‘Get Funky!’

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

Partners in music outreach bring music to area students

By Michelle Fleming

On a sunny November afternoon, Gwen Suesse stood at the back of the Tryon Fine Arts Center auditorium as the audience packed in, filling the house. As the president of Tryon Concert Association, Gwen has seen many concerts from that vantage point. Few, however, could top this audience for enthusiasm. The 309 young students and adults spent the concert dancing, “dabbing” and waving from the aisles as the Charleston, S.C.-based quintet Ranky Tanky performed.

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The enthusiastic response was just what was hoped for from Arts Outreach for Kids (A-OK), a new educational series born from a partnership between Tryon Fine Arts Center and Tryon Concert Association.

“The students’ enthusiasm took our energy to new heights,” said Clay Ross, singer and guitarist with Ranky Tanky. “We were literally running into the balcony to play with them!”

Clay and the four other members of Ranky Tanky were the first performance of the new A-OK program, and delighted area homeschoolers and students from Polk County and Spartanburg District 1 schools with a high-energy, educational concert featuring their unique mix of traditional Gullah music from the Low Country with jazz, gospel and R&B. This was for many students their first experience with a live performance.

“So much of the music and performances that young people are exposed to in our time comes to them through YouTube and their computers,” explained Gwen. “It’s exciting to create opportunities to see and hear performers live, to experience the sense of interaction that happens between performers and audience members.”

It’s an experience A-OK will replicate with three more performances. Calmus, a world-renowned choral music quintet, will perform for A-OK in December just days before their performance at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Soloist Shana Tucker is a top vocalist, songwriter, and cellist and will perform her unique blend of ChamberSoul in late January. The season ends with WindSync in March, performing a wide-ranging repertoire of winds chamber music.

Shana Tucker and Ranky Tanky are TFAC Main Stage artists; Calmus and WindSync will be presented as part of TCA’s 63rd season. All four are top artists in their genre.

“By offering young people the ‘best of the best,’ we hope to whet their appetites, to broaden their horizons, and encourage them to participate in the arts themselves, both as music-makers and as audience members,” Gwen explained. “Presenting high caliber performances is actually key: if performances are mediocre, the takeaway reaction will likely also be mediocre. What we aspire to is showcasing excellence to encourage excellence.”

To ensure the high-quality performances are as accessible for as many as possible, tickets for A-OK shows are only $3 for students and teachers and $7 for adults. In addition to area students, a limited number of tickets are available for retirees who may be unable to attend evening performances.

“TCA and TFAC have many of the same visions, and one right at the top of that list is nurturing and encouraging future audiences for our organizations,” said Gwen. “Perhaps even more compelling, we share the belief that young people’s lives are greatly enhanced by exposure to the arts, because this exposure cultivates wonder and beauty, sparks imagination, and helps young people to get beyond their everyday experiences, which often are fraught with competition, challenges, and difficulties. Ratcheting up our outreach has been an ongoing goal for us, but has also been challenging to put into practice. A-OK provides the vehicle. It was natural for TFAC and TCA to partner for this initiative, and it’s a big win for both organizations.” A-OK is also a big win for area students and the artists they get to meet.

“I learned that Ranky Tanky means ‘get funky’ [in the Gullah dialect]!” said Tommy, a beaming Tryon Elementary student after the performance. “They really got into the music!” With A-OK, the students can get into the music, too. •