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What do zombies, classical music and Metallica have in common? That’s the question String Shift’s Symphony in Z performance on Friday, October 25 will answer with a dynamic audio/visual experience.These nine mega-talented string players (group co-founder Ed Stevens on lead cello; Yana Bourkova-Morunov, Colleen Tan, Tim Tan and Caleb Mossburg on violin; Lori Morgan on cello; Derek Reeves playing lead viola; Rachel Mossburg on viola; and Kevin Piekarski supplying lead bass) are introducing themselves to northeast Indiana in a zombie-themed performance sure to send chills down your spine.
String Shift started out as an idea kicked around between two old friends earlier this year. Stevens says the idea had been percolating in his brain for a while, but his pal Charlie Witkowski provided the encouragement and momentum to really get things started. The two formed a partnership from this idea of a fresh take on the classical concert experience.
“The idea is really anything-goes-style concerts that draw in a variety of audiences,” described Stevens. “Everyone loves great music, but not everyone is necessarily comfortable with going to see great music in a big, fancy concert hall or something similar. It’s about opening up those doors to bring in more people by not only playing some great classical stuff that is very accessible, but also incorporating some pop culture elements in there.”
At the heart of it all, Stevens and wife Lori Morgan say the shows are simply about good music that blur the lines between genres. Some shows may have themes (like Symphony in Z); others may focus more on the art of collaborating with local bands in interesting, modern ways. String Shift is fortunate to have several members who are well connected to the northeast Indiana music community. They’ve already begun talks regarding collaborations and mash-up shows.
“We have a lot of eclectic personalities in the group. Beyond being talented musicians who are open-minded, the similarities go out the window,” Stevens laughed. “That’s one of the things that excites me most about this project: when you get a bunch of minds like this together, what other kinds of things can we come up with? While I love classical music, I also enjoy so many other styles. I’m excited to tackle those with String Shift.”
“When you’re part of a large orchestra, you lose your individuality a bit. This allows us to have a real say in things – that’s one of the most exciting things about this group,” Morgan chimed in. “We’re all from orchestral backgrounds where we’re used to being one of many, and so to now become one of few and to have creative control and input into programming, presentation and marketing, it’s given us a real sense of ownership that I’m not sure any of us has really experienced before.”
She confessed that String Shift’s approach to programming blurs the lines between genres in ways she’s not sure many other groups do. Rather than presenting music as simply popular, classical or any other label, they focus only on presenting great music. And great music defies genre-typing.
“There are plenty of groups that combine styles, but I think String Shift [present] a fresh concept in terms of taking classical music and sort of shoving it together with something different,” added Stevens. “There’s such intensity that string instruments can achieve.”
“That’s the thing about a lot of metal or classical – it’s full of that drive and intensity that’s not individual to those genres,” Morgan continued, as Stevens nodded in agreement. “There are many parallels between pieces of music that have been written hundreds of years apart. It’s been really fun for us to discover these things and figure out interesting ways to put them together.”
While the members of the ensemble have been playing together in various forms over the years, Symphony in Z is String Shift’s first organized performance. It was a happy coincidence that the show ended up so close to Halloween. They had this idea for a zombie-inspired program up their sleeves, and it was the first date that worked with everyone’s schedule.
Stevens says Symphony in Z will be a great introduction to the kind of eclectic artistry String Shift create. Listen to nearly any horror movie and you’ll hear a variety of string effects coaxing the mood in the background. Symphony in Z employs those same kinds of effects.
“If you watch a show like The Walking Dead or a movie with a modern score like 28 Days Later, there’s a certain eerie beauty there,” said Stevens. “I always think of strings as incredibly vocal instruments, except you don’t have the limit of breathing. You can sustain these notes and bring out these harmonies that otherwise might be limited. With that element involved, there’s this other side of it – it’s beyond the scary, intense stuff to bring out the somber, moving side of these stories.”
To program Symphony in Z, Stevens contemplated what makes the zombie genre so popular in today’s culture. He dissected “awesome moments in zombie culture” to create a library of study and inspiration. Ultimately, he says, it all came down to this varied scope of emotions that often contradict one another. In one moment, a scene from a zombie flick could be bleak and hopeless; in the next, it might offer some comedic relief.
“The music that accompanies those movies builds that atmosphere, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Symphony in Z. We’re enabling people to enjoy the zombie medium in a concert format,” Stevens said. “C2G is really well-equipped to do some dramatic lighting and video images. We’ve worked out a lot of those elements to recreate what’s become so popular about the zombie genre while allowing people to be immersed in a new experience.”
Programming the show has also helped the members of String Shift get out of their own comfort zones a bit. Morgan admitted that not all of the members are as into zombie culture quite the way Stevens is, but they’ve all taken on the challenge with excitement and fervor. She added that the interesting mix in personalities will make for equally interesting shows in the future.
“Everyone’s got their own thing that they are into, and one of the really great things about String Shift is that we’re all very embracing of each other’s ideas. Our group has become a bit of an idea incubator,” she said.
Stevens nodded, adding that Fort Wayne itself is also a great place to try out ideas.
“There’s a lot of great music happening in Fort Wayne, but I think there’s also a thirst for something a little bit different – a little bit out there. When those things come along, they seem to be supported pretty well by the community. String Shift [are] a bit of a curiosity, so hopefully people will embrace the concept.”