Jazz and Soul Ensemble: Finding Harmony Through Collaboration
March 4, 2019
The ensemble room hums with anxious excitement as the first Jazz and Soul Ensemble class of the spring 2019 semester gets underway. Fresh off the success of the fall’s “Blame It On The Boogie,” the next song choice is about to be revealed. Music Instructor & Therapist Adrienne Salmon, who grew up listening to the genre with her dad, has tried to keep the selection a surprise up until this point, and she can barely contain herself as she begins to play Kool & The Gang’s “Ladies’ Night” over the speakers. Salmon points out the different vocal and instrumental sections while students nod their approval and start jumping in. Mark Palardy belts out the chorus, Franklin Nichols fills in the melody on the keyboard, and Michael Cote strums along on the bass guitar—parts they will fine tune in successive rehearsals through collaboration and peer encouragement. Together the nine individuals with diverse diagnoses and talents will bring Salmon’s vision to life, and have a blast doing it.
The music of Jazz and Soul Ensemble relies on many disparate pieces coming together to form a cohesive whole—its complexity is an opportunity to involve everyone in individualized ways. When choosing a track and crafting its arrangement, Salmon considers how the ensemble members’ talents and personalities will relate to and engage with the different elements of the song. She likes positive, upbeat selections with “multiple singers and lots of instruments,” allowing everyone to have ownership over a specific part; past hits like “Get Down On It,” “Uptown Funk,” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” (see below) epitomize Salmon’s approach. For “Ladies’ Night,” she envisioned Connor Thompson bringing charisma as a lead vocalist, Alex Mody drumming and delivering the opening lines, and Paige Phillips and Emily Tyler serving as classic backup singers. She also imagined a full rhythm and horn section, with Omar Jomaa on hand percussion, Matt Cloughley on the tenor saxophone, Music Instructor Allie Moriarty on the alto saxophone, and a trumpet in the mix as well. The ensemble’s many different voices and its diversity in instrumentation combine to produce a full sound, where each part is “really felt and heard,” describes Salmon. By adding in solos and “jam sessions,” the song transforms into an original and memorable rendition.
The spring ensemble concert is the culminating event at the end of the semester, one students are currently in the midst of preparing for. After the initial rehearsal in January, weekly Thursday meetings are spent memorizing the lyrics, experimenting with the placement of solos, and figuring out how to end the song. At a certain point in the semester, all the different elements fuse together into a rich piece of music—one built by Salmon and the nine individuals of the ensemble bouncing ideas around and feeding off of one another’s energy. The students have an undeniable rapport and hold each other to a high standard in rehearsals; as Salmon writes, “it feels less like a class or a requirement, and more like a band rehearsing.” The bond between the ensemble members translates strongly to their performances at end-of-semester concerts—as the drums and bass start to echo around the performance hall and the melody begins, ensemble members come alive on stage. They exude joy, present a spirited performance, dance to the beat, and capture the crowd’s attention. Audience members are reliably lively and participatory, and it is a special experience to see how the ensemble and the audience connect. Jazz and Soul performances are among the most entertaining and celebrated at BHMA.
The nine members of Jazz and Soul Ensemble find a unique harmony when they come together. In a creative and welcoming space, they learn how to be in a band, how to listen to one another, and how to express themselves through a collaborative music experience. With the brilliance of Salmon's arrangements, the ensemble members thrive in exploring their individual parts and mastering the intricacies of the genre. For Salmon, that is what makes leading the ensemble rewarding, writing, “seeing everybody go outside of their comfort zone with this, in most cases, unfamiliar and musically complex genre, and REALLY nail it...that has to be the best part.” Mark, Franklin, Michael, Connor, Alex, Paige, Emily, Omar, and Matt encourage each other and share in their enthusiasm for being part of something and making music together. As the ensemble adds new members and tackles different songs, its original dynamic and its magic remain intact.