Grant Engle | Staff Writer
Chautauquans have had the opportunity to see a wide variety of musical performances this season. Crooners and pop-rockers from the 1960s, the ever-present Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the smooth sounds of Peter and Paul have attracted capacity audiences to the Amphitheater.
Now the Institution will see an amalgamation of all of those sounds when the Infinity Visual and Performing Arts Inc.’s big band and jazz ensemble, Milestones, come to Chautauqua at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
John Cross, director of the big band, said the several components of the ensemble create a unique sound compared to traditional four- or five-piece bands.
“It’s almost orchestral from a composer’s point of view,” Cross said. “You’re able to have so many different voices that you wouldn’t be able to create with a smaller group.”
Cross said the band can perform anything from hip-hop to country music, and he enjoys watching all of his young artists bring their musical preferences and skill sets to the group.
Infinity is a nonprofit music and arts education program based in Jamestown, N.Y. The program houses more than 50 instructors and has provided music and arts services for more than 1,400 musicians from Chautauqua County in the first half of 2012.
Stephanie Rogers, site coordinator for Infinity, has experienced the music programs at Chautauqua. She said performing at the Institution provides a rare opportunity for some.
“A lot of our students might not come to Chautauqua,” Rogers said. “It’s great for us to collaborate with Chautauqua and let our students have the experience of being in the Institution and seeing what it’s all about.”
Cross said a large part of his job as bandleader is to prepare his students for important performances, and a concert at Chautauqua requires different concentration than a high school recital.
“It’s the highest stage you can play in our county as far as prestige,” Cross said. “This is kind of like the Olympics of performances. It’s an honor to be able to play at Chautauqua.”
Students at Infinity can take private lessons once per week on top of performances with their ensemble. The musicians come from various schools throughout Chautauqua County.
Cross said the mix is beneficial to the students, and working together to produce music is a nice departure from the “battle of the bands” mentality.
“They all come together and make music,” Cross said. “Schools will usually compete and defeat one another. This is one opportunity where schools come together to be better than they can be at their own particular school.”
While most conductors lead their band from a stand in front of the musicians, Cross said one of the best parts of his job is he can “start them up and get out of the way.” The band leader will count off the ensemble and walk away to make the performers the focal point of the show.
“There’s this energy that comes from the central part of the group as opposed to a conductor beating on top of them,” Cross said. “It’s an organic, spontaneous fusion of sound and listening intensity.”
The jazz ensemble Milestones will also perform with the Infinity big band. Cross said many of the students will return to the Institution for the Week eight Chautauqua Music Camp and put on another performance on Aug. 17 in Fletcher Music Hall.
“It’s such a blessing to be so close to Chautauqua,” Cross said. “We’re so fortunate to have this opportunity in our own backyard.”