PREVIEW: Audra McDonald

From the moment I heard “Wheels of a Dream” from my beat-up, library copy of the soundtrack from the musical Ragtime, I was an Audra McDonald fan. I was so inspired by her vocals in that song in particular, although it’s only one of her many shining moments, I would actually listen to it on the way to my tennis tournaments in high school. When I heard this four-time Tony award winner was coming to Ann Arbor, I bought my tickets within the minute of replying to my friend’s text and placing my order online. The University Musical Society describes McDonald as “a restlessly creative spirit who is reluctant to be typecast strictly as a musical theater artist, despite her enormous success in that genre.” Some of her other work, as listed on Wikipedia, includes: Carousel (1994), A Raisin in the Sun (2008), and currently as Bess in Porgy and Bess on Broadway this season. It is sure to be a phenomenal performance and I hope you can all attend!

And just to share how epic that song I mentioned is, here’s a link to Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald singing “Wheels of a Dream,” enjoy!

PREVIEW: Gamelan Workshop

On November 1st at 8pm in the half-way inn (located in the basement of east quad), the Residential College music forum will be hosting a Gamelan workshop, taught by Susan Walton, an RC faculty member, to teach about the Gamelan tradition and demonstrate the instruments involved in Gamelan performances. Gamelan itself is an Indonesian ensemble of instruments, typically consisting of metallophones, xylophones, drums, gongs, and much more. Fiona Clowney, leader of the music forum, says, “[Walton] will bring instruments for us to play and teach us a short piece of music, as well as giving an intro to the music.” It sounds like an incredible opportunity to learn about an extraordinary and beautiful style of music. There is limited space available, so do RSVP for the event by emailing Fiona.clowney@gmail.com right away! Hope to see you there!

P.S. You can hear some U of M students playing gamelan at this youtube link to get a feeling of what the music is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxlKpWz_brk

REVIEW: Boyce Avenue

How many of you readers know who Boyce Avenue is? I was pleasantly surprised when I got to EMU’s Pease Auditorium last night at how many people are Boyce Avenue fans–the place was packed! I saw them in concert last spring at The Blind Pig, a much smaller venue, so it was awesome to see how their fan base has grown in the past six months. For those of you who don’t know who they are, Boyce Avenue is a band comprised of three Puerto Rican-American brothers from Florida–Alejandro, Daniel and Fabian Manzano. Alejandro is the dreamy lead singer… I think its all in the name! Anyway, they started out singing acoustic covers of popular songs  and posting videos of their studio performances on Youtube. That’s how I found out about them, from their sweet and romantic renditions of “Only Girl” by Rihanna, and “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry. Check out their Youtube page here: http://www.youtube.com/user/boyceavenue.

The concert last night got off to a slow start, with two opening acts for Boyce Avenue. The first was Alex Goot, a kid in a t-shirt, flannel, and glasses who played a mean piano. I enjoyed hearing him play, however I wasn’t a big fan of his original songs–not bad, but not great either. A bit too teenie-bopper for my taste. But, here’s his Youtube page if you want to decide for yourself! http://www.youtube.com/user/gootmusic

After Alex, Green River Ordinance took the stage (with a long time waiting in between for the band to set up their own equipment!). Green River Ordinance (GRO for short) were a lot more rock n’ roll. Though again, I wasn’t crazy about any of their songs, they were really great performers, getting the crowd involved and excited. And being from Texas, the lead singer had that charming southern drawl when he spoke. They were really fun to watch! Their style was indie-rock with a little bit of country thrown in there too. What really impressed me was that they did an “unplugged” piece at the end of the performance, where they all walked away from the drums and electric guitars and microphones, quieted the audience and sang and played a country/bluegrass song at the foot of the stage with nothing but their acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion and voices. Here’s their website–check them out! http://www.greenriverordinance.com/

After Alex and GRO, I was ready for Boyce Avenue to take the stage. However, the house lights came on again and GRO took down their equipment, and some other guys came out on stage to get ready for Boyce Avenue. I grew pretty impatient. The waiting in between sets was my least favorite part of this concert. The crowd lost energy in between performances, as people shuffled out of the auditorium to use the restroom, and others sat texting on their cell phones. Finally, the lights lowered and Boyce Avenue came out strong, rocking out to one of their hits, “Tonight”.

The concert was amazing–Boyce Avenue sounds even better live than they do recorded. They are all impressive musicians as well, with incredible skills on the guitar. Though I love their original songs, I love their acoustic covers even more, so I was really excited when they played songs like “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and “Who I Am” by The Goo Goo Dolls. My only complaint with Boyce Avenue live is that they aren’t the best at interacting with the audience, the little comedic banter that many musicians do in between songs. Alejandro is quite serious and didn’t provide much comic relief, or show us much of his personality throughout the performance. Nevertheless, the crowd was very involved, standing throughout the performance, screaming and yelling like crazy! Their performance was over too soon, so the crowd cheered for an encore–and they got one. Alejandro came back out to his keyboard first by himself, then his brothers joined after the first song. They seemed to loosen up a bit in the last few songs, and they ended the concert on a high note.

I was sad to leave the concert hall last night. I really enjoyed hearing Boyce Avenue live. Their songs are sweet and heartfelt, in no way raunchy or dirty like a lot of popular music is these days. They even change the lyrics of pop songs to make them more romantic and innocent, melting girls’ hearts who dare to listen to Alejandro’s pure voice. It was interesting to see how this manifested even in the type of people who came to the show. As we were all piling out of the auditorium and the congested parking lot, everyone was SO nice, letting other people into the line of traffic ahead of them, no pushing or shoving whatsoever–all in all, it’s good to be a Boyce Avenue fan!

REVIEW: Water Stains on the Wall

The dance lover that I am, I couldn’t wait to see the unique dance company from Taiwan, The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, perform at the Power Center on Friday night. I had heard how uniquely beautiful their movement style is, due to their wide range of training in modern dance, classical ballet, tai chi, and Chinese opera movement. Though I was feeling a little under-the-weather, I pulled myself off of my futon and went to the show.

The Power Center was packed, and not long after I found my seat the lights lowered and the curtain opened to reveal a white floor, tilted so that it was higher upstage, away from the audience, swooping gradually down to meet with the black Power Center stage, making it feel throughout the performance as if the dancers would roll right down into the audience. The dance began slowly, too slowly, as the dancers took small, careful steps out onto the stage, performing miniscule movements for the first long minutes of the performance to high-pitched, eerie music that hurt my ears. When I began to wonder where the breath-taking movement was that I had been promised of the Cloud Gate dancers, they exited the stage, the music still going, leaving us all to stare awkwardly at an empty stage, wondering uncomfortably when they’re coming back.

Though I’m not sure I enjoyed or agreed with the choice to leave the stage empty for a few moments so soon in the performance, before I saw any real dancing, it did make sense in light of the overall concept of the piece, concerning Chinese calligraphy, and the white stage as a metaphor for the rice paper on which calligraphy is done. Throughout the piece there were dark “clouds” that rolled over the white floor, at various speeds and intensities, sometimes casting a shadowy grey color over the entire stage, and at other times frantically spinning black cloud-shapes over the stage as the dancers jumped and rolled on the floor in equal speed and intensity. The empty stage gave us the opportunity to appreciate this unique staging choice.

The dancers soon re-entered and the performance continued. Though there were many clear exits and entrances, breaks and shifts in the music, as well as in the style of dance–ranging from impressive slow, controlled movements of the arms cutting through space, to quick, frantic leaps and falls, rolling on the ground–these pieces flowed easily from one to the next, blurring the lines between one section of choreography and the next. Though I felt there was some story to the piece, something possibly concerning cultural history, gender, and sorrow, this story was incredibly abstract, and anything but clear, so is often the case with modern dance. Regardless of what the choreographer was intending to communicate through the movement, the piece was certainly a unique expression, with the white floor, and uniform white costumes, contrasting with the black forms projected onto the floor, and the often eerie music and mood.

Now, the ballet-trained dancer in me couldn’t help but critique the repeatedly sickled (turned-in), flexed feet, obviously a choice made by the choreographer, but annoying to me nonetheless. Maybe it’s the result of years of being told how great a sin it is to sickle your feet in ballet, but it still just looks ugly to me! I was also disappointed at the limited range of movement used in the piece. Though I am aware that dance as an art form isn’t all about doing big leaps and turns and fancy moves that impress the audience with your technique, I had heard so much about the control and expertise of these dancers’ movements, and I felt like they were capable of so much more than the choreography allowed them to show us. I felt that the movement was very repetitive, abstract, and contained.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. It was refreshing to see dance again–I miss it so much! Hearing the breath of the dancers in moments when the music was quiet, hearing their feet landing on the stage as they jumped and traveled across the floor… music to my ears. The Cloud Gate dancers are truly amazing dancers, technically and artistically. And thankfully, the performance lasted only about an hour, so I was able to go back home to my futon and sleep off my sickness–perfection!

REVIEW: Programmed Spontaneity

After trekking from class to class on Thursday
in rainy, cold weather, the warm sanctuary of Rackham Auditorium was a welcome
blessing.  I was attending the George
Lewis Interactive Trio, having blindly signed up on an e-mail from a peer
advisor.  It was quite the
spectacle.  I’ve seen my share of
abstract performances; however, I’d never seen an improvised jazz trio, let
alone with a computer-programmed instrument as a member of the ensemble.  The Trio featured George Lewis, musical
genius, playing his trombone alongside renowned pianist Geri Allen, and yet the
true marvel of the performance was the “virtual improvisator.”  This computer-programmed piano, referred to
as “the player,” responded to the musical stylings of Lewis and Allen by contributing
its own improvised melodies.  Lewis
designed the software himself, allowing for “the player” to connect to the
other instruments involved.  It was
entirely spontaneous, albeit programmed spontaneity on the computer’s end, and
absolutely astounding.  An audience
member commented in the panel discussion following that “the player” both
paused to let the other instruments take their turn in the ensemble and
instantaneously responded, with both clashing and harmonious chords.  This performance was all at once bizarre, thrilling,
and, at times, unsettling in the chaotic nature of avant-garde jazz.  I couldn’t help but think of robotic pianos taking
over the world when Lewis commented that he in fact had no idea what “the
player” was going to play until the moment it began.  After hearing just three or four notes from
Lewis’ trombone, the computer decides what performance it wishes to give.  A trippy and thought-provoking display of human
versus computer improvisation, I am so glad I made time to attend.

PREVIEW: Boyce Avenue at EMU

The Blind Pig is hosting Boyce Avenue at EMU’s Pease Auditorium on Saturday October 22nd at 7 p.m. Boyce Avenue, an acoustic-rock band comprised of three brothers from Sarasota, Florida, quickly gained popularity on Youtube through their unique and heartfelt acoustic covers of popular songs from a variety of genres. Now with several hit songs of their own, Boyce Avenue is back on tour, finishing up their US tour this Saturday at EMU before heading off to the UK. Boyce Avenue was here in Ann Arbor last spring performing for a packed house at The Blind Pig. With a growing fan base and a larger venue, this weekend’s concert is sure to be a fun and exciting experience. You can buy tickets to the concert on The Blind Pig’s website before the show for $18, http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/performanceSearch.jsp?performance_id=1499607&cobrand=blindpigmusic, or you can purchase tickets at the door for $22. For more information about the concert, visit the Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=128245783920804.

Boyce Avenue: Teenage Dream Cover–Check it Out!