Experiential learning at UGA takes students out of the classroom and into the world. working alongside professionals in their fields of study. In October, the UGA Center for the Performing Arts and the Hugh Hodgson School of Music created a collaboration between the University of Georgia Symphony Orchestra and world-renowned Athens indie musician Kishi Basha.
The sold-out concert at Hodgson Concert Hall, conducted by Mark Sedel, showcased the singing, songwriting and multi-instrumental talents of Kisha Basha. It also put the 90 members of the orchestra outside their comfort zone, in a pop station instead of the usual classical one. Kishi Bashi performed a dozen tunes from his catalog and even improvised a new tune with an orchestra—no sheet music, just call and response.
“It was great. It was a lot of fun,” said co-principal alto Ava Cosman. “It’s fun to play. It’s fun to be there. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to engage the audience like that. It’s a good time.”
“I thought it was a great success,” said Peter Jutras, director of the School of Music. “We are addressing different audiences who may have different expectations of what they will hear in the hall. I think it’s wonderful that a lot of people heard the orchestra who might not have heard it before, and they were incredibly appreciative of the orchestra.”
No one was more enthusiastic about the orchestra than Kishi Bashi himself. The artist, whose name is K. Ishibashi, has performed with the symphony orchestras of St. Louis, Oregon, and Virginia. In this concert, he was visibly moved by the scope and grandeur of the UGA Symphony.
“It was more than I expected,” Ishibashi said. “Honestly, I didn’t know how cool the student symphony was. Often the pros will have better tools so it will be better. But there are graduate students in the UGA symphony, and they all had beautiful instruments. So the string part sounded just as good. I thought it was really strong. They have some professional level players.’
The process of becoming a professional musician is not limited to practice and lessons. It’s also about being well-rounded and gaining experience in very different kinds of repertoire. The Performing Arts Center regularly hosts workshops with artists participating in the UGA Presents series. But the collaboration with Kishi Bashi, the result of years of conversations between the artist and Jutras and PAC director Jeffrey Martin, who travels to St. Louis to see him in concert, is new territory for all concerned.
“If you look at the Atlanta Symphony season or any major orchestra,” Jutras said, “they do a lot of these kinds of concerts with pop artists of different styles. Not necessarily indie pop, but it could be R&B or rock.”
Or hip-hop. In 2014, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra performed “Baby Got Back” with Sir Mix-a-Lot. Two weeks after Kishi Bashi’s concert, the Athens Hip-Hop Harmonic, a project that connects music students and faculty with local hip-hop artists, debuted at Hodgson Concert Hall.
“I think we want to continue to present concerts of the highest quality, regardless of the genre of music,” Jutras said. “We will still play the classical repertoire and do a lot of it, and do it very well, but at the same time, I think we want to expand and diversify the things that we present to our audience and have our students learn and prepare “.
Projects such as the Kishi Bashi Concert and Hip-Hop Harmonic also connect the music school and the Performing Arts Center with the vast local music community.
“Athens has always been known for its wonderful music scene, and people haven’t always included the Hugh Hodgson School of Music in that scene or in their thoughts about the music happening in Athens,” Eutras said. “And to be fair, we haven’t included Athenian musicians in what we’re doing here historically, and we’re both doing such great things musically. Why don’t we work together? This is a unique opportunity that students have here at UGA that is not available anywhere else.”
“I can tell it’s different from what we’re used to as students here,” Cosman said of the Kishi Bashi concert. “I mean, we usually focus on a lot of academic work, right? And to be able to play something that is more accessible to more people? I think it’s useful for those who really want to work more with a wider audience. Variety is nice.
“And it didn’t hurt that it was packed.”