“We need a lot more live music in this town.” James Desautels declares. So, he has devoted himself to the prospect of training more singer/songwriters here at MRU to fill that void.
As an award-winning violinist, Desautels has jammed with the best. Boasting collaborative events with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello and Pearl Jam, his versatility rivals his passion. It’s that passion that led him to become MRU Conservatory’s ‘first string’ recruiter for pop music enthusiasts.
“We all like the term popular music because it’s timeless.” Desautels explains. “Something that was a hit in the ‘30s and is still around now is still ‘popular’.” He has high hopes for students in this program, especially the Introduction to Song writing Class. But the question is, how can one teach creativity?
Desautels is a man of answers. “There’s an art and a science of it. It’s an endless search.” His approach is organic, “We talk structure… roots of theory…then it becomes more of a workshop. Getting up to sing and play. “ He dissolves any potential songwriter’s ego, which has famously broken up countless pop bands, with an in-class group mentality, “I’m encouraging of students giving others feedback.”
An artist tends to be defined by their influences. James notes a few songwriters, “I have crazy-mad respect for people who have dialled it in. Dianne Warren, Max Martin …I love the stuff that Sara Barellis is writing… Burt Bacharach is still killing it. Love that Killers’ song Human. Pretty much anything that Queen has done. “ Even in his list, he oozes musical versatility. But when asked the most important thing he teaches in class, his answer is as complex as it is simple, “To write better songs.”
A relatively new course of study for MRU Conservatory, Desautels’ popular music instruction has been, for lack of a better term… popular. “The intro course is broad, all levels,” he says. “And the artists that took it want to take it again.” Which is, in part, the reason that the Advanced Song Writing course is being offered in the Winter 2016 course calendar along with courses in Music Business, Intro to Song Writing and a brand new course, Popular Music Band.
Who is he expecting to join the band? “I love people who are the double or triple threats. “ he says, “The singer-songwriters they’re already that cause they have their guitar, piano and they’re singing.” But, like most singer-songwriters, he needs to find a way to get a whole band together. “I want to see the pop band take off.” Desautels offers his recruitment pitch, “We need people to sign up.”
Popular music is a departure from the traditional offerings of MRU Conservatory, but it’s attracting the right type of musicians. “A couple (students) are already out there doing’ it. I’ve heard a couple great voices coming out of that class – it’s about getting the writing up to the same level of the singing.“
Fill the live music void in town. Get a band together and sign up.
According to MRU Kantorei’s Artistic Director John Morgan, the sounds you hear in the Sounds of the Season program will be, “magical.”
“You’re going to get traditional, favourite carols and some hidden gems.” He explains. With selections including the University of Calgary’s Kletzmer Band’s arrangement of “Happy Hannukah” back-to-back with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, it certainly is a holiday show for everyone.
55 members strong, Kantorei is having an inspired season. “We’re tackling some large projects this year,” Morgan states, “We finished Mozart’s Requiem and are doing Vivialdi’s Gloria and the Music of Eric Whitacre in April (9th) in celebration of the choir’s twentieth anniversary.”
In his second year as Artistic Director, he’s proud of the interest the community has to sing together. This diversity in musical taste and backgrounds is finding its way into the repertoire for this holiday show. For example, “Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque is contemporary classical and we’ll be doing (YouTube sensation) Straight-No-Chaser’s version of the 12 Days of Christmas.”
Kantorei will be sharing the bill with their younger counterparts Mount Royal Artio (directed by Jean-Louis Bleau) and the Calgary Youth Orchestra (directed by Edmond Agopian). They’ll also be joined by their guest emcees, Calgary’s comic a cappella favourites, The Heebee-jeebees who can always be counted on to provide a festive comic punch.
For those who haven’t experienced the Bella Concert Hall yet, Morgan says, “It’s one of the best venues I’ve ever performed in.” The magnitude of that comment can’t be overstated when he concludes with, “and I’ve played Carnegie Hall.”
Come see Sounds of the Season at the Bella Concert Hall on Saturday, Dec. 12th at 7pm. Tickets at tickets.mru.ca