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‘Popscast: Cereal’ Review: Music and Mystery With the Harvard Pops

4 Stars

"Popscast: Cereal" by the Harvard Pops Orchestra.
"Popscast: Cereal" by the Harvard Pops Orchestra. By Courtesy of the Harvard Pops Orchestra
By Beatrice H. Youd, Contributing Writer

In a creative remote move, the Harvard Pops have produced a new musical mystery podcast called “Popscast: Cereal.” The podcast, released in three installments from March 31 to April 1, invites the listener to step back onto a pre-Covid-19 Harvard campus to follow an amusing mystery following two main characters: Thea, a violin prodigy, and Seth, her trumpet-playing roommate. Thea and Seth embark on a quest to find Thea’s stolen special pre-performance cereal before her solo debut with the Harvard Pops. Thea and Seth’s quest brings them to all kinds of quintessential Harvard locations such as Lamont Library, Adams House, and the cemetery in Harvard Square. Along the way, the duo crosses paths with iconic Harvard figures such as Dean Khurana and Remy the cat.

The podcast’s witty plot is an ode to Harvard traditions, poking fun at social customs like Finals Club initiations and campus stereotypes: “Lamonsters,” for example, are students who become living zombies after studying for nights on end. The podcast’s dialogue is smooth: Eve E. Crompton ‘24 (Thea) and Thomas D. Kaminsky ‘24 (Seth) embrace their roles, delivering lines with gusto.

The quest for Thea’s cereal is paired with skillful arrangements played by the Pops, ranging in style from “The X-Files Theme,” “Thriller,” “Imperial March,” and “Saber Dance.” The last podcast episode features a phenomenal concerto composed by Harvard Pops’ Rachel Guo ‘22 and orchestrated by the music director of the Harvard Pops, Allen G. Feinstein ‘86. The concerto’s soaring solo violin lines transition into two dueling violin parts, performed by Skye G. Park ‘24 and Michael T. Pak ‘23 and supported by tasteful background instrumentation. Throughout the podcast, instrumentation accentuates the story and allows soloists to shine. It maintains a high level of rubato, balance, and dynamic variation, which is an especially laudable task to pull off without recording and practicing in person.

Overall, “Popscast: Cereal” maintains a wonderful balance of satire, plot, and outstanding music, resulting in a series that would make any Harvard student chuckle.

Listen to the Harvard “Popscast” here. Check out its accompanying program here.

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