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ASU's Popular Music Ensemble holds its first concert of the semester

The performances from six student groups featured throwback hits including 'September' and 'Come Together'

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The Popular Music Ensemble held its fall concert at Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021.

ASU’s Popular Music Ensemble class held its first concert on Oct. 15 at Civic Space Park, the first of two this semester. The event had a retro twist, with each of the six performances including songs from the '70s and the '80s.

The popular music program, which falls under the umbrella of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was launched in the Fall 2020 semester in Tempe and now offers classes on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

The performers in the concert were students enrolled in the program’s Popular Music Ensemble course, taught by faculty associates Garrison Jones and David Oliverio, and instructor Raul Yanez, all from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

The instructors placed the students into six groups based on musical style and interest: Mango, Granny Smith, Strawberry Sunset, Velvet 220, The Oranges and Burning Cherry.

Each band played three songs, mostly covers of classic rock songs, and some members shuffled around as a result of smaller class sizes.

"I liked the atmosphere. I liked 'Come Together' by (Velvet 220) … they played it pretty cool," said Adhitya Ramkumar, a sophomore studying chemical engineering who was in the audience.

Kiernan Marriott, a junior studying music learning and teaching, was the keyboardist for Velvet 220. 

"During COVID last semester, the pop music ensemble did do performances at the Tempe campus, and it was definitely more limited, especially since the virus was more serious back then," said Marriott, who has taken the course twice before. 

“This semester we had a bit more leniency where singers were able to take their masks off if they're vaccinated and used their own microphone,” Marriott said.

The performance and course offered students the opportunity to break free of their comfort zones and play music within a collective, melding their musical styles with those of others. 

“I played guitar for the first song and actually ended up branching out and doing some really different stuff,” said Zach Smith, who uses Zach Montana as a stage name, a sophomore studying popular music. “And then on the last one, I ended up switching over to a laptop, and doing something I'd never done live, which is called live looping.”

Smith performed in The Oranges and typically creates work as a singer-songwriter. 

“It was a really great experience to be able to do that live … because I've never done it before, and it really took me out of my comfort zone,” Smith said.

While the bulk of the songs were throwback hits like Earth, Wind and Fire's "September," performed by Mango, there were some modern tunes, such as The Oranges’ rendition of Dua Lipa’s "Physical," and Burning Cherry’s take on "Redbone" by Childish Gambino. 

Also of note was the original song thrown in the mix: "Wicked," performed by Burning Cherry and written by singer-songwriter Sophia Fichter, a junior studying popular music.

“Originally it was just a kind of pop song,” Fichter said. “And then I worked on it a lot for it to be more of an instrumental song with more guitar to make it fit for that, and finding the right tempo that would work with everybody, and how it would sound good with the band.”

Fichter was the vocalist for the song and played the piano, and credited the final version of the song to a combination of efforts made by the band. She also said the song fit well with the theme due to its use of instrumentals.

“I really liked all of them,” Camy Rael, a sophomore studying business who was in the audience said. “They're all different so it's fun to kind of hear all the … bands play.”

The common thread between performers and audiences was the general eagerness to listen to the variety of performances at the concert, as many of the bands had not gotten to hear their fellow groups perform beforehand.

“During the beginning of the semester we were off on our own, just doing our own thing,” Marriott said. “We didn't really hear what any of the other bands were playing, and just getting the opportunity to hear everyone else's band play was the most exciting part.” 

This is just the first concert of many, as the program signed a commitment with the city of Phoenix to perform on the stage in Civic Space Park, one of the course instructors said at the concert.

The next performance will be on Dec. 3, continuing the throwback theme with the '80s and '90s. 

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