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Shuffle: A Risky Pairing of Divergent Sounds Proves Successful in Canton

Canton Symphony Orchestra
Northeast Ohio folk-rock band The Speedbumps first performed with the Canton Symphony Orchestra in 2012

A concert in Canton on September 28 pairs two unlikely genres – indie-folk and classical. This is the fourth time Kent-based band The Speedbumps will perform with The Canton Symphony Orchestra. The collaboration has given many other local musicians a new audience.

A risky move
Canton Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Michelle Mullaly says she reached out to The Speedbumpssinger and guitarist Erik Urycki after seeing the band perform in 2011. The next year, she paired them with the full orchestra for a concert that drew nearly 1,000 people at the Palace Theater. 

'The first time you hear music you wrote played by a 45-piece orchestra, it is a different thing than your typical rock show'

"It worked out great because Kevin Martinez, who plays bass in the band, has a degree in jazz composition so he was able to write all of the arrangements for us. So we were able to do it on a pretty small scale as far as expense-wise which was great because it was kind of a risky move."  

Mullaly said the first year in 2012, members of The Speedbumps wore suits and all 45 orchestra members wore jeans and their favorite concert t-shirts. "We no longer wear concert tees. The orchestra is in black shirts, but it was a good start to a long relationship."

The band and orchestra performed together again in 2015 and 2017, drawing larger audiences each time. This year, it's the first time the two groups will perform on the orchestra's home stage, Umstattd Performing Arts Hall.    

Credit The Speedbumps
Erik Urycki (front) is the singer and guitarist for The Speedbumps

A good fit
The Speedbumps' Urycki said the partnership was a good fit. "I have always listened to artists that use symphonies in their music, so I was all about it," he said. "The first time you hear music you wrote played by a 45-piece orchestra, it is a different thing than your typical rock show."

Urycki said there's not much preparation that goes into each performance. "We do one two-hour rehearsal and then we go. And it's changed our songwriting. It sheds a different light on the music we make."

Mullaly said the collaboration was a big risk that paid off. "We realized that we can take other risks and that our niche is really with our local artists and so that's what we decided to really push."

'I don't think if The Speedbumps were working and living in Nashville we'd have this opportunity'

Divergent sounds
In addition to bringing The Speedbumps back for three more shows, the symphony has launched its Divergent Sounds series. "We choose local bands and then we take their original music and have it arranged for just three or four of our musicians," Mullaly said. The concerts are meant to be small, intimate gatherings. 

The series has featured local artists of all genres, from hip-hop and rock to country and gypsy jazz. "Most of them go pretty safe and pick just a string quartet so they have a violin, a viola, a cello and a bass." 

Mullaly said it's an ambitious project for a smaller orchestra like Canton. "The nature of how we built it using only a couple musicians, it's not that expensive to put on."

"I don't think if The Speedbumps were working and living in Nashville we'd have this opportunity," Urycki said. "But it's happening in Northeast Ohio. I'm just proud to be the beginning of that."

Watch a YouTube video of The Speedbumps performing with The Canton Symphony in October 2012.


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