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Florida Orchestra plays thundering theme for Tampa Bay Lightning

Are you ready for some hockey with the Florida Orchestra?

When the Tampa Bay Lightning plays at the St. Pete Times Forum this season, it will take the ice to Be the Thunder, the team's new theme music played on a recording by the orchestra.

"We do very pronounced introductions in our building," Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke said. "We wanted some music that was emotional and stirring, something that excited the fans. This piece and the video that accompanies it will be about the beauty inherent in the bay area and the energy and power and speed of hockey, and it will lead to the player introductions. We think it's going to be cool."

Be the Thunder is tied into the Lightning's $40 million renovation of the Forum. "The crescendo of this piece of music is going to be these lightning bolts that we're going to shoot in the building, if it all works," Leiweke said. "There will be coils that shoot bolts of electricity 25 feet each way. How can you be named the Lightning and not have some effect?"

Los Angeles-based composer Gregory Smith was commissioned by the Lightning to write the piece, which runs about 21/2 minutes. "I've written music for other professional sports teams before, but never specifically for a symphony orchestra," said Smith, whose credits include the theme music for college football on ESPN/ABC and the theme song of the New York Mets in 1986 when the team won the World Series.

Most music in sports runs to head-banging rock, and Smith's piece has plenty of hard-driving rhythm. "Of course, we're dealing with a hockey team in an arena, so it's not the slow movement of a Haydn symphony," said the composer, who will be at the orchestra's recording session Thursday at the Springs Theatre in Tampa.

Still, Smith was impressed with the Lightning's unorthodox approach. "They're definitely juxtaposing the two ingredients, the hockey team and the symphony orchestra, which I think is amazing," he said. "When you take a hockey team and have them dance with an orchestra, which this project does, I think it takes it to a real accessible place. I hope to God I see a cellist with a goalie mask somewhere."

It could happen. Lightning players and maybe even coach Guy Boucher are going to be part of the recording session, which will be filmed for the video.

In 2004, when Leiweke was CEO of the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL team started using Bitter Sweet Symphony, a string-laden song by the British pop group the Verve, as its theme music. "It ended up being as synonymous with the team as the team's colors," he said.

The improbable alliance between NHL team and symphony orchestra began about six months ago with a chance encounter at an event between Leiweke and Susan Betzer, a St. Petersburg physician and longtime orchestra trustee. "We talked, she brought over Michael (Pastreich, the orchestra's president), and we started dreaming about things we could do," Leiweke said. "Lo and behold, the more we talked about it, the more we saw this as a logical fit. We've made it a point since Jeff Vinik bought the team to associate with important institutions in the community, and we view the orchestra as one of them."

On Oct. 19, the orchestra will perform a free educational youth concert at the Times Forum, underwritten by the Lightning. "Some of our players will be involved with that," Leiweke said. "We're going to talk to those students about teamwork. Teamwork applies certainly to hockey, but it also applies to music and making good things happen. This is just the first step of what we hope will be a long relationship with the orchestra."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Florida Orchestra plays thundering theme for Tampa Bay Lightning 09/19/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 17, 2011 3:53pm]
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