REVIEW: U-M Chamber Jazz Recital

Never before had I considered the mandolin or banjo to have a place in the jazz world. And I certainly did not expect to experience a solo of either of these instruments in any context outside of a renaissance festival or a square dance competition, respectively.

Boy, was I wrong.

The performance was split into three sets, each a different student group exploring a wildly different facet of the music genre.

The first erred on the side of folk, incorporating a sound more twangy than I’d have expected from jazz musicians. But the smoothness of the violin’s bow sliding across the strings and the low voice of the cello lurking under the melody rounded out the tunes they played, making the sound much more complex and multi-dimensional. And, I must stress, Noah Fishman on mandolin and Matt Davis on banjo went hard.

The next group played in the classic big-band style of jazz, bursting into the music the second they began with grand flourishes of slurred crescendos and bright moments of staccatoed frenzy. It was hard seeing the relatedness of the first and second groups, even though they were a part of the same genre, and shared a few of the same instruments. But rather than this near-dichotomy being a distraction, it worked as a testament to jazz’s dynamicity. It was disappointing to me, as a piano player, that the pianist Kaysen Chown was barely audible amidst the brash bass tones, as the higher pitch and lightness of the instrument would have complimented the music greatly.

The last group to play featured a jazz of the sultry kind; the high call of the saxophones (Peter Goggin on alto and William Wood on tenor) was almost erotic. The songs were rambling and suave, able to warm the mind and body simultaneously. I could find myself in some underground jazz club, surrounded by the coolest cats around, dressed in all black, perhaps sporting a beret.

When I walked out of the auditorium, I still felt warm, even despite the biting wind of the mid-November night. Maybe it was the well-heated building, but more likely it was an effect of the music. I strode back to my dorm with a strange new confidence derived from the sheer sophistication of the evening. This lasted nearly the whole walk home, ending abruptly as I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk (a testament to the exclusiveness of the genre, maybe; one can fall out of its favor with a single uncool move).

All in all, a good night, thanks to this group of talented SMTD students!

PREVIEW: U-M Chamber Jazz Ensemble

Jazz illicits an image of a smoky nightclub populated by a gaggle of elderly men in old-fashioned hats; the youth it used to enthral have aged, and have not been replaced by a new generation…or have they? The genre is in a strange place these days–it is somehow both the music of our grandparents and our own; its roots are deep and widespread and fully entangled in the rhythm and blues of both our Ella Fitzgeralds and our Daniel Caesars.

Come listen to the fusion of new and old 8 PM on Monday, November 19 in Stamps Auditorium at the Walgreen Drama Center. Michigan students will be performing both classic jazz hits as well as some of their own creations. There are no tickets, so make sure to come early to guarantee a seat!


REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“I wish to lose all morals, and accept decadence into my heart.”

The night starts off with crowds of people in sparkles and lingerie and all black  piled up outside of the Michigan Theater, eager to begin their Rocky Horror experience. An experience that is varied and cannot be restricted by just one adjective. An experience that is energetic, erotic, campy, and…. scientific?

With an introduction from a moth, who welcomes all of the groups who are out – the straights, the gays, the sorrorities – the crowd is riled up before the film has started. Prohibited items include: ice, confetti, water guns, candles or lighters, whole rolls of toilet paper, hot dogs, and prunes. But the moth pointed out that squares of toilet paper, or streamers, or 3/4 of a roll of toilet paper, are allowed. It is only the Leather Medusa’s second year putting on a shadow cast show of RHPS at the theater, but they’re sold out.

I stand for my virgin pledge, with about half of the audience who are marked with red lipstick Vs. Surprisingly, such a prominent cult classic still remains unseen by many. Not so surprisingly, the Rocky Horror virgins of the world are curious about the film and its culture, intrigued by its ostentatious reputation and loyal followers. And tonight, our curiosity is to be fulfilled. Soon everyone stands together, for the Rocky Horror pledge and with much anti… cipation – the show begins.

Newly engaged Brad and Janet get stuck in the rain, and wander into Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle, where they have a long night ahead of them. The shadow cast saunters around the stage, their costumes and movements perfectly matching those of the film’s characters. The audience yells “ASSHOLE!” at Brad, “SLUT!” at Janet, “WHERE’S YOUR NECK?” at the criminologist, and a variety of other more specific, seemingly-scripted, comments. The film can barely be heard. This culture is not exactly for the prude or sensitive – although they are the ones that the culture loves to deflower the most. Similarly to the audience culture around Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, some describe this movie-going experience as wildly inconsiderate and vulgar. But the lines of accepted norms are blurred in the midst of such a cult classic, one that drew counterculture crowds as a midnight movie at its release and still draws those audiences (or those who shapeshift into such for a night) today.

Attempting to watch the film over the yelling of the crowd, I do my best to stay in-tune while actively participating. But the participation doesn’t take away from the film’s grandeur. The unusual set, defined characters, theatrical costumes and makeup, peculiar sci-fi characteristics, lively songs and dances, canted angles, effective use of various lenses, irony, and sexual notions, are enough to interest audiences even when they are unclear of the plot (which is somewhat unclear, anyway.) I’m sure all of the other virgins sometimes sat just as confused as me, but also pleasantly entertained.

Seeing Rocky Horror is a uniting experience: the audience, together, are just as important as the film. Dancing the time warp, throwing cards and pieces of toast, everyone is in tune with one another. Even the virgins. We catch on. If all goes as planned by the Transylvanians, by the end of the film you’re going to want to dance and yell and touch everyone and be covered in sequins and dramatic makeup.


As I walked into the gleaming dark of the Michigan Theater’s screening room, I wasn’t sure what I should expect from this documentary. Most “behind the scenes” films of celebrities are tinted with a shade of superficiality–the video of their charity cases feels a bit staged, smiles just a little too brilliant next to the filth of whatever third-world country their agent told them to grace.

I won’t lie to you, dear reader; this documentary was not completely innocent of these offences. M.I.A. had definitely seemed to have lost touch of the way of life in her of native Sri Lanka after her rise to fame in the mid-2000s. This causes some of her actions to feel false. Yet old video from an earlier visit back home, just a few years before she made it big, told a different story. Rather than seeming like a tourist, she was back to belonging, and what was able to shock her–police barging into houses at all hours of the night, for example–genuinely resonated with her. She related to people there, spoke Tamil with them, shared food and stories. Sri Lanka was still, and is still, inside of her.

M.I.A.’s origin story can be told succinctly, despite its far-reaching repercussions. After fleeing the civil unrest and violence of Sri Lanki with her mother and siblings at the age of 10, she grew up without her Tamil Resistance-leading father.

But that is not where her story began. Even as a young child, she dreamed of becoming a documentary film maker–her own video comprises much of the documentary. Music has always been a passion as well: she’s shown dancing wildly as a kid in Sri Lanka and later as an adult in a recording studio. The film went on to tell of her rapidly increasing fame, and her growth along the way. Not being the most confident person in the world myself, I gather a lot of inspiration from the ultimate Cool Girl that is M.I.A. Her funky, brightly-colored style is present in not only her clothes and music but also her vibrant speech, her fierce projection of her beliefs.

My only real critique of this piece is how little it focused on the censorship she’s faced in her career. There were a few points made about the reactions to one of her music videos, jounalists dismissing her thoughts on the turbulance in Sri Lanka, and that one time she flipped the camera off at the Superbowl. In light of her recent announcement she’s taking a break from the music industry due to her frustration about censorship, there should have been a little more attention given to this.

This film provided a good look into a strange paradox: with fame comes a microphone with sound to reach the ears of everyone. Yet the role our society gives to celebrities is only to entertain; we discount their need to be advocates for something in the larger world. Maybe one day we’ll give them a chance and start listening.


A documentary following the life of Justin Bieber is nothing special.

His story has always been quite public: born into a humble Canadian family, discovered on YouTube, instantly rising to stardom atop such teeny-bopper hits as “Baby” and “My World.”

However, M.I.A. has a little more substance than the average Hollywood Hunk. The daughter of a Tamil activist and revoluntionary, her music reflects growing up during political turmoil. And perhaps we will learn more about the difficulty she’s had with censorship of her work, and her recent announcement that she’ll be taking an extended break from the industry.

Join me at the Michigan Theater to see the mystery unfold with your own eyes.

Showtimes include:

Thursday, 10/18: 7:15 pm in the auditorium or 9:45 pm in the screening room

Thursday, 10/25: 12:00 pm in the auditorium

REVIEW: blackbear w/ Roy Wood$

I’m not sure where to even begin. March 23, 2018 — it was the warmest night of the week in Ann Arbor, and I had driven to my friend’s place so we could walk to Hill Auditorium together. As two notorious procrastinators, we decided to meet up at 7:30PM, so we weren’t quite ready to be makin’ our way downtown to the concert just yet.

Well, I mean, I was ready, I was so ready to see blackbear — who has risen as a popular R&B and Hip Hop artist, with hits like “do re mi” and “idfc” — which basically represent my mentality about the world: I have trust issues, I hate people, I don’t care, but with more profanities sprinkled in between.

I discovered blackbear once upon a time, when I still used Pandora’s online music player, which had its own R&B/Hip Hop station. blackbear popped up every so often, and I’d jammed hard to his music, which pushed me to look for more. His album “digital druglord” is my favorite, by the way. Long story short, I’m hardcore into his music.

Once my friend and I had finished powdering our noses and saying goodbye to the house cats, we started walking with my impatient and brisk pace, to my friend’s dismay. On the way, we laughed and chatted it up, chewing on candy hearts with very aggressively forward flirtatious phrases on them. It was colder than we’d anticipated, trusting the Weather App’s warmer predictions, but that didn’t stop the excitement from bubbling underneath.

Hill Auditorium was in sight, and we were all chattering teeth and goosebumps through the doors, where security guards were scanning for tickets. I was carrying both of our tickets, so I hastily shuffled through my purse to find only one. My heart immediately sank, and I could feel my friend laughing nervously and looking ominously at me. In a panic, we held each other, and I frantically searched my pockets and dug further into my bag, where I discovered the other ticket was hiding. My heart was pounding, but the two of us laughed at the ridiculousness of the moment. Mind you, if I had left the ticket at her place, that was at least a twenty minute walk away from Hill Auditorium, and we’d barely even made Michigan Time to the 8:00PM start of the concert.

Nevertheless, our tickets put us on the very top floor, the balcony, overlooking the hundreds of others seated ahead of us. On our way up the steps, I could already feel my knees buckling from walking so fast, from almost losing our tickets, and of course, from my overwhelming excitement. My friend had her arm hooked around mine, laughing as she helped me up. The floor was vibrating with the heavy beats blasting through the entire auditorium, and we hadn’t even gotten to the top floor.

The moment we opened the doors to the actual auditorium, we were greeted by extremely dim lighting and extremely loud music. Another security guard saw us blindly walking in the darkness and asked what seat numbers we had, to which we replied 410 and 411, and he pointed us in that direction. Eventually, one way or another, we settled into our seats and drowned in the noise.

Roy Wood$ was already performing by the time we had arrived, and neither of us were quite familiar with him, but I was grateful I had the chance to see him perform — I was definitely going to give his music a try later. Roy Wood$ is more R&B/Soul, which I’m fond of, and besides that, the enthusiasm around me was contagious. I felt I became a fan of Roy Wood$ in that concert, along with the throngs of fans screaming his name and his lyrics.

My friend and I fell into conversation here and there, gossiping about people we knew, swaying and grooving to the music. At this point of my emotional roller coaster, I was not quite at the peak, which was saved for blackbear’s appearance on stage.

Once Roy Wood$ was finishing up, a short intermission followed, and the lights came on and flooded the auditorium. I realized how many young faces I saw in the crowd, some even accompanied by one or two parental-looking figures. My friend assured me that they were the same age, other college kids like us, but for some reason, it freaked me out a little — a grim reminder that I’m 21 years old and not getting any younger.

My tiny mid-life crisis ended when the lights dimmed to black again, and the familiar vibrations of the floor returned, beating and pounding.

A familiar beat came on, and I instantly jumped up, following suit to countless other silhouettes around us. My only thought was he’s here, he’s here, he’s really here and it’s him, it’s him, it’s really him, barely containing my excitement. The intro blasted through the auditorium, blackbear’s most famous “do re mi” line, pulling and drawing the eager audience in before it smoothly transitioned into a different song — “Dirty Laundry.” (Spoiler alert: blackbear closes with “do re mi.”)

blackbear walked on stage and greeted the outstretched hands reaching for him, waving to the countless screaming fans. He did a little dance as he got into the song’s melody, pulling a couple poses here and there, while everyone wholeheartedly belted out the lyrics with him. Of course, so did I, but it was difficult when I could hardly hear myself think. The realization dawned on me that the teeny tiny figure on stage, obscured by various arms waving in front of me, was really blackbear and at that moment, I was caught in pure, unadulterated excitement and hysteria.

As soon as blackbear got into the swing of his music, everyone was losing their minds, delirious to the sound of heavy beats and the husky tone of blackbear’s voice. An electrifying energy flooded the room, putting the audience in a chilling, exhilarating trance. I was in that feverish crowd of fans, high on blackbear’s music, hypnotized by the thrill of the experience.

Still, I must admit, it was deafeningly loud in there, so noisy and so excruciatingly loud, the words blackbear was singing often came out as muffled noises, like those from a rusty, old radio. Between the songs, sometimes he had things to say to the audience, which I was desperate to hear, but every word was gibberish to me. Maybe this was because I was seated so far from the front, but hey, I’m not made of money. Priority seating was a little out of my price range, okay?

I’m not complaining. I had the opportunity to see blackbear perform live! I’m honestly still processing it, and I’m absolutely honored and beyond ecstatic to be able to blog about it for [art]seen — my experience is memorialized, in a way. Definitely treasuring this.

This photo shows blackbear performing one of his biggest hits, “idfc,” which encouraged everyone to swing their flashlights in the air. Obviously, the photo was taken by blackbear’s photographer, who was taking photos from on-stage. From my perspective, the concert looked a little more like:

Still — not complaining. The entire experience was the takeaway for me. I will be eternally grateful to have had the chance to see blackbear perform here in Ann Arbor, of all places, and dedicate a blog post to [art]seen about it. Words cannot describe how absolutely amazing it was to me, and I’m honestly in awe at how they transformed Hill Auditorium, where my sister had her graduation ceremony, gowns and all, into a blackbear R&B/Hip Hop venue. Lights streamed in every direction, bringing life to the stage, the crowd, and the performer. I was in the same building, the same room, as blackbear — just wow.

Special thanks to Hill Auditorium for hosting this unique and special event at the heart of Ann Arbor — I will cherish it forever. And a special shoutout to my friend, who isn’t even that big of a blackbear fan but loved me enough to come with me! I hope you had as much fun as I did, or at least some fraction of it, I had a looooooot of fun. Maybe even too much fun, really. Shoutout to blackbear’s photographer and instagram for posting these awesome photos of the concert, S.O. to the poor dad sitting uncomfortably in front of us, S.O. to the people who caught the articles of clothing blackbear threw — I am and will be forever jealous of you — and shoutout to the couple dancing hysterically a couple rows in front of us. Not even darkness can hide your dance moves.

The concert is over, but in my heart, it will live on forever! Thank you so much for coming to Ann Arbor, blackbear!!!