Interview – Magik*Magik Orchestra’s Minna Choi On “When We Were Young”


This Friday (January 31st) Magik*Magik Orchestra will live one of their dreams. Since orchestra director, Minna Choi, founded the group in 2008, she’s worked with a who’s who of Bay Area bands–but, this Friday at the Fox Theater will be the first time she can bring many of those bands together. The charitable event will feature Magik*Magik Orchestra performing alongside with Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers, The Dodos, Diana Gameros, Geographer, How to Dress Well, Zoe Keating, The Lonely Forest, Maestro Michael Morgan, The Pacific Boychoir, Rogue Wave, Two Gallants, and John Vanderslice.

Proceeds from the performance will go to  support “Magik For Kids” initiative, which helps bring music lessons and experiences to kids throughout San Francisco. Prior to the performance we connected with Minna over email to find about what people can expect and if she’d made any New Year’s resolutions.

How did “When We Were Young” come together?

This is something I’ve been dreaming of for a few years now, but it never quite seemed like the right time. When you’re working on gigs all year round, it’s hard to imagine planning a separate big show on top of that. You feel like there is no way you could pull it off. However in the summer of 2013, I took a two month break from Magik and was able to step back, travel a bit and clear my head. It was only when I took a step away from the every day hustle and bustle that I realized “why are we so afraid of pulling the trigger on this? It’s totally possible.”

I reached out to a couple friends that summer (Jen Appel of Press Here Publicity and Holly Adams of Arts & Recreation Group) and told them I would love their help to brainstorm themes for the show, think of bands together, and creative ways to pull this off. They jumped on board and we started sketching out the theme and lineup together. Once the concept was in pretty good shape, we started reaching out to bands and got Another Planet on board to present the show. Once APE got on board, it was go time and there was no turning back :). We are really proud of the team that is working on this. Everyone involved is at the top of their game and wants to see the show succeed and we are ever grateful for that.

What can the audience expect in terms of performances/collaborations?

They can expect to see each band playing one cover of a song they loved as a young kid as well as two to three original tunes all accompanied by Magik*Magik Orchestra. On about 12 of the tunes, we will also have the impeccable Pacific Boychoir joining the orchestra. Some of the songs will sound like grander versions of the originals–and some will sound completely different. For example, Magik does a version of The Dodos‘ tune “Ashley” that has a totally different feel and mood as the original. We have a lot of fun experimenting with different moods when we work with banjods and with their permission, going in a completely new direction and placing a song into new territory emotionally.

How did Magik*Magik come together?

Magik’s first show in 2008 was something out of a music industry fairy tale, and we owe everything to that first gig. Back in 2008, I was a first year grad student and was like “Hey, there doesn’t seem to be a group in this city that only focuses on the collaborative projects. What if I asked a bunch of my friends at school if they’d want to be in a group like that and see what happen?” But when you have zero experience and you are a broke grad student, it’s hard to get a project really moving.

My initial plan was to spend the summer of 2008 just doing a little light research in how orchestras work, how much money you need to start one, and stuff like that. But about a week into summer break, I got an email from Terra Reneau, the booker at Cafe du Nord at that time, saying she somehow heard from a friend of a friend that I was starting a “rock orchestra” and that she wanted to partner to play the West Coast Premiere of Jonny Greenwood‘s orchestra piece from the movie There Will Be Blood. She said she’d been trying for a long time to find some string players to play the piece but it never really panned out. At that point, all I had was the name of the group, no players, no rehearsal space or anything. But somehow it all came together and we were able to debut Magik*Magik by the end of the Summer at the Herbst Theater with Mr. Greenwood in attendance at the show watching from a box seat. It was totally surreal.

What is your New Year’s resolution?

I’m the type of the person who makes like 100 resolutions at the top of the year and then by March makes 50 more. None of which ever pan out. So this year I decided to only make one: to eat food that doesn’t make me feel like crap. It’s really basic, but I’ve actually been able to keep it. Probably because I only made one. Something good to know for 2015 :).

Listen to Magik*Magik Orchestra’s performance with John Vanderslice’s “Too Much Time.’ Grab tickets to the show–here.