After seeing Bobby McFerrin last semester during his week-long artist in residency, I fervently counted down the days until February 24th when he’d return to Berklee to perform with a chorus of Berklee students in the BPC.
And Bobby McFerrin did not disappoint!
The crowd gave a warm Boston welcome to McFerrin when he entered the stage and began singing in his signature a cappella style, highlighting his 4 octave range. After a few minutes performing solo, McFerrin was joined by the huge Singing Tribe Ensemble, comprised of 22 students, representing countries from all around the world including Argentina, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Holland, India, Italy, South Korea, and Russia. The creator of the ensemble, Joey Blake, selected the students for their talent and also their musical diversity to best highlight Berklee’s global student body.
The evening was comprised of several prepared group songs interspersed with songs performed by smaller groups of students with improvised solos. My favorite small ensemble piece was probably Donna Lee, an incredibly fast Charlie Parker tune that offered the students a chance to really show of their jazz chops that Berklee is famous for cultivating. One of the standout songs of the evening was an improvised piece that began with Bobby introducing a rhythmic and harmony foundation that some of the basses in the ensemble helped continue but allowed for random singers to jump in and solo over. Because it was a fairly simple musical foundation, the soloists were allowed more freedom with their solos which resulted in beautiful, highly individualized, and sometimes very “exotic” improvisations.
In keeping with the evening’s theme of musical improvisation, Bobby McFerrin kept the program spontaneous as well, suggesting random ideas for songs and collaborations, the first of which began when McFerrin asked if any of the singers in the ensemble knew how to Irish dance. And who should come forth to dance, but none other than the singer who joined the busking musicians I photographed on Newbury street last semester, Elana Michelle Brody. She was as charismatic as ever and danced until she was almost depleted of energy to Bobby’s McFerrin’s improvised jig.
Later Bobby McFerrin asked if anyone had a harmonica and could play the blues with him. At first it seemed as though no one would come forward, but then a very tall, broad-shouldered man stood in the audience, holding his harmonica aloft. Amid applause, the gentleman came to the stage and a very funny moment ensued when the imposing audience-member stood toe-to-toe with Bobby McFerrin as if in a stand-off. Then they began a kind of down-and-dirty blues, in which the audience member both played and sang with Bobby McFerrin. To say that the crowd enjoyed their performance was an understatement, and I can say that it was quite possibly the most entertaining portion of the evening.
McFerrin also performed a duet improvisation with the ensemble’s director, Joey Blake, who has performed with Bobby McFerrin for over 20 years as a founding member of Voicestra, an improvisational vocal orchestra that Bobby McFerrin began in 1986. And from their improvised number during the concert, it was clear they had experience performing together as they would finish each other’s musical thoughts, if you will, reaching cadenzas in lock step with each other and trading humorous choruses back and forth that even referenced their many years performing together.
All in all, I can say that the buzz and expectation for this concert was well placed. And judging by the thunderous standing ovation Bobby McFerrin received at the concerts conclusion, I wasn’t the only one impressed with both Bobby McFerrin’s incredible performances but also the talented Berklee students in the Singing Tribe Ensemble.
P.S. Photos courtesy of Berklee Blogs writer, Choping.