Anderson String Quartet creates unity through music


If you're like me, the classical music scene conjures up images of powdered fuddy-duddies looking down their patrician noses at us plebes. The classical tradition seems firmly rooted in European culture, and many of us feel that the often-refined sounds are the sole province of old, rich white folks.

But the truth is, the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven know no boundaries, belonging to nobody and everybody simultaneously. And it is unfettered love of music that is the essence of the Anderson String Quartet, whose members are all African Americans and who play here as part of the University of Montana's Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday activities.

The ensemble debuted on Thanksgiving of 1989 in New York City, under the name the Chaminade Quartet, and played to increasing acclaim that culminated in 1991, when they won the prestigious International Cleveland Quartet Competition. As the first African American group to win an award in the classical field, Michael Cameron, Marianne Henry, Marisa McLeod and Diedra Lawrence decided to spotlight their achievement by changing their name.

The Anderson String Quartet joins local performers this Friday at UM’s Music Recital Hall.

They contacted Marian Anderson, the celebrated African American contralto, shortly before her death and asked permission to use her name. She approved heartily, and the Anderson String Quartet was reborn.

All of Anderson's members attended the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music after winning the Cleveland Quartet Competition. Since then, the Andersons have played in many esteemed venues, including the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center and President Clinton's 1993 Inaugural Celebration. They currently serve as the Ensemble-in-Residence at California State University, Los Angeles.

Their program this Friday is titled "Unity Through Music," and it's meant to reflect a sense of stereotype transcendence.

Cameron says Antonin Dvorak's Quartet #6 in F Major, Op. 96 "American" was written when the composer spent a year living in the United States, and the music incorporates diverse influences, such as spirituals and Native American rhythms. Twentieth century African American composer George Walker's Lyric for Strings is also featured.

But Cameron says he's especially excited to play Felix Mendelssohn's Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, because the Andersons will be joined by a quartet made up of University of Montana faculty members, including his old friend Margaret Baldridge.

"The Mendelssohn Octet sums up the entire program," Baldridge explains. "When you play music there are no differences between people, and you can just make beautiful music together."

Cameron agrees, pointing out that despite the fact that, to his knowledge, they are the only African American classical ensemble in existence, they perform for the opportunity to share music with the audience and each other.

"The reason we came together is not skin, but wanting to perform great music," he says.

The Anderson String Quartet performs "Unity Through Music" in UM's Music Recital Hall at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 29. This event is free.

DJs and MCs mix it up in Missoula's first-ever Hip Hop Battle


Almost three decades ago, a nervous physicist sounded the death knell for popular music in a peculiar letter addressed to the editors of Rolling Stone. According to calculations made on space-age NASA computers, the scientist wrote, all possible new combinations of notes would be exhausted within the next few years. There could and would be no new melodies. Everything had been done; pop music would slowly collapse under its own prodigious weight.

Earth to mission control! This guy couldn't have been much of a physicist, unless he was just indulging himself in that good ol' physics humor (e.g. "bumblebees can't fly and I can prove it!"). Either way, I hope they didn't put this egghead in charge of anything particularly important to national security.

And, of course, he was wrong.

Put the needle on the record. Voop voopy voop voop voopity-voop. The turntable revolution has turned the existing pop catalogue back on itself, prizing new beats and fresh combinations of found sounds out of dusty funk diamonds, Sesame Street albums, anything that ain't nailed down. It puts one in mind of the infinite number of monkeys at the infinite number of typewriters. Would an infinite number of DJs hunched over an infinite number of turntables eventually rewrite, say, the entire Beethoven oeuvre? Or the entire Sugar Hill Gang catalogue?

DJ Bino spins records in preparation for Missoula’s first-ever Hip-Hop Battle. The Battle will bring DJs and MCs head-to-head at Jay’s Upstairs to slug it out Friday, February 5.
Photo by Chad Harder

Friday, February 5, Missoula's first-ever Hip-Hop Battle will turn the venerable Jay's Upstairs into a Coliseum of scratching and freestyle, a heroic pitch of slant rhymes and turntable pyrotechnics pitting local talents against each other in a struggle for G-City hip-hop primacy.

The Battle consists of two main events-DJ and MC competitions. Entrants in the DJ category will spin on turntables provided by the event's organizers (thus, presumably, eliminating any home-court advantage). The three-minute DJ rounds must also follow an Olympic-style program of sorts; contestants are obliged to incorporate scratching as well as beat-juggling, which co-organizer Aaron Bolton defines as using double copies of the same record on both turntables to make up new beats. Contestants will be judged according to rhythmic accuracy, musicality, creativity, complexity and crowd response.

Bolton expects fiercer competition in the MC category. "This basically involves people competing on the microphone," Bolton explains, "rapping against each other to see who's top dog." Entrants in this category will freestyle over their choice of several pre-prepared musical backdrops provided in advance by the event organizers, and will be judged by criteria similar to the DJs': rhythmic accuracy, complexity and crowd response, as well as voice projection and content.

Winners in both categories take home an assortment of prizes, including gift certificates and assorted hip-hop sundries. Bolton predicts a huge turnout for this event, the first of its kind in a town where hip-hop concerts are rare as hen's teeth. "If you're not there by 10:30, there's no way you're gonna get in," Bolton warns, "We're gonna blow up the spot."


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