Nov. 16 2017 11:26 AM

French Horn Folk Tales blends a variety of genres


Grand Rapids Symphony veteran Mary Beth Orr will be performing a fusion project along with three other distinguished artists on Nov. 21 at the Cook Recital Hall. The program fuses two unlikely genres of Appalachian folk and classical music, with Orr singing and also performing solo French horn.

“Often times, folk music is considered porch music and colloquial, but classical has this elitist stereotype of being formal and stiff,” said Orr. “Despite the differences, people will see that both these genres complement each other”.

Orr grew up in Charleston, North Carolina, with a strong folk music background and has also been playing classical piano since the age of 7. She crafted the program bringing these genres together that incorporate some of the traditional Appalachian melodies of her childhood.

“These genres are not as far apart as we thought they are; in fact, they segue into classical works that absolutely and directly complement each other, with again, the sole purpose of disproving this perceived notion they are unrelated,” said Orr.

This feat of innovation was made possible by the Chris Clark Fellowship Grant she just received from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. This grant also allows her to shoot her recital.

“I can use the high-quality footage from this program for opportunities in the future which was made possible through this grant,” she said.

Another feature of the show are the lighting effects, which will be used to move the story along. “I am utilizing a commercial element by performing this show in a continuous staged format with story-boarded lighting,” said Orr.

The story of the show will be portrayed through individual songs which Orr said she was compelled to share. Each of the tunes come from a deep place.

“I hope the songs will tell the story, and I want the audience to feel like they are a part of the journey,” said Orr.

The songs are mostly about lost love, death and new life, but Orr said that she wants to set the mood and get the audience to visualize the Appalachian Mountains.

“The opening mood is very majestic, and then it goes into comforting, which will hopefully make the audience nostalgic and then it gets adventurous, towards the end.”

The program includes a unique chamber piece talking about past love and an interesting song by artist Storm Large called, “Stand Up for Me” which talks about love from love’s perspective.

“The last song featured in the program is a pop song, which I think are the modern-day folk songs,” said Orr.

Through the variety of melodies she learned on her grandmother’s porch, combined with the classics she trained in, Orr said that she wants to show how connected people can be through art.

“I have spent my entire life being inspired by two completely different worlds. Traditional Appalachian Folk and Classical/ Orchestral. In a world so divided, mostly based on misguided perceptions, I wanted to fuse these two genres to show, through art, how connected we really are.”

Currently, she is third horn for the Grand Rapids Symphony as well as pursuing a master of music in horn performance at Michigan State University as a Distinguished Fellow.

After winning second prize in the professional division at the International Horn Competition of America in 2013, she started exploring artistic opportunities as a soloist. This paid off, when she placed second in the Horn Division of the 2014 International Women’s Brass Conference Solo Competition. She also holds faculty positions with both the Charleston Horn Institute, and the Tucson Summer Brass Workshop as the Hornist for the resident quintet, Variance Brass.

The other artists performing include a freelance violinist, tenor and artist in residence at Central Michigan University, Takeshi Abo. His playing has been praised by critics as “angelic” and “breathtakingly beautiful.” He regularly performs throughout the United States and Japan, with recent appearances as soloist in concertos by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

Tenor William Watson will join the artists, too. He has been teaching voice for over 20 years, including 11 years at Northern Illinois University. He created the role of President Van Buren in the world premiere of the opera, “Amistad” at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Mina Son will contribute her talents as well. From Joliet, Illinois, she graduated with her professional studies degree in collaborative piano from the Cleveland Institute of Music, earned her masters of music degree from Central Michigan University and her bachelor of music degree from Illinois State University. She is currently a staff pianist at Central Michigan University, as well as the organist at Sacred Heart Church.

With such distinguished artists on board, Orr hopes that people will appreciate this unique blend of sounds from two distinct genres not usually seen together.

French Horn Folk Tales French Horn Folk Tales Tuesday, Nov. 21 6 p.m. FREE Cook Recital Hall 333 W. Circle Drive East Lansing (517) 290-0877