AFPO teams up with Doc Nix for "Saturday Nite Fever"

AFPO will perform popular music including Michael Jackson and John William's "Star Wars" score (photo by Stan Engebretson).
AFPO will perform popular music including Michael Jackson and John William's "Star Wars" score (photo by Stan Engebretson).

The American Festival Pops Orchestra welcomes alumni back with “Saturday Nite Fever” on Oct. 5, 2013 at the Center for the Arts.

“It's a play on words,” Anthony Maeillo, founder and artistic director of AFPO, said. The music from the concert will be primarily from the seventies and eighties. AFPO hopes to appeal to the tastes of a majority of visiting alumni by playing music they may recognize from their years at Mason.

The program will include a range of music from popular music artists like The Beatles, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson to show-stopping Broadway orchestrations from “Chicago,” “Grease,” and a “Chorus Line.” There will also be cinematic representation with excerpts from Bill Conti's soundtrack for “Rocky” and John William's orchestration for “Star Wars.”

“With a movie score it's generally a full orchestra. That's one of the advantages of having a pops orchestra, because you can play all sorts of music,” Maiello said.

AFPO is a different type of orchestra than many may think of when attending a concert at the Center for the Arts.

“I've conducted symphony orchestras and bands all my life, and I got to a point when I said, 'Gee Wiz, I really love the studio orchestra,' which is an orchestra that plays all sorts of music—jazz, rock, pop, you name it. Then, someone decided to make one, and that's how we have American Festival Pops,” Maiello said.

Maiello said that the orchestra is also patriotic.

"I always open with the star spangled banner, and I always close with an armed forces melody that represents all the different branches of the armed services,” Maiello said.

There are some differences beyond the repertoire between typical symphony orchestras and AFPO.

“Most symphony orchestras don't have saxophones, but we carry a full saxophone section so that we can play things from the big band era, rock music, pretty much anything that comes down the pike," Maiello said. "This allows us to play everything. Can we play Tchaikovsky? Absolutely.”

From time to time, Maiello will throw in a typical symphony orchestra piece, but at the core of his work he loves movie music.

“I think John Williams is Beethoven as far as I'm concerned with all the things he's written for [movie] scores,” Maeillo said.

The pops orchestra is comprised of 60 professional musicians from the Washington D.C. area, with a couple of exceptions.

“One of the philosophies of the orchestra is to give some of the music majors at the university a chance to play side by side with the professionals,” Maiello said. “But I want to clarify that it's not student directed.”

In total, there are four Mason students in the orchestra.

“This is a professional orchestra and we can't have any weak links. These are the best of the best students," Maiello said.

One student member of AFPO is Mason senior and oboe player Paul Chinen from Hawaii.

Maiello said, “When they sit next to a professional, they become instantly aware of the professional level of expectation and it automatically elevates their playing. So he isn't playing principle chair, but he's playing next to a professional oboe player who makes a living playing oboe.”

Playing contemporary music pieces as well as classical, members of the AFPO get to share an entirely new musical experience for entertainment seekers.

“Saturday Nite Fever” and its theme was specifically tailored for the Alumni Weekend event happening the weekend of Oct. 5-6.

“Because it's alumni weekend and I composed the GMU fight song many years ago, I asked Doc Nix if we [could] take that fight song and play it at the concert along with the pops orchestra. So we're going to have some members from the Green Machine come in and play along with the orchestra for some fun,” Maiello said.

About Doc Nix, Maiello said, “He's been working with both the orchestra and the pep band. I haven't heard [what they've accomplished] yet, so we'll see.”

“Saturday Nite Fever” will be playing one night only at the Center for the Arts along with Doc Nix and the Green Machine on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Student tickets for "Saturday Nite Fever" on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. are free to Mason students at the CFA box office on a first come first serve basis.

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