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March 28April 11 Spirit of Frank Zappa lives on for music students



Jeff Richard

Student Jeff Richard recreated the look and sound.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Austin Webb

Mannequin legs, lava lamps, a stack of burnt-out television sets, a toilet bowl and a row of music stands were piled in the southwest corner of The Hive last Friday night for “An Evening in the Spirit of Frank Zappa.”

Staying true to that spirit, over 30 Concordia music students performed spaced-out jams, social commentary, performance and conceptual art, and satires of performance and conceptual art, all composed or inspired by the man whose distinctive portrait hung above the stage for the entire evening.

“It’s been a great success,” said music instructor Michael Pinsonneault, the event’s emcee and sometime saxophonist. He also teaches Music History 498 – Frank Zappa: Composer and Social Critic, a special topics course he developed last year.

“The course recognizes Zappa’s significance as the most emblematic musician of the late 20th century, particularly in terms of his engagement in popular culture and social consciousness,” said Pinsonneault, who came under Zappa’s influence first as a musician and later as a social critic. “I decided that instead of an exam, it would be more fun to have the students do a performance as their final project.”

Fun coursework

Pinsonneault and his students weren’t shy about showcasing Zappa’s more controversial side. Early in the evening they played a selection of his “songs about stupid people.”

The set included Jewish Princess, Valley Girl, and the unforgettable Bobby Brown. In true Zappa fashion though, the set was introduced as “the worst of the worst” and a complaints box was offered around to the impressively packed house.

Most of the students involved seemed relaxed and happy to be wearing funny hats and singing songs about anatomy and beer while at the same time showcasing their musical chops.

“This is going to be great,” said second-year electroacoustics student Dan Coole, as he waited in the wings, preparing to play bass on a medley of Zappa’s more sexually-themed songs.

The musicians also embraced much of the composer’s conceptual work. For one piece, an empty picture frame and a bowl of fruit and vegetables stood at the front of the stage. The audience was instructed to place any of the produce into the frame while the band played an appropriate sound. Naturally, eggplant called for glissandos.

Among the evening’s many musical highlights was jazz performance student Jeff Richard’s barn-burning guitar solo on Muffin Man. Apart from bringing down the house with his distinctly Zappa-esque electric wah-wah guitar, Richard also bore an uncanny resemblance to the late composer.

“People have always told me I play like him,” said Richard after the show, “but I’ve also heard that I look like him.” The music class inspired Richard to demonstrate his devotion to Zappa; back in September he began to let his beard and hair grow in anticipation of last Friday’s performance.

“This is the most fun I’ve had playing music in my life,” he said.