For as long as he has directed high school orchestras, Eric Crawford has envisioned his students performing a concept album – a classic record that tells a musical and lyrical story, where all the songs contribute to an overall theme.
Last year he posed a question on social media, asking friends and colleagues for ideas. Someone mentioned Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” which marked its 40th anniversary in March.
“It’s an album I kind of grew up with. I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for many years,” said Crawford, orchestra director at East High School and orchestra curriculum coach for the Wichita district.
“I knew all the tunes on the album, so this was kind of a no-brainer for me.”
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This weekend – four decades after the release of “Dark Side” – students from East High’s orchestra, band, theater, vocal music and film studies classes will celebrate the anniversary by performing the milestone album in its entirety.
The album, which begins and ends with the sound of a single heartbeat, explores the various stages of human life and experience. Its themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time and mental illness. After the instrumental “Speak To Me,” vocalist David Gilmour sings:
Long you live and high you fly,
Smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry,
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be.
Crawford scored the arrangements for the concert. “I sat at my computer and listened to the album over and over and over again,” he said.
“Some things I took directly from the piano arrangements and scored them for string orchestra. Some things I just heard on the album and wrote them in. I also elaborated and improvised a little bit and give it its own East High School flair.”
“Dark Side,” with its iconic prism cover and its psychedelic lure, holds the record for the most number of weeks spent on the Billboard Top 200. The album spent a record 591 consecutive weeks on the chart between 1976 and 1988 and has sold more than 15 million copies in the United States.
East High’s concert will showcase “Dark Side” from beginning to end, each side a continuous piece of music as it is on the album, Crawford said. It includes such classics as “Time,” “Money” and “Us and Them.”
The concert will feature an 80-piece orchestra, as well as performances by members of East High’s vocal music and drama departments.
“As far as the general form of the album, I made very few changes,” Crawford said. “I lengthened a few things and shortened a few others, but all of the components are there. So if you know the album, you should be able to come in and enjoy it. But also, we’ve got some good surprises.”
The director said he was surprised how few of his students – including his daughter, Madeline, who plays bass – were familiar with “Dark Side” before rehearsals began. Through the experience, they came to appreciate one of the most notable progressive rock albums of all time.
“When we started working on the tunes, you’d see them light up, and they would suddenly recognize them,” Crawford said. “We’ve had a great time. I think it’s going to be a fantastic show.”