With A Little Help From My Friends

hey wear no shoeshine, they got toe-jam football – they’re the Uptown Music Collective, and they’re bringing Beatlemania to Williamsport.

The Uptown Music Collective, Williamsport’s very own nonprofit school of music, presents their annual spring performance, “With a Little Help from My Friends: A Tribute to The Beatles” – their third major production in only four months.

What’s enticing about this particular tribute, among the countless other Beatles tribute acts, is that Collective’s performance is comprised of some of the most musically inclined children and youth that the area has ever seen, and furthermore, these students will not simply stand idly on stage as they perform, but rather they will truly embody The Beatles and all of their eccentric splendor, integrating theatrics into the show.

“We will have students at times acting as The Beatles; there will also be times when they will be acting out the story of the song complete with the song’s characters, or creating a scene implied by the lyrics or mood of the song,” Dave Brumbaugh, founder and executive director of Uptown Music Collective, said.

Brumbaugh said he emphasizes to his students the importance of giving the audience a proper show and making it compelling, hence the theatrics.

“I teach our student performers that performance is all about the drama, that the audience wants to witness and feel the performer’s emotions in performance,” he said.

Brumbaugh clearly has a passion for what he does and understands music on a much more philosophical level than most.

“All musical performance has an element of theater to it. Musicians perform songs that run a gamut of emotions that the musician isn’t actually feeling, or that tell stories that they haven’t lived. To present the song in the way it was intended requires that the performer put themselves in character in order to properly connect themselves and the audience to the song,” he said, adding, “It is of course the human element that brings music alive and makes live music in general so compelling.”

Some may question the idea of children age 11 through 18 performing what is stereotypically thought of as drug-fueled psychedelic music from the ’60s and ’70s. But it’s not about that – it’s about education teaching the students about an important part of music history.

“The Beatles are a high watermark in rock music history. Not simply because of their obvious success and continuing popularity … but more importantly because of the new ground they broke throughout their career,” he said.

“Listening to ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ has really taught me how creative The Beatles really were,” said Mason Gyurina, a Muncy High School senior who performs bass and vocals with the Collective.

Brumbaugh is able to visualize a band like The Beatles and all of the elements separately that made them such legendary musicians.

“The Beatles’ music included many diverse influences, including the obvious pop elements juxtaposed against elements from the blues, Indian music, psychedelic music, orchestral elements and the avant-garde,” he said, noting that all of it worked so well together because of The Beatles’ amazing song-writing abilities.

All Collective shows are student-directed, and for this performance, Williamsport Area High School senior Tess Clutter is the director. Clutter also happens to be a Beatles fanatic.

Brumbaugh said that she is such a Beatle maniac and such a good keyboard player, that she has recently become a member of a Beatles tribute band that he also is a part of, called Rubber Soul. He said that she is the reason that the Collective chose to do the tribute.

Although the planning for this particular production has been ongoing since before Christmas, the work of learning the songs and putting everything together, Brumbaugh said, has only been happening over the last month.

“Luckily the group that puts on the spring show is smaller and more select. They are used to tight timelines and the pressure involved in putting these big shows together,” he said.

With students ranging from ages 11 through 18, one may think Brumbaugh would face difficulties in getting some of the younger students to work well with the older students. Not so. Brumbaugh says that the younger students in the program are “only young chronologically” and have “as much, if not more experience than some of the older kids.” As it happens, the youngest student in “With a Little Help from my Friends: A Tribute to The Beatles” is Brumbaugh’s daughter, Isabelle (Izzy) who just turned 11.

“The only time their age is apparent is when they are all hanging out between songs and the older kids treat them with a little more affection than they sometimes show one another,” Brumbaugh said.

Saying that the Collective pays attention to detail would be an understatement.

For the performance, students will get to use some of the same model instruments that The Beatles themselves used. A Rickenbacker 330 12-string guitar, a Hofner violin bass and a Ludwig super classic drum kit are among some of the instruments that Bob Yoas, former Uptown Music Collective board of directors president and who Brumbaugh calls the “biggest Beatles fan I know,” loaned to the students to play in the performance.

Two students will be playing the sitar – a traditional Indian instrument brought to popularity in the United States, partially through George Harrison’s interest in it. Brumbaugh said getting some of the sitar pieces together as they were originally recorded was one of the bigger difficulties in preparing for the performance.

“You would think that the most difficult part of a show like this would be interpreting the 48-year-old music for today’s generation. However, the music speaks for itself, and my students are extremely excited to be performing it,” Brumbaugh said.

Danny Smith, a junior at Williamsport Area High School who performs guitar, vocals and sitar, emphasized how rewarding it has been putting the production together.

“The Beatles were fantastic musicians and interesting, incredibly creative people. Studying these albums has been extremely rewarding and fun. Everyone involved has been working hard and I’m excited to experience it as a finished product,” Smith said.

Brumbaugh said the most important values the students learned through preparing for the performance is two-fold.

“One – that it is all about the song; songwriting is the key. Two – that having an open mind towards music of all styles, both as a listener and as a player, can yield amazing musical results. The Beatles melded their diverse influences into an amazing menagerie of sound that still is unequaled in the pop world,” he said, adding, “In today’s highly commercialized music industry and intense media spotlight, few artists take the musical and political chances that The Beatles were willing to take back in the 1960s.”

Clutter calls The Beatles the closest source of universal happiness that she can come up with. She just can’t wait to make people happy.

“I have been entirely consumed by The Beatles for as long as I can remember. This music is important to people, and it’s important to so many varieties of people. The Beatles are the closest source of universal happiness that I can come up with, and I can’t wait to make people happy this week all while working with some of my favorite people,” she said.

Come together to see these immeasurably talented students embody The Beatles at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.