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Go behind the scenes of the 2011 Tuba Bach Chamber Music Festival

BIG RAPIDS — For six weeks the Big Rapids High School auditorium will become the home to international musicians, a renowned family band and an audio/visual collabrative performance. Edward Mallett is gearing up to host his sixth annual Tuba Bach Chamber Music Festival, begining next month.

MEMORIAL: This year’s Tuba Bach Chamber Music Festival opens on Sept. 11. In remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mallett will join singers Rodrick Dixon and Alfreda Burke, and pianist Alvin Waddles in a program of spirituals and gospel music. (Pioneer photos/Kyle Leppek)

Each year, Mallett, the founder and artistic director of the festival, brings in a wide variety of musical acts to perform free concerts in the Big Rapids area. This year the festival continues its tradition of attracting talented musicians, offering new talent as well as old favorites performing in new ways.

“Five (of the) weeks all have people that are returning, but no one is doing the same thing they have done before,” Mallett said. “There are new people every week but there are also veterans. Tthis year we are getting a lot of familiar faces but in new settings.”

In order to keep the festival free to the public — which costs about $50,000 annually — Mallett uses grants and donations to cover the costs. New this year, Mallett hosted the Tuba Bash fundraiser in June, which raised about $14,000 for the festival, he said. The event collected money through ticket sales, live and silent auctions and other raffles.

Although the festival has raised most of the funds needed, Mallett said he is still accepting donations from individuals and businesses to reach the final amount.

In addition to weekly concerts, Mallett tries to bring artists into the community.

“I try to have a couple community events where people can come in, outside of the concerts, (to) meet the artists and work with them. We try to get into as many schools as we can,” Mallett said. “The Sunday concerts are kind of the main event, but I try as much as I can to have additional things whether it’s in schools or community.”

Over the course of the six weeks, artists will hold workshops, seminars, jam sessions and meet with area students; something Katie McInnis really looks forward to.

McInnis, the Big Rapids High School and middle school choir director, has performed with her high school students in the festival previously and will perform again this year. In the past, artists have visited and worked with her students while in town.

“(Tuba Bach) brings in many different cultures and people who are actually working in the profession. (Students) also get to work one-on-one with the performers,” McInnis said. “We have benefited in the past with the performs they brought in. We really appreciate Tuba Bach at the high school, that’s for sure.”

McInnis’ high school students will join the festival for its first two performances.

This year’s festival opens on Sept. 11. In remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mallett will join singers Rodrick Dixon and Alfreda Burke, and pianist Alvin Waddles in a program of spirituals and gospel music. The group also will be joined by the high school choir and a choir of Big Rapids area vocalists.

Siblings and bluegrass musicians Raymond McLain and Ruth McLain Smith, have performed at the series before. However, this year, the siblings will bring their entire family to perform.

Performing since the 1970s, The McLain Family Band is regarded highly in the bluegrass world. The family stopped touring full time together in the 1980s and now only performs together a few times a year. One of their only performances as a family will be at the Tuba Bach festival on Sept. 25.

Also new this year is a duet featuring Mallett and Animusic, a digital music and animation feature. Animusic has been featured on PBS and will provide Mallett with music and the corresponding animation to which Mallett has written additional music. He expects the audience will not know what Animusic is and what he is performing.

“I will be playing along with (Animusic) and some stuff that I will be doing will segway into what they are doing and the stuff they are doing with segway into mine. I’m modifying a couple horns to run through electronics, so I will be entering the digital world,” Mallett said. “Hopefully it’s a seamless thing and if you are in the audience, no one will know for sure which is live and which is prerecorded.”

Renowned Venezuelan flutist Marco Granados has appeared at the festival before, but this year he will bring his own group to perform traditional Venezuelan music.

Bringing talented musicians from all over the world and with busy schedules doesn’t provide much time for rehearsal, but that is part of the charm and excitement of the Tuba Bach Chamber Music Festival, Mallett said.

“One of the things that makes Tuba Bach fun for me is I don’t know what is really happening until it happens. No one in the audience really knows what to expect and, in truth, I don’t always know what to expect either,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to work with musicians that are of such a caliber that we can get away with that. We don’t get to rehearse but we don’t need to rehearse. A lot of it is spontaneous. The audience is hearing it for the first time as the performers are too.”

The free concert series runs from Sept. 11 through Oct. 16 and is held at 4 p.m. every Sunday at the Big Rapids High School Auditorium. Funding for the festival is provided, in part, by a grant from Arts Midwest, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for Arts and Humanities.

For more information on the festival, visit tubabach.org. To donate to the series, visit the website or reach Mallett at (231)796-9153.

2011 Tuba Bach Chamber Music Festival Schedule

Each year a wide variety of musical acts are brought in to perform free concerts in the Big Rapids area. This year the festival continues its tradition of attracting talented musicians, offering new talent as well as old favorites performing in new ways.

  • Sept. 11 — Rodrick Dixon, Alfreda Burke and Alvin Waddles with join Edward Mallett in a program of spirituals and gospel music to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Big Rapids High School choir and community choir will join the performance.
  • Sept. 18 — As in pervious years, the Tuba Bach Quartet will perform and be joined by the Big Rapids High School choir. The quartet of Charles Guy, Philip Sinder, Demondrae Thurman and Edward Mallett will perform music in several genres.
  • Sept. 25 — The McLain Family Band, one of the all-time premiere family bluegrass bands, will perform together as one of their only shows this year. The family has traveled to more than 70 countries as U.S. State Department musical ambassadors and played at some of the most prestigious performance halls in the country.
  • Oct. 2 — Edward Mallett will perform with Animusic, a digital audio and visual performance created by Wayne Lytle. Animusic has been featured on PBS and combines electronic musical arrangements with corresponding animation and visual effects. Mallett will duet with the piece incorporating live music and new sounds.
  • Oct. 9 — Venezuelan flutist Marco Granados will perform traditional Venezuelan music with Un Mundo Ensemble. Combining fast melodies and complex rhythms with African, European and native cultures, the traditional music will bring its passion and energy to Big Rapids.
  • Oct. 16 — The all-female jazz ensemble Straight Ahead will conclude the 2011 Tuba Bach festival and help kick off the “Paint Big Rapids Pink” breast health awareness initiative. The Grammy-nominated Detroit women will join Edward Mallett in an dynamic jazz performance.

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