Greeley's Modern Sound
Published on March 04, 2022
Story by Baker Geist, Communication Specialist for Weld County; photos courtesy of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra and the City of Greeley.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, in the case of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra, music by perception.
To do so would be to discredit the work of the philharmonic to bring high-quality orchestral music to Weld County residents in ways that appeal to everyone — those familiar with orchestra performances and those who may attend a program for the first time.
“We’re not your normal philharmonic. We are adapting to the changing times, and in our concert season, we’ve got a little bit of everything for the whole family,” said Nick Kenny, Chief Executive Officer of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra.
The goal of presenting Weld County and northern Colorado residents with an orchestral experience that is unintimidating to newcomers while still respecting the elements of traditional classical music is one Kenny and the 63-75 professional musicians who make up the orchestra have been trying to achieve for the last several years. Those efforts have resulted in well-received shows such as 2019’s “Jurassic World in Concert” where the movie was shown on a 30-foot screen while the orchestra performed the musical pieces that accompanied those scenes. And while COVID-19 sparked the closure of the philharmonic prior to the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, the downtime — lasting 19 months — has proven beneficial.
“You have to engage the community,” Kenny said, explaining he spent many of his days finding ways to do that. “What makes the Greeley Philharmonic different? That’s what we had to discover.”
That discovery process involved finding a music director who was not only well-accomplished in his field but also could direct performances in a way that didn’t make those unfamiliar with orchestra performances feel out of place. That person? Greeley native and University of Northern Colorado (UNC) alumnus Lowell Graham.
With accolades that include membership in the American Bandmasters Association, an honor that the association notes “recognizes outstanding achievement in the world of concert bands” and induction into UNC’s music Hall of Honor among several others throughout a decorated career, it’s clear he has the experience to direct high-quality shows to anyone who may choose to make the philharmonic part of their evening plans. Still, that’s not what made him the perfect fit to lead the orchestra in its 110th year. That, Kenny said, came from his personality and his familiarity with the Weld County community — despite being away from Greeley for five decades, Graham still has a farm in Briggsdale to this day. Both of those characteristics mesh to create an engaging experience people can look forward to this season.
“Having a conductor who is really engaging and encouraging to the audience [is a great thing],” Kenny said. “… Lowell wants a ruckus and informed audience. And if you’re not informed that’s OK. We’ll get you there. Lowell speaks to the audience and connects to them about what’s being performed and why. He really humanizes the orchestra.”
That approach is reflected in upcoming shows that encourage audiences to have a great time and become immersed in music. Later this month, the orchestra will feature a soulful tribute to Aretha Franklin, before the season closes with “At the Movies,” a show which will feature the music of heralded movie composer John Williams.
Classical music is defined by Kenny as the music of the 17th, 18th and 19th century that features several different instruments from string, woodwind, brass and percussion sections. While many wouldn’t consider music from the movies as classical, Kenny said through the years, classical music has always evolved, and the unique programs offered by the philharmonic are continuing that evolution.
“There are so many different time periods of classical music, and we’re in this new redefining stage,” Kenny said, highlighting classical music’s role in films dating back to the silent era. “It follows the same rules and the structures of the pieces. Movie scores are classical music, but it’s not viewed that way because we’re living in that time.”
Filling concerts with music people recognize is just one way the philharmonic is trying to enhance its entertainment value. And just as the goal is to appeal to different musical tastes, there is a desire to break down the stigma that the philharmonic only caters to a certain kind of dress code. If music is to be enjoyed, people need to feel comfortable. If that comfort is found in a tuxedo or evening gown or in a T-shirt and jeans, that’s fine. Kenny, Graham and the orchestra, consisting of musicians from throughout the region, are more focused on providing a memorable night to people who never thought they’d be entertained by an orchestra.
That value in and beauty of music is what Kenny believes makes the philharmonic so unique, and the experience of enjoying orchestral music is what he hopes to share with people throughout Weld County and northern Colorado.
That experience has been delivered by the Greeley Philharmonic in various forms for more than a century, and it’s one that Kenny is humbled to play a small part in providing to people in the future.
“Music is deeper than just the ear,” Kenny said when explaining how music creates memorable experiences. “To be able to keep that going is special.”