Surprise! Now say, ‘I Do’

An orchestra conductor springs a wedding on a former ballerina in Eugene

Photo by Bob Williams

When Victoria Allen-Harvey walked into the Hult Center on July 8, she thought she was there just to watch a quick photo shoot on the way to a formal dinner to celebrate her partner Brian McWhorter’s recent promotion to full professor at the University of Oregon.

“I’m watching this photo shoot,” she says, “and then he starts singing this song. I just thought, ‘That’s Brian.’”

Then 16 dancers from Eugene Ballet appeared on the stage. “And everything shifted,” says Victoria, a former dancer with the company. “I thought, maybe it’s a proposal. I never dreamed a wedding was happening. Never, never, never.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

McWhorter, who is the conductor of OrchestraNext, which performs with the ballet, and a music professor known for his creative stunts, had spent months putting together an elaborate ruse worthy of a spy novel, with dozens of musicians, dancers, friends, seamstresses, cake decorators and family members in on the plot and sworn to secrecy. He wrote a detailed 15-page script for the affair, including coded texts to be sent and directions for concealing some 60 guests offstage until the time for the big reveal.

“I told Victoria two months ago we were invited to a special dinner with [UO President] Michael Schill,” Brian says. The dinner was entirely imaginary, a way to book a slot on her calendar. “I made this fake invitation that said ‘black tie optional.’ That was important, as I really wanted her to get dressed up.”

He talked her into a trip to Portland to be fitted for a new formal gown. The clerks, who were in on the secret, brought out a white gown for her to try on.

Victoria said, “It’s too bridal.”

McWhorter texted her mother photos of the gown. “Do everything in your power to get her to get that white dress!” he wrote.

Instead, Allen-Harvey chose a blue one.

Back at the Hult Center on wedding day. The ballet dancers finished their performance about Victoria’s life in dance. It was choreographed by Suzanne Haag, the ballet’s chief choreographer, who had been instrumental in introducing the couple to each other.

Brian stood up on stage and began talking to Victoria, who was sitting alone in the front row.

“We don’t have anywhere to go tonight,” he confessed. “We never have. But the good news is that we’re right where we need to be.” That’s when some 60 friends and family came out of hiding. Victoria saw her mother, Joan Harvey, and realized this was more than just a proposal.

Victoria was sent to a dressing room, where she found both the blue and the white gowns already fitted and waiting for her. She chose the white one. While she was gone the stage was set with chairs and flowers for the ceremony.

The couple stood up and were married by a friend ordained in the Universal Life Church.

“The main thing is that for Victoria and me, Silva Hall is essentially our church,” Brian says.

Victoria McWhorter, who is taking her husband’s last name, insists that until she saw her mother among the guests she never suspected this was actually going to be her wedding day. The couple had talked seriously about marriage, but she hadn’t wanted to deal just now with planning the event.

 “All the people in my life knew, and somehow kept it a secret,” she says. “It was so romantic and perfect!”