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Classical 101

A Comedian, a Musician, and a Record Producer Walk into a Bar...

Carol Friedman
Bobby McFerrin getting the audience involved

OK...they actually walked into a recording studio, but that doesn't make as good of a headline.

I stumbled across a video of a recording session/conversation with three instantly recognizable people - Robin Williams, Bobby McFerrin, and George Martin. Three people who would seem to have little in common in a recording studio.

Ten or so years earlier, Williams and McFerrin had collaborated on a recording called Spontaneous Inventions, which showcased the strengths of both artists...improvisation. George Martin decided he wanted Williams to give his unique treatment to the Lennon-McCartney classic https://vimeo.com/74886942">Come Together. Williams agreed on one condition...he wanted McFerrin in the studio with him.

So you have George Martin, who produced for one of music's legendary groups, The Beatles - Robin Williams, who characterized himself as "musically challenged" - and one of the most versatile musicians in the business, Bobby McFerrin. So many have pigeonholed McFerrin because of Don't Worry, Be Happy, but that's like saying Andy Warhol made great soup.


Why am I writing about this? Because McFerrin, like Yo Yo Ma, Time for Three, Josh Roman, Carpe Diem String Quartet, and most other musicians, wants the walls erected around "classical music" to come down. When McFerrin came and spoke at a conference I attended some years back, we wondered how he would be received by the public radio music programmers in attendance. It's amazing how quickly walls crumble when someone with the broader musical reputation of Bobby McFerrin or Yo Yo Ma says, "Let's try this."

I watched as McFerrin got our group to find our "inner instrument" and turned us into an orchestra. 


A comment Carpe Diem's Chas Wetherbee made to me some year ago has stuck with me..."If we want to ask people to step into our (musical) world, we have to be willing to step into theirs." He said that in response to my question about the inspiration for their string quartet arrangement of the theme to The Simpsons.


Both of Columbus' orchestras, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and Columbus Symphony Orchestra, are working to think beyond the old boundaries. The same can be said for most arts organizations in Central Ohio as they strive to connect with new audiences in new places.

The CSO Happy Hour concerts offer folks a chance to experience the CSO in a more familiar setting. ProMusica commissions new music multiple times each season - and collaborates on February 13th with Steep Canyon Rangers, a band described as "bluegrass at their core, but also a sophisticated string orchestra." The Johnstone Fund for New Music has a mission to "support the continuing growth and vitality of extraordinary, contemporary concert music." One look at their website shows a diverse offering of music in venues all across Central Ohio.

This can all be summed up in the words of Yo Yo Ma about the Silk Road Project. It is "an attempt to create a common musical language...the product of curiosity, trust, and imagination." This is music in the 21st century.