The diversity of musical opportunities is one of the greatest benefits of being a student at UR. The sheer number of ensembles that cover different genres and styles of music allow students to experience a variety of performances, which lets unique groups thrive. Among these is Rock Repertory Ensemble, which held its annual concert on Sunday, Oct. 28 in Lower Strong Auditorium.
Unlike No Jackets Required, the other rock ensemble on campus, Rock Repertory Ensemble holds a unique position at UR as not only a graded course, but also as an ensemble that recreates the original sound of the songs they perform with almost no adjustments, medleys or interpretations found in any of their performances, managing to perform astoundingly well despite their barebones appearance.
Music Professor John Covach, the group’s director, began the performance by introducing the general objective of the ensemble. Covach directs Rock Repertory Ensemble (MUR 180) as a class that explains and teaches rock music from the performance perspective, rather than from a theoretical one. The ensemble is made up of the class’ past and current students (with the current students being graded) who perform a set list constructed by the professor at performances. The students use the recordings of the chosen songs as a guideline for how they will perform the numbers — as close to the originals as possible.
The show itself was of an average quality overall. Using the word “performance” to describe it is a stretch in itself, for as Covach had stated, the purpose was to create an authentic sound similar to the way the songs were originally performed. Movement was limited, and any type of engagement with the audience was absent. The straightforward presentation of the songs, though the mission statement of the ensemble, didn’t quite fit with some of the numbers, including the up-tempo Madonna hit “Like a Virgin,” a song by a performer renowned for engaging the audience. The disconnect made it hard to stay engaged with the performance at some points, with many of the musicians refusing to even look away from their instruments. If English composer Frederick Delius was correct in stating that “music is an outburst of the soul,” their performance seemed to suppress the emotional power that can come from truly communicating the meaning of a song to an audience.
That is not to say the performers weren’t talented and the music wasn’t well-performed; each member of the ensemble knew their part almost impeccably and each individual song was methodical in its presentation. The nine songs chosen for the performance varied in style, but the instrumentalists adjusted to each individual number in a quick, professional way.
The opening song, a cover of The Doors’ “Love Her Madly,” was brilliant in how the band was able to recreate every note as their professional counterparts would have. Vocalist and junior Brian Giacalone impressed with his rare timbre that allowed him to admirably mimic Jim Morrison’s vocal technique very well. Vocalist and senior Mark Lipstein thrilled with his lead on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Boston’s “Long Time” and Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” outstandingly imitating the voices of three different classic rock lead singers.
The instrumentalists were systematic in how they performed each song, though solos in covers of Boston’s “Foreplay” and Kansas’ “Point of No Return” allowed guitarists senior JT Gaskill and sophomore Tom Perrotta to occasionally let loose and display a greater range of aptitude. Drummer and senior Tom Krasner also dazzled, while vocalists and seniors Jamie Wilson and Meghan Demirer performed commendably during their limited time on stage.
Overall, the hour-long performance was intriguing. Though it was not the most entertaining concert to ever be performed at UR, it allowed for the audience to explore rock music when it was stripped down to its core: only the musicians, their instruments and their talent with no superlative additions to their performance.
The group’s purpose, similar to that of an orchestra, seemed to be to bring the music to the audience in the most professional way possible. Within the bounds of that criterion, the concert was successful and, from an all-encompassing perspective, Rock Repertory Ensemble created an admirable, albeit unpretentious, performance that ardent rock enthusiasts would enjoy.
Pascutoi is a member of the class of 2015.