Jump, jive, and wail!

S ince 1982, Muse Machine has been a staple of many lives in the Miami Valley. Over 76,000 lives, each year, to be more precise. The nationally recognized arts education organization has spent the last 36 years striving to create a community of artists throughout 13 counties across central and southwestern Ohio and Kentucky, which […]

Muse Machine’s The Joint is Jumpin’ at the Loft Theatre


Muse performers Amber Butler and Ana Smith (l-r). Photo by Faye Sommers.

By Dana Walczak

Since 1982, Muse Machine has been a staple of many lives in the Miami Valley. Over 76,000 lives, each year, to be more precise. The nationally recognized arts education organization has spent the last 36 years striving to create a community of artists throughout 13 counties across central and southwestern Ohio and Kentucky, which has resulted in their presence in over 100 schools and organizations. Their mission statement is simply “To change the lives of young people through the arts,” and they do that in many different ways.

One of which is a yearly musical, and the second, a large production of the year is an annual summer concert. This year’s theme is The Joint is Jumpin’ and it was inspired by this year’s special guests, world-class musicians and vocalists from New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Jazz Power initiative.

“The really special thing about Muse is that in most large cities, the individual pieces of [Muse] exist within different organizations, and the peculiar thing about Muse Machine is that it brings all of these different pieces together in a single organization to offer to young people,” says Douglas Merk, Muse Machine’s Producer and Director of Student Programs. “The kids get to experience the best of what the arts have to bring.”

Asked how tough it might be to get teenagers into jazz music, Merk conceded that there may be initial trepidation, but once the students get into it, they are into it. “They are pretty open minded,” he says. “What it really takes is actually getting them to the rehearsal studio.”

Last summer, the Muse Machine organization had the opportunity to partner with musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Jazz Initiative in New York which brought a variety of professionals together to work with students and educators which, Merk said, was incredibly successful.

Because not only is this organization ready to help kids find their love of music and creativity, they also offer a highly regarded program for educators. Muse Machine is not only about the kids, it also has a mission to help out educators and give teachers chances that they may not receive elsewhere.

The program is so successful, in fact, that it was the artists from the Jazz Power Initiative and Jazz at Lincoln Center who reached out to Muse Machine for this summer’s performance.

“This past summer,” Merk says, “it worked CRAZY well. They clicked with the teachers so well. And then the teachers reported back to us that what they had learned was clicking so well with the students. Which is ultimately our goal.”

So Merk reached out to their director and found that the artists were more than willing to sign on to do another concert, all without really knowing how their usual set-up is.

When he reconnected with them, it was actually those musicians, the artists themselves, who said “You know what, we’re coming back. Let’s perform together. Let’s do this.”

“We loved that it was their idea,” Merk says. “I honestly don’t think that they knew the shape of our normal shows or anything that they were getting into, but we thought, well, what a great idea and so we mulled it around a little bit and we touched base with some other local artists, and here we are.”

While there will be many dancers and lots of vocal performances, Merk says they will also be taking a step back and allowing the jazz musicians an opportunity to be highlighted because. “We love that they love what we do and are here to help us and grow our program.”

Among the artists who will be performing with Muse Machine on July 18th at The Loft Theatre will be drummer and educator, Alvin Atkinson, Jr., and Camillle Thurman, acclaimed vocalist and saxophonist, who have both performed with the Muse cast before.

“Whatever the performance may be,” Merk says of Thurman, “once she begins singing, and then [later] turns to pick up her instrument, people are floored that someone can be so remarkable at both of these things.”

And that is what Muse represents—not being confined to one box. An event like this showcases members of our community reaching out to other people from as far away as New Orleans and New York City, all of whom come together for one thing—their love of the arts.

The Muse Machine will present The Joint is Jumpin’ at The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton, on July 18. Performances are at 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 937.228.3630, or visit musemachine.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Dana Walczak at DanaWalczak@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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