Local musician Ray Remesch founded Front Porch Orchestra in 2017 to create a channel for people who play folk instruments to have an orchestra experience on the Mid Shore. The group is able to create a big orchestral sound with guitars and banjos. Specifically, however, Ray and his group have been genre bending between bluegrass/folk and classical music. In December, the Front Porch Orchestra will perform for its second year the “Bluegrass Nutcracker.” The show was originally performed last year at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, CBMM in St Michaels, and 447 in Cambridge.
Ray comments, “The feedback was awesome last year – people loved it!”
He explains that Bluegrass Nutcracker is breaking new ground – creating a bridge between classical music and the average music listener. He adds, “I wanted to attract a younger audience. It’s sort of like ‘a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.’ Really, it’s about bringing classical music to people who have an ear for pop.”
The combination is not that unusual though. Nineteenth century Russia lacked a significant conservatory system and classical Russian composers were influenced by folk music. Ray states, “A lot of Tchaikovsky’s music translates well into bluegrass, as much of Classical music has folk roots.
Front Porch Orchestra has also done “The Carnival of the Animals” by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns and “The Music of Minecraft,” collaborating with local dance company Continuum Dance. This coming year, the group is exploring performing a bluegrass version of “Fantasia.” In each case, the group seeks to maintain the integrity of the music, adding instruments like the banjo and guitar. Ray explains, “This pleases the people who know the music well, as we preserve the aesthetics, but make the experience more upbeat.”
The orchestra members include Ray Remesch on guitar, Willoughby Buxton on violin, Nevin Dawson and Meredith Buxton on viola, Michael Allen on guitar, Jordan Stanley on drums, Quinn Parsley on bass, and Greg Remesch on banjo. Ray comments, “Each of the musicians in the group are talented and wanted a challenge.”
Ray points to current genre-bending artists like Chris Thile and The Piano Guys as an inspiration for the group. The addition of a narrator to the performances between movements interjects comedy while helping to paint a picture in people’s mind before they hear the music.
The process of arranging the music for guitar and banjo proved to be challenging for Ray. He credits many colors of highlighters in helping him to keep track of the melody, baseline, counter melodies, and background harmony. He states, “Different instruments cover each part. I used a notation app to help me make the scores. It took about 10 to 12 hours to arrange one movement and we are doing 17 movements. I want people to know we put a lot of work into these new arrangements and into maintaining the integrity of the music.”
Front Porch Orchestra is giving six Delmarva-area performances of their crown jewel: 17 movements of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Ballet.” After refining their sound for almost two years and giving successful local concerts, the group will share their music outside of Maryland’s Mid Shore for the first time.
Bluegrass Nutcracker 2018 performance dates:
December 1 • 2 p.m.: Academy Art Museum, Easton
December 8 • 2 p.m.: Milton Theatre, Milton, Delaware
December 14 • 8 p.m.: Chesapeake Arts Center, Brooklyn
December 15 • 2 p.m.: Church Hill Theater, Church Hill
December 16 • 2 p.m.: Jammin Java, Vienna, Virginia
December 21 • 8 p.m.: The 447, Cambridge
Studio recordings can be streamed via frontporchorchestra.bandcamp.com. For all inquiries, contact Ray via RayRemesch@gmail.com. Performance information is available on Facebook.com/frontporchorchestra.