Bun B & the Houston Symphony's "Concert Against Hate" at Jones Hall, 11/14/2013

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photos by Marco Torres
"Concert Against Hate"
Houston Symphony feat. Bun B
Jones Hall
November 14, 2013

Thursday afternoon, Bernard Freeman paces nervously backstage at Jones Hall during rehearsals for the evening's program. "This isn't your normal House of Blues show," he proclaims.

The scope of this performance is indeed grand. Houston's Anti-Defamation League and the Houston Symphony are celebrating their respective 100-year anniversaries, and they have invited Freeman, a.k.a. Bun B, to be a special guest performer.

This will be the first time the orchestra has incorporated a hip-hop artist into a performance. Bridging the symphony with "the [hip-hop] culture," as Bun calls it, is a major step toward acceptance, both for him personally and that culture.

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Apparently Playing Organ 100 Years Ago Could Kill You

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My day gig is as a clerk in pretty much Houston's last full-service sheet music store, so if you ever want to come down and comment in person I'm there most days explaining to people the difference between a violin and a fiddle. The difference is no one gets mad when you spill beer on a fiddle.

One of the more interesting aspects of my job is that I get obscure music professional publications, and on the rare occasion when it's not so busy I'll flip through them. Last month we got an issue of The American Organist which has been providing church organists with church organ-related articles for 140 freakin' years!

I discovered reading this issue that playing the organ can apparently kill you. Though it doesn't happen so often these days, an article on the last page of the magazine revealed that a century or so back at least seven people died in the middle of performance from ailments brought about from over-exertion while playing.


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Trill In a Tux: Bun B Opens Up On November's Houston Symphony Gig

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Photos by Marco Torres
"It's more than a concert.
It's a celebration of what we stand for.
Of what we believe in.
Of the values we share.
And it's a first for Houston"
-- Bun B, at Wednesday's press conference

Bernard Freeman sits nervously at the head table in a room full of wealthy, powerful, and influential Houstonians, waiting to be introduced as the day's honored guest speaker. In the four years we have been covering him for the Houston Press, this is the first time we have seen the beloved rapper known around the world as Bun B visibly intimidated.

The event is a meeting for the Houston chapter of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), and the setting is Tony's, one of the most luxurious restaurants in Houston. This is one of those "jacket required" places, with $100,000 supercars lined up at the valet station.

The meeting doubles as an announcement of Bun's collaboration with the Houston Symphony for the November 14 event at Jones Hall entitled "Houston In Concert Against Hate." Both the symphony and the ADL are celebrating their centennial anniversaries, and have requested a special performance from the hip-hop legend in order to help spread the message of unity, diversity and an end to violence and hate.


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Bun B, Houston Symphony Join Forces to Fight the Haters

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Photo by Marco Torres
Bun B at Saturday's rap coloring book-signing event at Cactus Music
When last we saw Bun B, the Buddha of Gulf Coast rap also dubbed "Houston's unofficial mayor" - by us, yes, but it fits, don't it? - was all smiles as usual. Saturday afternoon the ever-trill UGK rapper's countenance beamed as he shook hands, posed for pictures, and signed autographs at Cactus Music as part of the release party for his and Rocks Off's own Shea Serrano's brand-new Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book.

Now Bun's reputation as Bayou City Superhero keeps right on growing at a DSL-like pace. At noon today, Bun will appear at a press conference at Tony's Restaurant (3755 Richmond) to help announce the Houston Symphony's "Houston In Concert Against Hate," the orchestra's first-ever collaboration with a hip-hop artist in its 100-year history, scheduled for November 14 at Jones Hall. And really, who else but Bun?


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What Would Two Star Symphony Fiddle as Houston Burned?

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In mid-July, 64 C.E. a fire started in Rome that became known as the Great Fire of Rome, and when the Romans call something "great," they're usually not messing around. The blaze rampaged for six days, entirely destroying three whole districts and damaging another seven. Granted, big fires were common at the time because large cities filled with wooden structures is porno for pyros, but by all accounts this one was special.

It was also the setting for one of the bitchin'-est string solos since Johnny outplayed Satan for a golden fiddle. The rumor was that not only did Emperor Nero set the fire himself in order to clear land for a new palace, but that he played the fiddle as the city roasted. Some accounts say the lyre, but it's really not meshing with the heavy-metal album cover in my head, so I'm going to discount those as "not awesome enough."

It's also complete bullshit.


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Riddle: How Is Dubstep Like Picasso?

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Thanks, Internet, for all you do.
Although dozens of EDM subgenres are brain candy to me, I haven't personally given in to the auditory assault that is dubstep (mostly... maybe). However, I'm here to say that there is actual science to appreciate behind the work of Skrillex and many others.

If you think about it, many people argue over EDM's relative worth as much as they once debated (or even still do) the merits of rap music, pop hits or rock and roll. Somebody out there is trying to quantify polka and reggae too, simultaneously.

Regardless, EDM is a growing genre. It's the music of the future, literally. It's made with machines and robotic things that make silver-plated noises. But electric guitars, sitars, mandolins and banjos also all make sounds that involve a combination of integrated technology and talent.

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From Boys to Men: Former Jersey Boys Castmembers, The Midtown Men Make Their Symphonic Debut

The Midtown Men perform "Happy Together"

(Ed. Note: I met these dudes on Friday morning -- this morning -- at the Midtown Starbucks location, so this blog is a happy accident. They were bright-eyed and impeccably-coiffed and outfitted while most people were still in their bedclothes.)

The four members of The Midtown Men - Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer - first met and performed together in the original Broadway production of Jersey Boys, a jukebox musical based on the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. That was in 2005. The success of that show made the four favorites with the New York crowd; their tight harmonies and swinging style made them popular guest performers. Their performances away from the Jersey Boys set eventually led to their creating a new group. "We realized we really love singing together," Daniel Reichard tells us, "so a few years ago we started touring as The Midtown Men."

This weekend the Midtown Men take their music to the next level, appearing with the Houston Symphony, their first-ever performance with such an orchestra. As with Jersey Boys, the singers are still focused on music from the 1960s but they aren't limited to Frankie Valli tunes. "Now we sing music from The Beatles, The Temptations, The Mamas & the Papas, lots of groups from that time. For any fan of the music of the 1960s, our show is like a full course meal. You get a bit of everything."

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Ten Musicians Who Did Time On Broadway

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Ricky Martin on Broaway in Evita
Broadway has been known to make both actors and singers into legends. However, due to what is known as stunt casting -- which is essentially gimmickry in order to gain ticket sales -- some musicians have headed to Broadway, if only for a short period of time. Here are some of the musical artists from various genres that have heeded the call of the Great White Way.


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Dragonetti: The Freakin' Creepy Saint Of Bass

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Bass players, I know I spend a lot of time making fun of you, though of course you may not realize it because, well, you're bass players and the Internet hasn't evolved to the point where I can easily use puppets to explain my points. All kidding aside, I want you to know that your presence in the world of music is greatly appreciated.

That being said, you owe everything you are to a man named Domenico Dragonetti, who died on this day in 1846 at the age of 83. Dragonetti, in addition to having the most awesome musician name until Mark Slaughter came along, revolutionized the way people treated bass players.

Before him, the double bass was merely seen as a sort of back-up cello suitable only for meatheads who couldn't master more elitist instruments. Hell, most scores didn't even bother to write out a bass part. They just gave the bassist cello parts.

Then along came Dragonetti, a Venice-born son of an amateur musician who started out on guitar but switched to bass. His self-taught skill got him noticed by a local composer, who took the twelve-year-old to the best bassist in Venice for lessons.

It only took 11 of them before Dragonetti had surpassed his teacher. There's an old bass-player joke that applies in this situation...


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Top 5 Bands We'd Like To See At The Ballet

Tonight, Houston Ballet performs Rooster, Associate Choreographer Christopher Bruce's dance interpretations of eight Rolling Stones songs including "Little Red Rooster," "Paint It Black" and "Sympathy for the Devil." If that sounds a little lowbrow for the ballet, the program also includes two works by the company's Artistic Director, Stanton Welch: Divergence, which uses the music of Georges Bizet, and Tapestry, an adaptation of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5.

Rooster draws heavily from Stones front man Mick Jagger's cock-like dance moves, which some have compared to ballet itself over the years; Bruce has said the ballet is based on the "sexual war" he witnessed as a young man in the 1960s. Rooster premiered in Geneva in 1991, so choreographers using pop and rock music in ballet is nothing new. But it's still pretty unusual, so Rocks Off started thinking about other bands whose music would work on the ballet stage as well as Rooster has.


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