PREVIEW: Lost in Wonderland

There’s an extraordinary amount of talent on this campus, from singers to actors and dancers to speakers. Now, get ready for the best Chinese Yo-yo-ing and glowsticking you’ve ever seen! Photonix and Revolution present Lost in Wonderland, featuring many talented guests from around campus, including Groove, G-Men, Flowdom, and Funktion.

The Mendelssohn Theater at the Michigan League is about to be filled with wonder. If you want in on the action, get your tickets at the door for $7 on April 1. The performance starts at 7pm, so arrive early to get your tickets before they sell out!

REVIEW: TEDx UofM 2017

Before I begin, here’s a link to the full conference in case you want to see it in its entirety.

TEDx UofM 2017 was as busy as ever, adding to the disruption part of this year’s theme: Dreamer’s and Disruptors. The army of volunteers running the independent conference have by now created a finely-tuned machine with the perfect mix of emotional roller-coaster, thought-provoking ideas, and blissful entertainment.

The student group Groove = bliss

A student jazz band played in the minutes before the conference started. Their grooving, polished performance was a reminder that so many students at this university are talented and sound like professionals even before they’ve graduated.

Then the first speaker took the stage. Koen Vanmechelen came all the way from Belgium to talk about chickens. Specifically, about how breeding various species of chickens can be used to teach us important lessons about human nature.

Next was Sophia Brueckner, a brilliant woman who was a preeminent software engineer at Google until she suffered an injury that prevented her from using computers for two years. She argued that we as a society have developed a dichotomy of looking at technology as either a complete disaster, or as completely awesome. Instead, she asserted, we need to approach technology with critical optimism.

Ironically, Sophia Brueckner pointed out that making an app to solve all our problems is a fallacious idea, but the 2017 TEDx prize went to a student that developed an app called FoodFind. Meant for low income families to find free food, you have to wonder how many families can actually afford and use the smartphones that the app runs on.

Caitlin Holman proposed three things we need to learn: autonomy, competency, and belonging. Videogames, she suggested, provide all of this. With that in mind, she founded GradeCraft with the purpose of making learning more “gameful.”

Erika Newman–a pediatric surgeon–talked about both clinical and personal experiences with cancer. She was introduced to the lack of information on neuroblastoma when one of her patients asked her about the disease and she realized how she didn’t have any answers. The only surprise here was that she was having trouble getting funding from the NIH to treat the cancer using DNA repair mechanisms.

Rollie Tussing and the Midwest Territory Band played during the break. Although they were a stereotypical band you’d hear in Ann Arbor (at least one instance of well-manicured beard, a cello, and music reminiscent of vintage records), they were entertaining. Their sound was both stripped down and full, and antique without feeling archaic.

Next was Abdul El-Sayed, the current Executive Director of the Detroit Health

Department. In case that didn’t already tell you what a monumental task that entails, he cited several facts about the city of 600,000+ people such as a life expectancy of 70, an asthma rate of three times that of the rest of the country, and vision and other problems that far surpass the rest of Michigan. His argument was to think about pathophysiology in the social realm so that we can help people prevent health problems from developing. Abdul was also one of the best speakers of the night and I highly recommend watching his talk at least.

Next was Jeffrey Veidlinger, a historian who went to Eastern Europe to interview survivors of the Holocaust as a way of preserving their culture via understanding Yiddish. He challenged the audience to “Ask your loved ones about their life. Ask them about their dreams. Ask them about what they cherish.”

The most heart-wrenching talk of the night came from Scott Matzka, who was a talented athlete and is now a husband and father battling ALS. This is another talk to watch, and to check out his organization MyTurn.

Documentary filmmaker Sophia Kruz was the last speaker of the evening. Showing clips from her latest documentary Little Stones, she showed how sharing individual stories is important, as well as using culture to address problems in society. 

 

 

REVIEW: Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Turn Up!

Image Courtesy of giphy.com

Last Saturday night in the MLB Auditorium 3, I knew I was in for a treat when I noticed the marathon of “Infomercials” playing on the wall. The Dicks and Janes, one of the 15 renowned U-M A Cappella groups, were promising a night of fun, diverse musical choices, and perhaps just a teensy bit of harmless daytime TV-bashing. While we waited for the singing extravaganza to begin, the audience was subjected to awful real life horrors that I wish did not exist (I urge you to explore these hilarious videos, perhaps in private, so no one can make fun of you over your shoulder):

What a creative way to lift students’ finals week spirits!

But wait, there’s more…

If you come to the Dicks and Janes concert within the next 30 minutes, we’ll throw in two free performances featuring Sha Bop Shoppe A Cappella and Groove.  The Sha Bop Shoppe is an after-school all-girls ensemble at Pioneer High School. They specialize in performing popular songs, such as Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” which was hauntingly beautiful, as well as “Until the Morning” by Thievery Corporation, which they stopped mid-way through to “speed up a bit” and remix it with their own spunk and soul. If it isn’t impressive enough that they are already dipping their feet in a university venue, add in the fact that they are also sensational choreographers, which means that they create their own choreography movements to flow in sync with their singing. The Sha Bop Shoppe girls definitely will have a powerful vocal presence in a few years in whichever university they choose to attend, so hold on to your boots!

But…the creme de la creme, the reason we were all suffering through the commercials for, was to see…the Dicks and Janes! The minute that they ran on stage and began to sing, the room came alive. Throughout the show, the setlist alternated from hit songs of 2014 (Reflections, Clarity, Say Something, and Latch) to old classics (Happiness is a Warm Gun, Proud Mary, Don’t Mean a Thing). The variety showcased not only the collective group’s range in interest and amazing ability to creatively interpret the pieces (each of the songs are arranged by a Dick or Jane him/herself), but also displayed each individual soloist’s remarkable skills and talents.

I was especially impressed by the energy created in “Clarity.” Originally a high-speed electronic dance song, I was curious how the Dicks and Janes (DJ’s) could recreate that sound. But somehow they did! I’m not a singer myself, so I’m not sure how they accomplished the feat, but they did it stunningly. The crisp “kssss” of every accelerating percussive beat, the siren-like croon of the synthesizer, the pulsing bass…all imitated the feel of “Clarity,” with the voice of DJ member Hannah Sparrow at the center. Perhaps, the DJ’s were a little too good at the house music vibe, for sometimes they turned up the volume a little too much and I could barely hear Hannah. The DJ’s know how to make the MLB Auditorium into a good time, even if they can’t turn up!

Shine the spotlight on Austin Montgomery, another DJ member, and prepare to be amazed. He soloed twice, as he is the token falsetto of the group. He sung his soul out in “Latch,” with perhaps even more energy than Sam Smith himself. And he was able to take Helena Ratte’s playful arrangement of “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” and morph it into a 50’s barber shop sound.

Because I’ve never sung A Cappella, I look on with awe at how the DJ’s start with a silent stage and slowly build on each other with only their voices. They’re like an orchestra, I guess, something I’m more familiar with. But yet, because they are standing and have hands free (no bows or horns to hold), there is a special energy that is present. I literally got shivers when soloist Lyndsey Burke belted out Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and felt twinges in my heart just from the dramatic facial expressions shown in “Say Something.” I could feel every note, like the DJ’s were handing each one to me. Here you are, have another! their words seemed to say. The DJ’s gave me something that night that is special to a cappella singing. The sound of humanity, streaming through the voice to the ear. No phones, no instruments, no car horns to interrupt the experience; just good ole’ human to human connection. And maybe with a quick infomercial or two.

Call 1-800 999-2288 to get your DJ singer absolutely free! And while you wait, watch this hilarious infomercial video, Save a Suffering Freshman, that the Dicks and Janes made themselves!

 

 

 

PREVIEW: Groove

Groove’s Facebook event cover photo

Who: Groove
What: Groove presents #TRASHTAG
When: December 6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Michigan Theater
Cost: $5 for students, $8 for adults. Tickets available at the door.

Groove, campus’s premier percussion group, will be taking the Michigan Theater to a technological and technical level Friday night for their fall show #TRASHTAG. The performers are known for using a variety of surfaces to capture and uniformly create percussion beats. This show will be an opportunity to showcase their talents on a wide scale, and it will be interesting to see how their viral, hashtagged, techy theme plays out.

RSVP to the event on Facebook, visit their official website, or check out some of their performers on their YouTube channel.

 

 

REVIEW: G-Fest

With an almost full lower level at the Power Center for the Performing Arts, student performance groups across Michigan pulled together October 18 for G-Fest, a 2-hour extravaganza of singing, dancing, comedy, slam poetry, percussion and glow-stick dancing. Each act brought something fresh and new to the 5th Annual G-Fest. Alumni G-Men from the inaugural show had the honors of opening this one. Not only were the acts solidly executed, but the ever quirky, comical G-Men introducing them kept the show’s momentum running strong throughout the entire program. Personal favorite included when two G-Men made dubstep with their mouths, including dubbing the beats to Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Likes it Hot” and Ginuwine’s “Pony.” I think this was when the crowd cheered the loudest the whole time, although each group received a respectable amount of loud, rambunctious applause, and for good reason.

The G-Mens opening number
The G-Men's opening number

The Harmonettes killed it in black pumps and blue jeans.
The Harmonettes killed it in black pumps and blue jeans.

I found myself feeling like I was an extra cast member in Pitch Perfect when the G-Men and Harmonettes sang in harmony and pitch together. The G-Men pulled off a catchy Spanish number to open the show, followed by a mash-up of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” and Adele’s “Skyfall.” Pure ear candy. In the second part of the show, the self-proclaimed always classy, sometimes sassy Harmonettes brought their girl power with Little Mix’s “Wings,” my favorite number from their set. To quote the movie, both groups were “aca-awesome.”

Asante looks dapper in his top hat and jacket.
Asante looks dapper in his top hat and white jacket.

Asante, the only solo act on the bill, sang two original compositions at the piano. He described the process of creating his own music by visualizing different keys as different colors and putting it all together. His two pieces complemented each other perfectly well, and had the venue feeling like a small intimate jazz club. As a senior in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, he was one of my favorite acts for his ability to silence and mesmerize the crowd with his smooth voices and even smoother piano playing. He’s got showmanship down, looking and sounding mighty classy. I loved every minute of it.

The Michigan Raas Team
The Michigan Raas Team
Photonixs eye candy
Photonix's eye candy

The first dance group, Michigan Raas Team, performed to traditional Indian music wearing traditional Indian costumes. Their fluid movements had me wanting to get up and dance too, if I knew how to dance like that. G-Fest ended with Photonix, a group that dances with glow sticks to create visual art with trippy trance music in the background. It takes a whole lot of talent to wave glow sticks up and down to create something magical, and Photonix’s did just that in this out-of-this-world finale.

Grooves jamming out on trash cans
Groove's jamming out on trash cans

Before intermission, Groove beat their trashcans and quad drums made of plastic bins to perform several numbers of carefully crafted percussion numbers. The intensity and speed at which these performers can go is remarkable, and I can only imagine how much time and practice they endure to get it just right. These guys nailed it, and the best part is all their instruments are random, common items one wouldn’t expect to find in a formal show. Groove’s ingenuity, coupled with their urban allure, made for a stylistic success to round out the first half.

ComCos improv players provided plenty to laugh about.
ComCo's improv players provided plenty to laugh about.

Not only did talent lie in the musicality of performances, but in comics and poets, too. The first half featured six ComCo. members, campus’s oldest improv comedy group, playing various games with audience participation. They pulled off one of comedy’s greatest exercises, telling a story with someone else’s hands behind them guiding the action. Another game had the game master control the flow of dialogue, interrupting a “mother/daughter” pair whenever he didn’t like what they were saying and making them redo the line in a different way. The best part about the players was the sheer improvisation–these guys can think fast on their feet and that makes it all the more enjoyable and entertaining. One of the highlights of the night for me was being able to laugh at the absurdity of the situations the players acted out.

Four members of the Slam Poetry Club read their poems on stage, giving the audience chills with their themes of growing up, being there for someone in tough times and a poem chronicling Adam and Eve’s experience in couple’s therapy. Each poet slammed really well, slowing and quickening their voices at the appropriate times and really speaking from the heart. It takes a lot of guts to speak like that in front of such a large audience, and these kids nailed it.

I couldn’t have asked for a better Friday night listening to and seeing all the great talent this campus has to offer. Each group shined, and it made me even prouder to be a Michigan Wolverine. Even though G-Fest was just a sampling of the many performance groups on campus, it accomplished its goal of entertaining attendees. Bravo, everyone, for your amazing performances.

REVIEW: The Olllam

The Olllam

Earlier this month, The Olllam performed at The Ark. What is The Olllam you ask? It’s funky, groovy, contemporary Irish music performed by Ann Arbor resident celebrities Tyler Duncan and Mike Shimmin, and a true Irishman himself John McSherry.  John McSherry is an internationally recognized traditional Irish piper and one of the most respected musicians of his trade. He teamed up with local musicians, some of who are alums of the School of Music, to put a fresh, up-to-date twist on sounds reminiscent of classic Irish folk tunes for their newest album.The instrumental album features eight tracks. Each is completely different, representing varying degrees of Irish-ness and electronic infusion. The group appeared in Ann Arbor as a segment of the trans-continental tour, including two weeks in Ireland, and two weeks in the mid-west at an Irish music festival (where they made a sweep of awards). It must have been a treat for the artists to perform in their home town, but really more of a treat for us! I have never heard such a unique and current sound. I am caught off guard by how much I like it- I never thought that Irish music would be my tune of choice when driving on the freeway!

I intended to post my article immediately after the show, but somehow the year started and things got busy…how did that happen? That being said, I have listened to the entire album every day since the show, so its as if a private performance has been perpetually playing in my ears. To get a listen yourself, check out their website. For a deeper insight into the creative process behind the music, watch this gorgeous short documentary on the history of The Olllam. Enjoy!