Nathan Felix fell in love with orchestral music on the open road. The leader of Austin-based indie-pop band The Noise Revival Orchestra was just out of college and touring with a punk band when he found himself in a moment of musical exasperation. "One night I was just so furious," he explains, "I didn't want to hear anything from anybody, so I just switched on the local classical music station."
He was instantly hooked. It was the orchestration -- the arrangements of the sounds and how they were distributed among the instruments -- that grabbed his attention and held it. Soon, Felix decided he wanted to write his own symphony. Ignoring the fact that he is not a classically trained musician and had never composed for an orchestra before, he got to work, using textbooks to teach himself how to compose as he wrote the music. He composed during his free time late at night and on the weekends and didn't tell anyone what he was doing. It was "my little secret," he says.
The Curse and the Symphony, a new documentary screening at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bishop Arts Theatre, as part of the Oak Cliff Film Festival, uses Felix's music as both subject matter and soundtrack. In just 20 short minutes, the film traces Felix's often bumpy eight-year journey to not only create his first symphony, but also have it performed and recorded by an orchestra. Scenes of Felix shuffling through piles of rejection letters at the beginning of the film give insight into just how challenging it has been for an indie/punk guy to navigate the unfamiliar territory of the classical music world.
The film embraces the challenges that come from the clash between these two pretty distant music worlds. In rehearsal, exasperated string players and percussionists struggle to navigate Felix's score, which they don't hesitate to tell him contains impossible passages and bizarre notation. Meanwhile, Felix and his recording team seem more than a little out of their element as they work with the conductor.
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The most interesting parts of this film are the moments when these kinds of tensions and conflicts are highlighted. Felix says that he "wants to break down some walls" between the indie-pop world he is familiar with and the classical world he is fascinated by. By allowing the cameras to capture an often intense two days of rehearsal and recording, he gives the audience a glimpse of the humility, dedication and plain old hard work this passion project has demanded of him.
Smartly, the film holds off on letting the audience hear large melodic excerpts of Felix's symphony until the last few minutes of the documentary. That trick gives those of us watching a taste of the satisfaction and excitement Felix himself experiences when he gets to, for the very first time, actually hear the music he has imagined and notated. Its a payoff moment that reveals not only the power of music, but of hard work, collaboration and dedication to craft.
For tickets to check out The Curse and the Symphony this weekend, visit the OCFF's website.