By Pete Zamplas
Distinguished local musician Aaron Price leads a benefit concert this Saturday, Feb. 15 for MusicWorks Asheville.
The concert is 4-5:30 p.m., in Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village. In lieu of an admission fee, donations are encouraged for MusicWorks.
Ashleigh Phillips of Marion, a professional singer, will sing. Several MusicWorks elementary students will showcase their developing talents by performing in this concert along with veteran musician Price. He will play such styles as poplar songs and hymn improvisations.
Price co-directs the MusicWorks chorus. He has been a teaching artist since 2015 for the non-profit, after-school MusicWorks for elementary students in West Asheville.
It began in 2014-15 with 40 students, and now a half-decade later serves double that many (80) youths in three Asheville City Schools. MusicWorks launched as an initiative of the Asheville Symphony, and with a grant from the Leever Foundation.
Music: Multiple Benefits
Price pays extra attention to music’s educational benefits, as he guides creative musical development his young son Phineas who is in fifth grade.
MusicWorks pledges to “foster emotional intelligence, academic excellence and social change through music. MusicWorks has an orchestral focus.” Students choose an instrument after kindergarten. In first grade, they join an ensemble — learning either strings, woodwind, or percussion.
MusicWorks is such a valuable program to students and families,” Price told The Tribune. It “activates parts of their brain, forging those special neural pathways at a young age.”
This extends into the general classroom, to help learn various studies. Price reports that “83 percent of our students are reading at or above grade level. So, we are definitely seeing an academic impact as well.”
Interpersonal skills rise from playing music in a group, Price said. “They learn perseverance and teamwork.”
Self-confidence also soars, into various areas of life. For a “six-year-old to be able to claim the title ‘violinist,’” Price said, “it builds self-esteem.”
In teaching the musicianship class, Price said he is rewarded by how he “imparts music knowledge drawing on years of training, and experience in numerous musical genres and performance settings.” Further, his piano programs are “centered around hymn improvisations and original contemporary piano compositions.”
Price, 45, is versatile as a musician, composer, and educator. Both of his parents taught piano. He is a multi-instrumentalist known best for playing jazz piano and also electronic keyboard and rock guitar.
He has served as music director of West Asheville Presbyterian Church for 17 years. He has composed theatrical scores, and been musical director for many musicals including The Who’s Tommy in 2004.
His Callapseable Studios is in West Asheville. Price has produced and collaborated on more than 30 albums of regional and local acts including newgrass greats Acoustic Syndicate. He said he is able to “play almost every instrument they (clients) need.”
His enterprise is Aaron Price Music. His own recordings are mostly jazz. “A.P.” describes the bulk of what he writes and plays as “modern jazz with traditional sensibilities” mixing swing and other styles.
He has penned alt rock with a “modern vibe,with a bit of glam and classic rock sensibilities. I don’t put boundaries on harmonies.” Ultimately, “my love of jazz always comes out — even if i try to write a country song.”
As a pop songwriter, his lyrics are personal but mostly “allegorical. I disguise some personal sentiments, in an alternate character to express myself.” He adds, “I’m a romantic at heart. I don’t always tell it in the first person. I don’t have any songs about one specific person. Each is a collection of experiences.”
Price likes to “process emotions, and channel them in a song.” He relishes composing songs. “I wait for inspiration to strike.”
His recent CD is entitled Hymn Improvisations, and he will draw on it in the upcoming concert. On this CD, “I present the hymns (such as “Precious Memories”) in a familiar fashion, emphasizing the melody and meter.” He is able to “gradually weave variations into the hymns, altering the harmonic progressions.” Further, there is “riffing in a transitional gospel way, and improvising through the chord progressions of the hymns.” He said the result is “the hymns sound more relaxed, and in a less strident manner than in a hymnal.”
Price has played with various Asheville-based bands, in many venues. This past Saturday, he played original music with George Bazley in a an art center in Black Mountain.
He is as much as anyone a versatile link, between mainstream and traditional music and the avant garde. He played ragtime-like “stride” piano to back award-winning blues singer Peggy Ratusz, in competing in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. in 2016.
He has played live background music for such acts as Reaqsonably Priced Babies comic improv, and eccentric Poetry Cabaret that he manages. He accompanied six local poets to the large Fringe festival in D.C. in 2017. Price has toured internationally with cabaret singer Vendetta Creme.
On the uber-creative side, the Kavalactones improvise sonic synthesizer “drip” sounds with odd instruments and humming. This side act includes Price (synth, vox, bass) and poet Caleb Beissert on percussion. Price said, “I still love to play experimental, avant garde music” beyond his beloved “unpredictable harmonies and melodic hooks.”
Once he popped a popcorn air popper while Ira Bernstein tap danced to the beat. “He tapped slowly as the popper warmed up. Four minutes later, there was furious popping and tapping.” He also did percussion of “guitar pickups on a typewriter. Risk-taking is exciting.”
For more about MusicWorks, check www.musicworksasheville.org.