Ben McNaboe is an overachiever. The UMaine senior last January helped orchestrate the first-ever student-produced pops concert, featuring a full orchestra and 40 vocalists singing the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein, raising money to benefit the School of Performing Arts, or SPA. Of course he was going to do it again.
The second-ever SPA fundraising concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, at the Collins Center for the Arts — a big step up in size from Hauck Auditorium, where it was held last year. This year, McNaboe and a full big band, an orchestra, a number of singing groups and 13 featured vocalists will showcase 150 years of the Great American Songbook, performing the songs made famous by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble.
“I think the biggest takeaway from last year was, ‘Wow, we are really capable of pulling something marvelous off,’” said McNaboe, now 22. “To have the event be so successful and completely student-run was really, really special. We dreamed big in booking Hauck for the event instead of Minsky Recital Hall … so it seemed only fitting to move the event to the Collins Center this year.”
The featured soloist at Friday’s show will be Merritt David Janes, a 2004 music education graduate of the University of Maine, who is currently performing on the national Broadway tour of “Phantom of the Opera.” He has also performed with the national touring companies of Broadway shows such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek: The Musical,” and played the title characters in the touring shows of “Sweeney Todd” and “The Wedding Singer.”
“[Janes] has experienced much success since leaving UMaine, so this is a great opportunity to have an artist of his caliber perform on stage alongside our students,” said McNaboe. “It’s just an unbelievable experiential learning experience for us all.”
McNaboe will conduct at the concert, with fellow UMaine student Morgan Cates MCing in between songs. McNaboe is particularly proud of the fact that all the arrangements for the songs being performed are for full orchestra and big band. Today, the classic songs of writers like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Hoagy Carmichael are often performed with small ensembles, but in their heydey, they were performed with such bands and orchestras.
“The instrumental part is exciting, because it showcases this timeless song book music with not only a huge big band, but also a full string orchestra,” said McNaboe. “It’s so rare nowadays to hear this music performed this way, the way it was initially intended to be done. It’s just an absolute joy to conduct and rehearse.”
Naturally, McNaboe is already looking forward to next year’s concert; he’s envisioning something involving musical theater and a large-scale chorus.
“There is so much interest in our SPA community in this event now, which is absolutely amazing,” said McNaboe. “We definitely have some ideas in mind, but I think [doing something involving musical theater] narrows it down to a few major possibilities in the minds of the music theater nerds out there.”
Tickets for Friday’s concert are $25 ($12 for UMaine students), and benefit the many activities of UMaine School of Performing Arts, including touring shows, outreach to Maine schools and bringing K-12 students to campus for performances. In case of inclement weather, the snow date is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24.