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Picnic In The Park: Creating community through music

The Savannah Philharmonic’s annual event is bigger and better in 2018

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Touted as the largest outdoor event in the city, Savannah Philharmonic’s Picnic in the Park is a fast-growing annual celebration that invites families to Forsyth Park each October to immerse themselves in orchestral music.

Picnic in the Park, a local tradition for over 30 years adopted by the Philharmonic in 2015, strives to further the organization’s mission to “provide professional orchestral music for the entire city.”

“For us, it’s really very fulfilling, and a gift back to the community at large,” Executive Director Terri O’Neil says. “We are the sole producers and presenters of the six-and-a-half hour event.”

This year’s Picnic is set for Sunday, October 7, and will be capped off by a headline performance from the Philharmonic and some special guests.

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Since the Philharmonic got involved in the event, Picnic In The Park has evolved into something that involves not only the orchestra but also community and student ensembles. This year, they’re featuring the 3rd Infantry Division Army Band – rounding out what O’Neil describes as a “fantastic day for the entire city to come together and celebrate community.”

For O’Neil, the most lasting impression that Picnic in the Park has had on her has been the sense of “patriotism, diversity, and inclusiveness.”

“When you’re there and you see it and feel it, it’s just an energy that is very infectious,” she says.

With the event being as involved and intricate as it is, an all-hands-on-deck effort is required by all involved. That sense of teamwork is perhaps the biggest motivating force for O’Neil and the people involved in putting something of such a large scope together.

“It allows everybody to participate,” she says. “It’s at the core of our mission to enrich and educate. And to be able to do this on such a large scale is, for us, an honor.” The event essentially takes a full year to plan from the idea phase all the way to the big day – starting with logistical planning that includes working with the city of Savannah to reserve the park.

Balancing schedules for not just the Philharmonic and the city but all of the partners involved in the event might seem like the biggest hurdle to climb, but the work doesn’t end there.

“Our artistic director and conductor, Peter Shannon, loves this event,” O’Neil says, adding that Shannon’s work planning the itinerary and visualizing the performances puts an emphasis on diverse material. “It’s a combination of not only the classical favorites, but also Hollywood and the patriotic songs.”

Once the artistic elements are in motion, it’s up to other members of the team to create a visual component. This year, the Philharmonic incorporated the talents of Stage Front Production Services to elevate the visual aspects of the performances with top notch lighting and video accompaniment.

“The theme this year is ‘Illuminating the night,’ so Stage Front is creating a light show and video show that will be played in concert with the orchestra’s performance,” O’Neil reveals. With so many components involved in staging the show, and with it being just one of the orchestra’s 15 concerts throughout the year, Picnic in the Park is a real labor of love for all involved.

With the combination of digital technology and live performance becoming increasingly commonplace, Picnic in the Park is looking towards the future with aspirations of taking their technological integrations even further. They’re also starting to think more outside of the box in terms of the music they can offer to audiences at future Picnic in the Park events.

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“With classical music conductors, their love and passion is producing that beautiful music,” O’Neil explains, “so we have to really find a creative way not to overshadow what people want to hear. But there are discussions about developing audiences with not just classical music. There’s lots of music out there that the orchestra could play.”

Organizers are also looking at the event being longer in the coming years, so as to offer more for attendees. In the past, the emphasis has been on letting people bring their own picnic to the park.

Now, food and drink vendors allow audiences to have everything brought to them.

“They can just bring a blanket and a chair, and have everything they need to enjoy the music,” O’Neil says.

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