REVIEW: UM Slam Poetry December Show

Disclaimer: (The first paragraph builds off of my last review of UM Slam Poetry , please check it out, it is called REVIEW: UM Slam Poetry and is a little further down on the website!)

I absolutely love listening to slam poems, it is my favorite form of verbal art, so I was disheartened from the turnout of the event. My favorite part of the last poetry slam, the open mics, were nonexistent at this slam. In fact, the turnout was so low that they could not even find a sufficient amount of judges in the audience. Something needs to be changed in the marketing and setup of UM Slam Poetry, because I cannot imagine there is such little interest in slam poetry at the University of Michigan, one of the largest academic institutions in the world. The setup of the slam poems should be changed, in fact I think almost everything should be changed. The venue needs to be different for sure. There needs to be some presence of a stage and there needs to be a more dramatic and intimate feel. Slam Poems are more than the words said, they are a performance and performances need an environment that fits the essence of the art. The Kalamazoo room in the league does not provide this. Also the judges should have some sense of authority. It is okay that they are random people from the audience, but they should not be jeered at every time they hold up their score. Maybe they should sit up front, or should just turn in their scores privately.

Now on to the actual poems. The night started off with professional poems being read by the presidents of UM Slam Poetry. If you want to hear an amazing slam poem, with a classic american bad girl feel, listen to Backpedal by Olivia Gatwood. It defines what it means to be a girl while telling the story of an indifferent man.  The narrative voice of the poem was very strong like the character of the poet portrayed. Another good read from the night was What was said on the bus by Danez Smith.

In my last review I talked about how I really connected with Kai, one of the presidents, slam poem. This time the other president Olivia read a poem, and again I was astonished. I am not surprised these two lead the club. The strongest imagery I got from Olivia’s poem was how I feel like my life is similar to a trapped fly. My favorite poem, and most unique one I heard from the night was about self violence, but told through the mouth of the Grim Reaper. The reader did a phenomenal job performing, I could see his lips curling and spit flying from his passion. I hope I am able to hear more slam poems this year.

PREVIEW: UM Slam Poetry December show

This is a student event ran by UM Slam Poetry club and is at the Kalamazoo room in the Michigan League at 7pm on Thursday, December 6th.

Slam Poetry is a writing style that has taken off in popularity in our generation. The only poetry recitals/shows I ever see (or hear of) are slam poetry shows. Come watch U of M’s best performers and be part of a generational literary movement. No matter how you are feeling: depressed, angry, happy, remorseful, forgotten, there will be a slam poem for you.

If you enjoy writing slam poetry, any one can perform at this event. You can perform in a judge-free open mic or be an actual competitor and get some direct feedback.  If you don’t want to read but still want to be involved, anyone in the audience can volunteer and be a judge of the poems.

Because I am so excited I attached my two favorite slam poems. Performed and written by college students.

PREVIEW: The Book of Mormon

The majority of what I know about The Book of Mormon is thanks the vague tunes my roommate has been singing to me over the past month since we bought the tickets to see the show. So, I can’t claim to have a very expansive knowledge – but I love going into any show, film, or story unknowing. I also know that I’ve heard about this show since I was in middle school. It’s been a long time in the works, and I’m ready to see the captivating, comical, and often controversial, experiences of two missionaries unfold.

Grab your last-minute tickets to the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon, showing at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, now through December 9th!


REVIEW: Handel’s Messiah

The moment that I entered Hill Auditorium for the Ann Arbor Symphony and UMS Choral Union’s performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, the festive and joyful mood was evident. A double-layered border of beautiful poinsettias graced the front of the stage, and a large festive wreath seemed to float in midair in front of the pipe organ. The orchestra and Choral Union filled the stage, and anyone there could sense that it was going to be a night of merry music-making. Soprano Yulia Van Doren, countertenor John Holiday, tenor Miles Mykkanen, and bass Alex Rosen joined the ensemble as soloists.

I have listened to recordings and even live radio broadcasts of Handel’s famous oratorio, but this was the first time that I have ever been present during a live performance of it, and it certainly did not disappoint. For one thing, the performers were of very high caliber – Scott Hanoian, the director of the UMS Choral Union is the former assistant organist and music director of the National Cathedral, and several of the soloists will be performing Messiah with the likes of the Saint Louis Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra.  Additionally, a nearly three-hour work written 300 years ago, it is impressively engaging. The audience was silent throughout, only to erupt in applause, cheers, and whistles at its conclusion.

One of the most moving moments of the performance was the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” Ushers distributed sheet music prior to the performance, and when the most well-known composition of Messiah was reached, Mr. Hanoian turned out from the stage and conducted the entirety of Hill Auditorium as the audience stood and joined the Choral Union in singing. I remember looking around during this and being overtaken by the sheer number of people singing around me and above me in the mezzanine and balcony. Centuries after it was composed, this music still has immense power to bring people together, and I honestly had chills during the chorus. It reminded me of why I love music so much, and of its most essential purposes.

I also greatly enjoyed hearing the organ of Hill Auditorium in action. Normally the pipes are merely a backdrop for other performers, but during Messiah they came to life. For most of the piece, I was aware that the organ was playing, but it was on stops that blended with the orchestra and the vocalists. However, at the very conclusion of the work, all of the stops were quite literally pulled out, and I almost jumped in my chair out of surprise! The organ’s rich sound filled the entire hall, and its grand, majestic timbre is not something that I will forget in the near future.

The Ann Arbor Symphony and the UMS Choral Union’s undertaking of Handel’s Messiah was an experience that has made me love and appreciate the work even more fully. Even if you are not typically into classical music, the melodies of the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “For unto Us a Child is Born” will stay in your head for days after. In my opinion, the chance to hear Hill Auditorium’s organ was worth it in itself!

REVIEW: Contemporary Directions Ensemble

The Contemporary Direction Ensemble’s Friday performance was emotionally powerful and also a challenge to conventional norms.

Their performance of “Die Schönste Zeit des Lebens,” or “The Most Beautiful Time of Life,” was breathtaking and haunting. The manuscript of this piece, a popular foxtrot of the 1940s, was recently discovered at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum by University of Michigan Professor Dr. Patricia Hall. Arranged by prisoners at Auschwitz for one of the camp’s orchestras, it was likely performed for Sunday concerts for the S.S.

As the ensemble performed this piece, the first time it has been heard in 75 years, images of Auschwitz were projected on the wall behind. The contrasts between the lighthearted music being played and the dark realities of the Holocaust in these images were stark, and for me, this highlighted the power of music and the strength of the human spirit. How could something so beautiful exist in a place of so much death? The melody, which out of the context that this arrangement was created from is carefree, took on a much more emotionally raw and evocative quality that stayed with me for long after the piece was over.

The final piece of the evening, which was vastly different from how the concert began, was the U.S. premiere of George Lewis’s P. Multitudinis. This piece, which was of “situational” form, consisted of several instrumental groups, a traveling percussionist and traveling conductor, and the “multitude.” Rather than playing music written out exactly as it is to be played on the page, the musicians reacted to what was going on around them and responded with their instruments accordingly. It was a very intriguing piece, more rhythmic and innovative than melodic, and it was fascinating to try to follow how the members of the ensemble communicated with each other throughout the piece. Music such as P. Multitudinus challenges the audience to be fully present in the moment, because the performance unfolds uniquely in a way that cannot be predicted, and it is a living, breathing form of art. Typical conventions of music performance were broken – at one point a trombone player borrowed a reed and bocal (the metal tube to which the reed is attached) from a bassoon and put it on the trombone. At other times, kazoo-like instruments were used. The piece was truly a broadening of creative boundaries.

I greatly enjoyed the Contemporary Direction Ensemble’s performance because it made me pause and really think about music and its roles in a way that more traditional concerts do not. The concert exemplified music as an interactive art form and as a means of communication.

REVIEW: Big Band Holidays Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis

Big Band Holidays Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis was a great performance including a variety of festive classics, and it allowed me to escape, if only for an hour and twenty minutes, the stress of end-of-semester reality.

From the very first tune, which was “Jingle Bells,” the ensemble established a high standard. Various members soloed during that first piece, and audience members applauded and cheered after each, as is traditional for jazz.  One of the first soloists was Wynton Marsalis, and I have to say that his prowess on trumpet is clear in even just a few measures of improvisation. At one point during the concert, he played for an extended period in a range so high that I was sure he could break glass with his trumpet. And yet, for the majority of the concert, he was the modest MC of the night, announcing the program and various humorous anecdotes from the stage, playing trumpet in the back row, and applauding his colleagues.

Also impressive was the range of talent possessed by each and every member of the ensemble. Most of the woodwind players played as many as three instruments over the course of the evening. For example, one soloed on E flat clarinet, saxophone, and bass clarinet. The brass players had at least five different types of mutes each. Furthermore, the band’s performance of “What Child is This” began with a small group singing a capella alongside vocalist Vuyo Sotashe, and it was clear that those musicians could sing as well as excel on their instrument! Virtually all of the sets played were arranged by members of the ensemble, and each was innovative with its own personality. The closing song of Big Band Holidays was a jazzy version of “Silent Night,” which was intriguing and enjoyable for its contrast to how the song is traditionally interpreted, albeit it was amped a little too loudly for my own taste and eardrums. Another entertaining tune was “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” featuring baritone saxophone and bass clarinet playing the almost humorous melody. Some of my other favorites included “The Christmas Song” (which I learned from Wynton Marsalis’s introduction was ironically written in the middle of a July heatwave), “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel”, and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

My favorite song of the entire night, however, was Jazz at Lincoln Center’s incredible rendition of “Christmas Time is Here.” Joined by exceptional vocalist Veronica Swift, it was cool and quiet, in contrast to most of the other pieces performed, and it seemed to capture the mood of this time of year. Ms. Swift’s voice was smooth and warm and for the duration of the song, it drew me in and transported me to a place of holiday cheer and happy memories. The tune conjured simultaneous images of Snoopy skating among the snowflakes, cozy nights spent in the glow of a Christmas tree, and cheerful times with family and friends. I did not want the song to ever end!

The only letdown of the entire night was the fact that the audience did not call for an encore. I was surprised when the audience, which had been enthusiastic and engaged for the span of the concert, collectively got up, put their coats on, and left at the conclusion of the final piece. I, for one, certainly would have loved to have the privilege of hearing another song performed by Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis!