Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ex-Zappa band members at UNT

DENTON (UNT), Texas ¾ What was it like to play in Frank Zappa’s band?

University of North Texas College of Music students enrolled in a class about the music of Frank Zappa will find out from two former Zappa band members – bassist and alumnus Arthur Barrow and keyboardist Tommy Mars.

Barrow and Mars will perform Chunga’s Revenge, Cosmik Debris and other Zappa tunes with about 20 students at 8 p.m. April 16 (Monday) in a free concert in Voertman Hall in the UNT Music Building, southeast corner of Avenue C and Chestnut Street. The performance is part of a residency in which Barrow and Mars will talk with about 60 students enrolled in the Music of Frank Zappa class taught by Joseph Klein, chair of the Division of Composition Studies at UNT. Students explore the musical, political, social and cultural aspects of the life and work of Zappa.

“I hope the students will broaden their musical horizons by playing some music that is outside their normal educational experience and by working with a couple of musicians who have been living music their entire lives,” Barrow said. “We can share with them what it is like to be a professional musician, as well as our deep appreciation for Zappa's unique and very creative approach to music.”

Barrow, who graduated from UNT in 1975, will lead the students in rehearsals – as he did when he served as “Clonemeister” in Zappa’s band. The group also will perform an improvised piece composed by the entire ensemble and conducted by Mars.

Klein began teaching the Zappa music class in the summer of 2001, and his students have included those with majors in art, music, philosophy, sociology, English, anthropology and more. Students in the class have watched videos of Zappa's concert performances and his appearances on "Saturday Night Live;" studied his lyrics; and read books and articles on his work, including his autobiography, "The Real Frank Zappa Book.” From the 1960s until his death in 1993, Zappa wrote a prolific mix of music — including mainstream classical, avant-garde classical, jazz, rhythm and blues, and electro-acoustic music.

“Since Zappa was such a trenchant social commentator -- not only through his music, but in his writings, interviews and television appearances -- his life and work allow one to examine, in a unique and interesting way, many of the major cultural and political movements in America during the last half of the 20th century,” Klein said.

“I think that's one reason why the course attracts so many people from a wide variety of different majors -- and all of those students' varying perspectives become part of our discussions as we deconstruct these issues,” Klein said. “Because many of the concerns Zappa had -- such as the influence of religion on American politics -- are as significant today as they were during his lifetime, I think Zappa remains relevant as a cultural figure.”

This will mark Barrow’s second visit to UNT for a performance through Klein’s class, although he has participated in phone interviews with students several times in previous classes.

“While my own perspective on Zappa is broad and more academically oriented, having an actual performer from Zappa's band gives you the kind of nitty-gritty personal details you can't get from a book,” Klein said. “Having Arthur here sharing his personal anecdotes about auditioning, touring and running rehearsals as Zappa's ‘clonemeister’ is a priceless experience for the students -- and this year we're ‘upping the ante,’ so to speak, by bringing in Tommy Mars as well.”


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