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Umpqua Singers jazzed about performance

Britteny Eagan, Tyler Wilson, Jenna Gillespie, Kyler Paselk and Kacie Norris make up half of the Umpqua Singers ensemble.
Hannah Hawkins / Mainstream
Britteny Eagan, Tyler Wilson, Jenna Gillespie, Kyler Paselk and Kacie Norris make up half of the Umpqua Singers ensemble.

In spite of a small crowd, the Umpqua Singers filled Jacoby Auditorium with a jazzy fusion of vocal ecstasy Feb. 6. The Umpqua Singers opened in preparation for Marti Mendenhall and the Moment’s Notice performance.

Umpqua Singers is a prestigious ensemble of a cappella in the Pacific Northwest. They perform a broad range of musical styles ranging from traditional swing to contemporary R & B. The group has engaged in various performances touring Ukraine, Brazil and Spain and will tour Ireland next year.

The 2013-14 Umpqua Singers consist of Victoria Dean, Britteny Eagan, Jenna Gillespie, Stephen Metsig, Molly Morhain, Kacie Norris, Kyler Paselk, Aleta Pierce, Skyler Smith and Tyler Wilson.

The opening consisted of 16 different songs, many of which were arranged by Jason Heald, director of music and conductor of the Umpqua Singers.

This is Heald’s 15th year at Umpqua where he has been in charge of the a cappella group. He holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of Oregon though he originally received a B.S. in Political Science. Before coming to UCC, he was a professional performer and studio musician. Heald previously taught at Mt. Hood Community College, Linfield College and Western Oregon University.

A couple of the selected songs were “It’s Nice Weather for Ducks,” “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Miss Otis Regrets.” When asked the difficulty of performing the Jazz songs arranged by Heald, Gillespie and Norris both agreed that it was extremely challenging. “These songs have clashing chords that are really hard to blend,” Gillespie said. Norris added, “It’s really hard to nail your notes because they are so close together.”

The soloists among the song selection consisted of Skyler Smith, Britteny Eagan, Jenna Gillespie, Aleta Pierce, Kyler Paselk and Tyler Wilson.

“The challenge of jazz is my favorite genre of music, so to be in a jazz group is awesome,” Pierce said.

The featured performer, Marti Mendenhall, is a Portland-based songwriter and vocalist. The Umpqua Singers enjoyed being on stage and interacting vocally with Mendenhall.

“It was awesome singing with Marti. She is so talented, and I think I came away with more confidence and how to capture the audience’s attention,” Morhain said.

Mendenhall performed in Jacoby with both the Umpqua Singers and Moment’s Notice, a local jazz band. Mendenhall also taught a master class in Centerstage Theatre to local high school music students.

Pierce, who has been singing since she was in kindergarten, expressed joy to be able to interact with Mendenhall. “Singing with Marti was an eye-opening experience since she has been doing jazz for such a long time and she taught all of us the art of scatting.” Scatting is a style of jazz that uses nonsense syllables to approximate the sound of a solo instrument.

Moment’s Notice is the UCC faculty jazz quartet. “The original lineup was John Gronberg (trumpet), Ross Hansen (guitar), Jason Palmer (drums), and me (bass). All were music instructors at UCC and had/have careers as professional musicians. When Jason Palmer left to take a position in Portland, he was replaced by Clint Newell,” Heald said. The group performs and assists in concerts, clinics and workshops around the Northwest.

The Umpqua Singers is a deep all-around experience for students interested in singing at UCC. “My favorite part about being an Umpqua Singer is the experience we get performing and the skills we are learning. Not just during Umpqua Singers practice, but in the required classes we are supposed to take like Music Theory. I’ve learned so much in a short time,” Morhain said.

The Umpqua Singers is a merit-award based program, meaning it pays for tuition. “Getting school free isn’t a bad deal either. It makes all the hard work worth it,” Morhain said.

The Umpqua Singers will hold their next performance in Centerstage Theatre, March 10 at 7:30 p.m.