Come sail away
Students in the Pacific University music department are all aboard the "H.M.S. Pinafore."
In the first show for its spring music series, the department is celebrating its largest number of music students in the history of the school with a popular show that may ring a few bells.
Recognize the lyrics, "I am the very model of a modern Major-General, I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral?"
If not, no worries. "H.M.S. Pinafore" was written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan in the late 1800s and is known for its catchy tunes and musical mark on the world.
The comedic performance, with vocal and musical instruments, is the story of thwarted love between members of different social classes, namely the daughter of the gentlemanly captain of the ship, who has fallen in love with a common sailor but is betrothed to the First Lord of the Admiralty.
In the 1930s and 1940s, music students would learn Gilbert and Sullivan's classics, but as public funding for the arts was scaled back, the tradition went out of vogue, said Scott Tuomi, Pacific University's chamber choir director.
But the references to the musical duo never left.
"If you watch shows like 'The Simpsons' or 'Family Guy,' Gilbert and Sullivan's songs show up," Tuomi said. "Like when Homer sings a song, or Stewie. ... It even shows up in 'Indiana Jones.'"
Tuomi has been with Pacific for more than 30 years, back when there were only a few music majors at the university. Times have changed.
"We want to celebrate the growth of this department, which has done so phenomenally in the last five years," Tuomi said. "When I first started here, there (were) four music students in 1987. We have over 100 now. This is a cause to celebrate."
Many of the music students are not music majors. They get involved with productions like "Pinafore" because they love to play or sing, Tuomi said.
For "Pinafore," all of the vocalists and orchestra performers are Pacific students. Unlike other shows, the orchestra is front and center, while the scenes are staged on the side.
This show has never been performed at Pacific University before, Tuomi said.
"When we rehearse it with the students, they say, 'I can't get this out of my head,'" Tuomi said. "The tunes are famous, and they are the basis of musical comedy, where funny dialogue dispersed into music. This gave way to 'Showboat,' in 1920, the first great American musical. There was a period in British music where things were fallow, and Gilbert and Sullivan pulled it out of the mire. And what comes after them is a host of British composers that weren't there before."
The department is also celebrating the 10 new practice rooms on campus, officially opening on Feb. 25 for students to prepare in.
Growing and expanding isn't all the Pacific music department is doing. It is nationally recognized for the Pacific University String Project, which allows college-aged students to teach kindergarten to 12th-grade students stringed instruments.
"We are thrilled we have grown this much. We wanted to do a concert version of the show to highlight all the aspects of the department, but also because concert's formal," Anne M. Reed, who is directing "Pinafore," said. "The performers get to wear gowns and tuxedos and really show off what their art form can be."
Reed and Tuomi have performed in the show before in their careers, while the orchestra director for the show, Michael Burch-Pesses, is a U.S. Navy veteran who once headed the Navy Music Program.
Their individual experiences contribute to bring the show to life and teach the students about the historical show, Reed said.
"It has been really exciting, because when I went through school, or Scott went through school, it seemed to be something everyone experienced as a music major," Reed said. "You learned about it, you performed. They haven't experienced it, and as they are learning, it has been fun to watch them enjoy the material so much even though this was written in 1891 and they can find the humor in satire."
Performances will take place in McCready Hall in the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center on Pacific's Forest Grove Campus. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3. General admission tickets are $15, or $10 for senior citizens and students.
Guests also are invited to a special opening night reception starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Tim & Cathy Tran Library at Pacific University. Admission is $35. The price of admission includes beverages and hors d'oeuvres prior to the show, as well as special reserved seating for the opening night performance.
"People don't have to pay $80 to get the full performance and to really what it is to see live music," Reed said.
Tickets are available online at pacificu.edu/MusicTickets or by contacting the Box Office at 2019 21st St., Forest Grove, or calling 503-352-2918.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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