There's so much going on in town every weekend, it's easy to overlook the multiple waves of consistently astounding student recitals coming out of the UM Music School. But to do so risks missing some extremely rare opportunities to hear top-notch musicians tackle enormously exciting and engaging work, such as last weekend's simply jaw-dropping Celluloid Tubas performance, put on by the University of Michigan's Euphonium and Tuba Ensemble (UMETE), led by visiting conductor and arranger E. Todd Fiegel.
Fiegel and UM Tuba & Euphonium Professor Fritz Kaenzig met as students and have remained friends ever since; Fiegel arrangements and appearances have been periodic features of Octubafest concerts over the years. Fiegel is a lifelong fan of film and film scores, and has brought his challenging and faithful arrangements of famous film themes to brass ensembles across the country through his Celluloid Tubas and Celluloid Brass series. The program for last Sunday's recital at the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus featured eight of Fiegel's arrangements of famous film themes for Professor Kaenzig's ridiculously talented Tuba & Euphonium students, accompanied by a team of five percussionists, each set of pieces played in sync with video.
It's not unheard of for a live ensemble to play along with a video; in fact there are several touring arrangements of video game or film music, such as the Legend of Zelda tour (that comes as close as that town to the south in 2016), and most of these shows use a digital click track in earphones, or a special video feed for the conductor, to show exactly when each beat must happen for the music to stay in sync with the video. The Celluloid Tubas Show utilized no sync tools at all; Feigel simply watched the video on the screen along with the audience, and conducted the ensemble to keep the music matched up with the action. This was an extremely impressive feat, demonstrating Feigel's deep knowledge of the scenes and the scores, and while not every beat was precisely perfect, the musicianship on display by the conductor and the ensemble was simply staggering.
Starting off with a suite of themes from Bruce Boughton's score for Silverado (1985), the richness and warmth of a Tuba & Euphonium ensemble was immediately on display, very well suited to the panorama-evoking score from the film and the Coplandesque open harmonies that are shorthand for cowboy movies. Beef, it's what's for dinner. Feigel carefully set the stage for each section, explaining what was going on with the plot and how the score amplified and reflected the emotions, while lovingly protecting the audience from spoilers, such as that Kevin Kline would not die in the climactic gunfight against Brian Dennehy.
The next piece was a very famous sequence from 1955's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: the epic Skeleton Fight, scored by Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score most of Hitchcock's best films, including, as Feigel noted, the music-less score of The Birds. The ensemble did an amazing job with a very difficult piece, and my post-millennial 13 year-old son was also astounded by the quality of Ray Harryhausen's entirely hand-animated special effects. Even all these years later, that post-production Skeleton is convincing in a way of which Jar Jar Binks can only dream.
The first half of the concert featured what Feigel described as "Two vocal soloists at the top of their game," in an arrangement he calls It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Instrument Plays. My son and I had this one pegged for What's Opera, Doc? from the moment we got the program in hand, and we were delighted to be right, with the original vocal performances carefully separated from the original music and accompanied by the power of an ensemble of which Wagner could barely have imagined. Also, it was only 5 minutes long, which Wagner certainly could not have imagined.
The second half began with one of the most famous fusions of animation and music ever produced, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Arranging this woodwind-heavy piece for a low brass ensemble truly showed off Feigel's chops as an arranger, as well as the ranges of the performers, but the truly impressive feat was the timing of the very specific, spread out beats at moments in the short, such as when the splintered broomsticks come back to life, or the final potch Mickey receives at the end of the short. Every single pulse of the music is evident in Disney's animation, and the ensemble nailed them all.
Of course, you can't do a program of Movie Music without something by John Williams, and Fiegel brought three outstanding picks from Williams' catalog. Send in the Clones is the score of the final scene of the otherwise execrable Attack of the Clones, where the famous Imperial March is heard for the first time, a piece extremely well suited to the naturally sinister Euphonium. Then, after a beautiful but undeniably maudlin excerpt from Saving Private Ryan, the ensemble launched into Fiegel's vrOOM vrOOM Scherzo, an arrangement of William's Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra that scores Henry Jones Jr. and Senior's escape from the Nazis. One of the best bits of Indiana Jones music, this piece catches every bump and jostle of the scene with the Last Crusade's Nazi Theme underscoring throughout.
But the most impressive achievement of the evening, and the closing number, was Eine Kleine Tubamusik für Roadrunner und Coyote, a very faithful conversion of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn's score for the Roadrunner Cartoon Zoom and Bored. The scoring of a Roadrunner cartoon is so distinctive, from the alternating fury and depression of Wile E. Coyote's efforts, to the signature xylophone blinks of confusion, that despite the unusual instrumentation, the score fit right in, from the Beyooooop to the That's All Folks. But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a video of a performance of the arrangement from a previous Celluloid Tubas show at Umich in 2005:
It was a delightful evening of film, commentary, rich tones, and lots of spit. UMETE is one of the most impressive ensembles on campus, and with arrangers like Todd Feigel pushing their boundaries, it's worth taking the time to see what Tubas and Euphoniums can do, without a full band holding them back.
Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and was one of the worst Sousaphone players in the Michigan Marching Band.
You can stay on top of what the University of Michigan Tuba & Euphonium Studio is up to on their facebook page .
Southern band The Avett Brothers will play Hill Auditorium on November 6th. I stumbled into The Avett Brothers purely by accident: I bought their album Emotionalism solely based on the cover art, which was printed with silver ink (what can I say? I have simple, glittery tastes). Luckily for me, I actually liked the music in addition to the sparkle. The Avett Brothers play folk rock with a bluegrass twist, which translates to plenty of banjos AND indie rock lyrics.
Between the band’s experience (they’ve been playing together since 2000) and the fantastic Hill Auditorium acoustics, this show is sure to be wonderful.
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Avett Brothers play Hill Auditorium this Friday, November 6, at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.
Still working on your Halloweekend plans? Tonight, the Ark welcomes The Ragbirds back to their hometown stage. The hard-working and hard-touring band is built around Erin Zindle, a musician who is as comfortable singing-while-playing violin as she is wielding an accordion.
This last year, Zindle and crew have been hard at work on their fifth studio record with Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and this show gives fans a chance to hear much of that material prior to its 2016 release.
The Ragbirds often go all-out to celebrate this spooky holiday, and accordingly, this year’s performance goes beyond just a “show” — it’s a full-on masquerade, for the band and fans.
Come already decked out, or arrive early — there will be a special souvenir masquerade mask for the first 250 people.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Ragbirds' Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, at the Ark. Doors open at 7:30 pm, show starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online in advance until 3pm or at the Ark Box office.
Sunday evening live music at the Old Town Tavern is a long-time staple for many locals. This Sunday’s show should be particularly rousing. Guitarist and singer Kyle Rhodes, from the local band Wire in the Wood is teaming up with Jay Lapp, frontman of the Virginia bluegrass band Steel Wheels to form an Americana duo playing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and indie rock. Mandolin fans in particular won't want to miss this show: both Rhodes and Lapp are accomplished mandolin players and we can expect the instrument to feature prominently in Sunday's show, too.
Wire in the Wood, first formed in 2008, also features Billy Kirst, Jordan Adema, and Ryan Shea. Formerly known as The Bearded Ladies, the band got their start when Kirst put an ad on craigslist seeking bandmates for the “Best String Band Ever.” Rhodes was the only one who answered the ad, and Wire in the Wood was born. The band frequently plays at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti.
The Steel Wheels is also comprised of four young musicians who first met when they were in school at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. The four band members—Lapp, Trent Wagler, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker—were all raised in Mennonite families. The band played informally together throughout the late aughts, while also working day jobs and starting families, and released an LP in 2007. In 2010, they finally came together as The Steel Wheels, and have been releasing albums ever since, including their most recent one Leave Some Things Behind, which came out this past May. The band puts on the Red Wing Roots Music Festival every year in Virginia. 2015 was the third year of the festival.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Jay Lapp & Kyle Rhodes will begin their set at Old Town at 8:00 pm this Sunday, October 25. Old Town features live music every Sunday, from artists of all types, as well as live jazz music on Tuesday evenings. You can find out more about upcoming shows and performers here.
The October 21 University Musical Society performance by Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor is a unique opportunity to hear voices of South Africa through this legendary jazz piano master and his extraordinary young group.
Whether you know the sounds of Soweto from Hugh Masakela’s horn, Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song”, the high harmonies of the Mahotella Queens, or the bell-shuffle-sweep of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s joyous a cappella songs, Ibrahim sifts and swaps all of it! The soaring horns of Ekaya behind Ibrahim’s hymn-like chording and glistening vamps will take you places that only great music can go. Take this chance to hear why the great Duke Ellington launched this big talent with a 1963 Paris recording, and why Abdullah Ibrahim still delights audiences around the world 52 years later, at age 81.
Ira Lax is an Outreach and Neighborhood Services Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library
Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya perform at the Michigan Theatre on Wednesday, October 21 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available online, by phone at 734-764-2538, or at the Michigan Theatre door.
Composer John Luther Adams visits Ann Arbor this week. Born in Mississippi and living in Alaska, Adams' compositions are heavily rooted in the natural world and unusually evocative of environmental sounds. His orchestral work Become Ocean, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for music and won a Grammy in 2015.
Adams will give the Penny Stamps Lecture this Thursday at 5 pm at the Michigan Theatre, and will then attend the University Symphony's 8 pm concert, including a performance of Become Ocean at Hill Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public. YouTube commenters describe Become Ocean as "Simply Beautiful," "Basically a giant pentatonic scale," and "way to long" (sic). But you don't have to take it from them! Make time for this enveloping, critically-acclaimed, and unparalleled work that is best experienced in a great hall with a great orchestra.
Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library.
John Luther Adams delivers his Penny Stamps Lecture at the Michigan Theatre on Thursday, October 15 at 5 pm. The University Sympony's performance follows this event at 8 pm at Hill Auditorium. Admission is free to both events.
The University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theater presents Green Day's American Idiot with lyrics by Green Day member Billie Joe Armstrong based on a book by Armstrong and film director Michael Mayer.
Directed by U-M Associate Professor of Musical Theater Linda Goodrich, with music direction by Assistant Professor of Music, Jason DeBord, this 2010 Tony Award-winning sung-through stage adaptation of the band’s 2004 multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning punk rock opera of the same name is a searing concept album-cum-stage musical indictment of post 9/11 American political culture as witnessed by three lifelong friends - Johnny, Will, and Tunny - grappling with meaningless war and disaffected social malaise before each embarks on a roller-coaster ride of self-discovery.
The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood called American Idiot a “thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought Broadway musical …. [jolting] you back to [a] dizzying roller coaster of young adulthood; that turbulent time when ecstasy and misery almost seem interchangeable states, flip sides of the coin of exaltation.”
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Performances will be at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, October 15-25. For tickets and additional information visit the School of Music, Theater, and Dance website.