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Uptown Music Collective to open season with Aerosmith tribute

It came down to a vote. There was nothing remarkable about this; this was the way it had always happened: A room full of multi-talented and creative kids deciding precisely how they would be wowing locals this year. When the ballots for the concert’s featured artist were all in, three favorites emerged: Elton John, Billy Joel, and Aerosmith. According to Dave Brumbaugh, Uptown Music Collective’s founder and executive director, the process is systematic and democratic.

“Our students have a meeting in the summer where they nominate show ideas, debate them, and then make decisions about what they would like to do. The staff then discusses the student ideas and meets with them to discuss and ultimately decide what the shows for the season will be,” he said.

Local music fans are also pooled in order to make an optimal decision.

“The Uptown Music Collective reached out to the community asking what they would like the school to perform for this year’s January performance. As part of that voting process, it became a battle between Elton John/Billy Joel and Aerosmith. When the battle was over the second choice, Aerosmith was given the season’s opening spot,” Brumbaugh said.

Though Aerosmith’s songs present musicians with their own unique challenges, the general approach to the concert will fit with past concerts. Brumbaugh said that, in terms of energy, the show will be roughly comparable to last year’s ode to rock legends Boston, the “More Than A Feeling” concert. Aerosmith’s sound and appeal are distinctive, which provides special opportunities for musicians to give one-of-a-kind performances.

“Aerosmith is high energy, fun, and filled with attitude and passion. The students will be focused on delivering a real badass rock and roll show, with big lights, great sound, and a high energy stage performance that will inspire the audience to stand up, sing, clap, and dance along,” Brumbaugh said.

One aspect of Aerosmith that will allow students to shine is their guitar work. Joe Perry, Aerosmith’s guitarist, was named No. 84 in Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and helped lay the foundation on the techniques and approaches to the guitar that would become ubiquitous in what is referred to by some as classic rock.

Brumbaugh, as a student of the guitar for nearly 40 years, is a veritable living rosetta stone to this period of rock, having lived through it. As such, he fully understands its context.

“Different well-known guitar players all speak different dialects of the same language. Joe Perry’s playing owes a large debt to Jeff Beck, and his quirky style has been a challenge that our guitar students have gladly accepted,” said Brumbaugh. “I think if Joe saw them play this show he would be proud.”

The students have a fantastic leader in Brumbaugh, and he is confident in their abilities. They have all been devoted students, many since they were much younger. He said that the students have studied various styles of playing, including soloing concepts, in addition to a strong foundation of music theory.

Rather than technical considerations, the major challenge to pulling off a fitting tribute to Aerosmith is in honoring the individuality of each of the band’s members, according to Brumbaugh. Having been billed “America’s Greatest Rock Band,” all members of the band are legends of their respective instruments and bring something unique. Perhaps the most singular example of this is frontman and vocalist Steven Tyler, said Brumbaugh.

“Steven Tyler’s amazing range, a variety of expressive techniques, and passion is quite the high bar. As are living up to the musical skills of all of the other members of the band. I’m excited to inspire, lead, and cajole our students to present a performance that does this iconic group that I’ve loved since I was young justice,” he said.

In its 50th year, Aerosmith has tallied 25 gold, 18 platinum, and 12 multi-platinum albums, and their touring has been just as prolific. They are the best-selling American Hard Rock band of all time. Consisting of members Tyler, Perry, Tom Hamilton (bass), Joey Kramer (drums), and Brad Whitford (guitar), the titans of rock have seen 32 national and world tours. The lineup has changed only comparatively briefly over the years, and Tyler, Hamilton, and Kramer have been on every album and tour since the band’s inception. The band and all of its instrumentalists are prolific. If there ever were a group of students who could approximate the Aerosmith experience, the Uptown Music Collective is it.

Brumbaugh said that a portion of his students are new to the program, that all of his students’ educational processes are constantly evolving in an ever-unfolding arc, and that to look at one moment in time is to miss the larger picture in the story.

“There are a lot of new kids and the experienced students all change so much from year to year. Every parent knows that teenagers and pre-teens sometimes change personalities by the month,” he said.

The students are in great hands with Brumbaugh, who is helping to keep the proverbial noses to the grindstone in the weeks leading up to the performance.

“I can tell you, though, that the evolution of our program continues, and that this group is on track to exceed the preparation and so logically the performances of last year’s group, but that remains to be seen when we hit the stage in a few weeks for the first time. I can guarantee that they are really working their butts off right now to be ready for all of you,” he said.

In his 16th season of putting on performances with UMC, Brumbaugh has experienced plenty of memorable moments. But for him, there is nothing better than seeing a student grow and overcome personal obstacles.

“My favorite memories usually involve seeing kids lose their fears, rise above their anxiety and conquer the obstacles holding them back from finding their music and or their inner rock star. Those moments are everything to me, and there have been so many over the years it’s hard to pick just a few,” he said. “Thinking back to last year I was really pleased with the growth of vocalist Cecilia Lutz from really shy and lacking in confidence to a strong, passionate performer who blew the doors off of all the places we performed last year. The ’25 or 6 to 4′ show was another favorite. Going into that show I didn’t know how these young kids were going to take to this jazz-influenced rock horn music but they were so into it, and many still today say that was one of their favorite shows ever.”

As for reflections on the whole of his endeavors with students of the Uptown Music Collective over the past two decades, Brumbaugh said, “I have so many fond memories, and a sea of faces in my mind belonging to all of the amazing young students it’s been my pleasure to work with.”

“Walk This Way: The Music of Aerosmith” is billed for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15-16 at the Community Arts Center, 220 West Fourth St. Tickets may be purchased via the Community Arts Center website and box office.

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