By Taylor Bakken, Cherry Spoon Collective
On one of the first warm, sunny days of spring the Cherry Spoon Collective gathered in the Ecolab plaza of downtown St. Paul. It was the crux of the project as plans went, but not the end by any means. Having been thwarted by rain the week before, all involved with the group were excited to have a chance to play outside after the never ending winter. Instruments were unpacked, bike-powered amplifiers were set up, and the lunch crowd of downtown St. Paul had the opportunity to experience something completely new. The plaza was quickly packed with all ages of people, some nodding their head along with the beat of the music, some pausing for a moment before heading back to work, a little bit lighter in step. The group of musicians played off the energy of their crowd, giving the mass a break from their day-to-day routine.
Graciously funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and supported by the American Composers Forum, Cherry Spoon Collective came together as a group of musicians to experiment with improvising and creating a multiple voice being. Members of the collective wrote pieces inspired by a variety of experiences, melding jazz, poetry, rock, and classical music simultaneously. As Melissa Mathews, violinist, said, “Cherry Spoon Collective features new compositions by ensemble members in a positive feedback loop of passion, creativity, and prowess.”
‘New’ is one of the most succinct words to describe the Cherry Spoon Collective. What is undoubtedly new is the diversity within the group and the unidentifiable genre of music they play. Michelle Kinney, one of the founders and a composer for the group, described the sound of the Cherry Spoon Collective as, “…a large multi-genre ensemble improvising and grooving like a rock band, but not playing rock music! There are singular voices present in this group, not section players. It’s an entirely different sound than a classical orchestra or even a big jazz band. The point is to bring all these voices into focus, yet to be able to identify each one of them for their uniqueness.” The first meeting took place at the Lehr Theater of the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists; some knew fellow musicians, others did not. The first practice at the Lehr Theater felt brand new; not the quality of the practice, that was spectacular right off the bat, but the integration of so many different backgrounds and generations was electric in the theater that night.
After multiple open rehearsals following the Lehr Theater beginning, Cherry Spoon Collective performed at the Art Crawl in Studio Z in lowertown St. Paul. There were street performances prior to the show and two one-hour sets to a crowded house, the energy and spirit of the group roused the audience into a standing ovation twice. Each performance was slightly different than the other; this is one of the beautiful things of an improvisatory group and something that the Cherry Spoon Collective capitalizes on. Every time they play there are new elements, something will catch your attention that you might have not noticed previously.
While the St. Paul Ecolab Plaza performance marked the conclusion of a new phase for Cherry Spoon Collective, they plan to carry on the group’s mission as a platform for all things musically new. As Nick Gaudette, bassist and composer, put it, “With the roster of musicians, the CSC can serve as a think tank or “incubator” for new music around the Twin Cities.” And that’s exactly what the Cherry Spoon Collective will continue to do.
Members of the Cherry Spoon Collective include: Michelle Kinney (cello), Nick Gaudette (bass), Patrick O’Keefe (sax), Laura Harada (violin), Melissa Mathews (violin), Zack Kline (violin), Jacqueline Ultan (cello), Graham O’Brien (drums), Chris Thomson (sax), George Cartwright (sax), Trent Jacobs (bassoon), Lee Tran (sax), Chris Cunningham (guitar), Joe Horton (spoken word), Geoff Senn (trumpet) and Mike Ethen (trombone).
This project is made possible in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the American Composers Forum. The American Composers Forum (ACF), a St. Paul-based national organization. ACF makes possible the artistic development of composers, the creative development of music, and fosters a thriving community for music. You can friend Cherry Spoon Collective on facebook or follow on twitter @cherryspooncoll.