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Let’s make a commercial!

1 Robert Levine

My orchestra did, and it was kinda fun:

When Joshua Phillips signed on this season as a French horn player in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, he had no idea the job description included taking a snowball to the head.

“I was trying to do what I was told,” he explained.

The instructions were coming not from a sadistic conductor, but from Milwaukee export and funny film director David Zucker of “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” fame. He agreed to direct a humorous new ad to promote winter tourism in Wisconsin. The spot will begin airing in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois this week.

The 30-second commercial opens with the orchestra peacefully playing “Winter Wonderland” on a stage covered in artificial snow. A caption says, “A winter evening in Wisconsin.” All is well until two stage hands, trying to sprinkle flakes on the performers, accidentally dump a whole box of snow on Ted Soluri, the principal bassoonist in real life but a French horn player in the ad.

Phillips, who plays a violin in the ad, smirks at his colleague’s misfortune, prompting Soluri to throw a snowball at him. Then pandemonium erupts, with snowballs flying everywhere. The conductor - an actor hired for the shoot - is hit in the eye with a snowball fired from a trombone, causing him to sway and the orchestra to go out of tune and rhythm. Captions at the end read: “Winter’s here. Sound like fun?” and the tourism website appears.

The idea was to draw attention to the arts in Wisconsin this time of year, fuel desire to play in the snow and pry us off the couch, all while getting a laugh.

“If it makes it look like Wisconsin is a fun place to go, then we’ve done our job,” Zucker told me.

Whether or not it’ll actually do that is completely beyond my ability to predict. But it was good PR for the orchestra and a pretty painless way to spend an afternoon. Lots of breaks, snacks for the orchestra, weird stuff to do - definitely a change of pace.

The arrangement of Winter Wonderland was done by veteran Milwaukee composer and freelance violinist Eric Segnitz. The only reason he wasn’t on stage with us as usual was that he was helping with the audio recording.

For those of you still curious to know what instrument I play, I can be seen at the bottom right corner of the screen from 0:03 to 0:05. No snowballs, unfortunately. But I was picking fake snow about of my clothes for the next 24 hours or so.

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  1. Comment by bratschegirl
    January 12, 2019 at 8:10 PM

    Cute!! I’m generally in favor of any gig with snacks and lots of breaks…