“I think we’re the only professional orchestra whose payroll went up in a very sizable way during COVID,” says Luke Frazier, founder and maestro of the American Pops Orchestra. “We’ve done more performances during COVID than pre-COVID. We’ve grown at an astronomical rate.”
Prior to the pandemic, Frazier’s orchestra, like most music and performing arts organizations, was guided by a series of live, in-person concerts, planned in advance at select venues. But the pandemic gave Frazier room to experiment with performances — virtual, video, social media, and other unconventional forms. It was Frazier’s dabbling in video creation that led to a productive relationship with PBS, which has gone on to broadcast twelve APO programs.
“We’ve had over 40 million viewers now on PBS,” Frazier says. “You compare that to selling out shows at Arena Stage, and it takes a lot of sellouts to get to 40 million.” Over just the first half of 2022, Frazier plans to tape six additional programs for PBS, which will double as live concerts for D.C. audiences. And that’s just one of several things in the pipeline. “They haven’t announced it yet,” he says, “but there will be another APO banner series coming out very soon [from PBS].”
In the meantime, there’s the APO’s second annual New Year’s Eve “United In Song” special for the network, this year carrying the subtitle, “Celebrating the American Dream.” “There’s a heaviness in the world, there’s a heaviness in our lives,” Frazier explains. “I wanted to celebrate the progress we’ve made, the progress we’ve yet to make, and what can get us there. I wanted to share how we continue to evolve and improve on our quest to be a better nation.”
Recorded last autumn at Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall, the star-studded concert, hosted by Chita Rivera, features Judy Collins, Deborah Cox, Midori, David Archuleta, Sandi Patty, Lea Salonga, Paulo Szot, Jencarlos Canela, and a performance of a newly commissioned piece by The Washington Ballet.
“There are so many cultures represented on that stage,” Fraizer says. “And the best part is? It’s all of us coming together to celebrate what it is to be American.”
United in Song: Celebrating the American Dream premieres Friday, Dec. 31 at 9 p.m. and repeats at 10:30 p.m. ET. Check local PBS listings, download the PBS Video App, or visit www.PBS.org. For more about the American Pops, visit www.theamericanpops.org.
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