GALLIPOLIS — A new symphony that fuses folk and classical-style music will have its world premiere under the auspices of the Ohio Valley Symphony (OVS) at the historic Ariel Opera House in Gallipolis, on Saturday, October 6.
The production will be taped for national public television and radio broadcast, including worldwide on the American Forces Radio Network.
“Songs of Rural America” was composed by folksinger, songwriter and television personality Michael Johnathon, the creator and host of “WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour,” which airs nationwide on public television affiliates, RFD-TV, American Forces Radio Network in 173 nations and on more than 500 radio stations worldwide. Johnathon has composed previous folk symphonies and operas, but he is especially passionate about “Songs of Rural America” because it reflects his philosophy of using “homegrown” music to bring people together.
“In the current political climate, people are hungry for neighbors, family and the front porch spirit that built this country,” he said. “This symphony is a musical overview of what shaped rural America. Gallipolis was chosen for the premiere, because it so ideally represents the community spirit that merges rural culture with the classical world.”
“You would not expect to have a symphony of this caliber in a community this size,” said Lora Snow, executive director of the Ohio Valley Symphony and the Ariel Opera House. “We have attracted excellent musicians from seven states and Canada. When Michael approached me about doing this, I was excited. I love folk music, we are in rural America and we are in Appalachia.”
“Songs of Rural America” is comprised of 17 songs, including both original and traditional songs, which Johnathon will perform with his Martin guitar and Vega long-neck banjo, backed by a 45-piece orchestra, under the direction of Tim Berens. Berens is a classical guitarist, orchestrator and conductor whose credits include the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, performances at Carnegie Hall, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and more.
“I hope that the audience is taken on a voyage through the folk music of America, brought to life by a symphony orchestra,” Berens said. “The Ariel Opera House is the perfect setting for this voyage. Its acoustics are so magnificent that the building itself is a musical instrument that is played by the orchestra.”
For the arrangement, Johnathon collaborated with Joshua Carter, the acclaimed Nashville-based string arranger and programmer who often works with singer/songwriter Ben Folds and the Nashville Symphony, among other artists.
“Working with the right folks on a project as massive as this is important,” Johnathon said. “Tim Berens is a brilliant conductor, plus he’s a guitar player. Joshua Carter was a perfect collaborator for the arrangements because he understands my vision and he understands the song structure of front porch music.”
Johnathon is currently in talks to perform “Songs of Rural America” with other orchestras throughout the United States next year. For now, the focus is on a small town along the banks of the Ohio River that may soon find itself in the national spotlight.
“Songs of Rural America” will be presented at the Ariel Opera House at the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Center, 426 Second Avenue, Gallipolis, Ohio 45631, on Saturday, October 6, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28 and can be reserved by calling 740-446-ARTS or by visiting ArielOperahouse.org. For more information about the production, visit michaeljohnathon.com/symphony/.