The Long and Winding Road to Beatlemore Skidmania: The decade-old gig draws near and takes shape

Posted by Brendan James

Few events at the College stir as much anticipation as the annual tribute concert to Britain's Fab Four, Beatlemore Skidmania. This year's program has been published and preparations are under way for the shows on Nov. 11 and 12 in the Zankel Music Center.

From artistic direction to integration of new media, this year's concert will feature a host of new approaches toward bringing the Beatles' music to life. As always, Dr. Gordon Thompson of the music department oversees the organization of the concert, having founded and managed the show since its inception in 2001.

Thompson assigns his MU 344 Beatles seminar the task of organizing the concert. "I gave them as much of a say as I could in the planning," Thompson said. Because the seminar meets at 9:10 a.m., this has been the smallest group he has ever had, but he stresses their ambition to pull off a lively and complete show.

"It has been challenging to say the least, "said Jonathan Duennebier '13, one of the seminar students. "However, with only six students in the class, we all feel very closely involved, and are taking a great deal of pride with the process." Duennebier and his peers sat through 12 hours and 50 acts with a view to narrow them down to 20 for the program.

The interpretations of the Beatles catalog at the show are historically unique and diverse. One year saw two turntable artists with drums and bass backing a spoken-word version of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite;" another saw a rap version of "Give Peace a Chance."

"This year, we'll have the same kinds of diversity and yet still have something new," Thompson said. "You will hear interpretations of Beatles songs unlike anything you have ever heard in the past."

A novel aspect of the show's preparation has been the line of T-shirts and posters designed by Professor Deb Hall's "Communication Design II." Thompson brought the designs by Hall's class back to the Beatles seminar, which then spent more than an hour choosing the designs for Beatlemore Skidmania.

"In the end, we selected a great poster by Samantha Shneyer ('12) that we will print in proper poster size, along with the wonderful three runners-up. These we will raffle off at the end of the concerts," Thompson said.

"It's a very special, vibrant event, and with every year the buzz seems to grow. Judging from the acts we've selected, I think everyone will be blown away by the concert. We still have a lot of work to do, but it should be an incredible night," Duennebier said. "Who doesn't love The Beatles?"

Over the past decade the show has risen from obscurity to become a staple of the college's culture.

Thompson began leading a Beatles seminar in 1996, but in the fall of 2001 his students asked for the opportunity to actually perform the music they had studied. "The first event ran way below the radar. We held it on a study day in December, we invited friends and we did no advertising," Thompson said.

As years went by the concert swelled in attendence until the hall was full at every show. People drove from Boston and Newark to see the concert. Last year's concert in the 600-seat Filene-Ladd Hall of Zankel sold out of the non-student tickets in minutes, prompting Thompson to schedule a second show.

Thompson reflects on the surge in popularity: "No longer is this a small, in-house concert with music students and faculty getting together to play music. Now, lots of people want to be in the show. I've tried to preserve the idea of student ownership of the event, but much is new. For example, we're exploring a webcast in the hopes that we can give even more people access to the event."

Now that his project has grown from a small recital to a sold-out event, Thompson remains pleased with the originality that Skidmore students bring to the arrangements and spirit of the music.

"This is our event and it's unlike anything else out there that I know," Thompson said.

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