Interview: Dr. Thomas Strode and Boychoir of Ann Arbor

PREVIEW MUSIC

Boychoir of Ann Arbor

A past edition of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor chilling in their vestments.

It’s a haunting sound when a group of boys’ voices in the treble range convene.

I’m not talking about performances by boychoirs, which feature the unchanged voices of prepubescent boys, who together make a sound so lovely and pure that the effect is haunting.

I’m talking about the start of boychoir practices and the scary sound created when a gaggle of rambunctious dudes with short attention spans and constant jokes get together to learn the craft of choir singing.

But for 30 years, the ever-patient Dr. Thomas Strode has led the Boychoir of Ann Arbor through innumerable practices, and his ability to keep cool and impart high-quality musical education to a rather wiggly and easily distracted audience is remarkable.

In the common area of Ann Arbor’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, where Strode is the director of music, he teaches boys musical theory and gives singing lessons using a quiet, measured tone of voice. Under Strode's gentle guidance, the boys' constant hum of silliness at the start of practice soon becomes a gloriously soothing sound when they begin to sing.

Strode instructs a prep choir, for newer singers, as well as the performing choir, which features more experienced vocalists and expands the treble boychoir model to also include an SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir, with the older boys and their changing voices providing the lower notes.

Dr. Strode really understands how to teach children, which is why Boychoir of Ann Arbor has thrived for three decades. And the kids really do learn to sing beautifully, as listeners will be able to hear at the “A Boychoir Christmas” concerts on December 9 and 10.

These annual shows are highlights for many holiday concertgoers -- but they will also be Strode’s final ones as the choir’s director. He’s retiring at the end of the boychoir’s season, which wraps on June 4 with the “Spring Finale” concert.

With this being Strode’s final Christmas concert, we asked the good doctor to give us a preview of what we will hear and why.

Preview | Interview: Singer Marlena Studer

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Marlena Studer

Wine, woman, song: Marlena Studer is ready for the holidays.

Singer Marlena Studer has a particular affinity for the holidays that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. The jazz and American popular-song stylist enjoys digging into the Christmas and wintertime chestnuts everyone knows, especially ones that evoke the love and camaraderie many people feel for their family and friends during this time of year.

Studer, as most people do, connects the holidays with memories; in her case, she recalls being taught how to sing by her mother. She remembers singing nursery rhymes and, later, tunes popularized by Andy Williams and Neil Diamond. “My mother taught me to sing when I was two years old,” she said. “She loved showing off her kids in front of the grandparents. We would stand up in front of them and sing songs and they would clap for us. I also danced and performed in theater in high school.”

Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of “Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman”

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Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the least understood person in the room.

Ornette Coleman’s music can be inscrutable to unprepared ears. The jazz giant, who died in 2015 at 85, developed a music theory he called “harmolodics.” It’s a style that goes beyond the “free jazz” tag that frequently accompanies Coleman’s name -- even if the alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist did release a genre-defining record under that name in 1960 -- and relies as much on a philosophical idea as a musical one. Simply put: Harmolodics is about race.

Harmolodic theory can baffle experienced musicians, too. Even guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, who played with Coleman for 6 years, said, “I don’t get it!” in a new book called Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology at the University of Michigan.

But Professor Rush, who has taught at U-M for more than 30 years, breaks down Coleman’s complicated theories in a series of free-flowing interviews with the legendary composer that clarify harmolodics’ underlying philosophy. Plus, the book’s in-depth musical examinations will help students absorb the style into their own playing.

In addition to being a U-M prof, keyboardist Rush has a staggeringly wide body of work that includes everything from chamber jazz and opera to digital music and sound installations, and he explores harmolodics (and all sorts of other styles) in his Naked Dance quartet.

To celebrate the release of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, Rush is doing two area readings: Wednesday, December 7, at Literati (Ann Arbor) and Sunday, December 11, at Trinosophes (Detroit). Both are at 7 p.m. (For the Literati event, Rush is joined by Jason Corey, associate dean and associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, who just released a new edition of his book Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training.)

Rush answered questions over email about Coleman and the book, and he gave Pulp a list of recommended recordings that illustrate harmolodics at its finest.

Preview: Winter Art Tour

PREVIEW VISUAL ART

Get ready to shop deep local at craft fairs the weekend of December 9–11.

Get ready to shop deep local at craft fairs the weekend of December 9–11.

Those looking for wonderful handmade gifts in Washtenaw County are in luck this December! Last year Pulp focused on four events in the county, but in 2016 there's a lot more going on. In fact, a local group has created an official Winter Art Tour that takes you to nine stops at craft fairs and art studios across Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti the weekend of December 9-11. There's even a passport you can get stamped when you visit one of the tour's locations, and if you hit up at least four spots, you have a chance to win cool handcrafted prizes. See the WAT website for all the details on the Winter Art Tour’s passport and prizes.

The biggest events of the weekend-long handmade shopping extravaganza are the two indie craft fairs: Tiny Expo in Ann Arbor and DIYpsi in Ypsilanti.

Tiny Expo takes place at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library and is an annual holiday fair that features 45 artists and crafters selling their wares in a festive library space. This one-day celebration (December 10, 11 am-5:30 pm) will also have several make-n-takes, including screen printing, button making, and tiny polymer clay snow globes.

The Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti is home to DIYpsi, which will host 90 vendors of the best in handmade from the Midwest. It’s a chance to enjoy handcrafted food and drinks while you get your shop on at this super-fun two-day show. (December 10, 11 am-6 pm; December 11, 12-6 pm)

Plan your weekend accordingly and hit up both events!

In contrast, if you’re looking for cozy spaces with unique art by local artisans, the rest of the stops on the Winter Art Tour have you covered.

Preview: December Documentaries

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Warren Miller’s Here, There & Everywhere

Warren Miller is Here, There & Everywhere. / Photo by Cam McLeod Photography.

Do you have a God complex? Then documentary filmmaking might not be for you.

“In feature films the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director,” said the deity Alfred Hitchcock.

But the seven documentaries being shown in Ann Arbor this December had directors who put aside any supernatural ambitions they may have to tell real stories.

Review: UMMA's "Europe on Paper: The Ernst Pulgram and Frances McSparran Collection"

REVIEW VISUAL ART

Emil

Emil Nolde, Actress, 1912, watercolor on brown wove medium-weight paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of the Ernst Pulgram and Frances McSparran Collection, 2007/2.102 / Egon Schiele, Standing Female Nude–Back, first quarter of 20th century, charcoal and pen on paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of the Ernst Pulgram and Frances McSparran Collection, 2007/2.99

Europe on Paper at the University of Michigan Museum of Art certainly delivers everything it says in its title. But as is often the case at the UMMA, there’s a lot more to this exhibit than meets the eye.

For the display is a handful of seriously handsome artworks on paper. And as Lehti Mairike Keelmann, UMMA Assistant Curator of Western Art says in her introduction to the exhibit:

[T]he 47 prints, drawings, and watercolors comprising the Ernst Pulgram and Francis McSparran Collection provide a unique perspective on a momentous change in European history.

The works were made between the 18th and mid-20th century,” says Keelmann, “as the continent industrialized and new modes of transportation began to crisscross the countryside, connecting growing cities. Geopolitical tensions arose as nations attempted to bolster their identities on the world stage, culminating in the violence and turmoil of the two world wars.

And as if these geopolitical upheavals weren’t dramatic enough, there was pretty good art being made all over the place, too. That’s where Pulgram and McSparran come into play. A young and adventurous couple as they had to be, they consistently evaluated and scooped up some of the finest personalized art of this explosive period through their lifetimes.

Review: Theatre Nova's 'Sugar Plum Panto'

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Sugar Plum Panto 2016

Theatre Nova's Sugar Plum Panto.

One of my favorite moments in Friday’s preview performance of Theatre Nova’s new Sugar Plum Panto was unscripted.

Actress Sarah Briggs asked the crowd what was on their Christmas lists this year. When a man jokingly answered, “A girlfriend,” Briggs cocked her head, pursed her lips, made a small “go get ’em” gesture, and said in a low, sympathetic voice, “Hang in there, Tiger.”

Pantos, of course, are a longstanding British holiday tradition, but they’ve also recently taken root at Theatre Nova, beginning with last year’s An Almost British Christmas. Pantos take a familiar children’s story and give it several silly twists and updates, integrating physical comedy and childish humor with more sophisticated, cheeky, and timely jokes for adults, thus drawing families all together for a night at the theater. Panto audience members are encouraged to boo and hiss when the villains appear, and candy is thrown to the kids in the crowd a few times, making for a loose, chaotic-but-fun atmosphere.

Preview: The Saline Area Players present 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Kickshaw Staged Readings

The horrible Herdmans. Photo by Aaron C Wade

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse.” —opening paragraph of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the classic 1972 holiday tale by Barbara Robinson.

It is cold here in Ann Arbor the week after Thanksgiving at the end of a highly political and contentious November. Black Friday sales have been stressful and extremely hard on the wallet. It’s time to enjoy some light entertainment.

It’s time for an evening with the horrible Herdmans.

Review: Encore Theatre performs a practically perfect 'Mary Poppins'

REVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Sebastian Gerstner and Olivia Hernandez

Sebastian Gerstner and Olivia Hernandez on a jolly holiday at Encore Musical Theatre. / Photo by Michele Anliker Photography

One word sums up the Encore Musical Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins.

You know the word, so sing out.

SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS!

Encore has chosen the practically perfect musical for the holiday season with just the right mix of song, dance, and magic (and, of course, a spoonful of sugar).

The musical is an adaptation of the beloved 1964 Walt Disney movie based on books by P.L. Travers. The musical’s book by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) follows the basic story from the film but puts a bit more emphasis on the social context of the period, Britain in 1910. A few new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have been added but pale next to the luminous score of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, which are still the songs you’ll leave humming.

The story is simple but has some deeper lessons to convey. The Banks family seems the essence of middle class propriety. Father is an overworked and fusty banker. Mother is a one-time actress who is feeling a bit confined by the tedium of being “the lady of house” with little to do. Their children are getting out of hand and driving off nanny after nanny until Mary Poppins arrives in the knick of time.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #621: Spotlight on Women's Fiction Debuts

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #621

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. This LBD, darling of the season (picked no less by WWD) is 90-year-old Morris Siegel's swan song, capping a long career as the celebrated pattern-maker for the Max Hammer line. But before he can truly retire, his LBD will touch 9 women's lives in unexpected ways.

From a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl dumped for a socialite to a secretary secretly in love with her widowed boss. From a young model fresh from rural Alabama to the jaded private detective who might have a chance to restore her faith in true love. From an unemployed Brown grad faking a fabulous life on social media to a mean girl who would die for the dress. Their encounter with the dress will transform them in ways beyond their imagination.

"Rosen’s debut novel is rich in relationships, written with clarity and humor and surprise twists that bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion." (Kirkus Reviews). Charming and irresistible, Chick lit at its best.