Madman across the water

Dayton Philharmonic, Jeans ‘n Classics celebrate Elton John

By Rick Eichhorn

Photo: Jeans ‘n Classics Founder/Owner Peter Brennan

To be sure, Jeans ‘n Classics is definitely not a tribute band. What they are is a crazy concoction of more than 30 members, who understand orchestra culture, that pull out all the stops when teaming up with local orchestras for a rock-or-pop themed extravaganza.

Starting out 20 years ago with about six core members, Founder/Owner Peter Brennan said their name came about with the idea that they, the rock band, would be in jeans, and the orchestra would be in tuxes. Through the years the band’s name has morphed into a number of varied interpretations. Brennan offered one: “The rock side of life meets the more formal and studied side of life.”

At one of their very first concerts, he happened to mention to a member of the orchestra that they were a bit scared and intimidated to be performing in front of a 50-piece orchestra.

“You guys were scared,” the orchestra member replied, “We were petrified.”

Today, Brennan noted, the audience doesn’t notice quite the contrast between rock band and orchestra. “We don’t even wear jeans anymore,” Brennan said.

And if a concertgoer is coming to a show for the first time and is feeling uncomfortable about the concert hall atmosphere, or believes the place is too formal and isn’t quite sure how to act, Brennan has the answer: “We tell them pretty quickly … Scream, sing along – whatever you have to do.”

Singing along should be pretty easy when the group brings the celebrated catalogue of Elton John to life this Saturday at the Schuster Center. The show presents more than 19 memorable songs including early hits such as “Daniel,” classic album tracks like “Funeral for A Friend” and the much-covered “Your Song.” Featured performers include vocalist Jean Meilleur and pianist John Regan. After intermission, the production will be joined by a local high school honors choir, building the show to a rousing finale.

The show is part of Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Rockin’ Orchestra series. On the podium that evening will be Assistant Conductor Patrick Reynolds, and he will also oversee the high school honors choir. Reynolds is in his 17th season with DPO and conducts Classical, Symphony Sundaes, SuperPops and Family Concerts. In addition, this is his 14th year as conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

“I’m particularly looking forward to this concert because Elton John has a bit of a timelessness about him that resonates with any generation,” Reynolds said. “In a diverse community like Dayton it’s great to gather around and enjoy music as universal as his.”

Rockin’ Orchestra is another example of how DPO continues an innovative approach to reach out to new audiences. After this weekend’s show, the season’s eclectic line-up will continue with Symphonic Springsteen, a concert dedicated to the catalogue of Bruce Springsteen; Rubber Soul/Revolver, a night in which both Beatles albums will be performed in their entirety; and a performance by the Indigo Girls.

Known for their lush orchestral arrangements, Jeans ‘n Classics works with more than 100 orchestras and their venues throughout North America. They have created nearly 1,000 original pop and rock orchestrations that have been heralded by the cities they visit. The orchestral scores are presented in 45 different productions which are designed to showcase professionalism, humor and finesse. With a goal to reach out to younger audiences, their appeal remains boundless as far as age group and, like the DPO, is leading the way of drawing new audiences to the concert hall.

About the Schuster, Brennan said, “It’s my very favorite hall that I’ve played anywhere. It’s just a magnificent place.” He then added a caveat, “Well, except for maybe Albert Hall with all the history.”

The group is based in Canada, with about half the members in Toronto and the other half in London, Ontario. A few of the members have been with the band since the beginning. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed that when Jeans ‘n Classics first started, Elton John was already an icon. Now in his sixties, Sir Elton is still going strong and will be performing in Cincinnati next month.

“Elton John was one of the first ideas and theme shows that we went for and people loved it,” Brennan said. “It was tried and true.”

Through the years, the Elton John show has been tweaked and expanded, and known under a variety of titles. This time, Jeans ‘n Classics is calling the show “Madman Across the Water.”

Show themes come to the group in any number of ways. Sometimes, a singer will find song and bring it to the band saying that they’d love to do the piece. Sometimes after a show, the band will be relaxing in the hotel bar, enjoying a beer, and the creative juices will start flowing, and they’ll start bouncing ideas around.

Audiences that haven’t experienced a Rockin’ Orchestra performance are likely to be blown away. For this show there’s going to be an amazing amount of musicians filling the stage, creating a huge wall of sound and special effects.

“There’s nothing elevator about it,” Brennan said. “It’s a nice big beautiful pop rock show.”

Jeans ’n Classics will perform with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. Tickets range from $29 to $81. Parking is $7 in the Arts Garage, located at the corner of Second and Ludlow. For more information, please visit jeansnclassics.com or daytonperformingarts.org/philharmonic.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rick Eichhorn at RickEichhorn@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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