The following is an email sent to the musicians playing this week's Guardians of the Groove set (with shows this Saturday, January 27, 4pm at St. John's Church in Jamaica Plain and Sunday, January 28, 1:30pm at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum). We hope you enjoy this sneak peek into our process and nerdy inner goings on.
Grateful, as always, to be playing this set with you! I just thought I'd lay out an introduction/re-introduction to this program.
Guardians of the Groove was the result of A Far Cry's internal "Dvorak Serenade Award" which we created to give a guaranteed spot to a program with that piece after we realized we'd been avoiding it for several seasons. My own theory as to why we've steered clear is that it's maybe too sweet of a piece, but in a way that's curiously at odds with Dvorak's music in general which tends to be rhythmically driven and a bit punchy; there's almost always some crunch and acidity to balance out the sweetness. I happen to think those qualities do exist in the Serenade, they just aren't always emphasized because the gorgeous melodic lines tend to dominate the list of priorities, but I'm hoping we can bring some of the old groove back: the motoric chug of the first movement, the off-kilter syncopations in the second, the hyper skip of the third, and then a kind of combination of all three in the last, the motor, the punchy syncops, and the ecstatic undercurrent.
The format of the program, then, is a bit of a throwdown, with the first half made up of pieces that are very groove-forward to hopefully coax those qualities out of the Dvorak. The first half pieces are also neatly placed at historical bookends, with Lully at one end, the leader of the original, archetypal dance band, and a brilliant new Michael Atkinson arrangement of parts of an electronic dance music album by Sufjan Stevens at the other.
A little more detail on the Lully suite. It's from an opera, Acis et Galatée, about two young lovers making a go of it on the island guarded by the cyclops-giant Polyphemus (who'll later have his eye put out by Odysseus). Spoiler alert: Polyphemus has a thing for Galatea and so he tosses a boulder on Acis, but he comes back as a river god so s'all good. The structure of the suite is: serious intro - fun times - music about cyclops giants - serious outro.
The Lully edition we're playing off of is my own, and I've made cuts to some of the material, especially the last passacaglia/chaconne, and a couple of the inner movements. We'll go with the parts for now, but things might change.
Finally, I want to open things up to start thinking about groove in general. I was recently introduced to the funk band Vulfpeck, who, as I understand it, are sort of a... historical performance group. They studied with some of the legends of funk and motown, and sometimes have them on as collaborators, with the goal of getting to the essence of groove in a very pure way, often taking the focus off songs and lyrics to hone in on that aspect. Here's a vid to contemplate. Maybe I'll send one-a-day?
Feel free to chime in here with thoughts, strategies, questions, requests, etc.