A few years ago, Michael Neumann fell asleep after studying Symphony No. 8 by Austrian composer Gustav Mahler and dreamed of bringing together 1,000 musicians for a large-scale performance.
Neumann, the artistic director and conductor for the Sacramento Youth Symphony, has since sought to make his dream a reality by creating a way for musicians of different skill levels to participate in a massive concert planned for October – what he hopes will become the largest assembled orchestra in the history of Sacramento.
“A community event through music” is the goal, said Neumann, who has been with the Sacramento Youth Symphony for 36 years.
Symphony No. 8 is nicknamed the “Symphony of a Thousand” because of the number of musicians it can take to perform it, although it’s often executed by smaller groups. Needless to say, it’s a complicated piece of music, which is why Neumann’s orchestra won’t be performing Mahler’s symphony.
Instead, musicians at Neumann’s “Symphony of 1000” event will perform a collection of works including “Ode to Joy,” “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Can-Can.” According to Neumann, this musical selection is more inclusive, allowing musicians of varying levels to participate.
Neumann said he envisions the concert beginning with the more experienced players, who will be joined by intermediate ones and then beginners. “And they’ll all be playing at the same time, in the same place with the same music,” he said.
The concert is planned for Oct. 12 at Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. The event is open to musicians of all ages and abilities, and sheet music for different playing levels (advanced, intermediate and elementary) and instruments (wind, strings and percussion) can be downloaded at symphonyof1000.org.
“Maybe somebody who is 80 years old and hasn’t played since high school can brush off that instrument and play,” said Neumann, who will conduct.
After musicians register online (there’s a $20 participation fee), they are expected to practice on their own until the day of the concert. Then the musicians will rehearse together at the auditorium for a few hours before the performance.
Even though the musicians will perform more accessible works, playing in unison on this scale is still quite a feat. The average orchestra size is 40 to 70 musicians, according to the Community Arts Music Association.
The number of potential participants is both thrilling and daunting for Neumann, who said he didn’t feel nervous about the event, but was experiencing “maybe just a little anxiety, just wondering how it’s going to work out.”
He acknowledged that getting his ideal number of 1,000 musicians to sign up would also be a significant task. As of Monday morning, 38 musicians had registered to perform, according to the program’s website.
Many strings have registered, but the distribution of instruments is fairly even across the board, said Sean Bianco, the symphony’s event coordinator.
One flute player set to perform in October is Capital Public Radio news anchor Devin Yamanaka.
Yamanaka, 30, started playing the flute at 11 years old but hasn’t performed for an audience in six years. The last time was in a flute choir in Washington.
“I haven’t been able to play consistently since I graduated college,” she said.
She said she’s looking forward to “Symphony of a 1,000’s” low-pressure environment and playing with others who enjoy music.
“I’ve never played in a group this big,” Yamanaka said.
But, of course, being rusty brings out the nerves. “I think it’ll be helpful to have 900 people around me,” she said.
Yamanaka said she has downloaded her music and is becoming familiar again with reading music. “I usually practice at the station after hours,” she explained.
She practices there because the station has sound-proof rooms, she added.
“I promise I will be better in October,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m just hoping a lot of people will show up and have fun.”
Neumann, 65, first went to Capital Public Radio to see if the station would be interested in sponsoring his idea. The radio station agreed, and the event has since added other sponsors (including The Bee).
The registration fees and sponsor funds will go toward sheet music, T-shirts for the musicians, auditorium booking, equipment rental and other production costs. Any remaining funds will go to the Sacramento Youth Symphony, Neumann said.
When Neumann arrives at Memorial Auditorium, where he has conducted before, in October, he hopes to meet hundreds of music lovers ready for a major collaboration.
“I’m hoping it will work as well as my dreams would like it to work,” Neumann said.