When the USU choirs take the stage Friday, they won’t be donning black dresses or ties. Trading formal wear for tie-dye and beads, the combined forces of the USU Chamber Singers, University Chorale and Women’s choir will perform a show combining the best of 1970s bands, including Kansas, Earth Wind and Fire, ABBA, Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin.
“It’s been fun to learn this old music that our parents listened to,” said Adrea Anderson, a sophomore in choral education. “This is totally different from normal. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
The idea for a concert consisting entirely of music written, recorded or released in the ‘70s has been a long time in the making. Five years ago, USU did a similar concert as a tribute to the Beatles. Not only was it a huge success, said Choral Director Cory Evans, but schools across the nation saw it and imitated it.
Irv Nelson, a member of local band Fender Benders who will play with the choirs, said few, if any, universities in the nation get an opportunity like this. Nelson commissioned six of the pieces that will be performed.
He said it’s been a complicated process to make it come together but he’s pleased with the results.
“Some of the stuff we’re doing is very difficult music. Nobody does Boston and Sticks and Kansas,” Nelson said. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun to learn it. Anybody can play “Taking Care of Business” but the stuff we’re doing for this concert is unusual.”
With more than 125 years of combined musical experience, the five members of the Fender Benders have a single goal, authenticity. Nelson said that they try to stay true to the sound of the original music as much as possible.
Evans said the choir program at USU shares this goal.
“It’s been difficult to put stuff together and to really be accurate, precise and stylistically correct,” Evans said. “It’s a bigger challenge than you would think. We don’t want this to sound like a sing-along. We’ve really tried to make this an artistic experience.”
While some of Evans’ teaching methods may not be conventional, Nelson said he has seen firsthand the methods and success behind Evan’s instruction. “Show Me Thy Ways”, a CD released by the Chamber Singers last year, was a Grammy Award nominee.
Before beginning the pieces for That ‘70s Concert, Anderson said her choir spent a whole class watching YouTube videos, trying to pick up on the style of the bands they would be covering.
“Cory Evans is an amazing, amazing conductor of choirs,” Nelson said. “Not too many university chorale groups would do this.”
Anderson said, “I think our directors are doing something out of the ordinary. Vocally, the production is the same but our sound is what’s different.”
Evans said while classical music should be the focus of every collegiate level choral program, he is of the opinion that any genre of music can be just as rewarding. As a large percentage of his students are choral education majors, he wants them to take a broad spectrum of music into their own classrooms when they graduate. His philosophy is that students should be exposed to as many opportunities and different kinds of music as are available.
“I feel like if they are to be prepared to go out and teach junior high and high school, they need to have had experience putting together all types of different types of music and concerts rather than just classical,” he said.
Evans said another advantage to rock and pop music is that it requires very rhythmic precision.
“Everybody’s gotta have the beat,” he said. “Often with opera, there’s a very rubato tempo and rhythm tends to be a little bit mushy, but with rock and roll you can’t get away with that. It’s really challenged the students.”
Todd Jeppson, a freshman in choral education and piano performance said that though the rhythms were difficult to master, it has made preforming all the more exciting.
“It’s a lot of fun, rocking music,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity, this is fantastic music with a great melody. It’s a totally different style most people aren’t used to.”
Evans hopes the wide variety in the concert will attract those who don’t usually attend art or choir events. An event like this, he said, not only fosters a connection between the community and the University, but creates a basis for more concerts like it to be preformed in the future.
“Come out, because this isn’t your typical choir concert. Parents know this music, we’ve both rocked out to it,” Anderson said. “If you don’t think choirs can sing ‘70s rock…”
Evans said though some people might see the concert as not “artistically worthy”, the onslaught of new of the new TV shows like “Glee” have gotten into people’s minds, making them want to listen and preform classic rock and pop songs.
“So maybe we’re crazy, and maybe we don’t do this all the time because I feel a tremendous responsibility to teach kids how to perform,” Evans said.”But I also feel like music is music. Whatever the genre, whatever the time period, if it’s done well it can all be artistically satisfying.”