Time for something completely different. Time to discard the usual decaf, and add some adrenaline rush of caffeinated energy and punch, if only for a few hours.
Head over to McLean’s Alden Theatre for a rowdy band that will “just make me want to put my hands in the air and shout,” said Sarah N. Schallern, Alden’s performing arts director.
The Asphalt Orchestra, a New York City-based hipster, sometimes guerilla-style, 12-member marching band is coming to town with its own unique brand of choreographed musical chaos, for a rare area appearance.
“One doesn’t see or hear Asphalt Orchestra; one experiences them. Their show is so much more than musicians with great chops playing a genre-defying concert with engaging choreography. It’s like riding a roller coaster at a Mardi Gras parade in the Village.” Schallern added.
The Asphalt Orchestra is composed of classically trained musicians with rock, pop and jazz infusions. They bring an invigorating melding of alto, soprano and tenor saxophones; several trumpets; trombones; multiple drums; and even a piccolo. Their events are known for precise choreographed movements and physical style. The troupe plays “processional music from every corner of the music world, works that can coax funk from a funeral and would make a halftime show sparkle with sophistication,” noted the Alden Theatre.
For its Alden performance, the Asphalt Orchestra is expected to bring wide-ranging music with their own inventive arrangements. The repertoire will be from the legendary likes of David Bryne, Annie Clark, Frank Zappa, Bjork, Goran Bregovic, and more. It’s a long way from the classical music many of the members learned early in their lives.
How did the NYC-based Asphalt Orchestra come into being? According to managing director Ken Thompson (alto saxophone), “We’re coming at the ‘marching band’ being aware of a number of its traditions — from Serbian wedding bands to New Orleans processionals to Brazilian street bands.”
With music that is a fresh fusion of many genres, the Asphalt Orchestra is “interested in exploring many different traditions of mobile ensembles, and reaching out to music from many genres was essential to that,” Thompson added, and all blended with its own urban-edged personality.
The troupe also works with choreographers in “a kind of deliberately controlled chaos to it — so we move differently than you learn to in high school and college,” Thompson said. “Which is why we sometimes use the word ‘street band’ to describe what we do. It’s part of why we have so much fun with this.”
When asked about the rough-around-the edges “look” of the group, Jessica Schmitz (piccolo) noted that their “costumes have played an integral role in the band since our formation. ... Mirroring our musical and choreography choices, we didn’t want to simply re-create a marching band, but rather pay homage to the marching tradition, while giving it a new twist.”
Kenneth Bentley (sousaphone) has a background in marching bands from his youth in Texas. “However, most of the marching bands I played in had 200+ members and my part primarily consisted of quarter notes and half notes, not very challenging. ... What makes Asphalt unique is that we combine the choreography of marching band, using marching instruments, but playing music that is very new and challenging.”
It’s all about “playful and expressive anarchy.” In the Asphalt’s staging, “movement often functions to illuminate and reinforce structures, energies and ideas I find within the music,” said choreographer Mark DeChiazza. “It is also a means by which to share the personality of the group with an audience. Asphalt is in many ways the opposite of a conventional marching band, which plays a specific kind of music and uses movement to showcase precision conformity.”
“Each member of this band has developed their own character while on stage. We’re not just following music and choreography; each member truly plays their own part as musician, dancer and actor,” said Stephanie Richards (trumpet).
So, how would Asphalt Orchestra want the Alden audience to feel during and after the performance? Well for one, “Happy. I want our performances to accomplish, more than anything, bringing that joy and fun to our audiences, suspecting and unsuspecting alike,” Schmitz said.
Or perhaps “surprised and uplifted,” offered Bentley. “I want the audience to experience music in a new way.”
For Richards, “I hope the Alden audience will feel liberated to participate, cheer, laugh and move with us if the moment takes them.”