Rensselaer Music Association’s concert pops
Rensselaer’s Contemporary Jazz Ensemble kicked off an enjoyable concert program hosted by the Rensselaer Music Association at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, followed by performances by the 8th Street Studio Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, and Symphonic Band.
The Contemporary Jazz Ensemble’s performances featured student soloists Josiah Thieme ’23, Max Podowski ’23, Nick Pittman ’21, drummer Gerald Osborne ’22, and bassist Ethan Rose ’20. They started with “Pick Up the Pieces,” before performing two of Robert Button’s arrangements of Jack Elliot compositions: the theme from Night Court and the theme from Barney Miller. The ensemble ended their set with Quincy Jones’s Sanford and Son theme.
No cinematic music concert would be complete without iconic horror movie themes. The 8th Street Studio Orchestra started off with a Jerry Goldsmith piece from Poltergeist, featuring Jayson Mintz ’22 on the cello. The studio orchestra went on to perform John Williams’s Jaws theme and Bernard Hermann’s theme from Psycho before ending with an exhilarating performance of the theme from Danny Elfman’s Beetlejuice.
Harshil Patel ’23, dressed in a gray suit and purple tie, was introduced to the stage by the conductor. After he expressed his thanks, he commented that the conductor looked quite “dapper” himself, before preparing to sing Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and repeating his last solo at the previous RMA concert with the song “A Summer Place.” The conductor briefly introduced his all-time favorite movie soundtrack—Elmer Bernstein’s “The Magnificent Seven”—emphasizing his fondness for the original version, rather than the new one.
After intermission, the percussion ensemble performed Earl Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from Bonnie and Clyde, which was distinct from anything that RMA had performed earlier, as it was bluegrass music. Since the piece was so fast-paced, as mallets seemed to be flying on the xylophone and other percussion instruments, it was impressive to watch and listen to, and the ensemble’s ending together had me in awe.
After the Scruggs piece, they performed Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” from Beverly Hills Cop. Before the group performed John Williams’s famous “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” the conductor joked about placing students on certain parts like “space junk” and “intergalactic cat.” Andrew Updegrove ’20 then sang a solo in Frankie Laine’s “Blazing Saddles”, which was high-spirited, complete with interjections of “yeehaw!” by the ensemble members, who had donned orange plastic cowboy hats for this part of the program.
Symphonic Band took to the stage, performing Shirley Walker’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Danny Elfman’s Batman theme. It was interesting to learn about Shirley Walker’s contributions to motion picture music before the performance and in the composer blurb insert in the program, especially since she had scored the most major films compared to any other American woman at the time of her passing.
Henry Mancini’s iconic melody for The Pink Panther was light-hearted and flamboyant, in contrast to the performance of the heavier piece that followed: Jerry Goldsmith’s string-heavy and percussion-intensive piece from The Omen, which won the 1977 Academy Award for Best Original Score while the theme, ”Ave Satani,” was nominated for Best Original Song.
John Williams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens theme was a wonderful choice for the finale of the pops concert. Attending concerts at EMPAC is a wonderful way to enjoy a Saturday afternoon and support your peers as they perform what they’ve been working on outside of the classroom.