The myth that musical performers usually stick to their own kind – trumpets only hang out with trombones or French horns, but not so much with those clarinets or violins – has been thoroughly demolished by Erin Morel-Rowe and Mike Rowe. The duo make beautiful music together both onstage and off as a recently married couple and the newest members of Standing Room Only (SRO), the big band which headlines the annual spring fundraising dance for the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth on Saturday, May 3. “Swing into Spring,” the annual gathering featuring what most consider the finest big band in Eastern Ontario, will feature free dance lessons, a silent auction, and swinging renditions of tunes from the 1930s through the 1960s. Doors will open at 6:30pm, with dance lessons at 7pm at the Civitan Club, 6787 Lanark 43 in Perth.
Those who have attended the enjoyable annual event in the past – either to dance or just to sit and tap their feet – will note some of the group’s lineup changes, including tenor saxophone Erin Morel-Rowe. Having moved to this area last year from Sudbury, Erin first had a semester’s replacement contract at PDCI and is currently a supply teacher in the Upper Canada District School Board, hoping to eventually land a full-time gig teaching music to high school students. In the meantime, her passion for playing led her to join a saxophone quartet in Almonte that featured Elizabeth Sampson (a founding member of Standing Room Only) and, eventually, to join the big band. Along the way, she convinced SRO that a big band normally has four trumpet players and her husband Mike would make a perfect fourth.
“As a saxophone player, jazz is my favourite music, and I learned it early through a fabulous music teacher in Sudbury,” she says. “Playing with Standing Room Only is awesome, because I get to play my instrument every week.” Erin grew up in a musical family, with both parents playing in the Sudbury Community Band. “The turntable was always on, playing everyone from Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman to Colin James.” When she was in grade 7, her father started playing music from Big Band Spectacular, turning her on to a different sound while many of her contemporaries were jiving to ’n Sync, Jennifer Lopez and Pink.
She met her future husband, trumpet player Mike Rowe, at the age of 15. They dated for the following decade until they got married last summer, writing and arranging the music for their wedding. Their path took them together through the rest of high school and into the McMaster University music program, where Erin was inspired by the intensity of playing music every day.
“I love the feeling of working with a group, because you can express yourself individually while still working in the context of a larger collection of players. And big band music is so fun for us to play and audiences to dance to or just listen to. It’s easy to get distracted when you play for a dancing group because you see people having so much fun on the dance floor. I think a big reason this music is so popular is because it is so accessible: people quickly get it and they love it.”
Mike grew up in a family where both parents were ministers, and at age 11, he joined the Salvation Army band, which is all brass. He began to learn more contemporary tunes in grade 8 from a teacher who also played in a Sudbury jazz band, “which pushed me into a wider spectrum of music.” While he honed his musical chops in high school, he got accepted into both the university physics and the music program; however, he chose music because the intensity of practice time in high school “made me realize how much fun I had playing music, so this is what I wanted to do.”
For Mike, playing in Standing Room Only “is great. In university, a lot of the music was more academic, with audiences who were there just to listen. With SRO, people know the songs, they are there to have fun, they’re happy and excited, so it’s win-win for everybody involved.”
Like Erin, Mike loves the cohesiveness of playing in concert with others. “There are different feelings in different bands. I was principal trumpet in a 90-100 piece orchestra, but then you just work in your section and coordinate with the other section leaders. You don’t worry so much about what other people are doing, whereas in SRO you need to listen to what everyone else is doing.” And while music remains his primary passion, Mike is also enrolled in the Culinary Management Program at Algonquin College.
Those attending “Swing into Spring” will get to see first-hand the talent of this dynamic couple, celebrating the arrival of (hopefully) warmer weather with the rest of their big band colleagues on May 3. Tickets to “Swing into Spring” are available at Tickets Please (613-485-6434) for $25. Further information is available at classictheatre.ca/big-band-2014