The theme music to ESPN’s Monday Night Football program may be one of the most recognizable in sports. One group of local musicians may have it stuck in their heads for a long time – and with a whole new meaning.
While in Pittsburgh last week filming the game between the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, producers at ESPN got an idea for an upcoming broadcast. During an interview segment building up to this week’s kickoff, footage of an actual orchestra should be played over the familiar instrumental in order to add suspense leading up to the game between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.
“What the script really needed was some entertainment value,” said Rico Labbe, director of special projects at ESPN. “That’s how we decided we can do the orchestra thing. The music we were going to play had to give us that kind of big-game feeling that Monday night has.”
The production team was on a tight deadline and even tighter budget. They scrambled to find an orchestra that could put a show together for their film crew on such short notice. Washington Symphony Orchestra director Yugo Ikach said his team was eager to jump of the bench to help out.
ESPN arranged for the orchestra to use the beautiful State Theatre in Uniontown and gave the musicians a day to learn the score. The film crew was focused on the capturing spectacular visuals from the performance, so orchestra members were asked to get in touch with their theatrical side.
“I’m usually more interested on hitting the correct notes and the appearance usually takes care of itself,” said violinist Jackie Koman of Washington. “So, to really think about being in unison with everyone else and looking aggressive, it takes a little bit of work.”
Labbe said the orchestra pulled it off well.
“There’s a difference between playing to live audience instead of to a track,” Labbe said. “To physically project yourself on camera is difficult. Obviously, in the audience you don’t see everything, but on film you see every detail. The way you play and how the violins are in synch – playing aggressively gives the piece a lot more power.”
Usually the orchestra gets their sheet music months in advance and has multiple rehearsals to practice. But for the TV gig, musicians only had 24 hours to study the material before playing in front of the cameras.
Using a camera truck and shoulder mounted cameras to capture close-ups, the crew shot take after take. Luckily, the minute-long score seemed to be to the musicians’ liking.
“It’s a fun piece to play,” Koman said, “because it is very up-tempo and exciting. It’s one that you really can play 100 times and you don’t mind it so much.”
The crew may have shot twice that many takes before wrapping up late Wednesday night. Producers said they were thankful for the time the volunteer orchestra gave them.
“They took instruction so well,” Labbe said. “They were the best fit we could ask for, and they were a happy bunch.”
Labbe said after his production team got a chance to sit down and go over the film, it was clear the orchestra had given them everything they had hoped for.
“They pulled it off really well. The footage looks awesome. It looks really high-end and very big.”
Director Yugo Ikach said although his symphony didn’t make much money for their gig, the musicians felt the experience was payment enough.
“They were very excited,” Ikach said. “How could you not be? National television and a chance for something fun to talk about in the years to come – it’s fantastic.”