Coping with crisisIt was a glorious spring day but, sequestered by a cruel act of nature, I was forced, once more, to listen to a music event on-line. This program included R&B/Soul singer-songwriter Cyanca and Jaycee Clark,  from pop-metal group A Light Divided. Sounds like an unusual event for CVNC, but stay with me.

There was so much that made this event special as presented by Your Neighborhood Orchestra in Charlotte. Elizabeth Kowalski‘s orchestral arrangements provided new settings for popular songs. Coupled with new videos, two top notch multi-disciplinary works were born. Furthermore, these particular works were part of a celebration of female musicians and artists who make their homes in Charlotte.

The program opened with Cyanca’s “New Phone,Who Dis?” from her album The Isle of Queens.

Orchestrated by Kowalski, and choreographed for Satarah (aerial/fire duo) the song took on a new character. The striking, often playful images, and unique sounds, seized my attention. This collaborative work was imaginative, creative and beautiful. Cyanca’s song was not co-opted, but rather placed in new scenery. The trees outside my window disappeared from view as I zeroed in to what lay before me.  

On the promotional material on her website, the writer says Cyanca’s voice commands your attention. Indeed, as her name implies, her cool, silky voice penetrates the orchestration like a laser. Yet, the drum beat, harp and saxophone improvisations, and intensity of the instrumental playing were inspired. My attention toggled between singer and orchestra while Kowalski worked to keep it all together as she conducted.

Clark is also a songwriter. The lead singer for pop metal group, A Light Divided, Clark’s voice was big and lush. Her song, “Make Your Luck” has a message for women – Be true to yourself. In a conversation before the video, Clark talked about her experience working with Kowalski and the orchestra. “It was wild,” she said.

Kowalski’s orchestration is drawn from a wide palette. A timpani roll and two bass clarinets added depth that supported Clark’s booming sound. She was comfortable in the foreground as lead singer. In this program, however, she slipped into the ensemble becoming an instrumentalist. She made the transitions well. And with pitch-perfect intonation, she added a bit of vibrato in just the right places. Finally, picture a mermaid. Our video-master crafted a fascinating visual world. The light, the colors, the textures – all were stunning. This was not a Disney re-make.

Kowalski’s arrangements are rich and new. They are not like Henri Mancini or the elevator music that followed. Your Neighborhood Orchestra is a serious endeavor – serious about the artistic merit and a cultural elision between genres. Putting aside my personal bias, listening to what I heard and looking at the new visual objects meant opening myself to new art. Pure joy!

Want to test the waters? There will be three more opportunities this season: May 2, 1:00 p.m., May 16, 1:00 p.m., May 30, 1:00 p.m., and June 13, 1:00 p.m.