Music as an accessible endeavor

Last Tuesday night, with four days left until show time, the Rogue World Ensemble gathers to rehearse its annual spring concert in the Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University.

This is the only chance the group will have to practice the show in the venue where it will be presented to the public, so it serves as both dress rehearsal and tech rehearsal.

While one group fusses with a new set of risers that's been built for the back row of the 30-member choir to stand on, another group weaves a rats' nest of audio cables all over the stage, meticulously connecting dozens of microphones to various essential bits of expensive sound equipment.

Looming overhead, another sound engineer works on an 18-foot stepladder to hang three large, condenser microphones from steel cables.

Amidst all of this — literally right in the middle of it — RWE founder and Executive Director Megan Danforth is deep in an animated conference with Musical Director Shaun Garner. They move around the center of the stage acting out the various dances and personnel changes that will happen during the show — things that need to be taken into account in the staging of equipment.

Meanwhile, on one side of the stage, a group of five musicians — the multi-instrumental accompanists — make ready an impressive array of instruments: fiddle, bagpipe, mandolin, ukulele, electric bass, accordion, drums, bodhran, dulcimer, various-sized saxophones, tin whistles and some sort of octave mandolin.

At their core is local group Nazdrave, featuring Kevin Carr, Olaf Soderback and Stephan Gagne. They are joined by Mark Nelson and Matthew Kriemelman on bass and drums, respectively. Along with the din of all of those instruments being tuned and mic-tested comes the sound of the choir members doing vocal warm-up exercises and telling jokes.

The Rogue World Ensemble is a 30-voice choral ensemble that specializes in world folk music as traditionally sung in villages around the globe.

Danforth says the group's vision of world folk music stems from the idea that every part of the world has its own, regional version of what she calls "the people's music — music that is accessible and relevant to common people." Think of musical forms that act as participatory activities among members of a localized community rather than as commercial entertainment enterprises.

This weekend's spring concert, titled "Metamorphosis," will feature songs from Uruguay, Peru, Ireland, Hawaii, Galicia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Croatia and the country of Georgia. There also will be North American folk tunes on the bill — after all, Danforth points out, "the world does include our own country."

Danforth and her father, Will Danforth, will perform a selection of American music as a duet to open the show before being joined by the rest of the choir.

Megan Danforth sang in a world-music choir in Vermont before moving to Oregon. Inspired by that experience, she founded the RWE in 2009. The group started with a relatively simple mission: to create a community-based world-music choir. With time and experience, the ensemble's vision has grown to include more ambitious performances and an emphasis on, as Danforth describes it, "lessening the distance between performers and audience members."

She sees a RWE performance as a community event — a call for people to come together in celebration of music and village-level cultural expression.

She also hopes the ensemble can play a role in reinvigorating choral singing in an era when fewer people are involved in church or school choirs. The ensemble's members come from all walks of life and all musical backgrounds. They are drawn together simply by the love of music and the desire to sing large group harmonies as members of a musical community.

The Rogue World Ensemble's spring concert, "Metamorphosis," will be presented at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Tickets cost $12 in advance and can be purchased at the SOU Performing Arts box office or by calling 541-552-6348.


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