A ‘classic’ approach to pop
Music is like china, it’s not much good if you don’t use it, says Susan Werner.”Some people treat classical music like fine glassware, up in the cabinet somewhere too fragile for everyday use,” Werner said. “But classical music is more sturdy and practical than most people imagine.”Werner headlines this week’s final Bud Light Underground Sound concert at the Vilar Center. The series features singer/songwriters in something like a house concert – in a really nice house.”The Vilar Center is one of the nation’s most swank venues, so I’ll be ironing my clothes and curling my eyelashes,” Werner said as she was headed for a plane in Chicago bound for Colorado.
Werner is one of the true individuals in the corporate music world. She’s a daring and innovative songwriter who puts on a killer live show, keeping audiences guessing and laughing simultaneously.”A concert is like going on a date,” Werner said. “You want to be honest about who you are. You can’t just show up in a chiffon dress and expect a limousine. You have to introduce yourself to an audience, take them by the hand.”You know how most singer/songwriters sit on a stool, strum a guitar and croon? This isn’t that.Werner is bringing harmonica virtuoso Trina Hamlin and cellist Julia Biber, so she’s in good company – as always.She calls her latest release, “Classics,” “a hybrid of pop classics and classical music.”Werner combines new string arrangements of mainstream popular songs by top songwriters from the “classical” pop era – the 1960s and ’70s. To get there, she combined her training as a classical vocalist (she has a Master’s degree in music history and voice performance), with talented players from the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops.”It makes such sense that I really can’t believe nobody did it before,” Werner said. “With ‘Classics’ I hope to make classical music a little less scary for people.”It’s really pretty amazing material. Werner starts with music that contains actual poetry, like Paul Simon’s “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” (The Ecology), Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and America’s “Lonely People.” Her string arrangements make the songs positively blossom when performed with chamber music instruments, and with gifted musicians playing them.”It seemed to me a chamber music approach to pop songs could reveal the poetry and impact of some of these lyrics in ways that groove-driven arrangements completely overlook,” Werner said.
The “Classics” arrangements also combine elements from classical composers with classic rock/pop songs.”The Bach cello suite excerpt sounds like a great gust of wind somehow, which set up Cat Stevens’ ‘The Wind’ perfectly,” Werner said.There’s some Rodrigo in the Spanish classical guitar arrangement on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and the quotes from Vivaldi’s “Winter” match the cold and frosty regrets in “A Hazy Shade of Winter.”Werner is fond of theme projects. Her 2004 release “I Can’t Be New,” earned her praise as “the most innovative songwriter working today” from the Chicago Tribune.In 2007, she blended faith and doubt with her “agnostic gospel” record “The Gospel Truth.” It blends American music traditions from folk and bluegrass to R&B/soul/spiritual. NPR called it “a musical, lyrical examination of personal, social, and political faith in America… [from] a hip, wry, gifted performer.” The Gospel Truth was named 2007 Top Folk Album of the Year by NPR/Folk Alley. Werner was named Best Contemporary Folk Artist at the 2008 International Folk Alliance music conference. As for the singer/songwriter moniker, songwriter Werner says that with “Classics,” “There comes a time when a singer/songwriter has to earn the ‘singer’ part of that title. Hopefully, I did that with this project.”
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