The Australian Pops Orchestra
John Foreman is the well-known conductor of numerous on-screen orchestras including those seen on Australian Idol, Young Talent Time and the Logies. However, he sometimes has to play the rather unfortunate role of ‘fall guy’. While he has produced Anthony Callea’s The Prayer, was musical director on Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia and wrote a song (sung by Tina Arena) for the 2000 Olympic Games, taking the top conducting job sometimes means getting stuck in the middle of some awkward situations.
“Whenever the orchestra starts to play under a speechmaker at an awards night, I think there’s a bit of a ‘shoot the messenger’ philosophy that applies to the audience and to the person making the speech…The person making the speech assumes that the orchestra is bored and wants to get rid of them, whereas most likely it’s the director who’s up in the truck, who has then instructed the orchestra to play them off.”
Foreman comes across as a charming and surprisingly modest subject in our interview. Yet modesty is an unreliable indicator of success; both he and Todd McKenney feature in the advertisements promoting their upcoming collaboration with Chloe Dallimore (from the musical Annie) in two Australian Pops Orchestra performances at Crown Casino, on Friday May 18 and Saturday May 19. Ever the professional, Foreman is eager to heap praise on his co-star.
“After watching [McKenney] on Dancing with the Stars, I have to admit I got a little apprehensive about working with him.” Foreman admits. “I thought he might bring the grumpy judge attitude into work with him, but I’m thrilled to be able to report that he’s actually a great guy and lots of fun to work with…I’m really looking forward to working with him again.”
It’s difficult to perceive Foreman in a bad light; somehow, he manages to be honest without ever being impolite, most likely a skill honed after years working in the media industry. Take, for example, his deliciously astute observations about piano brands when he notes, “I have a little Yamaha baby grand…They’re kind of like the Toyota or Ford of pianos. You know exactly what you’re going to get. Every Ford Fiesta is the same as every other Ford Fiesta with the exception of the colour or the leather trim or whatever…But you know what you’re going to get.”
Like any good conductor, Foreman knows that the focus should always remain on entertainment. “[My challenge] is bringing all the elements together…to navigate our way through quite a diverse range of music that will be everything from pieces like Clair de Lune, the beautiful [Claude] Debussy orchestral piece, to Todd McKenney, who will most likely be singing I Go to Rio or I Still Call Australia Home from The Boy From Oz. So there’s quite a range of musical styles there, but I think that’s what is essential to keep the audience entertained.”
While Foreman is usually in the thick of the musical action, he does occasionally get to enjoy the fruits of his labours from a more relaxed perspective, such as when he composed a song for the Olympics called The Flame.
“On the [opening night of the 2000 Olympics] I was sitting in the audience watching the whole thing happen, hoping that nobody fell over and forgot the words,” he says. “It wasn’t actually until about ten minutes after the song was performed that I got a little text from my friend saying, ‘I’m over here in London and I just saw your song on the BBC’—that’s when it hit me that [the Olympics] was such an incredible thing to be a part of.”
Of course, the glamour of conducting an orchestra on live television has obvious appeal to outsiders. But the elements that go unnoticed are, in Foreman’s situation, the parts that remain the most crucial. As a seasoned live-television conductor, Foreman is well aware of the potential for disaster and hence constantly alert for anything that might feed the blooper reel.
“Television is a bit of a microscope,” he says. “Any small blunders that you might get away with in a live environment—where you’ve got an audience there—you would never get away with in close-up [when] everything is there for all to see. And it’s also there permanently now, with YouTube and the media that surrounds that on the internet. If you make a mistake people will gleefully put it up on the internet and it will be there for all time.”
With something like the Logies, the danger is magnified. “My great fear there is we’re going to mess with the order of the play-ons and play Home and Away when it’s really Neighbours that’s required. Or to play A Current Affair when the ABC has just won an award. Thankfully that has not happened so far, in all the years that I’ve done that show. That’s one particular show that keeps all of the orchestra on their toes.”
One can only hope that there’ll be no speechmakers or play-ons to handle with the Australian Pops Orchestra.
BY SIOBHAN ARGENT
The Australian Pops Orchestra will be performing with Todd McKenney, John Foreman and Chloe Dallimore at The Palms Crown Casino on Friday May 18 and Saturday May 19. Tickets are on sale via Ticketek.