By Anthony Abraira
On several levels, I was unsure if writing about an upcoming outing was the most auspicious start to lending my voice to the Tribune Papers. Then another part of me, the more candid side, was quick to point out, “just freaking give it a shot.” I don’t consider myself an aficionado of the music scene. Far from it. In fact, the only thing that gives me the idea, or the impression, perhaps the misguided hope that I have a discernible palette for the refined forms of rhythm and meter is admitting that I couldn’t tell you who was at the last Music Video Awards or the last ten years for that matter. Arriving soon to my fourth decade I’ve found it easier to relish in fewer obscure artists throughout more genres than tracking the mainstream in the single highly homogenized pop genre. As I entered the square towards Lipinsky Auditorium. Quickly surveying the source of the foot traffic going in my direction, I made note of an eclectic set of age groups.
Performance began with the usual welcome remarks that accompany any event, in this case by the associate professor program’s chair Brian Felix. The Faculty Showcase Concert is a bi-annual event where donations come with a thanks and a complimentary pin or something like that.
The evening’s entertainment began on a sort of solemn note; one that brought about a sense of sanctity almost like if it was a religious ceremonial beginning. As the audience settled into their seats, the soprano and guitarist Melodie Galloway along with Jonathan T. King on the banjo gently entered into a traditional performance of the Poor Wayfaring Stranger. This quintessential American folk and gospel song originated in the early 19th century first published in 1858 on Bever’s Christian Songster. The song ushers the themes of a journey — how apropos.
Glancing at the program the entire list of performances consisted of a little over a dozen songs. After the ballad we had a time warp jump forward whereby we were still listening to spiritual ballads but moving in the era of the Dust Bowl now. Led by three sopranos Melodie Galloway was joined by Christine Boone and Pamela Miller to sing I’ll Fly Away by Albert E. Brumley.
Then came one of the first highlights, in my opinion classical guitar teacher Andy Jurik. His songs enriched the attentive silence with familiar but deeply reinvented renditions of the Beatle’s Blackbird to close his set while he began with French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. What made Andy Jurik’s performance transcendent was that he was the first performer who was working with the silence in between the notes. It almost felt like a gentle suspension that had the audience transfixed and cribbed into its muse. It seemed he cast a spell with his masterful curtailment to his technique usually presented with a bit more exhibtionism. Certainly would have proved easy to blast through a near approximation of any of those songs in the hopes of bringing that recognizable essence to the audience as a nostalgic delight; for Blackbird at least. Instead it was a reconsideration of both of these classics and Andy’s achievement was in blurring the distance of time between those two songs that spanned a 60 plus year chasm.
Then whiplash. Our transition from romantic Spanish guitar tones the entertainment’s trajectory had us shift back into another American folk piece. This time it was William Bares on the piano accompanied by Wayne Erbesen on vocals and fiddle. The song was House of David Blues by Arthur Smith. I cannot tell whether it was the mixture of fiddle and piano but it was jolting to say the least, feeling a bit too festive too soon. Maybe? Scanning the room, the back rows of the audience consisting of the younger student body were growing shifty in their seats while the front row of older patrons, were happier to sit back and soak some ol’timeys.
Commencing onward in a conventional slant was Hwa-Jin Kim performing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 8 in C minor then followed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Ms. Kim performed well before and during the performances, delighting audiences as the Music Technology department guided her to the microphones that were to be used. In addition, she complimented her performance with a little tid-bit of trivia about Beethoven’s Sonata. Apparently this 8th Sonata was written for a mother who had lost a child. Beethoven was 27. The performances carried Beethoven’s renowned spirit of strength and intensity. The piano must’ve been sore the next day.
Next, Matthew Richmond arrived with his vibraphone laid out in front center stage. Again the Music Technology department was trying their best in situating microphones and calibrating a speaker behind the performer. Matthew was narrating his setup while thumbing through his iPhone song list. He would use a recording of his accompanying percussionist entourage since they weren’t present this evening. It proved a fertile opportunity for the chairman and Matthew Richmond to plug that at their next performance it would consist of the full ensemble and that it was not to be missed. Throughout the opening of the Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble, Matthew struggled to not convey his frustration as audio technical issues arose that were beyond his control. At times, you can see that he was straining to catch some of the pre-recorded rhythm, as he gestured to the tech crew that things were not alright. His grace proved resilient for about a minute into the song, the levels were normalized and he dug into the mechanical. Perceptive audience members witnessed the entire journey from contained disorder to masterful orderliness.
Andy Jurik returned, but this time was joined by mezzo soprano Rachel Hansbury, performing Vincent Scotto’s J’ai Deux Amours and Angel Cabral’s La Foule. Both songs were made timeless by the late Edith Piaf. Rachel harkening back to the same turn-of-the-century as Erik Satie’s contemporaries in France, her performance proved an ideal meld with the more animated finger picking guitar play.
Wayne Erbsen performed vocals to Diamond Joe by Baldwin “Butch” Hawes, Freight Train Boogie by Alton & Rabon Demor and the Cherokee Shuffle by Tommy Jackson. These proved to ignite a little fire under the front row audience as they got into the sing-alongs invited by Wayne during his opening remarks. This was his mini-showcase as he shifted from guitar to banjo and then to fiddle. Although not my cup of tea, I couldn’t help but join in and was starting to get a sense of the renaissance spirit that made the music department in UNCA a rather special one. Up to this point, it had all been familiar, nostalgic and conventional in its forms. That was all about to change.
Having a special interest in some of the Drone genre music being developed locally. Zack Page is a name that I have heard bantered about throughout town. I don’t recollect if it was a performance or a mention by a recurring musician at either West Asheville’s Mothlight or the very forgotten Apothecary at Eagle Street. I was surprised to see how such a clashing genre could make a home within this rather safe selection of traditional songs. As the bassist Zack began playing with Steve Alford the contra-alto clarinet and Matthew Richmond returning to percussion, there didn’t seem to be any cohesion — just notes. I couldn’t anticipate what the next notes would be.
All that disclaimed, once the Invocatio Malevolo commenced into its third minute, I was completely engulfed by the ominous notes that normally would fill a darkened cinema screening room. With interludes and interjections of the contra-alto clarinet processed and modulated by some synthesizer, Zack’s bass embodied a lower frequency meditative hum. Matthew’s percussion chimed in at just the right moments. It felt free-floating and, for a while there, I couldn’t see how the song could go anywhere narrative. Scanning the room, I witnessed heads tilting in mild confusion quietly whispering something to a friend. Some smirks, some chuckles and the front row completely disoriented; rows of deer lost in the headlights. The song arrived at a climax that felt like some Miles Davis & Dizzy Gillespie medley of sounds thrashing and succeeding to retain a fragile form. It culminated into a boisterous explosion that simmered down to a controlled entropy of rhythm. The distortions faded and Matthew brought it back home to its stasis. As it dissolved back to silence, I was amazed at the uproar. Some rose to give a standing ovation.
To be honest, I was already getting up when the program’s last performances by the generically listed Special Guests and Friends, closed out the evening with If You’re Not Gone Too Long by Wanda Ballman and White Rabbit by Grace Slick. It was a restorative move on the program’s entertainment — after having such an unfamiliar episode with Zack Page’s composition. It made sense to come back to earth with a bookmark ending comprised of familiar traditional folk songs stirring the vibe for a bit more fun and levity. The night passed my litmus test, which is not a common occurrence. All in all the UNCA Faculty Showcase Concert was delightful and a pleasant surprise that I am sure to revisit.