Whether it be the first time or a special occasion, the symphony and the cinema both make for excellent dates. And you can have it both ways when vocalists Diane Penning and Paul Langford join West Michigan Symphony for Hollywood’s Greatest Melodies, the weekend before Valentine’s Day.
The symphony’s pops concert incorporates song, dance and some lighthearted audience interaction during this program developed by Langford, a singer, pianist and arranger, and Penning, a popular soprano from West Michigan. They’re returning to the Frauenthal stage after performing with WMS a few years ago, and this time they plan to sing a variety of treasured movie songs spanning from modern-day to the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The program includes titles on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Best Songs From Movies, and features new arrangements by Langford, including Over the Rainbow, Luck Be a Lady, Beauty and the Beast, The Way We Were, and Love Is an Open Door.
The concert covers songs people know and love, and it’s a fun, relaxed evening of symphonic music, Langford said. There is music from The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Phantom of the Opera, Frozen and Beauty and the Beast, plus hit songs by Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein from West Side Story.
“People may not know what movie it’s from, but they will recognize the song,” Langford said. “It’s jazz and swing and Broadway. We dance a little bit. I play piano and try to create an atmosphere of performing in someone’s living room. I invite people to relax and enjoy the show.”
When he’s not singing, Langford, who lives north of Chicago, writes arrangements and orchestrations for choral publishers, churches, orchestras and choirs.
“I wrote almost all of the arrangements, all but two or three of them,” he said. “It’s new material — it has a fresh sound to it. Most (people) will be hearing these arrangements for the first time.”
The Hollywood’s Greatest Melodies concert opens with an orchestral feature by John Williams, the Flying Theme from the 1982 blockbuster E.T., then moves into a Cole Porter Medley arranged by Langford.
There are two other orchestra-only numbers: The Sea Hawk from the 1940 movie of the same name and a Tribute To Henry Mancini. Guest conductor Andrew Koehler, filling in for Music Director Scott Speck, suggested The Sea Hawk.
“It fits really well with the rest of the program because a lot of these songs tend to come from that Golden Age of Hollywood,” Koehler said. “It’s one (where) the orchestra will get to flex its muscles — it demands a bit more from the orchestra.”
Koehler, chair of the music department at Kalamazoo College, has an ongoing relationship with WMS and said, “They’re a really, really wonderful group.” The musicians, vocalists and Koehler prepare separately and all come together the week before the concert to rehearse and fine-tune.
Movie scores are relatable and easily recognizable, so it makes for a fun night onstage.
“I think all of us, myself included, really love movie music,” Koehler said. “This is all music that really describes and is deeply tied to our experience at the movies. ... It’s music that utterly transforms those films.”
Patrons will enjoy a diverse survey of music that gives Langford and Penning time in the spotlight. Langford sings numbers like Shadow of Your Smile, while Penning takes over on hits like Over the Rainbow. Then the two come together for several songs, including Poppins Fantasy, Cheek to Cheek, Beauty and the Beast, Love is an Open Door and more.
“The symphony is spectacular,” Langford said. “If you walk in this room and hear this group, anyone would be a convert, and I think a pops concert is a good gateway.”
Hollywood’s Greatest Melodies
West Michigan Symphony
425 W. Western Ave., Muskegon
Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., $25-$57
westmichigansymphony.org, (231) 726-3231