Violin, viola, harp, bass, percussion. To the nave, this ensemble of classical instruments may seem reserved for weddings and naptime. NeoCollage, however, is no ordinary ensemble. With musical training from the Eastman School of Music, Cody Yakimow (bass), Nick Revel (viola), Curtis Stewart (violin), Rick Williams (percussion) and Megan Bledsoe (harp) have formed a new breed of music that blurs the lines between genres.
While they generally don the label ‘classical pop fusion,” the resulting sound includes snapshots of their individual backgrounds, their training in the classics from ESM, and their new influences, ranging from rock to world music and even hip-hop.

In an interview, they revealed their beginning, evolution and ambition as a band.

How did you form as a band?
Cody Yakimow: It was very separate at first. Like me and Curtis [were] playing with each other because we were friends. Some of us weren’t even friends until we actually decided, ‘Oh, I have this person and we can all get together.”
Megan Bledsoe: At first it was just for fun, kind of just hanging out.

What are your ambitions as a band? How did it go from just jamming to actually playing at different venues?
Nick Revel: It very slowly evolved, actually. We realized with every show that something was kind of leading us on, and we would follow it a lot. Eventually a gig would lead us to this person and then we’d play another gig.
At the beginning of the summer we had our set at the International Jazz Festival and that was a lot of fun. Now that we’ve graduated, we’re separated. Curtis, Rick and I are down in New York City. And Megan and Cody are in Rochester. Right now, [Curtis, Rick and I] are trying to live on our own in New York City and once that is more established, we [NeoCollage] will be playing a lot more together.
Curtis Stewart: Originally, our main concept of playing was as recitals because we’re all classically trained. We were writing songs and then we played our first recital with our first CD. [But] then eventually we relaxed a bit and thought, ‘You know, let’s just play for people.”
Rick Williams: A lot of it came too as our style changed and as we got new instruments. We started out acoustic, like I was playing acoustic marimba, [Cody] was playing double bass and [Megan] was playing [acoustic] harp. And then we started getting a more electric sound, and since we were branching away from the traditional classic, we also branched away from the traditional classic recital format.

Time-wise, how did you manage being Eastman students and having a band on the side?
M.B.: We met up every Friday and Saturday night and had no lives.
C.S.: It was actually a release. As a classical musician, you’re always playing somebody else’s music and you have to really work to feel what the composer is trying to get across. Once [I’m] composing [my] own stuff, I feel a lot freer and I feel like I’m actually saying what I want to say.

Are there any people or musicians who serve as an inspiration to you?
C.Y.: Curtis.
M.B.: He inspires you?
C.Y.: He writes in his journal every day of musical ideas.
C.S.: There are plenty of musicians out there that are so amazing.
M.B.: I think we could all list 50 names.
C.S.: We could list so many different styles. We have sat down and analyzed Michael Jackson.
R.W.: [And] songs from James Brown.
C.S.: We actually analyzed hip-hop and what can we do with our instruments to emulate.
M.B.: But not to say that hip-hop is a greater influence than the classical musicians or the jazz musicians.

Any highlights?
R.W.: Unpredictability.
M.B: I thought the International Jazz Festival was a highlight
C.S.: The flexibility.
C.Y.: I think that after all the hard times of putting things together and getting a chance to play in front of a crowd &- a good crowd &- and play really well.
N.R.: Eastman has taught us about playing our instruments and being musical. But for our major classical performance, there is no emphasis on writing or arranging. So for us it is really special for us to have our concerts with our music that we’ve written. No one can tell us how to play it. Nobody else can play it the way we play it except for us. And for me, that’s the best part.

For more information about NeoCollage, check out their Web site: http:// www.NeoCollage.net.

Sanehira is a member of the class of 2011.



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