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Flight of the Aviator

On November 26, 2018, a dozen-strong group of DSO musicians and staff members departed Michigan to play one of the most unique gigs in recent memory: a series of performances related to the launch of the Lincoln Aviator, a new SUV, at the Los Angeles International Auto Show.

The impetus for the performances is even more unique. Earlier on in 2018, Lincoln approached the DSO to dream up new possibilities for the mechanical beeps, dings, and clicks that sound throughout a vehicle when certain things are out of order—a chime when a passenger’s seatbelt isn’t buckled, for example, or a plong plong to indicate that the fuel door was left open.

“We didn’t find anyone else that was really doing anything musical, truly musical [in a vehicle].”

- Jennifer Prescott, Vehicle Harmony Engineer, Lincoln Motor Company


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The result is a first-of-its kind suite of “symphonic chimes” developed and performed by DSO musicians Eric Nowlin (Principal Viola, Julie and Ed Levy, Jr. Chair), Adrienne Rönmark (violin), and Joseph Becker (Principal Percussion, Ruth Roby and Alfred R. Glancy III Chair).

And at the L.A. Auto Show, the Aviator—chimes and all—made its tinseltown debut, with DSO musicians as part of the show.

First up: a rooftop party and car reveal attended by members of the press, social media influencers, and Lincoln VIPs. Jeremy Crosmer, DSO cello, was tasked with writing an original composition based on the tunes of the chimes. The result, Fanfare for the Aviator, received its world premiere just after sunset on the oh-so-L.A. rooftop of Dream Hotel Hollywood.

The DSO ensemble, conducted by Sameer Patel, bobbed through the jaunty score, accompanied in the piece’s latter half by a DJ poised at the other end of the rooftop. A trio of Hiplet Ballerinas—who combine ballet and contemporary hip-hop dancing—strutted, leapt, popped, and dipped in front of a screen obscuring the Aviator. At the piece’s grand conclusion, the curtain dropped, revealing a shining green-gray SUV.

Early the next morning, a smaller group of musicians—comprising Rönmark, Becker, Crosmer, and Assistant Principal Viola James VanValkenburg—were off to the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Auto Show itself. Among other things, the setup for a 12:30 car-reveal press conference involved hair and makeup, in-ear microphones, a white electric cello, and a gold-tone marimba once used to record “Hedwig’s Theme” for the Harry Potter film franchise . Members of the press crowded around the Lincoln booth as Rönmark and Crosmer traded riffs to accompany a dramatic Aviator video, and Rönmark, Becker, and VanValkenburg demonstrated a handful of the symphonic chimes during Lincoln Motor Company President Joy Falotico’s presentation about the vehicle.

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Reaction to the new Aviator, with its orchestral flair, has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s not every day that a symphony orchestra is mentioned in Automotive NewsJalopnik, or on cars.com, but no one’s complaining! Becker, Rönmark, and Nowlin even spent some time on NBC Nightly News:

New Lincoln Aviator Welcomes Drivers With Symphonic Soundscape | NBC Nightly News