Corvallis Community Band concert features soprano Gale Hazel and the Willamette Apprentice Ballet

On Sunday, March 11, the Corvallis Community Band presents its spring concert, aptly titled “Celebration of the Arts.” The band will perform a wide variety of music styles ranging from musical theater to cinema, opera to jazz.

The concert program consists of 11 songs, with familiar music like Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” and the themes from Forrest Gump and select Pixar movies like “Ratatouille” and “Toy Story,” to lesser known pieces such as movements from composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yagá)” and “The Great Gate of Kiev.”

Featured guest and soprano Gale Hazel will accompany the band for selections from Bizet’s “Carmen,” as well as the song “But Not For Me” from the musical “Girl Crazy.”

But what really makes the concert a celebration of the arts is its collaboration of music, dance and visual arts, all of which will culiminate in the finale “Stars and Stripes” — “a multimedia spectacular,” said Corvallis Community Band director Steve Matthes.

“The intent is that a variety of performing arts and one visual art are going to be celebrated through the music of the Corvallis Community Band,” he said.

“I knew I was going to invite the dancers from Willamette Apprentice Ballet, and so we were going to do some ballet music, and I had thought about sometime ago also doing selections from ‘Carmen,’ with our wonderful vocalist, Gale Hazel. And so there were two art forms right there.”

Music and dance are a natural collaboration, but Matthes intends to include one more art form in his celebration: visual art.

“We had played a number of years ago a piece celebrating the work of Pablo Picasso,” he said. “This time I decided we would show Picasso’s paintings on a power point display while we’re playing the piece, so that adds visual arts as well.”

The Willamette Apprentice Ballet will join the band for two pieces, Luigini’s “Ballet Egyptien” and John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes.”

When the band stikes up Luigini’s “Ballet Egyptien,” ballerinas in classic black tutus will twirl amid the ballerinas costumed in Egyptian garb, bronze armlets glinting in the light as they dance across the stage.

Matthes chose the piece “Ballet Egyptien” because of the ease with which it lends itself to beint interpreted through ballet.

“(‘Ballet Egyptien’) is a plotless piece,” said Willamette Apprentice Ballet director and choreographer Megan Skinner. “It’s kind of inspired by the late 18th and 19th Century ballets. Western Europeans were fascinated by exotic countries like Africa and Arabia, and they would put together these ballets that don’t have much of a story. It’s all about exotic slave girls and scantily clad people and different religions, paganism and multiple gods, and dare I say, concubines.”

As with “Ballet Egyptien,” the dance accompaniment to “Stars and Stripes” — also choreographed by Skinner — goes easily hand in hand with the music.

“It’s standard 18th, 19th century ballet music,” Skinner said. “Everything is written in either 4/4 or 3/4 time, and has a lot of repetition in the melodies.”

For the dancers, the concert is a rare opportunity for them to dance to a live orchestra.

“I think it’s important for them to dance to live music,” Matthes said. “Most do not get that opportunity — it’s all recorded music that they practice and perform to.”

“It’s a real treat for the dancers,” Skinner said. “It’s a real learning experience, because with live music you never know. The tempo might be faster than they’re used to, or slower, or the dancers might get lost and they have to listen to a landmark in the music.”

As for the audience, opportunities for a dance audience to hear music they wouldn’t otherwise and for a band audience to experience dance are rare as well.

“You don’t see it that often in Corvallis, or even in Portland or Eugene. They both have professional ballet companies, but not all of their shows can afford a live orchestra,” Skinner said.

“Collaborations of (this) type are very good,” Matthes said. “And some great music has been written for dance and we’re going to play some that not many people have heard. ‘Ballet Egyptien’ is not performed very often now.”

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