Vail Series Brings Bobby McFerrin Back To Denison for Residency and Concert
Posted: January 31, 2003
GRANVILLE Ten-time Grammy Award winner and one of the world's best-known vocal innovators and improvisers, Bobby McFerrin, returned to Denison University for a triumphant Vail Series concert on Friday (Jan. 31) in Swasey Chapel. He was joined by a cast of more than 200 members of the Denison Community for a program which touched just about every musical genre possible. The evening's program provided the gamut of material, from classical to folk to jazz to pop; from instrumental to choral to dance; from rehearsed to spontaneous.
Vail Artist-in-Residence Bobby McFerrin (left) improvises a vocal duet with Raymond Wise '83, director of the Denison Gospel Choir, as choir members look on during the Friday evening Vail Series concert. More than 200 members of the Denison Community shared their music with an overflow Swasey Chapel audience.Denison University photo by Chris Kasson.
McFerrin has been a passionate spokesperson for music education, and in the 1980s he created a new kind of concert; not a "performance," but a communal sharing and celebration of music. He sees this type of concert not as a "sing-along," but as a genuine collaborative process of making music in the moment. An overflow Swasey crowd was charmed and delighted by McFerrin and company Friday, and several hundred who were unable to acquire tickets for the concert were allowed to attend the dress rehearsal earlier in the day. Audience members at this concert, as those who attended his prior Vail Series appearances in 1988 and 2000, were transformed into willing participants, embracing the opportunities afforded by such a unique program.
The concert was a culmination of the three days McFerrin spent on Denison's campus as the University's Vail Artist-in-Residence, working with scores of students in various instrumental and vocal ensembles such as the Denison Singers, Collegium Musicum, the Gospel Choir, the String Orchestra, and various folk and a cappella groups, including the Hilltoppers and Ladies' Night Out.
McFerrin works with members of the Denison Singers and Collegium Musicum student choirs during a workshop and rehearsal Wednesday (Jan. 29) night at Swasey Chapel. The combined group performed McFerrin's original setting of the 23rd Psalm during Friday evening's concert.Denison University photo by Chris Kasson.
McFerrin's full schedule also included working with student composers in a roundtable setting and collaborating with dance students in an improvisational environment. Along with the dancers, members of an Honors Program class titled "The Creators" were also involved in the extemporaneous dance exercises as observers of the process of artistic creation. During his residency, McFerrin also met with members of a creative writing class offered by the University's Department of English.
McFerrin gave live demonstrations in an Honors Program class, "Physics and the Sound of Music," in which students are studying the physics of sound, specifically wave motion, as well as the direct connections between music and physics.
In an Honors Program physics class on Friday (Jan. 31), a computer program which gives a visual representation of the frequencies and amplitudes of audible sound demonstrates how McFerrin's voice changes as he sings in different registers and generates his percussive vocalizations.Denison University photo by Chris Kasson.
McFerrin has a four-octave range and a vast array of vocal techniques, but his musical abilities also encompass conducting and playing piano.
His parents were both opera singers and McFerrin's first love was the clarinet. He switched to piano and formed a quartet in high school, then toured with the Ice Follies and had a stint as a pianist in a lounge band.
He turned to vocal music in 1977 and toured with jazz vocal pioneer Jon Hendricks. Music entrepreneur Linda Goldstein and McFerrin developed his innovative career as a solo vocalist. By 1985 he was winning his first Grammy for "Another Night in Tunisia" with the Manhattan Transfer.
A joyous ditty created on the spot in the recording studio, "Don't Worry, Be Happy", became a phenomenal hit and the album in which it was included, "Simple Pleasures," was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy in 1988. The single of "Don't Worry" won Record of the Year and Song of the Year awards and was number one on pop charts around the world.
Rather than seizing upon multiple concert tour and event offers, McFerrin switched gears and began a serious study of conducting, including lessons with Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Meier and Seiji Ozawa. In 1990 he conducted the San Francisco Symphony, followed by his recording, "Hush," with world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In 1994 McFerrin was named creative director of the highly touted St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and he released "Paper Music," his first recording as a conductor, which was a critically acclaimed collection of classics.
The final Vail Series performance scheduled for Denison's 2002-03 season is:
Denison's Vail Series, made possible by a generous gift from the late Foster and Mary McGaw in memory of Jeanne Vail, a 1946 alumna, is part of the Vail Program that provides the University with a range of support for fine arts activities, including art history, cinema, dance, music, studio art and theatre. Each year the program underwrites performances by major artists through the Vail Series and provides for one or more Vail artists-in-residence who work with faculty and students to expand and enrich the cultural opportunities at Denison.
The 23rd season of the Vail Series is dedicated to the memory of James D. Vail III, brother of the late Jeanne Vail and a major benefactor to the College, who passed away in August. For more details, link to the Vail Series Web site at http://www.denison.edu/vailseries/
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