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February 6, 2008

Zegree feeling celebratory as WMU's Gold Company turns 30

Kalamazoo Gazette (MI):

Three decades of cultural change and many teams of Gold Companies have come and gone. “How did that happen?'' Steve Zegree said. “Time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it?''

The question is, how much fun will Western Michigan University's award-wining jazz/pop choral group have romping from the vinyl to the MP3 age in its 30th-anniversary show Saturday at Miller Auditorium? Probably a lot.

Zegree hinted at a look at disco and possibly a live-action version of Michael Jackson's “Thriller'' video or maybe a close look at reality-show musical contests. “We're not going to leave many stones unturned when paying tribute to some of the music of the past, good, or, you know,'' the Gold Company director and Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz said. “When I say tribute, sometimes you can make fun and `tribute' something at the same time.''

Zegree said the students in Gold Company are always part of the creative process in forming shows and get into the details of costuming, dance and song selection. Look for laugh-out-loud moments, a variety of music (jazz standards, contemporary pop, movie hits, show tunes) from the past 30 years of Gold Company shows and the added talents of more than 70 alums.

“There may be one or two surprises, too, associated with a TV show I was working on in December,'' he said. Zegree was the coach of Nick Lachey's Cincinnati choir for NBC's “Clash of the Choirs.'' The choir won the reality-show competition Dec. 20.

Gold Company alums from New Hampshire to Australia will arrive to rehearse the Friday before the show. Zegree said he's “feeling celebratory.'' He's looking forward to seeing his former team members. He sees the Gold Company as a team he's coached through the decades. “And even though we don't `compete' per se, we certainly don't mind when other people refer to Gold Company as Western's winningest team,'' he said.

In 1978, Zegree became director of the Varsity Vagabonds, the School of Music's vocal-pop group. He changed the name and focused on vocal jazz. Though instrumental jazz had just barely managed to earn respect in academic circles in the '70s, Zegree saw a movement happening in the study of vocal jazz.

For his vision of Gold Company, “I really kind of combined the best of all worlds (jazz and pop), and my vision was to do this music, to make the music be sophisticated and make it challenging, and yet to put it in a way that it would be entertaining to all audiences.'' Since then, the group has toured the world, won more than 45 DownBeat awards and performed with pros including McFerrin, Rosemary Clooney and the Manhattan Transfer.

Another of Zegree's goals is to give students the real-world experience of stage work, touring and recording. The results show in the many Gold Company alums, Zegree said. “I'm very proud of what our alums are doing in the real world. Many of them are on music faculties in major universities, they're in the recording studio, touring the world. We don't have anybody of Britney Spears' fame, but we're kind of proud of that, too.'' Something that is amazing, Zegree said, is, “I'm getting kids of people who sang in Gold Company.''

The decades have flown by, but that just gives the group more music to mine. At the show Saturday, expect what the Gold Company has always offered: musical variety. “We're not sure that everybody in the audience will like everything that we do, but we want to make sure that everybody in the audience at least likes something that we do,'' Zegree said. It's not easy to please a wide age range with music from Big Band to Kanye West all in one show, he said, “but we love the challenge.''

Posted by acapnews at February 6, 2008 12:06 AM


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