Thursday, May 14, 2009

HardArt groop

Last week we got an email from Kris, letting us know that John Elmquist's HardArt groop would be offering a concert at Ebenezer Lutheran Church. John is the music director at Ebenezer, and he is also a fairly brilliant composer and jazz artist. He might not call it jazz. He'd say:
I would mix some Brahms or Messiaen or whatever with improvised music, a little satire and maybe some spoken-word stuff or things that resemble rock and roll songs. After the first few years, I abandoned the idea of doing the music of other people as a part of this enterprise and now focus entirely on putting together programs of stuff that I write into single 90-minute events. This generally happens twice a year.
But me – if it's not Mozart or James Taylor, it's probably jazz. I am not a jazz afficionado, but I've been to several HardArt concerts, and they're always a delight. I'll never forget laughing my head off at the cleverness of a Christmas concert about 10 years ago.

John and his wife, Bev, have a special place in our hearts because they've volunteered at the Thanksgiving Dinner our (not Lutheran) church puts on for folks who are homeless, alone, or just can't afford a traditional holiday meal. The first year they volunteered, they got stuck washing dishes. We thought we'd never see them again. But they came back the next year! Suellen, who has been in charge of the dinner for almost 10 years, fondly referred to John and Bev as "my Lutherans." Here's a picture I took of their tribe in 2006.

"John usually does minimal advertising or lobbying for HardArt during choir," Kris wrote. "But for some reason, he keeps saying, 'I really think you guys are going to enjoy this one.'"

The concert was Tuesday night, and John wasn't exaggerating. The biggest surprise, for me, was the size of the ensemble – every time I counted I got a different number, until Suellen sweetly pointed out that their names were listed in the program. So I can authoritatively say there were 20 musicians.

Frankly, the pictures I took don't do them justice. I snuck this picture while the real photographer was taking a group shot. You might have figured that out.

Wait a minute! ... sixteen, seventeen, there are only eighteen people there! Well, they played like 20 people.

The backdrop was pretty awesome. It is the sun, with solar flares coming out on the sides. This picture gives you a better feel for it:

Now, I am not a music critic. So I can't make you feel like you're there just by describing it, and I can't say things like "an obvious disciple of Thelonious Monk," and know what the heck I'm talking about. I only listened to Thelonious Monk once.

But I can state authoritatively this was NOT Thelonious Monk!

John has a droll sense of humor that makes its way into his music. The program notes themselves are wonderful. Here's his description of the first piece, an 8-parter, called TripUp:
1. Michael's Dad -- a juvenile contemplates a friend's offer of money to kill the friend's father
2. Come On Kids -- introductory narrative
3. TripUp -- instrumental
4. Prickles -- Upon entering the apartment he meets a cat. They visit and discuss the afternoon's activities.
5. Prickles' Complaint -- the cat has his own issues with the victim
6. Jiggy Fiddle -- the boy and the cat dance
7. Dad Down -- success!
8. So You See -- concluding summary
Lest you be concerned, remember: John is the music director at a Lutheran church. The piece is not an invitation to patricide, but perhaps it is a comment on the banality of evil. Besides, the program notes don't tell you how it all turns out. Heh, heh.

A piece called "I" had a line I wrote down to use myself in the future: "My mouth took off and my mind couldn't find it." I've been there once or twice! The program notes described the fifth ... er ... movement? ... called "Everybody's Larry Storch":
While he was working on F-Troop, Larry Storch thought the show was some diversion en route to his real acting destiny. He would realize that it was the capstone of his career only when it was too late to appreciate it. Moral: don't be dumb.

Speaking of sneaking pictures, I also snuck a short video to give you an idea of what it all sounded like. Unfortunately, the sound quality on a little camera is not too good. But you can make out the lyrics if you listen carefully. This is from TripUp, the cat story:

The singers here are Cheryl Wilson and Lexie Bloor. They, like all the musicians, seemed to be having a great time (just like the audience). Here's another clip, with better sound quality, I think:

But ignore this stuff. Go to the HardArt groop's web site and look around. You can listen to their music (professionally recorded), download their albums, and read all about them. And send them some dinero.

John was right; we really enjoyed this one.


Jeannelle said...

Their CD page is VERY entertaining. Even cows get in the act: bovinity, cowtechism...."dearly behoov-ed". The creativity is mind-boggling!

Great mouth/mouth quote. I've been there and done that many more times than once or twice.

Jeannelle said...

Whoops....that should read mouth/mind.....