Tag Archives: hamilton

Anja Wood

Hamilton Cellist Anja Wood Follows Her Heart to Aid Families in Ethiopia

Anja Wood

Anja Wood, cellist for the Broadway show Hamilton and a member of Local 802 (New York City), founded her own charity to help Ethiopian families overcome poverty.

When Anja Wood of Local 802 (New York City) graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in the early 1990s, she headed east to carve out a life as a freelance musician. A classical cellist armed with a master’s degree, she easily settled into a tidy routine of playing in regional orchestras and touring Japan during the summer with conductor Mamoru Takahara (also of Local 802) and the New York Symphonic Ensemble.    

“I lived like a pauper with little gigs here and there, and eventually worked my way up,” she says. Wood joined the union in 1997 when she first started subbing on Broadway.

In 2014, Wood received a call from musical director Alex Lacamoire of Local 802, who asked her to join the orchestra of the Broadway hit, Hamilton. It was the same creative team that produced In the Heights. Wood says, “It was exactly what I’d been wanting to do for years,” adding, “It was long before we knew what Hamilton would be. We knew people would react well. We just didn’t know it would be this juggernaut success.”

They play eight shows a week, but the union contract allows the orchestra musicians to take off four days a week and still maintain their contract. Wood says, “The brilliance of that is we can go and play another gig, and a friend and colleague whom we trust and love can come and play the show for us, and is happy to have the work. It’s a great system for musicians in New York.”

In a different role, a world away from New York City and Broadway, Wood serves as president of the Lelt Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps severely impoverished Ethiopian orphans and families. It began in 2009, when she and her husband began the adoption process for their second daughter from Ethiopia. Amid agency-wide and embassy delays, Wood says that their daughter, who should have already been in the States, was still in Ethiopia five months after she was legally theirs.

Taking a leave from work, she traveled to Addis Ababa to take custody. In Ethiopia, they stayed with her friend, the late Carrie Neel-Parker, who also adopted a daughter from Ethiopia. While visiting state-run orphanages, many in grave disrepair, they realized that some basic, inexpensive upgrades could vastly improve living conditions for the children. With the help of friends back in the US, who chipped in about $30 each, they were able to provide 250 girls in Kechene Orphanage with mattresses and linens, plus repair the crumbling outer compound security wall.

Wood initiated a music program at the Kolfe Boys Orphanage, where an instructor comes in twice a week to teach students electric piano, bass, and electric guitar. She felt confident that the efforts made in just a couple of months would give way to more initiatives. “Our daughters gave us this gift of having Ethiopian families and we wanted to continue to give back to those we now consider our family,” she says.

Back home she filed for nonprofit status, formed a board of directors together with Neel-Parker, and the Lelt Foundation was born. Its focus: nutrition, education, and job creation programs for very impoverished neighborhoods. “Our whole mission is to help people so they won’t need us in a few years,” Wood says. “People graduate from the program with assistance we give them—it’s a hand-up, not a handout.”

A partnership with the Ethiopian government helps the organization identify the most impoverished families in the region. Lelt pays the fee for their children’s public school education, about $2.50 a year, and gives them a daily nutritious lunch and after-school tutoring. Families are provided counseling and job creation services, monthly food rations, and household necessities.   

In just six years, Lelt has built a community center, and homes for girls and boys, which are refuges for children who are abandoned or severely abused. A dedicated staff in Ethiopia, managed by a husband and wife team (called Mommy and Poppy by the children) live on site, in the compound. “This team is deeply committed to the community. This is their mission. It’s what they want to die doing,” Wood says.

Lelt conducts seminars on money and business management skills, providing micro loans to families to launch their businesses—a “jumpstart to financial independence,” says Wood. “The kids are in school, moms have just started a small business, like vegetable wholesale at the local market or bread baking. Once they get started, we usually see graduation from the program about three years later.”

Investing in music education is a natural component of Lelt’s mission. In addition to Western instruments—keyboards and guitars—students learn to play the traditional instruments of Ethiopia, including the masinko (an ancient violin), the krar (a lyre-shaped guitar), and traditional drums. Traditional folk music is important to Ethiopians, Wood explains. It is what folk music might be to people who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Everybody has a grandparent, an aunt, or uncle who plays an instrument, and the children want to learn, too.”

In the music community Wood has found many on-and-off Broadway friends and donors who support her work. “In fact, 20% of the people who sponsor children in the organization are musician colleagues,” she says. “They are by no means wealthy, but loyal and compassionate humans who want to contribute in some way.”

Now, a busy mother, managing daily operations and directing the foundation’s fundraising efforts, Wood says, “Playing a show is the easiest part of my day. I get to go off and be my adult self and who I’m trained to be. I have a few hours of easy peace and artistic expression.”

Working with fellow pit musicians in Hamilton, Wood says, “I love knowing this group really well. I love coming in and knowing exactly where I’m going to put my F# in ‘Right Hand Man’ because my quartet is sitting right next to me. I know exactly where the first violinist is going to use less vibrato for emphasis and I’m going to match him. I know where we’ll sit behind the beat on ‘Room Where It Happens’ because I’ve learned this band so well—and that to me is exciting. We’re making this music as perfect as possible.”

For more information on the Lelt Foundation and to make a donation, visit www.leltfoundation.org.

Hamilton Local

Hamilton Local Doubles Its Membership

Pour la version française cliquez ici.

(L to R) Local 293 (Hamilton, ON) Executive Board Members: Brent Malseed, Ron Palangio, Janna Malseed, Larry Feudo, Paul Panchezak, Reg Denis, Brenda Brown, Glen Brown, and John Balogh.

(L to R) Local 293 (Hamilton, ON) Executive Board Members: Brent Malseed, Ron Palangio, Janna Malseed, Larry Feudo, Paul Panchezak, Reg Denis, Brenda Brown, Glen Brown, and John Balogh.

In 2012, when President Larry Feudo and his board took over the leadership of Local 293 (Hamilton, ON) they faced a tough challenge. “Our membership had been decimated to under 300 because of poor prior leadership and embezzlement,” he explains.

The first step was to evaluate the local’s assets and needs to identify specific areas of focus: office procedures, political lobbying, and community outreach. Feudo recruited a new board that included Secretary-Treasurer Brent Malseed and 2nd Vice President Janna Malseed, former board members of Local 293 with years of experience.

“We organized the office and started cleaning up bad clerical practices; then we moved on with a membership drive waiving initiation fees, and taking advantage of various AFM tools that are available,” says Feudo. Along with recruitment, the local made a big effort to grow its reputation in the community and among musicians through both public relations and action.

“We did a lot of advocacy for local musicians—weighing in on timely issues in the media and standing firm for musicians’ rights,” he says. The local built its reputation by contributing to music scholarships at the local college and making charitable donations to community partnerships. “There was a great deal of personal commitment from all our board members to the concept of collectivism.”

The Local 293 board thoroughly understands that actions speak louder than words. In August 2015, after a year-and-a-half battle, the local was instrumental in getting money owed to musicians who were stiffed when the Opera Hamilton suddenly pulled out leaving them unpaid. “We got a $20,000 grant for the musicians from the city of Hamilton,” says Feudo. “That was a very concrete example of what the union does for its membership, but the main thing was that our members walked away with the money they were deserving.”

Brent Malseed, who is in the office five days a week, works hard to build the local’s reputation among its members and the Hamilton community. “We try to keep up to date on Facebook to keep our membership informed, plus we publish our newsletter, Libretto,” he explains. “Many of our board members submit articles and reports. Having the board involved in the newsletter shows that the board is working well together.”

“In the office, we try to answer every single phone call. I think it helps to give that personal touch to our members,” he says. “If they have a question, and we don’t have a answer, we get them one. Members feel confident that we are getting the job done properly.”

Janna Malseed grew up in a musical family and has a strong knowledge of the business of music. “One of the things we feel very strongly about is that musicians need entrepreneurial education,” she says. “There’s performance, but there is also the business component—negotiating contracts and paying the side people. We work very hard with our members to provide educational seminars and give them guidance for directing their careers.”

“One of the things that I think has led to our success is that we have a board committed to collectivism,” says Janna. “Older members came back because the organization rebuilt its credibility, and not just because they are still performing musicians, but also because they enjoy the idea of being in a fraternal organization.”

Board members are involved in the community, even bringing Mohawk College music students to their office for programs. “We try to brand ourselves and get the name out into the community: Hamilton Musicians Guild—your source for the professional musician,” she says.

“We screened the film Broke—a really good documentary about the music industry—and then had a panel discussion about it. You need to engage people in dialogue about things that matter to them,” Feudo says. The local draws nonmembers in by opening up educational events to the public. Members get discounted admission, which is another membership benefit.

“For the younger generation, it’s more about services and what the union can do for its members,” Brent says, adding that the board is extremely aware of diverse communities in the music industry. Among the perks for younger artists is assistance with immigration and P-2 visas for travel to perform in the US. Due to Hamilton’s proximity to Buffalo, New York, it’s the fourth largest local in terms of submitting visas to the US.

Younger members are also grateful to the AFM for helping them access low-cost liability insurance, says Brent. “One young kid came in who found out two days before he was set to leave that he needed proof of liability insurance to play a gig in Michigan. He phoned one insurance company that wanted $1,000 a year for $1 million coverage. Within a couple hours, our insurance provider was able to set him up with $1 million coverage, for one year, for $50. That word spreads around to our younger members.”

The Local 293 board is excited about its future, thanks to community involvement. The city of Hamilton is trying to brand the city as a music center for Canada and Janna, along with Local 293 Director Glen Brown, sit on the city’s Music Strategy Implementation Team. “We got in early enough to steer them away from Austin’s SXSW model of putting on music for free,” says Feudo. “If we didn’t have a seat at the table, we wouldn’t be able to get our message across.”

The local is also hosting the Canadian Conference of Musicians, August 11-13, 2017, which it hopes to extend to a week of performances and events that recognize local musicians. “We are getting all kinds of support from the city,” says Brent.

The local has doubled its membership in the past four years. Brent says that one of the keys to retention is getting new members involved. Rather than just collecting their dues and hoping for the best, the local makes a point of spending time with them, explaining benefits, giving career advice, and making them feel welcome.

Everyone is encouraged to attend general meetings, which are more than just mundane administrative sessions. “We give 25-year pins to members and make it a big event. The young people hear stories of their peers and what they have done in the music industry. Our members enjoy the camaraderie—younger members learning from older members and older members learning from younger ones,” says Feudo.

“Emphasizing the fellowship of musicians is important,” he continues, explaining how they gather together to participate in events like the city’s annual Labor Day parade. The local has gotten Lester Petrillo Memorial Fund money for members who had fallen on hard times, and Music Trust Performance Funds to hire musicians for live music events. It’s even assisted in rallies with other union locals.

“If you aren’t sitting at the table, you don’t have a voice,” Feudo says. “We are trying to be at as many tables as possible, representing the Hamilton Musicians Guild and our members. The end result is that they know the Hamilton Musicians Guild and that means more work for our members.”

“We have a passion for strengthening this local. I think that is the crux of our success,” says Brent. “That passion comes across as genuine to our membership and they appreciate that we really believe in the cause.”

Making Musical History with Alex Lacamoire

 by Michael Manley  Director Touring/Theatre/Booking Division and Assistant to the President

To call the musical Hamilton a success is like calling rain wet—it has not only scaled the theatrical heights of Broadway and now Chicago, it has transcended its musical theatre roots to become a worldwide sensation. But a pop musical inspired by the biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton did not seem like a slam dunk to at first.

Alex LacamoireThe show’s Tony Award-winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire of Local 802 (New York City) had his doubts. “I knew this was the best show that I’d ever worked on, and that Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing and composing at the peak of his powers,” Lacamoire recalls. “But really, I thought, are people going to pay money to see American history told through hip-hop? It seemed like such a disparate marriage.”

For Cuban-American Lacamoire, the journey to Hamilton began early—at age 11 he was asked to join the pit band for his junior high school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. A classically trained pianist who began his studies at age four, Lacamoire developed an early interest in pop and Top 40 music. But it was the theatre—with its immersive and broad collaboration involving dance, costumes, story, and song—that really excited him. “I loved how outgoing the theatre kids were, and I loved the idea of collectively building a piece of art together.”

Lacamoire built on this early and voracious musical curiosity, studying jazz and classical music in high school and even writing his own arrangements for himself and friends. From there, he landed at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “It was a school where you’d have jazz ensemble in the morning, a class on Stravinsky in the afternoon, and then play a Queen tribute show in the cafeteria at night. It was exactly what I was looking for, and what I needed,” he says.

Upon graduation, Lacamoire planned to move to New York City, hoping to hit up his friends for leads on gigs. But before leaving Boston, he caught a lucky break when he was hired as an accompanist for Boston auditions of the recently-opened The Lion King. That show’s music director at the time, Joe Church, a member of Local 802, quickly offered him work as a rehearsal pianist on the show, once he landed in New York City.

Lacamoire credits these early successes to his playing ability, his boundless musical curiosity, and his fluency in a variety of musical styles. “In New York I got to meet composers like Stephen Schwartz and Alan Mencken. They not only hired me to play, but also to arrange and music direct. I basically learned as I went,” he says.

For Lacamoire, broad-based musical diversity is the key to musical theatre success. “Especially now, where theatre music is headed—pop music is so rhythmic and consistent in its feel and time; you have to grow up hearing that, knowing and feeling what that is. Having that in your life, as well as whatever classical or instrumental training you have, is what makes people able to excel in musical theatre today. If you want to do it all, you have to play it all—and you have to live it all. It has to be in your DNA,” he says.

Lacamoire notes that this is especially true of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda: “This is what makes Lin so special; he knows the musical styles he is writing about. He isn’t just mimicking or parodying—these styles are in his blood.”

Fitting Into Hamilton’s Groove

Alex LacamoireAnd how is it for the union musicians hired to play the 10-piece orchestration of Hamilton? “It’s extremely demanding,” states Lacamoire. “It requires such precision, and an innate sense of rhythm—particularly for the string players. The ability to play right on the beat, to a click-track, totally precise and also perfectly in tune—it’s not just any string player who can play Hamilton. You have to be able to groove.”

As far as scouting for musicians with such specific skills, Lacamoire cites an unlikely source: YouTube. “With YouTube, you can hear musicians play, and see what they are doing. I mainly look for a sense of time—it is more challenging than you would think to find musicians whose time does not fluctuate, who have that drummer’s innate sense. In Hamilton, everyone in the pit has to have it.”

But that is just the start. “Within that structure, I also look for people who can interpret what’s on the page and also go beyond it. I want people who can make music, and not just play notes.” Lacamoire also stresses that chemistry and camaraderie are important. “In a pit, you’re in a bunker with people for hours and weeks on end—you want to get along with them, but also be inspired by musicality that is at such a high level that you respect and want to make music with them.”

And the Broadway and Chicago Hamilton bands will likely be busy for a while, as the blockbuster seemingly reinvents musical theatre as it introduces it to a new generation. But is Hamilton revolutionizing musical theatre, or is it a traditional musical in contemporary clothing?

“What I love about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music,” notes Lacamoire, “is that, though his language is contemporary, the mechanics and foundation of his musicals are very old-fashioned. Hamilton has an ‘I want’ song, it has reprises, and it ends with a big finale—all the basic building blocks of a musical, and how you make it flow. You don’t usually find hip-hop and rap in a musical—and while that vernacular is fresh, in its bones Hamilton has influences from Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, and Jesus Christ Superstar—these iconic shows are in the DNA of Hamilton.”

When it comes to his success as an orchestrator and music supervisor, Lacamoire credits his ability to adapt and collaborate. “I feel like I know what Lin wants to hear. He trusts that I will be true to what he is looking for, and add my own spin. He knows I can execute his vision,” says Lacamoire.

One particular musical challenge of the hip-hop and rap-infused Hamilton is the tight interweaving of text and music. This demanded a light touch when it came to the score. “My biggest job as an orchestrator was to stay out of the way of the lyrics,” states Lacamoire. “I had to consider ranges—I could have a lot on the low end, and bright colors on the high end, but the middle registers had to be reserved for the voices.”

Lacamoire’s broad musical knowledge and experience allow him to make these choices. “I wear so many hats—arranger, conductor, orchestrator, music director—and while it can be taxing, it gives me the ability to have this total vision in my head,” he says. The density and rhythmic complexity of the language and music of the show mean that the hardworking AFM pit musicians are front and center with nowhere to hide. “In the shows I’ve worked on, every instrument is a distinct voice and contribution to the whole. I try not to waste a single note—everything is integral, meaningful, and hopefully, fun to play.”

Lacamoire’s Take on Tech

Hamilton also points to the future in its use of technology, which has always courted controversy in theatre music. On this point, Lacamoire offers strong opinions as well as advice: “As musicians, we need to embrace technology, because it is not going away. But I’m not interested in using technology to replace people—I feel that when technology is used ‘in lieu of’ something else, that is when you get into trouble.”

He notes that the style of music is a driving factor in how technology should be used. “If you are working on The King and I or South Pacific you want that huge, lush sound of a 30-piece orchestra. Those shows deserve and warrant that kind of sound,” he says.

alex-3When it came to Hamilton, the needs were different. “I never saw Hamilton as having that symphonic texture; it was always conceived of as a chamber piece.” And one in which technology plays a distinct role in the musical fabric, he explains. “Our bassist uses upright bass, electric bass, and a small synth bass keyboard. The synth bass isn’t used to replace those other bass instruments, but is used to provide a different bass sound at various moments.” Lacamoire cites the sound loops and digital-delay effects found in rap and hip-hop music as examples of using technology “not to do something a human can do, but to do things a human cannot do.”

As for Lacamoire’s early doubts about the viability of hip-hop musical history, the show’s explosive success has proven him wrong. How does he account for the show’s off-the-charts popularity? “There is not a lot of stillness in Hamilton,” he says. “It engages the audience and demands that they listen in a way that maybe they are not accustomed to listening, because of this language that flows at a very rapid pace.”

Indeed the rapid-fire, rhythmic barrage of words pouring onto the audiences of Hamilton just might be inspired by one of literature’s founding fathers. “The effect has been compared to listening to Shakespeare,” explains Lacamoire. “Sometimes it takes a minute for your ear to click into the language and become attuned to it.” A favorite compliment Lacamoire has received comes from folks who begin listening to the cast album, and never hit “stop” or “pause” until they get to the end. “One song flows into the next; it has this quality that pulls you in.”

Up next for Alex Lacamoire is the musical Dear Evan Hansen, opening this month on Broadway. The success of this show—which could not be more different from Hamilton—has yet to be measured. But with a diverse, award-winning musical career that includes Wicked, In the Heights, and now Hamilton, there is no doubt that Lacamoire has already made history. 

The Chicago Hamilton Pit: Musical Variety and Technical Focus

The Chicago Hamilton band, all members of Local 10-208 (L to R): Felton Offard (guitar), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Tahirah Whittington (cello), Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Tom Mendel (bass), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), Tom Hipskind (drums), Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1), and Jim Widlowski (percussion).

The Chicago Hamilton band, all members of Local 10-208 (L to R): Felton Offard (guitar), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Tahirah Whittington (cello), Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Tom Mendel (bass), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), Tom Hipskind (drums), Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1),
and Jim Widlowski (percussion).

Hamilton Chicago opened October 19, while the Broadway show continues its unprecedented success in New York City. Playing a show like Hamilton, likely to enjoy a long run, is a dream come true for its Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) musicians. These musicians all share a love for playing the wide variety of genres—from rap to classical—that composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and arranger Alex Lacamoire have written into the show. The demanding nature of Hamilton, in terms of stamina and timing, keeps musicians on their toes.

International Musician asked the pit—the six-piece rhythm section of Colin Welford (music director, conductor, keyboard1), Rick Snyder (keyboard 2/assistant conductor), Felton Offard (guitar), Tom Mendel (bass), Tom Hipskind (drums), and Jim Widlowski (percussion), plus string quartet of Chuck Bontrager (concert master/violin 1), Roberta Freier (violin 2), Heather Boehm (viola/violin), and Tahirah Whittington (cello)—to talk about their experiences so far.

Leading the Pit


Music Director/Conductor Colin Welford

“It feels so nice going in with confidence,” says Music Director and Conductor Colin Welford, referring to the Broadway show’s success. “You can see that in the cast. We know it’s going to sell very well for a good while. It gives you a feeling
of empowerment.”

“The parts are well written so there is breathing room, listening room; it’s varied. Also, the actors keep it fresh. It’s not going to be cookie cutter by any means. That keeps it alive for us,” he adds.

“The most important thing is for the conductor to bring people in together. There’s quite a lot of that, ” says Welford, explaining his role. “It looks complicated on paper, but it’s really about the conductor listening to the stage and making a decision when to place the chord. It looks fuzzy on paper, but makes for a natural performance. The show isn’t directed to the minuscule detail—first it’s acted, second it’s rhythmic.”

Welford had worked with Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder in both Wicked and The Lion King. “I’d been with The Lion King for about seven and a half years, waiting for an opportunity to go home, but I needed a hit,” says Snyder. When he heard about Welford doing Hamilton Chicago he saw his opportunity.

Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder

Assistant Conductor Rick Snyder

Snyder was immediately drawn to the music. “When I heard the show—reading the book at the same time—I thought it was an outstanding adaptation. I didn’t know how I would react to the rap, but it’s really smart. Plus, there’s also a whole lot of late ’70s and ’80s pop music underneath, and that’s what I was weaned on,” he says.

Both conductor/keyboardists say that the fact that the show is extremely verbal means that actors and musicians must be keenly focused. “It’s a challenge for the actors as they’ve got to shape the phrases and communicate [through singing] as in normal conversation, so that the offset of the rhythm doesn’t throw the ear in such a way that the listener gets confused,” says Welford.

Driving Rhythm

Tom Mendel

Tom Mendel

Bassist Tom Mendel plays four instruments in the show. “I’m playing acoustic bass, five-string electric, four-string hollow body for a ‘Paul McCartney’ kind of sound, and keyboard bass, which is pretty unusual. There’s one tune where I’m playing gliss on the five-string bass, and then on the next downbeat, keyboard bass,” he says.

“Alex’s arrangements are very specific and rewarding. He understands the instruments he’s writing for,” he adds. “There is so much nuance in the part, yet still room for putting individual ‘feel’ into it. I really want to honor his arrangements and Lin’s amazing songs. It demands complete concentration for both acts—an hour and 15 minutes each.”


Jim Widlowski

“When Hamilton was at the Public Theatre, everyone would ask, ‘Is it really that good?’ Yes, it is!” says guitarist Felton Offard, explaining what drew him to the show. “Alex Lacamoire’s orchestration calls on each instrument to create colors that put us in a certain time and place. The diversity was what I loved so much. It goes from classical string quartet to all out rock and roll—sometimes in the same song.”

“I’ve never played a through-composed show before—one that doesn’t have any time to rest. This show is a beast for every chair. The electric guitar has 131 patch changes,” he says. “There’s an articulation mark for almost every note.”

Tom Hipskind

Tom Hipskind

For drummer Tom Hipskind, it was the special kinship he felt playing the Miranda/Lacamoire show In the Heights that made him want to play Hamilton. He wasn’t disappointed.

“The lyrics are so catchy and well written,” he says, pointing to the “sheer constancy” of the show. “Most shows have their moments of ebb and flow, but Hamilton has a relentless drive from beginning to end that is reflected in every aspect: music, choreography, lighting. To be part of that, much less to be driving that freight train as the drummer, is quite the rush! Rhythmic demands are what I live for as a drummer, and when I have an amazing part like this to play, it comes naturally and feeds me creatively!”

The Strings


(L to R) The strings (front) Roberta Freier and Chuck Bontrager (back) Heather Boehm, and Tahirah Whittington.

Chuck Bontrager, concertmaster and violin 1, says that words cannot express how fortunate and grateful he feels to be part of Hamilton. “Ever since I started college, nonclassical styles have been as important to me as Beethoven and Shostakovich. In Hamilton, I get to use my Mozart chops, help with rock riffs, carry ballads, and play Motown-like pad and lead lines,” he says.

Bontrager says it’s the most stylistically diverse and challenging show for bowed strings that he’s seen. “There are many sections throughout the show where parts of the string quartet carry the groove. That’s very unusual and brave writing. I think it will prove to be some of the most important and influential string writing in any arena in the past several decades.”

Violinist Roberta Freier says that style, rhythm, and intonation are the most challenging aspects of playing Hamilton. “Other shows I’ve played are more ‘symphonic’ in nature. Your notes can ring and the rhythms are less complex. In Hamilton, pizzicatos are dampened and most notes are very short,” she explains, adding that it was the idea of combining old and new genres that drew her to the show.

“I’m a classically-trained musician who grew up having an affinity for R&B, hip-hop, classical, and soul,” says cellist Tahirah Whittington. “Having the opportunity to perform in Hamilton is living the dream. The way in which Hamilton mashes up different time periods and idioms is mirrored in the score. It’s the ultimate collaboration of time, text, and music.”

“The cello plays many different roles in the show,” she says. Whittington plays solo, rhythm section, bass voice of the string quartet, tenor voice of the string quartet, as a duo with other instruments, plus is the rhythmic drive in songs like “We Know.” “The music never stops for ‘in the clear’ dialogue,” she adds.

“I don’t know if this is a one-off show,” concludes Welford. “It really requires very good timing and I think that’s definitely something we’ll see more of in the future, whether it’s hip-hop or rap. But it’s important to note that, though we talk about the show as rap or hip-hop, it’s still solidly based in musical theatre with so many styles on stage and so many roots. It’s not this weird, bizarre thing. It’s smart, with homage to a lot of musical theatre traditions as well.”

2015 Juno Canada’s Music Awards in Hamilton, Ontario

 by Daniel Calabrese, AFM Canada, Contract Administer

2015 Juno Canada’s Music Awards

(L to R) AFM International Representative from Canada Allistair Elliot; Local 293 member Laura Cole; and AFM Canada Contract Administrator Daniel Calabrese

Every year since 1970, the Juno Awards have recognized Canadian musical artists and bands for their artistic and technical achievements in all aspects of music. This award show has grown in the past 45 years, becoming the biggest award show for Canada’s music industry.

For several days prior to the award presentations, events are held in the host city as part of “Junofest.” Local venues open their doors to host around 120 concerts by local and national artists. Hotels are filled with musicians, musician representatives, and music lovers from around the country for this annual tradition. Hamilton, Ontario, hosted this year’s Juno Awards. I was fortunate to attend Junofest, along with AFM International Representative from Canada Allistair Elliott. Together we witnessed some of the best musicians Hamilton has to offer.

Our trip to Hamilton began with a visit to Local 293, the Hamilton Musicians’ Guild. Local Secretary-Treasurer Brent Malseed and President Larry Feudo were great hosts, taking us to see the best up-and-comers, along with some of Hamilton’s well-known musicians. I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of local talent in Hamilton.

One of those performers was previous Juno winner and long-time Local 293 member Rita Chiarelli. She is Canada’s most highly acclaimed female roots and blues artist. Chiarelli just released the soundtrack for her award-winning documentary, Music from the Big House. With one Juno Award and four subsequent Juno nominations, she is known across Canada as “the goddess of the blues.”

2015 Juno Canada’s Music Awards

(L to R) AFM Canada Contract Administrator Daniel Calabrese, Local 293 (Hamilton, ON) Secretary-Treasurer Brent Malseed, Rita Chiarelli of Local 293, AFM International Representative from Canada Allistair Elliott, and Local 293 Executive Board Member Janna Malseed.

It’s no wonder Hamilton has hosted the Juno Awards six times. The awards provide an opportunity to celebrate Canadian music from the past year, not only on a national level, but on a local level. The awards recognize the legends as well as new break-out artists. At Junofest 2015, I saw that the city of Hamilton is proud to embrace and show off its local talent to Canada.

Hamilton Musicans’ Guild showed its pride for the musicians. Local 293 also has a lot to celebrate this past year because it has doubled its membership since the last convention. It’s nice to see how much these local officers get out to shows, pay attention to their music scene, and educate local musicians about the AFM. “We’re doing it one musician at a time, and it seems to be working out for us,” says Malseed.

Overall, it’s always refreshing to see the celebration of Canadian music in one city with musicians, composers, managers, and representatives all in the same place promoting and embracing Canadian culture through music. I look forward to next year’s Junofest in Calgary and I hope for another equally successful event.