and a few gentlemen in period costume around the halls).
So there really was something for everyone!

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