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Per My Brother
Katie Vedder is the Conductor of the Symphonic Anime Orchestra, which performed recently at the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention. Based out of Denver, Colorado, the SAO is a teaching organization. Not only does it perform pop-culture themes from anime and science-fiction programs in an orchestral setting, but as the Conductor and Founder of SAO, Katie Vedder also speaks at convention panels, detailing how others can get involved in their communities by transcribing music. Katie spoke to us about building the symphony from the ground up and overcoming missing musicians.

How long have you been working with this organization?
– “The Symphonic Anime Orchestra started in 2005. Our first couple of cons were very, very small. And when I went to get my Masters Degree, I took a two-year break. Technically, as it is now, we’ve been around for four years.”

How was the group formed?
– “Basically, I’ve been going to my local convention — Nan Desu Kan — for years and years. I went and it was just a bad year for it. It was really lame. All my friends were told me I was just getting too old for anime conventions, but I thought, ‘No. That can’t be possible.’ So, I e-mailed them and asked, ‘Could you guys have a musical event?’ And they said, ‘Yeah. If you want to run it.’ I said, ‘OK. Let’s try this.’ There were 14 people. It was tiny. We had a 30-minute concert. I hadn’t even taken an arrangement class. My first arrangements were horrible. I had taken three weeks of basic conducting classes in college. It’s just grown from there.”

How did you find your musicians?
– “Through the website, through advertising and the people who I knew. There weren’t big social networks, yet, in 2005. There probably were some, but I wasn’t aware of them. We put out the call and people found us.”

After that first year, I’m guessing the group grew?
– “The next year, we almost doubled in size. We got better at advertising, our Website got a little better.”

What instruments do you play?
– “I’m a clarinetist. That’s what I do for a living. I play in a couple of different symphonies. I’m a freelance musician, so I don’t have any standing symphonies. Although I play bass clarinet with the San Juan Symphony pretty consistently in Durango, Colorado.”

Do you perform the same songs every year?
– “I switch it up. I get bored if we play the same thing over and over. We probably have 30 songs that I have transcribed and arranged for orchestra. We try to guarantee one new song for your convention. Usually, it’s more like four or five new songs and just a couple of recycled ones. At MTAC, the only recycled ones were Trigun, Tank! and Tonari No Totoro. That’s always been a favorite. The rest of the songs were new.”

Is this your first year to perform at MTAC?
– “This is the second year at MTAC.”

What’s one of the hightlights of this year’s MTAC?
– “We had a lot of fun at the My Little Pony Ball. Originally, they said we’d only be playing for 20 minutes, while people came in. I arranged some My Little Pony music specifically for the Ball. I figured if people aren’t coming in for a few minutes, we’d just play the song, At The Gala, a couple of times. People were still filing in an hour later. No one wants to hear this song again. So, we started mixing other things in, and eventually we got to Cantina Band — which is a new edition, since we just did our first sci-fi convention, GalaxyFest in Colorado Springs. The whole room exploded with cheering and dancing. It was our first time playing it at an anime convention.”

Can you describe the outbreak of missing SAO performers just before MTAC?
– “I processed 70 applications for MTAC. We usually get a 20 percent drop-out rate before a convention, for all kinds of different reasons. On top of that, we usually have a 15 percent no-show rate. This convention was bizarre. We just ran a 75-piece orchestra at Katsucon in Maryland, that had almost no no-shows. Last year we had a 54-piece orchestra at MTAC. I had two Moms come up to me and apologize, because their kids really wanted to play, but they were hospitalized. I had two people needed to get dental work, another guy who broke his leg… I guess, when it rains, it pours. Everything happens at once.”

What happened to your percussionist?
– “Percussion is awesome. And to have a really good percussionist isn’t super important for us, but having a song like Tank, it’s kind of necessary. We have three percussionists. One of them broke his leg. Another one couldn’t perform on Sunday. My little Stepbrother, Danny Closser, is going to Vanderbilt, here. He is a drummer — not professionally. He is a Pre-Med student. He’s not really into anime, he’s kind of a closet nerd. He thinks the program’s great. He loves it. So, he volunteered his time and his drumset.”

Is it possible to get too many of one instrument?
– “We let everybody in. At this point, whatever section gets the most instruments, I usually write a feature for. Last year, at MTAC, we had seven euphoniums and three tubas. So, I wrote Lilium from Elfen Lied, for euphonium and tuba choir. We ended up performing that.”

What’s the most requested song?
– “I would say Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cruel Angel’s Thesis. That one we’ll always play. It’s one of my better arrangements for the quartet. It’s popular. Everybody knows it.”

What’s one of your favorite anime programs?
– “Samurai X. Not Rurouni Kenchen. The original OVA. The music is amazing. It’s supposed to be a love story; it’s not.”

How many concerts does SAO perform per year?
– “We’re trying to grow. I love SAO, but it’s a really complicated program. A lot of conventions don’t understand what we do, so they’ll tell me they already have an orchestra coming or that they’re not interested in classical music and the community that we’re providing. So, we did one concert per year for four or five years. A-Kon, in Texas, picked us up with no qualifications. They’ve been awesome. We’re taking a break from A-Kon this year, but we’ll be back next year. Last year, we did four. This year, we just have the two. I’m hoping for more.”

Any chance you’ll be returning to Nashville for GMX?
– “I have asked about GMX. I spent a bunch of time networking at this convention. I talked to MomoCon. I talked to a bunch of different places. So, we’ll just have to see. The conventions that have booked us so far, tend to have musicians on their staff.”

For More Information:
SAO Webpage
SAO on Twitter
SAO on Facebook
The SAO Youtube Channel