Nearly all Western students have had at least a small taste of the richly varied local music scene here in Bellingham. You’ve probably heard the clichéd crooning of the white boys playing solo guitar at Open Mic Night in the Underground, or perhaps you’ve gone to a concert at the Pickford Dreamspace. If you are a true fan of music and you’re wearied of the same old grind, then why not add a new dimension to your musical taste: Jazz.
Now, I realize that it might be a little intimidating to jump into the jazz music scene without a little prep work, but the Western Jazz Choir is putting on a concert on Tuesday, May 30 that will give you an easily accessible peak into the genre.
Actually, according to sophomore Jazz Choir participant, Molly Ryan, not only will you get a taste of jazz, you’ll hear plain old good music. “Our repertoire is really diverse,” Ryan commented. “We don’t pick music just because it’s jazz; we pick songs because when we hear them we get really excited about them. When we get really pumped about a song, we figure our audience will like it too.”
One of Ryan’s favorites is a “Bach organ fugue that is adapted for jazz voice specifically. There are eight parts and it’s really crazy and really fast. It’s challenging, but the toughest songs always end up sounding the best.”
The Jazz Choir has put in three quarters of hard work to achieve their level of musical cohesion. “We always have sung really well together,” Ryan said, “but since we’ve been together for three quarters our blend keeps getting better and better. We know each other’s voices pretty well, and the group has grown accordingly.”
Auditions for the choir took place in the beginning of fall quarter, and according to Ryan, about 30-40 people showed up. Only twelve people were accepted, so clearly there was some pretty hefty competition for spots. “It was kind of a scary audition process,” Ryan admitted, “but it was definitely fun. Auditions are coming up in the fall, so people should absolutely turn out and give it a shot.”
Another element that adds tremendously to the musicality of the group is the conductor Andy Marshall. “Andy is a very accomplished vocal musician,” Ryan noted. “He performed with the regionally acclaimed groups Kickshaw and Soundsation.
Basically, he’s just really awesome and the group would not be as good as it is without him. Also, he’s really passionate about music and the choir, so we in turn stay passionate as well. He’s also really talented, and we try to be talented like him, but we’re not.”
Ryan also told me that Marshall was involved in the Peace Corps in Africa, so he also brings a great knowledge of African music. Due to his extensive background with African music, the jazz choir has been able to experiment with several different pieces which have previously been included in their concerts.
For the concert on Tuesday night, the choir will be accompanied by three live instrumentalists, and in one song specifically, the Western club step team, Step To This, will be providing driving beats as percussion.
Step, as a form of dance, “involves making beats and rhythms with different parts of the body with a lot of stomps and claps. It originated in West Africa,” step team and jazz choir participant Jonathan Vaughn explained. “It’s very interesting and unique, especially because it’s something that’s not found around here very much. It’s mostly popular in the East.”
Step To This was started by Vaughn and a few others in 2003 and has been drawing a good number of people to their twice-weekly practices. Vaughn said that a lot of people come and try it out to see if they like it, and “anyone is welcome.” To perform, members just have to “know the steps,” according to Vaughn. So far, the team has mostly performed at basketball games, but at the end of April they had the opportunity to perform at a show where Western’s Hip Hop team also performed.
The show itself will be Tuesday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Main Theater. There is a suggested donation of $3.00.