By David Perry
Months ago, Pete Lally, president of Spectacle Management, booked the first show of a Manhattan Transfer/Take 6 tour at Cary Memorial Hall in Lexington. The two Grammy-winning vocal powerhouse groups had one question: Is there some place nearby where we can work out logistical stage moves for a few days before the Oct. 6 show?
Sure, said Lally, who teaches music business as an adjunct faculty member.
He knew the perfect place. Durgin Hall.
Never one to let an educational opportunity pass by, Music Department chair Prof. Alan Williams asked if the musicians would be able to engage with students without disrupting the work they were on campus to do. The musicians gladly complied.
One of the most enduring and popular vocal groups in the world, Manhattan Transfer has been mixing jazz- and pop-influenced vocals for more than four decades. Take 6, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is also atop the a cappella world, mixing influences from jazz to soul to gospel.
On the last of the musicians’ three days on campus, Williams took a group of students from all corners of the Music Department up to the Durgin balcony to watch an open rehearsal.
“It was really them working not on the music or vocals, but logistics — the collaborative moments and trading off between Manhattan Transfer and Take 6,” says Williams. “And it was really cool.”
Following the rehearsal, the students moved to the front of the hall, and the artists sat on the lip of the stage and fielded questions.
“That was especially great,” says Williams. Students asked the artists how they deal with road life, how they rehearse, how they approach vocal care and whether it gets monotonous performing “Birdland” every night.
Trist Curless, the newest member of Manhattan Transfer, said it isn’t the material that’s challenging as much as everything around touring: the travel, the sleep.
Told that UMass Lowell is home to a few a cappella groups, the musicians flipped the script and asked questions of the students, including how they go about rehearsals.
“Another great thing that happened is their tour manager, Laurie Green, and some of the other support crew went over to talk to the music business club (the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association, or MEISA) Tuesday night. That offered a look into what happens behind the scenes. It was a pretty rare opportunity,” Williams says.
“Being able to see and talk to professionals about their work ethic and how they make the most of their rehearsal time is such an amazing thing that UMass Lowell’s music program offers,” says Camille Gagnon-Fors, a senior music performance major. “We could actually have a conversation with them, and the music department gives us these opportunities to help us succeed. That means the world to me.”
Williams says it was inspiring to have the artists working on campus.
“You’d be in the office and suddenly need to ask yourself, ‘Ah, is that Manhattan Transfer in the next room?’ I was just so impressed with them,” he says.