The Houston Symphony Goes to the Ball

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Houston Symphony
Whimsy and beauty

What better way to celebrate the whimsy and sprightliness of spring than with a ball? This Saturday the Houston Symphony throws a soiree complete with splendid music and first-class dance with Belle of the Ball, the last concert in its Family Series. The Belle in the title references Leroy Anderson's composition of the same name, and the golden-gowned heroine of the classic Disney film.

The concert was put together with the aim to introduce young audiences to the joy of live music. Selections will feature a diverse range of musical styles, as well as instruments from different families in order to present a rounded symphonic experience. "For me, the idea of getting into my costume and introducing families, and especially kids, to the music that I love is a thrill," explains associate conductor Robert Franz via press materials. "The Houston Symphony is best experienced live, and what better way to open up your child's world than with the sounds and sights of these incredible musicians."

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When Brilliant Met Divine: A Healthy Conversation with Bette Midler

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik
Bette Midler
She sings. She dances. She acts. She jokes. She cleans up decrepit, crumbling urban properties. She wins awards for all those things. And she also, simply, talks.

In a bit of a departure from her standard high-production fare, on April 29, Bette Midler, the aptly monikered Divine Miss M, addresses the equal-parts anticipatory/participatory audience of the Brilliant Lecture Series.

"I'm happy to be doing this event. I've been doing them for a couple of years now, I kind of enjoy them," Bette Midler remarked on her upcoming Q-and-A appearance with the series which this year has also welcomed luminaries Betty Buckley, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. "I've been to Minneapolis, I went to Niagara Falls, I mean, I've been around.

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Sherie Rene Scott's All Will Be Well - The Piece of Meat Studio Sessions is Affective and Evocative

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Sh-K-Boom Records.
Cover art for Sherie Rene Scott's All Will Be Well - The Piece of Meat Studio Sessions.
Acclaimed musical theatre actress Sherie Rene Scott blew New York City audiences away when she debuted her cabaret concert Piece of Meat at 54 BELOW last year. Using songs from the show, which was about the struggle between enlightenment and animal desires, she has rearranged and reimagined the experience for her sophomore solo album titled All Will Be Well - The Piece of Meat Studio Sessions. With an album of pure ear candy, Scott brilliantly showcases her affective and evocative vocal talents.

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Houston's Own Steve Tyrell Has Done Good (Real, Real Good)

Categories: Music

Photo by Julie Soefer
Steve Tyrell
There's a noticeable Texas twang to singer/producer Steve Tyrell's speaking voice. He came by it honestly: Tyrell grew up in Houston's Fifth Ward. "I was the only white guy around for miles," he laughs. He wasn't, however, the only musician. Houston Music Hall of Famer pianist Joe Sample lived down the street and several other musicians who went on to create the Crusaders with Sample lived in the neighborhood.

Tyrell's parents were fans of Frank Sinatra, but, like his friends, he was into rhythm and blues. That changed when an already established Tyrell was asked to produce a song for the soundtrack to the 1991 comedy Father of the Bride. Tyrell sang an emotional version of "The Way You Look Tonight" and his career as the new standard bearer of the Great American Songbook was born. "That was the first standard I ever sang," Tyrell says.

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Murder for Two (Original Cast Album) Truly Puts the Laughter in Manslaughter

Categories: Music

Courtesy of Ghostlight Records.
Cover art for Murder for Two (Original Cast Album).
Murder for Two, a recent Off-Broadway gem, originally opened at Second Stage Theatre Uptown on July 25, 2013, and then transferred to New World Stages, opening there on November 6, 2013. With strong reviews, the quirky two-actor show is still running strong and is currently booking tickets through July 6, 2014. Moreover, the side-splitting cast album for the show was recently released by Ghostlight Records and has me wanting to hop a plane to New York to see this comical little one-act.

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The Voices of the Spirit IV Concert Features Gospel A Cappella Group The Soul Influence

Categories: Music

Photo by Mars Varela
The Soul Influence
The Soul Influence, one of the groups performing at the Voices of the Spirit IV concert this weekend, is a five-man African American a cappella gospel quartet. Yes, we got that right, a five-man quartet. The group sings in four part harmony, hence the description. The concert also includes performances by Pandit Suman Ghosh, performing a Hindustani music known as Mewati Gharana and a group of Venerables or nuns from the Chung Mei Buddhist Temple in Stafford chanting. Each style captures the rich history and variety of sacred music as practiced by local Houstonians.

Singer Marcus Barnum (seen above far left), a founding member of The Soul Influence , says while the music sounds different, each style has one important common element: "It's meant to express our spirituality." As an a cappella group with a sound that recalls early doo-wop, The Soul Influence's repertoire includes what's known as "The Old One Hundreds" in black congregations along with contemporary Christian songs arranged by Barnum and other group members. "When we're arranging we challenge ourselves, how can we make this sound as orchestrated as we possibly can? We demand a lot of our voices, a lot of power and integrity. We try to not get too complicated to the ear and really stick to the power of our voices."

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Like Texans Need More Reasons to Love Home-Girl Betty Buckley

Photo courtesy of
Betty Buckley, "The Voice of Broadway"

It's hardly disputable that Betty Buckley is indeed "The Voice of Broadway," according to New York Magazine, as well as to most hearing human beings. Beyond that descriptive nickname, she is just as indisputably the voice of a more southerly locale.

Under the auspices of the Brilliant Lectures, West Texas-born Buckley brings those lauded pipes and her solo show, "The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway" to Wortham Theatre on Friday, January 10, for a one-shot performance.

"It's a series of songs that are sung by the second leads in a Broadway shows," Buckley describes "Vixens". "Like, 'When You're Good to Mama' that's sung by Big Mama Morton in Chicago; 'I Cain't Say No,' sung by Ado Annie in Oklahoma. 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy', which was Mary Martin's first showstopper; 'Another Hundred People' from Company; and 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' from Evita."

She'll also sing "Memory', from Cats, which won her a Tony award in 1982. Of course. Calm down.

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Culture 101: Build a Great Classical Music Library for $20 (or Less)

Our first taste of super cheap, super classical music recordings was an 89 cent uncredited MP3 album of violin concertos. It was about an hour's worth of music, all smashed onto one track with no title or performer information at all.

During a recent visit to Amazon, we noticed the most expensive CD set of music by Mozart on Amazon was The Mozart Collection by Karl Bohm. It listed at just about $190. That's 20 CDs (or the MP3 equivalent) totaling some 23-plus hours of music, putting it at about $8 per hour of tunes. Not a bad buy if you've got that kind of money and happen to really love Mozart.

Mozart was a great composer and the Bohm collection includes some fabulous, landmark recordings of his music, but we're not willing to part with $190. Actually $19 is closer to our weekly music budget. Thanks to some "big box" mp3 sets of classical music, we can get some 84 hours of music by slightly less well-known performers for less than $20. We'll use Mozart albums as examples here, but each of the series we mention include at least eight composers, with most including a dozen or more.

What to look for: Several labels specialize in budget priced releases of classical music. There's the Bach Guild. It has a nice series of MP3 albums grouped according to composer or, in some cases, type of composition. There's also a 111 Amazing series released by X5 Music Group, and the 99 Must Have series by Cobra Entertainment. Most prices range from 99 cents to $5.99 for an album that contains anywhere from 30 to 300 tracks.

What to watch out for: You can easily buy duplicate sets of music. The 40 songs on one album might be included as part of the 99 songs on another release. Of course at $1 or $2 an album mistakenly buying duplicates won't be as costly as if you were buying $20 CDs, still if you pay a little attention that's easily avoided.

In an effort to avoid duplication, we bought series according to composers first. Later we bought a few releases that were focused on music on a particular instrument, such as piano or violin. We stayed away from the "Music to Read To" or "Best Music for Winter" sorts of collections.

Read the customer reviews. We look for notes about any audio problems rather than comments about performances. Also it's not unusual for fans research and post the complete title, composer, conductor and orchestra information for albums which is often missing or incomplete on budget buys.

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The Top 10 Theater-Related Recordings of 2013

Categories: Music

The start of it all
Imagine you're a kid with big dreams. It's a balmy Christmas in Crosby, Texas. You're opening presents with your family and unwrap the 1978 Original Broadway Cast Recording of Evita. Your mother, who gifted it to you, beams with joy at your surprise. You wanted the film soundtrack, but this more than suffices. Eventually, the family conversation drifts to dreams, and you proudly assert that one day you'll be a leading theater critic in New York City. Now, fast-forward to 2013. That goal hasn't actualized, but you're steps closer. You're the official recordings critic for and a freelance writer for Houston Press, and just like that young 6th grader in Crosby, you're still mesmerized by the best music Broadway has to offer. So, as we reflect on our life choices and the past 365 days, it's with pleasure that I share my Top 10 picks for theater-related recordings from 2013.

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New Music from Iran and Syria: Saxophonist Basel Rajoub Discusses Sound: The Encounter

Categories: Music

Photo by Sebastian Schutyser/Aga Khan Music Initiative
Saeid Shanbehzadeh, Basel Rajoub and Naghib Shanbehzadeh
Saxophonist Basel Rajoub plays the most contemporary instrument in Sound: The Encounter, New Music from Iran and Syria. His partners, Saeid Shanbehzadeh (horns and vocals) and his son Naghib Shanbehzadeh (percussion) play traditional instruments that have been unchanged for centuries, but Rajoub says he's equally rooted in the folk music traditions of the region.

"I'm contemporary because of my instrument," he tells us, "because of how I studied music when I started. But at the same time I have this huge part inside me as a folk musician. So, yes, it may seem that I am the most modern but I grew up on this music. It's my music, too."

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