MUSIC: My new season of sound

By Cathleen Flynn

Staff writer

Three weekends, 12 powerhouse musicians, and 450 miles on my Chevy Impala make for one amazing month of music.

I started the New Year with a desire to experience more live music. Now it may seem that I have an uncommon advantage when it comes to live music. As a music therapy student, I make live music every day…my peers and I spend hours creating music during class, rehearsals, and performances.

But it’s quite a different experience being in the audience. I, like many others, go to concerts to be transported and transformed. As an audience member, I brush off the monotony of everyday life for an hour or two in the hopes of leaving the performance as a slightly different person.

That’s what I mean by experiencing more live music…not performing it, not rehearsing it, but sitting back and reminding myself how good it feels to just listen.

Terry Blaine, Jan. 12, Bloomington, Ill.

Terry Blaine was the first musician whom I had the pleasure of hearing during this aural adventure. One of the only contemporary female jazz singers to specialize in small-band swing from the 1930s, Blaine has toured the country for decades, sparking international attention with her unique, nostalgic vocal stylings.

Blaine’s musical muses include Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Ethel Waters. A New Yorker through and through, she has access to a diverse community of jazz musicians who serve as her backup “combo”; during the concert in Bloomington, Ill., pianist Mark Shane and clarinetist Dan Levinson accompanied Blaine. Together, the trio shared upbeat rags, swing, and some old jazz ballads that made me want to dance.

As the youngest member in the audience and someone who has no real associations with those sentimental melodies, I imagine the concert was deeply meaningful for those in the crowd who grew up crooning the tunes of the ‘30s.

Susan Werner, Feb. 2, Hatfield Hall, RHIT

The next female vocalist to steal my heart was the delightful Susan Werner. A pianist and guitarist, Werner performs solo and with a medley of musicians from Manhattan and her hometown of Chicago. (During this performance, I heard her with percussionist and harmonica player Trina Hamlin, and bassist and lap steel guitarist Natalia Zukerman.)

Susan Werner (third from left) poses with SMWC students after her Feb. 2 show at RHIT. Pictured with Werner are Cathleen Flynn (from left), Sherry Bube, and Jill Storm.

It is rare for a singer-songwriter to captivate her audience with such diverse, thought-provoking, and musically involved repertoire while simultaneously keeping them on the edge of their seats with down-to-earth humor and opportunities for participation.

Werner has mastered this combination. Perhaps she was born with this artistry and charisma, or perhaps she developed it throughout her years of musical training in college. All I know is that from my seat in Hatfield Hall at Rose-Hulman, she made me laugh out loud, whoop and holler, cry silently, and feel the weight of my social responsibility within the span of 90 minutes.

Now that’s what I call a live music experience.

Sweet Honey in the Rock, Feb. 9, Krannert Center, Urbana-Champaign, Ill.

This past weekend marked the third success in my search for excellent live music. Sweet Honey In The Rock is an a cappella powerhouse that’s been creating music since 1973. Members have come and gone throughout their 40 years of existence, but the ensemble’s tight harmonies and distinct, soulful sound have remained.

The six women who currently comprise the internationally renowned group are each incredible vocalists, but the sweetness of this ensemble is in the musicians’ interdependence. They sing African-American spirituals, anthems of the Civil Rights movement, ancient tribal songs, arrangements of popular songs by famous black musicians, and new jazz-fusion pieces composed by their own members.

The enduring reputation of Sweet Honey in the Rock precedes them, and they do not disappoint. These women are a force to be reckoned with – empowered by their history, inspired by the music of their ancestors, and eager to promote new planes of equity with their songs.

My new season of sound has begun with a most melodious bang. All of these concerts took place within two and half hours of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and each ticket cost less than $20.

Every performance transformed me in some small way, and I cherished the opportunity to simply listen. I encourage you to create your own new season of sounds; seek out live music this year in a genre that’s fresh to your ears. If you typically listen to rock, go see a jazz concert. Hip-hop lovers, indulge in some acoustic folk. Most importantly, keep your eyes and ears open – the music is all around.

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