These days, to go out dancing usually means going to a club and dancing to the latest pop hits. In earlier years, going out to a club meant something entirely different than twerking and grinding with a crowd of intoxicated young people. Older generations recall going out dancing to Big Band music doing the jitterbug, the Charleston or swing dancing. Nightclubs, musical genres and dance styles have changed significantly over the years, but the Macon Pops orchestra is bringing back the Big Band era right here in the 21st century in a whole new way.
Grammy Award-winning arranger Matt Catingub and multi-Grammy-nominated percussionist Steve Moretti joined forces to form the Macon Pops group. The talented pair shares a dream of replacing the stereotype orchestras have today with a new thrilling style of orchestral music. Macon Pops consists of 40 world-class musicians with the same goal of transforming the reputation of the orchestra. Instead of sitting quietly and listening to classical music, guests at a Pops concert are served food and drinks and are encouraged to dance as much as they desire.
The much anticipated Macon Pops kick off took place on Saturday evening, Oct. 26, at the Macon City Auditorium. Guests entered into a dreamland of lights, elegant and candlelit tables, and plenty of food and drinks. The show was called “Dancing Through the Decades,” which proved to be a perfect representation of the evening’s events. The show was not a concert to watch, but an event in which to participate. Audience participation was just as important as the musicians’ performances on stage.
Moretti and Catingub were included among these musicians. Moretti is not only the executive director and general manager of Macon Pops, but he is also the drummer for the group. In addition, Catingub is not only the artistic director and conductor of the group, but he also played saxophone and piano, and sang on stage with the rest of the performers
The Pops Orchestra led their guests through music of the 30’s to present-day hits. To assist the group with vocals, Catingub brought along the brilliant Anita Hall as a guest vocalist. Hall’s voice was ideal for such an event. From tender moments in “Unforgettable” to a raspier sound in “I Heard it through the Grapevine,” Hall knew how to entertain, and certainly had the voice for it. When asked about her experience singing here in Macon she said, “Well in terms of the people here, folks are as nice as they say they are in Georgia, they really are. They’ve got that Southern hospitality down! In addition to that, I really hope everybody had a great time and that they will ask for me personally to come back because I want some more of that southern hospitality!” The animation and dedication of Hall and the other musicians on stage transported the audience to a simpler time as they danced the night away. Mercer senior and Pop’s violinist Cara Schlecker said, “Macon Pops is an exceptional group to be a part of. The mixture of strings and big band, along with outstanding vocals and nostalgic tunes, make for a show that is reminiscent of an era that is long gone.” An entertaining piece of the evening which especially showed this merge of classical strings and big band music was Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven.” Schlecker continues to encourage guests to “bring a date and your dancing shoes.” At one point, an animated conga line began winding its way through the tables. During “Twist and Shout” most of the guests were up on their feet.
The variety of the program was fit for everyone from all ages and all walks of life. From Glenn Miller’s legendary “In the Mood” and Frank Sinatra’s “Night and Day” to Toto’s classic “Africa” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” the night was filled with diverse and familiar tunes that kept the guests on their toes.
Reservations are open for the next performance at the Macon City Auditorium on Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. For future shows, Macon Pops is adding new performers to the mix. Auditions were held for middle and high school singers to give young vocalists a chance to join the Macon Pops group for their December show. In March, Macon Pops will proudly welcome the renowned country artist, Jo Dee Messina to join them on stage.
Moretti has a clear passion for inspiring young aspiring musicians. When asked about this whole process he said, “This has been an incredible experience. It’s very surreal to be able to put all of this together in five months, but I’m really excited about changing the cultural landscape in Macon.” He also mentioned that Macon Pops will “hopefully peak the interest of younger folks . . . who want to explore other avenues of the arts. That’s the ultimate goal here.” Moretti also shared that he has played in other locations like this before, but he said, “To actually put it together and do it at home, that’s been the cool experience.” Catingub said, “The success of this concert is beyond our wildest dreams. I didn’t expect this positive of a reaction, or turn out to be honest, so I hope it’s just the start of many many years.”
For more information, visit the Macon Pops website at http://www.maconpops.com/.