Classical music is often thought of as archaic and exclusive, a genre particular to those who study or practice it. There’s misconception that the classical genre is only listened to in ostentatious concert halls by the most experienced connoisseurs and critics. This wrongfully held perception of exclusivity can be hard to shake, but Music, Theatre & Dance associate professor Kathleen Kelly, who is also the artistic director of the Kerrytown Concert House, is tearing that perception  down.

By organizing Ann Arbor’s first ever songSLAM, Professor Kelly is reinventing, modernizing and rediscovering a forgotten form of classical music composition: the art song. The art song is commonly described as a poem set to music, but its nature goes beyond that. An art song “strives to be the perfect combination of music and literature based on four elements: poet, composer, singer and accompanist.”

Tuesday, the Ann Arbor songSLAM is set to open up the floor to 13 groups of composers, singers and pianists who will premiere their original art songs to the audience. Prizes for the best three songs will be awarded after the audience votes on their top three favorites at the end of the night. In an email interview with The Michigan Daily, Kelly described the songSLAM as an “event that combines new work, collaborative performance, shameless competition and audience participation.”

The evening will breach classical music stereotypes and provide the audience a myriad of different interpretations of the art song. From comical to lyrical styles, the talented composers, singers and writers will bring forth an evening full of new music presented in an informal yet highly engaging manner. Each group will perform a song that has never been played live before ––  every song heard at the Kerrytown Concert House on Tuesday evening will be a world premiere.

Kelly described the structure of the event as an open mic night, and she expressed that the “focus of the performance will be the community, the audience, the connection of the audience to the performers and the opinion of the audience about the music.” In this way, this Tuesday’s songSLAM is nothing like a classical music concert. It invites the audience, which will hopefully be made up of Ann Arbor residents as well as music professors and students, to put forth their opinions and choose the best song.

When Kelly organized this event, her goal in was to bring an experience that went “to the heart of what performance is: compelling performers, expressive music and a real connection with the audience.” In allowing the audience to choose the winner, the Ann Arbor songSLAM will destroy the primitive notion of classical music being enjoyed only by experts. It will bring out the true essence of music because the song that wins will be the one that achieved the most significant connection with the audience.

Modeled after the “2017 songSLAM – New ART SONG Competition” in New York City, Ann Arbor’s songSLAM is the second event of its kind in the nation. The experience will be a fascinating combination of an informal competition and a classical music concert. It will show the versatility and power of classical music by providing an evening full of music that goes beyond audience expectations and digs deeper into the heart of a performance.

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