What is a violinist? A refined musician who sits tall in a chair and plays classical music? Sometimes. What about a refined musician who plays classical music while singing and dancing ... and also playing a combination of jazz, rock, fiddle and other cultural sounds? If you envisioned the latter definition, you're familiar with Barrage.
Barrage is a musical group featuring five violinists/vocalists, a drummer, bass player and guitarist. Founded in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1996, the show is an energizing musical experience. How many orchestras have you been to where the violinists dance and sing along with the music they're already playing? It's as though Riverdance and Stomp got together one night and out came the world's most artistically talented child.
The cast consists of musicians in their 20s from Germany, Canada and the United States. Currently they are playing a show called Animado, which consists of music ranging from mariachi to mambo. One of the founders, John Crozman, says they'll also play some popular modern music, like Coldplay covers.
In addition to Barrage's eye-opening performances, the group provides an educational program to get young string students educated and motivated about the art. Crozman is a former orchestra teacher himself. He says students can "get an experience a little out of the ordinary" with the Barrage program. When the show comes to town on Friday, some Tucson string students will be getting that unique learning experience.
Crozman says the first half of a show at Sahuaro High School will be a typical performance, but the second half will incorporate students. One hundred-eighty students from Tucson Unified School District and Tucson's Opening Minds Through Arts (OMA) program will participate.
Crozman says workshop participants are sent music in advance. Then when the group comes to town, they work with students and rehearse together for the show. "The purpose is to share music," he says.
Tucson-based string instrument and accessory store Southwest Strings is a major sponsor of Barrage. Southwest Strings brought the educational program here to support OMA, which combines arts education with core curriculum and researches how the arts improve student achievement in TUSD schools, according to co-founder Joan Ashcraft. OMA's funding is in jeopardy due to ongoing budget cuts. Friday's performance and student workshop will be a benefit for OMA.
Taylor Morris, a Barrage performer, is looking forward to working with the students. Morris is from the Phoenix area and graduated from ASU. He first saw Barrage perform at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix when he was in the seventh grade. He knew the show was in his future. Morris explains that he understands the excitement younger string students have because he's been in their position. Watching a fast-paced show with violins is a big contrast to sitting still in class practicing sheet music.
"This shows students that the violin can be cool," says Morris.
Morris says joining the group was intimidating at first because it is so different. After learning the music, he worked with a choreographer to combine the playing and dancing.
"It's a lot to put together," he says. "I'm also singing and remembering to be charming!"
While Morris has mastered his simultaneous fiddling and footwork, he has a tough time describing exactly what it is he does. He says you can watch clips online, but it just won't do the show justice.
"You need the live experience to feel the music and the energy," says Morris.