Music is the soundtrack to our lives, underscoring emotions, expressing in notes what we sometimes cannot say in words. Here, three music lovers explain how different genres enrich our lives in all kinds of ways.
Fred Bronstein, president and executive director, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Bronstein still remembers the night he heard famed pianist Van Cliburn play in Boston. “I was just 11 or 12 at the time, but he blew me away,” he recalls. “I grew up loving music from rock to Rachmaninoff, thanks to parents who took me to concerts and poked around record stores with me.”
He brought this eclecticism along when he came to the SLSO two years ago, determined to broaden the great orchestra’s musical focus. “Our classical series is still the core of what we do, but we’ve also diversified to include popularly oriented programs, like Chris Botti or the music of Abba and the Beatles. Yes, the SLSO can play Mahler’s Resurrection symphony, but it can also play the Psycho score. It’s no less an experience—just different.”
Bronstein isn’t trying to replace the traditional orchestral repertoire. “But to make sure it thrives, we’ve got to connect with a variety of audiences and create a sense of excitement,” he says. “Powell Hall is not an exclusive club. It’s for everyone!” He can’t imagine anyone going through life without hearing Beethoven played live. “Orchestral music played well is a transformative experience,” he says. “No recording, no iPod, will ever replace the power and emotional impact of a live performance.”
Steve Schankman, president, Contemporary Productions; producer, ENCORE! Stars Shine at the J
Written above Schankman’s high school yearbook picture are the words, Let not the music within us ever die. “My dad was a violinist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for 35 years, and played pop music with all the big bands around town,” he recalls. “My grandfather ran the first music conservatory in town, back in the 1930s. I’ve been playing the trumpet since grade school, my sister is a professional musician, and one of my sons is a jazz pianist. Music is in our blood.”
One of Schankman’s latest projects is ENCORE! Stars Shine at the J, a series based at the Staenberg Family Complex Arts & Education Building on the JCC Campus. ENCORE! presents popular regional and national entertainers in a cozy, cabaret-style setting. The series has featured performers as varied as Kim Massie, Erin Bode and The Motown Revue. “It’s not as jazz-oriented as my last venue, Finale, was, but we do Broadway tunes, blues, standards and jazz-influenced pop.”
Schankman can be found weekly at BeBe’s Jazz, Blues & Soups with his Sessions Jazz Band. “I love the beauty of jazz improvisation,” he explains. “If you play Beethoven, there’s no leeway; you’re pretty much restricted to the notes on the sheet. But with jazz, you lay the melody down, then soar during the choruses. That’s the fun of it.”
But he doesn’t restrict himself to jazz. “All types of music affect us spiritually, physically and emotionally,” he says. “Research shows that people who study music are smarter, because music is math-based. Music helps sick people feel better and soothes crying babies. It even helps plants grow faster!” Schankman’s father still inspires him. “He played it all, and he loved it all. And so do I.”
Joe Edwards, owner, Blueberry Hill and
During sixth grade, Edwards always liked Fridays best. “Instead of regular recess, our teacher would let us bring records in—and we actually got to dance with members of the opposite sex! Pretty exciting.” And so was the music: Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. “It was wild and raw and, best of all, a huge change from what our parents were listening to.” In those days, rock ‘n’ roll was new music for a new generation. “The beat itself was a cry for freedom,” he says.
Since first opening the doors of Blueberry Hill in 1972, Edwards has been on a one-man mission to keep the exuberant, rebellious spirit of rock music alive. The tradition continues at The Pageant, his sleek, 2,000-plus-seat venue now celebrating its 10th anniversary. “Rock stays vital because it keeps evolving,” he says. “It was originally a hybrid of blues and hillbilly music; during the 1960s and ‘70s it incorporated elements of folk, classical and jazz; and now it’s incorporating hip-hop.”
Rumors of rock’s death are greatly exaggerated, Edwards says. “The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and The Who continue to sell out stadiums and auditoriums, and it’s not just boomers in the audience; kids in their teens and 20s are going, too. Rock is a primal experience that makes you feel more fully alive.”