There are certain artists who’s talent, expertise, life experiences, and spirit regarding the ways they communicate with an audience converge together at some point to catapult them into an entirely higher level of performance; and Michael Brush is such an artist.
From his years as a teen rocker with The Paupers to his formidable excursions into the world of jazz & popular song, through his work as an educator at the Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy, and following up to his experimentations in recent years with orchestration, Brush has proven to be constantly reaching for a higher rung up the ladder of professional achievement, with each song that he writes a new gift to be unwrapped, opened, and savored.
And with Christmas right around the corner, Brush is busily tinkering with his creations to assure that an assortment of fresh musical presents will be plentiful when he debuts the material for his 2nd Annual Brush Street with Brass & Strings Holiday Show at Bay City’s State Theatre on Saturday, November 30th at 7:00 PM.
“This is my fourth show at the State and my second Christmas show,” reflects Brush, “so this year I’m working to expand the orchestra to include two violins, a cello, and a viola, which we’ve never incorporated before. Plus we are expanding our horn section, which opens things considerably in terms of arrangements. We’ve been busy refining the sound.”
In addition to the core Brush Street combo, which consists of Brush on piano & vocal, Matt Corrigan on guitar, Jordan Edwards on drums/vocal, Ryan Fitzgerald on bass, and Julie Mulady on vocals, the group is adding Kevin Keith on pitched/unpitched percussion; a Brass section consisting of Jeff Hall on tenor & flute, Kunio Ouellette and Archie Sawyer on trumpets, and Matt Wicke on trombone; a String section consisting of Rod & Nathan Bieber on violin, Alexia Pizziferri-Boisvert on viola, and Nate Wilkins on cello; along with adding backing vocalists Brandy Hecht & Mariama Sharper.
“Some of the song selections are the same because I just like and enjoy the songs,” continues Brush, “and others I’ve pulled out from different places. I took one song that I wrote in February 2012 that was really fun to play in concert and changed it to a new song called It’s a Christmas Thing, adding strings and flutes, because it was simply too much fun to play in concert.” Additionally, Brush will perform original holiday compositions he has penned over the years ranging form his groundbreaking work on Decembering to a newer composition called Christmas Eve for Two.
Now that Brush has had time to explore orchestrations for a couple years, is it as enriching as he thought it would be? Does he prefer writing orchestrations as opposed to songs for small combos; and is the orchestral work more rewarding?
“I remember the first time when I tried this a couple years ago and was looking at these guys like Archie Sawyer from the Saginaw Elite Band and thinking to myself these guys are music teachers and pretty established players and feeling somewhat intimidated,” laughs Brush. “I handed them charts and revisions with letters in different places on different charts and it was kind of a nightmare, but now I’m at a point where I really enjoy it.”
Brush says that when he sits down to write new songs and material, he doesn’t necessarily start thinking in the context of writing for an orchestra. “Some of the songs have more musicality to them and those are the ones that I get excited about orchestrating,” he explains. “Last year when I was a guest with the Saginaw Choral Society I wrote a song called Blue and thought it would be cool to orchestrate that song, because there’s a lot going on inside the piece. Mainly once I get the song down and decide what the function of the song is, then I’ll know where I want to take it.”
Brush also reflects on how writing the music for four shows at Pit & Balcony taught him important lessons about the process of creating orchestrations. “I wrote the music for four shows there: Green Gold, Stocking Stuffers, Under the Christmas Tree and Hans Brinker; and I learned a lot about character acting songs by doing that.”
Given that much of Christmas music involves tradition and material that is familiar to mass audiences, what kind of spin does Brush feel can be given to these songs to make them different?
“That’s the trick and challenge of what I’m trying to do,” reflects Mike. “For this upcoming show we’ll be doing original songs that I’ve written, plus I have one instrumental piece called Contemplation of Snow. We’ll definitely do a few pieces that people know, along with The Bells of St. Paul, which Julie really tore up and connected to the audience with last year. But in looking at the program, mainly all the songs will have some meaning to them.”
“If anybody wasn’t able to catch the show last year, we give everything that we do fresh arrangements and a fresh dusting of Christmas spirit.”
Tickets for The Brush Street with Brass & Strings Holiday Show are $17.00 for adults and $12.00 for students 18 and under. Sponsored by Dow Corning, Team One Credit Union & Tri-Star Trust Bank, tickets are available by calling 989-892-2660 or going to www.statetheatrebaycity.com