"Music for the People" puts new twist on classics

In the dimly lit Edye Second Space theater, Karen Benjamin's voice rang out into the audience with a question: "Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul; how can I keep from singing?"

This song, the first set of four performed, introduced the audience to a project created by Benjamin to reflect on music written during the 19th century.

On Tues., March 30, Karen Benjamin, Charles Lane, Yulia Kozlova and Alan Chapman performed a preview of the recital, "Music of the People, By the People, and For the People." The songs touched on both positive and negative aspects of American life that rang true then and ring true now.

In addition to songs like "How Can I Keep From Singing," the show included "$8 a Day," a commentary on government wages, and "Single Girl." Arranger, narrator and bass player for the show, Alan Chapman commented on the fact that these songs allow people living in today's society to relate to the past through a cultural outlet.

"We put [these songs] on a pedestal almost because these are the songs of the people," he said. "And they're right up there with any other art that you can think of."

The fuel for this project ignited when operatic singer Benjamin stumbled upon a book of American folk songs.

"I found this book and what I noticed from going through these divine lyrics was how poignant they are today to the state of the world," said Benjamin.

Along with Benjamin's interest in performing the songs for historical purposes, the other performers each had special motivation for being a part of the show.

Pianist Yulia Kozlova, a native of Russia, said, "I recently became a citizen of the United States and I thought it would be good to become familiar with the music of the country."

Lane also found meaning behind the show as it allowed him to perform songs from a more spiritual spectrum of American history.

The team took the feelings of turmoil and stress emitting from these songs, as well as the uplifting themes of love and perseverance, and exhibited these sentiments in an unconventional manner.

The songs were also arranged in a way to suit the talents of the performers. The singing style is classical but simultaneously involves spurts of dancing jigs and voice inflections like the southern twang.

Following what they believe will be a successful second run on April 9, the group hopes to move the show outside of SMC and have it accepted by the rest of the country.

"I am sure we will go on to perform this show many times for larger and larger audiences across the country, with our eyes on the prize: The White House," said Lane.

The second showing will be at 7:30 p.m.