The symphony isn’t exactly a hang-out for 20-something techies.

At least not yet.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS) launches its first hackathon May 22-24.

The weekend event will run much the same way as other tech hackathons: groups gather Friday night and work on developing their products until Sunday afternoon. Then they present their work to judges.

Hack the Orchestra will be slightly different than the typical hackathons held at universities and tech incubators across the country.

To start, 150 hackers will attend the KWS performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, conducted by guest conductor Teddy Abrams.

Chris Sharpe, Director of Education & Community Programs at the KWS, said the KWS wanted to ensure that hackathon participants experienced at least one live, traditional orchestral performance. It will be a first for some, he noted.

After the performance, the teams will begin working on their projects at Centre in the Square (CITS).

Throughout the weekend, Abrams, members of the orchestra, and the CITS lighting and audio crews will be on hand to answer questions, give demonstrations and possibly stage some impromptu performances.

The KWS and the Hack the Orchestra team hope that attendees look at the traditional experience and create new solutions for orchestras. Challenges range from how musicians and technicians interact with the stage, to how audiences interact with the orchestra.

“I’m really looking forward to being here,” said Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky. “This is innovative work that orchestras should be taking advantage of.”

Abrams was already scheduled to conduct the KWS for two performances over the weekend of May 22.

Participating in the hackathon is the icing on the cake for the 27-year-old conductor who played clarinet under the direction of Edwin Outwater in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra for seven years. Outwater is the KWS’s Musical Director.

Symphonies around the world host Abrams as a guest conductor. He’s intrigued by having a hands-on role in the hackathon and getting to meet more people from Waterloo Region.

“As a guest conductor, my time is often not used up in cities,” Abrams said.

What will Abrams be doing, other than conducting the orchestra that weekend? While he does have some basic coding under his belt, he admits he won’t be the person to turn to for development advice.

Instead, Abrams is looking forward to inspiring the hackers and helping them understand the orchestra experience.

He expects it will be easy to make the connection, though. While he has studied music his entire life, Abrams noted that many of his fellow musicians in the San Francisco Youth Orchestra went on to pursue tech and medical careers. They ended up at tech companies around the globe, including Google and Facebook.

“There’s a natural parallel between coding and music, and it’s not only the math,” Abrams said.

Discipline, exploration and innovation are common to both musical and technical training, he noted.

Abrams has never experienced a hackathon before, but he knows that his industry is ripe for the disruption.

“I’m excited about waking up that industry,” he said.

Abrams believes events like Hack the Orchestra not only highlight the importance of accessible arts and culture in society, but also allow new ideas and innovations to enter an industry that still depends on paper for sheet music.

He is looking forward to meeting the hackers in May, and performing for them. He does expect to be partially ignored as hackers hunker down to develop their ideas.

Abrams hopes the hackers will walk away from the hackathon with prizes –– and their ears opened to new sounds.

Registration is now open for the KWS Hack the Orchestra. The event is free and runs Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m., to 12 p.m. Sunday, May 24. It’s at Centre in the Square, 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener.


Teddy Abrams won’t be in town for his guest spot at KWS and Hack the Orchestra for another month. Meanwhile, there is lots to do. I see and hear that . . .  Bring your appetite this weekend for the Waterloo Region Food & Drink Show, April 24-26 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, 400 East Ave., Kitchener. Tickets are $12 and include a souvenir wine glass. Your admission gets you access to a cocktail-and-beer patio, live jazz, a wine-and-cheese stage, food trucks and many other food-and-drink vendors . . . This Saturday, April 25, Danko Jones takes the stage at Maxwell’s Concerts and Events, 35 University Ave. E., Waterloo. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. . . . Wednesday, April 29, marks the first anniversary of the Kitchener-Waterloo Poker Chicks. Join a group of Waterloo Region women to play at Ernest & Young, 515 Riverbend Dr., Kitchener. The night kicks off at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and include buy-in and food and drinks.

Photo: Teddy Abrams conducts the Louisville Orchestra