Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fiddle Me This!

Chopsticken - Barrage (mp3)

Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny funny riddle.

This week, my fine wife and I took our children to a special performance at another private school in town. The school played host to the musical “fiddle-fest” known as Barrage.

You take some Stomp!, you add a little Riverdance, and you center it around some kick-ass violin-playing, preferably by disarmingly charming young adults who can sway some mean hips, and you’ve got a totally entertaining spectacle that dares to suggest that fiddle-playing is neither stiff nor nerdy.

Granted, what cannot be removed from any musical spectacle where the description includes “Riverdance” is what we like to call Velveeta, as in highly-processed cheese product. The cheese factor with Barrage is high, and if you don’t like cheese on your musical burger, then you were bound to be a little put off by their schtick.

But children love cheese. Teenagers, in the right setting and mood, love cheese. And adults who don’t cotton to Beethoven or Puccini can handle a little cheese if it lets them enjoy some fiddlin’.

Barrage was born in 1995 and has gone through several member changes, much like Menudo or other groups where the performance is more central than the performers. (I just like writing the word “Menudo.”) Without doubt, energy, sensuality, and flair are all essential concepts to their performance.

The act centered around four hip and happenin’ violinists, two of each gender, all of them phenomenally talented at pickin’ the fiddle and playin’ it hot. The two guys were each charming in their own ways. Justin from Arizona had this kind of Justin Timberlakey feel to him, curly hair and big smiles and imminently comfortable with himself on stage. Mark was the bigger and slightly clunkier stage presence (probably because he was the newest member of the troupe) who could play bagpipe! Both seemed very comfortable connecting to the audience, although Mark’s approach felt like the guy you’d rather have a beer with. You grab a beer with Justin, and he’s too busy scamming on the girls or the guys (whichever way he leans) to pay you much attention.

The girls were a mixed bag. Annette was from Germany and lacked a bit of stage polish. Her biggest handicap, however, was having to perform anywhere near the presence of Christine.

Christine is the kind of presence around which you build an entire show.

Alec Baldwin, in Glengarry Glen Ross, says ABC means Always Be Closing. If real estate is about closing a deal, then stage performance is about opening. Create desire, or create connection. Put yourself out there in some way that makes as many viewers as possible connect you to something they need or want. Seem accessible.

The best stage presences open themselves to the audience and force the audience to take account of them. Wish you were me, or wish you were with me, or believe I’m that friend you never had.

Christine is a highly trained dancer with a focused background in ballet, according to their web site. Her body was its own instrument, and she wielded it with incredible skill. Every movement had purpose, and every position had reason. Everyone else moved a little stiffly. And why shouldn't they? They’re violinists, not trained dancers. That they were pretty damn good at all was pretty damn impressive. The others moved from Point A to Point B; Christine flowed.

She made eye contact with dozens of audience members, as if she was trying to communicate telepathically with us. She didn’t look as often at the guys, probably because they were all drooling, which probably gets annoying after a few hundred times.

But when she did deign to look at the men, her eyes said, “Jenkies, I know you’re drooling, and gosh I’m awful sorry I’m doing this to you, but gee willikers you have no idea the kind of damage I could do to you in 20 minutes.”

My daughters were also awestruck and waited in line for autographs mostly because they wanted Christine’s. On the way home they said more than once, “She looked at us!” If you can make the moms think you’re inviting them for coffee, the dads convinced you’re making goo-goo eyes, and the daughters think you’re the coolest aunt they never had, all done merely with the use of your eyes while you’re shaking your hips and playing some seriously nasty violin chords, then you are an exquisite stage performer.

Bigger than any performer, however, was the joy of watching almost 100 students from grades 6-12 on stage, performing to a captive audience, having enjoyed a lengthy afternoon workshop with some really cool and talented guys and gals. The look on those faces as they walked back off the stage, having participated significantly in the show’s second act, was... well, a barrage of glee. The song "Chopsticken," composed by one of the group's founders, is what they all played together.


Hank said...

Alex? Baldwin

Billy said...

Egads. Hank, I am sore ashamed. I have fixed my blunder and blame it on the need for a school holiday.

Bob said...

Billy, taking stock of Rocktober at the mid point, I'd offer this (self)assessment:

Plenty of posts? Check.

Posts focused on music? Check.

Have we put the "rock" in Rocktober? Uh-oh. Other than your piece on The Cure, the hardest rocker we've dealt with is.......Sting? I'm guiltier than you, I mean, ACOUSTIC guitars? Folk songs? Country? Women? Plus, pianos and fiddles?

I think we need to crank it up in the second half of the month, my friend, put some crunch in those guitars. What do you think?