Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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Camas High choir, Portland rockers collaborate

Students learn ins and outs of music business

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

They’re all rock stars.

When the 155-voice Camas High School Choir joins a six-piece band featuring some of Portland’s most accomplished singers and players on April 15 — following opening acts including their own extracurricular musical projects and special guests — it’s going to be nothing short of “explosive” and “earth shattering” and “astonishing brilliance.”

Those fitting terms were chosen by Maddie Bertalot and Andrew Henson, two members of the choir, who wrote what The Columbian finds an explosively earth-shatteringly brilliant press release.

Marketing is key to the music business, Camas High School choir leader Ethan Chessin said, but students don’t usually learn much about it in his class. A couple of grants from the Camas Educational Foundation and Young Audiences of Oregon and Southwest Washington helped change that.

“As a choir teacher I prioritize the traditional choral skills — healthy singing technique, sight reading, the choral literature,” Chessin said, “but I also wanted to peel back the curtain a little bit” on the many backstage and front-office tasks necessary for a big performance. “There are people who do all kinds of jobs that we don’t hear about in performance class. Lights, sound, publicity, marketing — all the things that go into the music world that are not music.”

It’s no different than the world of sports, Chessin said: Many kids love it but few will wind up in the spotlight. Over the past year, Chessin said, those grants leveraged numerous local music-industry professionals into his classroom to review the many ancillary jobs that make music sound good. They even talked to a music journalist and worked with a talent buyer to book acts at Portland’s Holocene nightclub. And they wrote that epic press release, of course.

If You Go

• What: Camas High School choir and AU with other special guests.

• When: 7 p.m. April 15.

• Where: Yale Union arts building, 800 S.E. 10th Ave., Portland.

• Cost: $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

• Information: ya-or.ejoinme.org/camaschoirtickets

“Pop? Classical? Rock? Choral? You decide,” it teases. “Yin and yang will collide on one stage to bring a once-in-a-lifetime show to bright and vivid life.”

Chessin’s description of the show is equally tantalizing. “It’s a spectacle,” he said one day last week while in recovery from the in-house premiere at Camas High School the night before. “It’s a large, multifaceted performance” that experiments with minimalism, pre-recorded background loops, free jazz, classical and hard rock, too.

It’s all headed for the Yale Union arts building, 800 S.E. 10th Ave. in Portland, at 7 p.m. Friday, April 15. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

New music

The musical architect of the spectacle is Luke Wyland, a Portland composer and instrumentalist and leader of an experimental band called AU. When Chessin got his grants and started casting about for collaborators, Wyland came to his attention and turned out to be a great fit.

Unlike a previous stab at the same kind of performance — numerous new works by different composers that ended up slightly “scattershot,” Chessin said — this time there’s one composer, Wyland, with a unified vision and 40 minutes of new music written specifically for the Camas kids.

Chessin confessed that he was worried what parents might think of the slightly strange and demanding new music their kids sang at the premiere last week. He needn’t have worried.

“The reaction I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive: ‘This is not the kind of music I normally listen to — but I love this.’ ”

They also loved the warm-up acts, of course. Those are the choir kids’ own personal musical endeavors plus still more special guests — Edna Vazquez and Luz Elena Mendoza, popular Portland rockers by way of Mexico.

Throw all that onstage — guitars and amps, drums and horns, bright lights, big speakers, guest stars — and the 155 choir singers “feel like rock stars, they really do,” Chessin said. “It’s like, wow, this is loud and powerful and exciting. It may be the only time in their lives they have an experience like this.”