Over the past couple of years we've seen local ensembles like Brady Orchestra and Tulsa Rock Ensemble approach classic rock staples with orchestral arrangements and be received with a positive response. Perhaps more than anything, it's been interesting to hear songs we're familiar with performed in a different context and restructured into a more classical form.
On a national scale, Trans Siberian Orchestra (who will be returning for two holiday shows this year on, on Dec. 16) has created an intriguing mix of rock and classical, incorporating both strings and a rock band to tell its tales musically as well as vocally. To date, however, I've yet to see anyone truly approach classical music pieces and take them in the opposite direction. That is, until just recently.
When Guitarchestra takes the stage at Green Country Events Center this Thursday night, Nov. 17, the group's focus will be squarely on classical pieces, while the audience's eyes are taking in an expansive rock band. Directed by the vision of band leader and director Jerry West, Guitarchestra is just what it's name suggests -- an orchestra of guitars, complete with a program that encompasses a handful of well-known classics, putting a new spin on Beethoven, Mozart and more.
When asking West what inspired him to form the group, he shared that "It really goes back to high school. When I was 15, my parents moved us here (to Tulsa). I played clarinet in the band. That's what I did -- I wasn't a gifted athlete, I was a musician and a band kid. And I like rock and roll. When I started playing guitar, I found an instrument that was a lot more expressive. Then I heard Brian May (of Queen) play 'God Save the Queen' in four parts and thought 'Wow! What if you did an entire score that way?'
"When I turned 50, I still had it in the back of my mind and thought if I'm ever going to, now is the time to do it," he said. "So I sold some gear and started working on it. The idea had percolated for 35 years."
Granted, this is a pretty big concept and undertaking, but that's nothing new for West, who grew up in a family of inventors and artists. As he explains it, his great great grandfather invented the coat hanger machine, his grandfather was an inventor and his father was an engineer while his mother was an artist.
As a result, "It's not unusual in my family to think of creating or developing something that doesn't exist," West said. In fact, West himself is an inventor, having created a metronome that is used by marching bands, including those from Broken Arrow and Union high schools.
When he proposed the idea to a close friend and his wife, and both agreed that they could envision it as well, they helped him start locating the musicians to make it come to fruition by using craigslist and other connections. As West shared, if someone came to the first rehearsal and stuck it out and returned, they were basically accepted into the band.
Of course, this was never a simple garage band. Before anything else could happen, West had to transcribe the pieces the band would play for guitar. A friend with a music school offered him free office space so he could focus on that aspect and eventually, he emerged with the program, which currently stands at 30-35 pages of music for each part.
Initially, when the group first convened in July of 2010, it started with 12 guitars: four playing what had been string arrangements, four playing the woodwind parts and four playing the brass score, with many parts doubled. Eventually, the group was trimmed down to eight parts and two band members moved away, with only one replaced because of duplication, so now each member is truly playing a separate part, making it a leaner and cleaner arrangement.
Part of the restructuring came after performing a recital for students at Post Oak Lodge in December 2010. After watching video and listening back, he realized things that he needed to fix, either by trimming down the group or starting over from scratch. That led him to initially scale back to eight guitar parts for the group's first official program at the Jazz Hall of Fame in May 2011. That performance really saw the group and his vision come together, and displayed a connection between the band and the audience.
After continuing to build upon that foundation, Guitarchestra has settled into its current nine piece configuration. Seven of Tulsa's premier guitarists are at the helm, including Jerry West as the band leader and director, John Conrad, Chris Brown, John Ford, Stephen Lee, Elliot Butay and Jason Swanson. The ensemble is rounded out by drummer Matt Donaldson (who helped created the drum and percussion parts with West) and bassist Steve Snyder. When combined, the group truly does come together as a who's who of local talent and a wall of sound -- an orchestra of guitars, if you will.
West brings Guitarchestra to the general public and Tulsa audiences this Thursday night with a performance at Green Country Event Center, 12000 E. 31st St., and a concert that touches on well-known pieces like Beethoven's 5th and 9th Symphonies, Mozart's Messiah, Rossini's William Tell Overture, Bach's Air on a G String and more.
As West explained his vision, "This is really about taking music that's been around for hundreds of years and turning it into something new and fresh. Kids can listen to classical western music this way and we can bring it to kids who may never listen to Beethoven otherwise, much less an entire piece of classical music."
Of course, this isn't to take the place of orchestral recitations of classical music, but it certainly provides a fresh twist on many classical works. At the same time, it not only breaks down genre barriers, but provides a common ground for fans of both styles to intermingle and opens doors for a younger audience to start delving into classical compositions -- or at least dip their toes in the pool and start their experience.
The Guitarchestra project has been a long time coming and enabled by sponsorships from Preslar Music, Guitar House of Tulsa and LadyLuckDiary.com -- the dedication of the band's members. Tickets are available for $25 at myticketoffice.com or the PAC box office for the concert which starts at 7pm. Guitarist Jason Swanson will open the show before Guitarchestra takes the stage.
Sooth Your Soul
All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse continues its fall concert series this weekend with an artist that the series has been trying to secure for quite some time now, guitarist and songwriter Darrell Scott.
Scott's latest solo release, Crooked Road, is a two disc display of soulful vocals and introspective lyrics, revealing him to be a truly hidden talent. Of course, that talent has been largely hidden in clear view over the past 30 years as he has performed as guitarist and side-man for artists as diverse as Steve Earle, Sam Bush, Faith Hill, Randy Travis and Guy Clark in the studio and on tour.
Perhaps Scott's most recognized gig, however is the one that's kept him the most busy over the past few years. As Julie Watson shared with me before the season started, All Souls as been trying to secure a date with Scott for over two years, but tentative dates have fallen through when he received the call to perform with Band of Joy. Yes, THAT Band of Joy: when Robert Plant calls, that's a call you take.
If Scott is in demand with a rock legend, an intimate show at All Souls will be a special night without a doubt. Scott performs at All Souls this Saturday night, Nov. 19, and tickets are still available for $20 via ticketstorm.com or at the door. Local talent Jared Tyler will open the show at 7:30pm.
For those of you who read last week's cover story about local marching bands by Jarrod Gollihare, you might like the latest update...
Three Oklahoma marching bands made it to the finals in last weekend's Bands of America Grand Nationals competition in Indianapolis, Ind. and all three were from the Tulsa area. Broken Arrow High School won the National Championship while Union finished 6th and Owasso finished 7th. Only Indiana had as many schools represented, with three national finalists, as well.
It's another busy week on the local music front, which should come as no surprise. Although Cain's Ballroom has slowed down and let us catch our breath, there are still plenty of great shows to choose from, so we've got the highlights to get you started out the door.
• Thursday, Nov. 17 -- It's a great night to take in some local music, so why not settle in with Travis Kidd at Fat Daddy's to relax in South Tulsa or Ego Culture at The Colony to get your jam on? If you're looking to dance, Robotic features DJ Tommy Switch and Frequency at IDL Ballroom. Of course, you can't overlook the aforementioned Guitarchestra show at Green Country Event Center.
• Friday, Nov. 18 -- Joan Jett & the Blackhearts bring the classic rock back to River Spirit Event Center for the biggest show of the evening. Soundpony makes a left turn with Pittersplatter and Axis and The Colony shoots straight with Travis Linville. Meanwhile, perhaps the best show of the night will be Bright Giant at Mercury Lounge with Brandon Clark Band opening.
• Saturday, Nov. 19 -- The slam dunk sow of the evening is easily the Phil Zoellner Band CD release party at Treehouse with Tony Romanello & the Black Jackets opening. If that's not your thing, The Move plays The Colony while Sam & the Stylees mix things up at Mercury Lounge and Jimmy Blythe finally breaks into the Tulsa area with a show at Kenosha Station in Broken Arrow.
• Sunday, Nov. 10 -- Wrap up your weekend in style with Olivia Duhon at Bodean's or one of our weekly standbys like Paul Benjaman's "Sunday Night Thing" at The Colony. If you're looking for something more aggressive, Tech N9ne returns to Cain's Ballroom with a full posse of support and Acacia Strain and Terror bring the metal to The Marquee.
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