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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Yearwood and symphony bridge cultural gulf

Orchestra Hall, Detroit, June 14, 1996

By Dan Kuchar

DETROIT - Trisha Yearwood. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It's not likely that you'd ever mention these two musical entities in the same sentence let alone hear them on the same bill. While rock acts like the Beatles and Moody Blues broke new ground by joining pop stylings with full-blown symphonic orchestration on wax, the pairing was seldom if ever successful live.

Isn't the cultural gulf between country and classical music even wider? Still, there on the stage of Detroit's venerable Orchestra Hall were the 80-plus seats where the DSO's musicians sit along with a set of drums and several guitars. In the lobby, it became evident that the structure spanning that cultural gulf was corporate sponsorship. Promotional folks hawked "free" Trisha Yearwood CDs in exchange for filling out an application for the DISCOVER card, sponsor of Yearwood's orchestral tour including engagements with orchestras of Nashville, London, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Once seated, the audience was as diverse as Orchestra Hall was ever likely to see. Present were the "jeans and boots" crowd along side of the sequinned gowns of the season ticket holders.

The first half of the concert featured the DSO playing pieces with a familiar Western-sounding theme. Some of the crowd that was unfamiliar with the classical concert protocol clapped nervously between the movements of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown." The orchestra received warm and genuine applause for its loving treatment of the Western themes. So far so good.

The DSO was ably conducted by Mark Watters, who arranged several songs on Yearwood's album "Thinking About You." Watters is a veteran arranger and orchestrator, having scored many works for television and film and is also writing and conducting music for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

After intermission, the DSO was seated and Orchestra Hall went dark. A screen descended from the stage area and a little biographical film about Trisha Yearwood was shown that featured old home movies and interviews with her parents and another little plug for the DISCOVER card.

After a brief opening chord from the orchestra, the hall filled withYearwood's a capella voice delivering the first familiar strains of "Down On My Knees." By the first chorus, her band and the DSO joined in to form a dreamy and rapturous effect that was absolutely breathtaking. Yearwood, her band and the DSO sounded like they'd been playing together for years.

"Walk Away Joe" and Hugh Prestwood's masterpiece "The Song Remembers When" were raised to new heights when wrapped in the DSO's creamy sonic blanket. Yearwood's voice had never sounded better. The comparatively low volume and relaxed pace of this format allowed her to devote her full attention to her vocal performance.

While the melding of orchestration and Yearwood's music worked beautifully on all of the ballads, the up tempo tunes did not fare as well. Even though Yearwood's band exercised incredible restraint, the orchestra was somewhat obscured by the amplified instruments. Stompers like "That's What I Like About You" found the DSO struggling to keep up with the tempo as well. The orchestra laid out completely during a few tunes.

Yearwood and the DSO closed the show with the standards "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

A standing ovation brought her back to the stage to debut a song from her next album written exclusively for her about her husband (The Mavericks' bassist Robert Reynolds), "The Nightingale."

The evening (and the experiment) were successful. The blue jeans crowd got to hear Yearwood with a world-class orchestra in a setting more intimate than they will likely ever experience again. They got a chance to be caressed by her music in a hall with some of the best acoustics in the world. They also got a shot of high-brow culture that was pretty smooth goin' down.

The season ticket holders got a chance to be exposed to another side of American culture. They experienced first hand the emotional lyrical and musical phenomenon that is American country music delivered by a grass roots diva at the top of her form.

Yearwood, her band and the DSO got to venture across the tracks to gain a little deeper appreciation of their respective art forms. So much for the cultural gulf.