The popular music program offers four end-of-year concerts

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“It really is a Wild West for musicians. In many cases, they basically give away their work.” – Bill Richards, Head of Music Department, MacEwan University

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Trying to make a living as a musician has never been easy, but changes in music distribution over the past 20 years – especially streaming and downloading – have made it harder than ever.

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“It’s a dynamic industry. The good old days are over, says veteran musician, teacher and scholar Bill Richards. “There are a lot of opportunities there, but few people are making money. It really is a Wild West for musicians. In many cases, they essentially give away their work.

To Richards’ credit as head of the music department at MacEwan University, there have never been better opportunities to learn about the popular side of music in Edmonton. Since the institution’s expansion to a four-year program in recent years, learning to play well is just one facet of a larger experience that includes historical underpinnings and pragmatic angles like how to sell yourself. .

Approximately 280 students are involved in the many aspects of the music department.

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Recently, the government gave final approval to make MacEwan the first university in Canada to offer a recording arts undergraduate program, which is expected to begin in the 2019-2020 academic year. Complementing all of this, MacEwan’s Bent River Records label exists to further student endeavors. Music therapy and songwriting programs are also being considered.

“We just went through a review by the Government of Alberta’s Quality Council which takes place every seven years and they encouraged us to rename the program because it covers so much territory. But they called us a cutting-edge post-secondary program and real leaders on the North American stage.

For the rest of us listening, there’s the music itself, which will perform live in four special end-of-year concert offerings over the next month, all in the charming Triffo Theatre, which is part of MacEwan’s new downtown arts building, Allard Hall (11110 104 St.).

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It begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, with the Showcase Bands Concert, featuring two separate 14-piece ensembles (four alternating singers, five rhythmists and horns), the bands Richards oversees in his role as associate professor . . Expect an eclectic array of rock, funk, soul and pop with covers from Adele and Beyonce, Heart and Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake and Snarky Puppy, among others.

“People expect contemporary popular music from Showcase bands, but there’s also a lot of classic pop in there,” says Richards.

Featured professional guest soloists for the show include two distinguished alumni: reedman Jeremiah McDade and violin champion Daniel Gervais, who is about to bow to a rendition of Belleville Rendezvous, the award-winning piece from the film The Triplets of Beautiful city. A new work commissioned from MacEwan’s student composer, Sauvé MacBean, will complete the program.

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Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., meet with MacEwan’s Percussion Ensemble, 40 musicians playing every imaginable percussion device, from multiple marimbas to congas and hand djembes, trap sets and gongs, even a soloist on glass bottles.

Brian Thurgood, head of the percussion department (and percussionist with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) explains that most pieces will feature up to 16 musicians at a time, although all students in grades one through four participate in the final. The eclectic grooves will delve into soca, reggae, ragtime and Afro-Cuban traditions, among other sounds, but one of his favorites is a piece called Cop Drama which parodies themes from 1970s TV crime shows.

Jazz takes center stage at the MacEwan University Big Band Concert at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8, with either Raymond Baril or Jerrold Dubyk leading the bands in another set of wide-ranging material. Swing, Latin, funk and contemporary jazz styles welcome some of the greatest arranger-composers in the history of jazz.

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All three concerts involve festival seating, with tickets $15, $10 for seniors, or $5 for students, available at the MacEwan box office (780-497-4470, or in line).

Finally, at 6 p.m., Tuesday April 17, Bent River Records holds its first annual artist spotlight. As MacEwan’s section head for recording, Paul Johnston, explains, the university is not trying to compete with other recording studios or labels, but as an offshoot of teaching the arts of recording, they feature artists associated with the university.

One of the label’s first-year albums was already released last October, singer Mallory Chipman’s jazz tribute to Leonard Cohen, Rags and Feathers. MacEwan teachers Tom Van Seters (piano) and Chandelle Rimmer (vocals) collaborate for the first time on another forthcoming album, Stillness Falls. And finally, Montreal jazz pianist Joshua Rager will perform tunes from his new album Jondo. The three albums will be presented in separate sets.

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As an offshoot of the label, a competition has been held for the best cover among students in MacEwan’s Graphic Arts program, and two winning works will be revealed.

Tickets for the Bent River event at the Triffo Theater are free, but you must reserve tickets in advance through the MacEwan Box Office (780-497-4470).

Bent River also held its first regular contest for unsigned acts. Out of 108 individual artists or groups who entered, the winner was the band Nature Of. They recorded in February under the expert ears of producer Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire) and MacEwan’s own Juno Award-winning producer, Johnston.

Johnston also remains involved in music creation. The bassist leads a trio with Chris Andrew and Jamie Cooper on April 10, then again with Andrew and Montreal drummer David Lang on May 31, both at the Yardbird Suite.

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