By ADAM FALLUJI – STAFF WRITER
On April 17, for the final performance of the Norton Center’s season, Bobby McFerrin offered a performance like no other. McFerrin, a world-famous vocalist and musician, gave a show that dazzled his audience and exceeded their expectations.
“I went because my friends were going, and it wasn’t what I expected,” first-year Ryland Atkins said. “The noises he made with his body and voice were unexpected.”
McFerrin’s techniques include making percussion sounds and large leaps in pitch in an improvisational manner similar to scat singing. His abilities extend to multi-phonic singing – singing two pitches at once while maintaining a melody – and creating sounds by thumping his chest. His a capella abilities allow him to perform and record as an unaccompanied vocal artist.
“I think out of all of the convocations we’ve had, this was one of the prime opportunities to see improv at its finest,” first-year Kaylind Batey said.
The son of operatic baritone Robert McFerrin Sr. and singer Sara Copper, McFerrin didn’t release his first recorded work until he was 32, after spending six years developing his distinct musical style. He spent the first two years trying not to listen to any other artists so he could focus solely on developing his personal sound.
“I’ve always been a big fan of his music and I knew he was going to have an awesome show, but I didn’t realize he was going to be that amazing,” Batey said. “He was much more engaging and personable than I thought he’d be.”
Bobby McFerrin is best known for his 1988 hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” the first a capella song to reach number one in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which brought him widespread fame around the world. He has also earned ten Grammy awards including “Song of the Year,” “Record of the Year,” and “Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Male Artist.”
Taking its name from a common quote by Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba, the song’s message of a happy perspective has been integrated into American pop culture. It was used as George H. W. Bush’s 1988 U.S. presidential campaign song without McFerrin’s permission or endorsement, an event which McFerrin reacted to publicly, and he has since removed the song from his performance repertoire in protest.
Following his success, McFerrin effectively ended his career in releasing music, and began pursuing other musical opportunities in recording studios and on stage, such as his performance at Centre.
“I thought it was really amazing that such a famous guy came here,” first-year Max Prah said. “I knew I had to go see him.”
His performance had a specific list of songs to go through, but McFerrin immediately established that he wouldn’t be performing in any particular order. Rather, he whimsically leapt from song to song, talking and joking in between each and often performing quick improvisations and voice impersonations. His energy invigorated his crowd, often earning reactions and shouts. McFerrin made use of his audience’s enthusiasm by inviting several audience members to sing with him on stage.
“I really liked when he asked people from the audience to go up and sing with him. Not a lot of people do that,” Atkins said.In addition to his performance at night, McFerrin also hosted a lecture and demonstration earlier in the day in which he discussed his musical techniques in improvisation and encouraged aspiring musicians in the crowd to come on stage and improv with him.
“Some people were hesitant to come down at first, but he made them feel really welcome,” Batey said.
McFerrin’s presentation left students with a new perspective on music, opening their minds to possibilities they hadn’t considered before.
“It was very different in comparison to the other Norton Center appearances we’ve had this year,” Prah said. “I thought it was cool how laid back it was and how personable he was. I felt like I knew him and he knew us after seeing it. It was more than just a show you watch.”
The Norton Center will be announcing their 2014-2015 online soon at www.nortoncenter.com.