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50th anniversary Beatles ‘White Album’ concert features students, supports music education

WATCH: Musicians rehearse ahead of 50th anniversary “White Album” performance

Fifty years after the Beatles released their self-titled classic commonly known as the “White Album,” the Harris Center for the Arts will be hosting a live 40-piece performance of the album on Nov. 25, 2018, with proceeds going to music education.
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Fifty years after the Beatles released their self-titled classic commonly known as the “White Album,” the Harris Center for the Arts will be hosting a live 40-piece performance of the album on Nov. 25, 2018, with proceeds going to music education.

Fifty years – almost to the day – after the Beatles released their eponymous classic commonly known as the “White Album,” the Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom will host a live, 40-piece orchestral performance of the entire album Sunday, with all proceeds from the concert going to music education.

And the show will feature some of the Sacramento area’s biggest names.

Gabe Nelson, the former bassist of Sacramento’s Cake, will sing a few tunes. Other guests include 2018 SN&R Sammie winner Peter Petty, KFBK news anchor Kitty O’Neal, and singer-songwriter Hans Eberbach.

But the concert is not about star power. The show benefits the nonprofit Sacramento Preparatory Music Academy and will feature kids from the program, which is led by its founder and director, Ben McClara.

“I hope that these kids sort of wake up in their 20s and 30s and look back at this time and go, ‘Wow, you know, I was 10, 11 years old when I got to do this,’ “ McClara said. “That’s life-changing, hopefully.”

About 20 student musicians from SPMA will be joined on stage by musicians from the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra as well as music educators from Sacramento State and other colleges.

McClara transcribed and arranged the 30-track double album for guitars and keys plus an orchestra of nine strings, six woodwinds, six brasses, a four-person choir and percussion. They will play them all, including, yes, “Revolution 9,” the eight-minute-plus sound collage of John Lennon’s tape loops and sound effects.

This will be the SPMA’s fifth Beatles fundraising concert. McClara built a studio with several private practice rooms for his students with proceeds from the first show.

Students, McClara said, toiled for close to six months to learn the “White Album” to have the opportunity to take the stage with professional musicians.

“The rule that I had was ‘If you learn a song, I’ll let you play it,’ ” McClara said, “If you look at a lot of my students’ music, they’ll have my signature on top of the song and a date. It’s a highly prized signature in our academy.”

Nelson, who teaches at SPMA, said McClara sets high standards for his students, but he believes young musicians seeing the level of dedication and discipline necessary to play at a professional level is healthy.

“They’re building skill, and that skill is going to last,” Nelson said. “If they decide to be musicians for the rest of their lives, the skills they’re getting now are great building blocks.”

The concert, Nelson said, gives students a chance to show off their hard work in learning the songs – the Beatles, he said, wrote sophisticated, challenging pop music – and also gives him the opportunity to pay it forward.

Nelson got into music at the same age as many SPMA students, he said, so he finds joy in being able to act as a kind of role model for them.

Concert proceeds are used by SPMA to provide music education in public schools bereft of their own programs, buy guitars for students who may have never held one, pay the rent for their practice space, and hire the musicians who support students on stage, McClara said.

To add to the 1960s vibe at the fundraiser, the concert will feature a liquid light show and live cinema accompaniment, produced extemporaneously throughout the evening by George Holden.

Holden will be painting over glass slides during the concert, projecting them behind the band and overlaying vintage photos and videos of the Beatles to bring the Fab Four to the stage.

SPMA is partnered with campuses in the Sacramento City Unified School District, which McClara visits to make up for its continually shrinking music education system, he said. However, after losing thousands of dollars at a recent SPMA show, McClara said he has had to front many expenses just to keep the organization afloat.

Justice Nelken, a student and employee at SPMA who will play bass in the concert, said she wants the academy to be able to broaden its outreach into public schools.

“I’ve been on scholarship with Ben for years now,” Nelken said. “To be able to expand that to students who are truly talented and who really need the help and they want to be here and they’re willing to put in the work is something great.”

That Beatles music is still being used to change lives comes as no surprise to Eberbach. Most contemporary pop, singer-songwriter Eberbach said, lacks originality and promotes vanity, but seeing young people involved with Beatles’ music represents an important trans-generational camaraderie.

Eberbach was exposed to the Beatles at an early age, and said he was fortunate to receive an excellent music education growing up in Maine, but he didn’t realize how lucky he was until he came to California.

O’Neal, the KFBK anchor, said studying and performing Beatles music gives students the unique opportunity to understand the roots of much today’s music, especially given the dismal state of music education in many schools.

“This is a wonderful way to bridge that gap for kids that want to learn and love music and can get in and do it and then actually play in these shows – and where else could that happen?” O’Neal said. “It’s a rare opportunity for them.”

If you go

When: Sunday, Nov. 25. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the concert begins at 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Harris Center for the Arts at 10 College Parkway in Folsom.

Price: $35 to $50

More info: harriscenter.net

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