by John Fiske
“So in this room where shadows live
And ghosts that failed learn time forgives
Welcome friends, please stay awhile
Our story starts with one small child
Who spends this night in an attic dark
Where dreams are stored like sleeping hearts”
-The Christmas Attic
Bright laser lights and dry ice overflowing Rupp Arena can only mean one thing. It’s time for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to take the stage for a rock opera holiday tradition.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or TSO, was founded by composer, lyricist, and producer Paul O’Neill. His vision was ambitious. O’Neill wanted to create a rock band that wouldn’t be confined to a genre. He wanted to push boundaries and incorporate different aspects of the music he grew up with, which ranged anywhere from Broadway Musicals to Pink Floyd. The result was a hybrid of rock and opera, fused together with monumental compositions and stories.
TSO is comprised of nearly two dozen musicians, each with a very specific task. While the band has gone through countless musicians over the past decade, the core of the team, which is much smaller and close-knit, has remained unchanged. The crux of the band consists of composers Paul O’Neill, Jon Oliva, and Robert Kinkel, who work with the Music Director and lead guitarist Al Pitrelli to create each album. The band has sold more than 10 million albums and performed in over 80 cities. This broad fanbase has allowed them to sell more than 280 million dollars worth of tickets over their fifteen year touring history.
Ted Falcon, violinist and previous member of the band, had the job of training local string players to participate in shows across the country more than ten years ago. The band would find the best string players in the area and train them on the music before the show to incorporate the town into the performance. For Ted, each new city meant a new string section that he had to train in a matter of hours. The band’s intensity and drive is what put their performance level above other touring bands.
The beginnings of TSO were risky. Concept albums are tough business, and the mixture of rock opera into a concept album was something unheard of – especially with a concept as ambitious and potentially cliche as Christmas. On top of the already challenging startup, the band originally had a deal to do a three-CD trilogy of Christmas Albums. In spite of the obstacles, the band pulled off the repertoire and became one of the top ranked touring bands in the past 10 years.
This year’s tour is based on The Christmas Attic, which was released in 1998. Some of the songs on the album haven’t been performed live yet. The decision to do The Christmas Attic came from the desire to finally finish the album. Paul O’Neill said when announcing the tour, “it is fun to write the songs, it is fun to record them, but they are never really completed until we perform them in front of a live arena audience.” This tour will close out a long year of music that began on New Years at the Brandenburg gate. O’Neill said, “After kicking off the New Year in front of two million fans at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the band felt that a perfect way to end the year would be to perform the only rock opera from the trilogy that has never been seen live.”
Each tour presents some of the earnings to different charities. The show at Rupp Arena on December 11th will donate a portion of the ticket sales to the UK Children’s hospital. The band believes in the power of music, and O’Neill explains, “the arts have incredible power, and with that comes incredible responsibility. Someone once said that if you want to change the world, don’t become a politician — write a book, write a great song. I believe in that, and that’s what Trans-Siberian Orchestra is about.” To date, the band has donated over 11 million dollars toward different charities around the country.
This article also appears on page 22 of the December 2014 issue of the Hamburg Journal.
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