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January 18, 2010

Avenue X explores integration through doo-wop

Access Atlanta:

What happens when an Italian-American trio loses a singer and picks an African-American replacement so it can compete in a singing competition? Such an incident would mean nothing today, but back in the ’60s, it packed the potential for violence and bloodshed. “Here’s a music that’s all about harmony, and the issues are all about harmony or the search for harmony,” says composer Ray Leslee.

Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth has long been a fan of the way “Avenue X” uses the human voice to depoliticize the conversation about race. But she held back from programming the piece because she was challenged by one particular story element. Her solution was to ask Leslee and Jiler if they would consider revisiting the script, and they both happily agreed.

Doing an a cappella musical is terra incognita for almost any director. “There is something pure and naked about making a cappella music,” Booth says. “You’re not allowing people to get swept away by spectacle. You are focusing attention on the players at hand, so there is something about a cappella singing that is as pure a form of storytelling as you could possibly imagine.”

From the beginning, Leslee said he had to resist suggestions to add percussion or other elements. “There’s something about the actors creating a musical all by themselves that just can’t be beat.”

Says Booth: “There’s no one but the singers to maintain the pitch, to maintain the tempo, to maintain the dynamics. There’s no conductor. There’s no band. There’s no metronome. There are eight singers.” That’s it.

What makes “Avenue X” large, the composer says, is the issues. “It’s a story about singers who want to succeed in their singing, and you want to pull for them to do that. It’s life and death for them.” Read more.

Posted by acapnews at January 18, 2010 10:48 PM


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