I approached the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's recent pops season opener with no small degree of skepticism. The concert, titled “Disco Days and Boogie Nights,” was a gigantic leap for someone whose comfort zone lies more in the music of Brahms, Bartok and Barber.
But one thing I've learned about attending concerts programmed and conducted by Jack Everly is that regardless of the thematic content, the music will be handled with a professionalism that extends to high quality orchestral arrangements, talented featured soloists and a disarming sense of humor that gently satirizes an era's musical excesses.
And so, with some cleverly reworked lyrics to “The Brady Bunch” theme music, audiences learned how “Disco Days and Boogie Nights” came to be. Everly also put listeners in the proper state of mind for a concert whose music was produced in the decade that saw leisure suits, pet rocks, gas for 90 cents a gallon and no liquor by the drink.
Before the evening had concluded, patrons were treated to more than four dozen tunes from the '70s, a mix of the outrageous and the silly, but also the poignant and even a few that deserve to be called standards.
A group of young vocalists who call themselves Chapter 6 began this nostalgic journey with a Bee Gees medley, complete with singing in falsetto and the humorous choreography that accompanied tunes such as “Night Fever” and “Staying Alive.”
On television, the 1970s saw the proliferation of sung themes, an approach the cast of nine singers reinforced with such examples as “The Muppet Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Jeffersons.”
If disco-influenced tunes such as “It's Raining Men” and “Last Dance” thrust the evening into high gear rhythmically, Marvin Hamlisch's “The Way We Were” and John Lennon's “Imagine” gave the evening a pair of beautiful and wistful melodies.
“The Way We Were” opened atmospherically enough but as the music broadened, Farah Alvin pushed too hard, which produced a strident sound due to excess amplification. Everly's instrumental arrangement of “Imagine” had many nice coloristic touches, including solos for English horn and viola.