Indie Musician Kishi Bashi announced the winners of his nationwide competition last Friday. Grady High School Orchestra was one of four finalists who made the cut.
Best known for his work with groups Of Montreal and Jupiter One, Bashi blends tradition and technology with a songwriting style centered around the violin.
The Georgia artist released string orchestra arrangements of his songs online in the fall. He put out a nationwide call for high school string orchestras to upload their best performance via YouTube.
The most impressive group was promised a concert with Kishi Bashi himself. Grady High School students were thrilled to find out their performance won.
Senior and violist Uzuki Kakinuma spearheaded the effort to play and record the songs for the competition.
“As a big fan, him watching us play, that’s unbelievable, that still hasn’t hit me yet," Kakinuma says.
She says when she heard about the opportunity, it was a no-brainer.
“I think Kishi Bashi, also in his music he incorporates Japanese lyrics and even jazz themes. And that kind of mixture – I felt a connection to our orchestra as well," says Kakinuma. "Where I am very passionate about classical music and even jazz, and there’s some people who really like heavy metal. When we have that kind of character all mixed together, it really makes this a very beautiful creation.”
Many of the songs were written with vocals, so Kakinuma had to bring in singers to join the orchestra.
One of those singers is senior Diamond Smith. She didn’t know about Kishi Bashi before, but she had a blast playing it.
“There’s no correct way to do music. His style is so different to me, and it’s a lot of fun. Like from 'Mr. Steak' for example - I thought that was an amazing piece, and I really really enjoyed learning it," says Smith.
"The Ballad of Mr. Steak" is one of Bashi’s most popular songs. After having so much fun with it, Smith thinks she might have a future in music. She says the recognition has motivated her.
“If you’re really passionate about something and you really care about something, and you do your best, it’s gonna come back," Smith says. Whether it’s in a prize, or just in the experience itself. ”
That’s exactly what Grady Orchestra Director Sergio Rodriguez wants to hear. He sees how much the process has helped his students.
“The video portrays this freedom, and this free spirit of these talented kids. And I think that’s what the video is about," Rodriguez says. "It brings the best of them, their own personality.”
Rodriguez says he’s proud. He also says working with the students has reminded him of how important music can be to young people.
“The effect that this music has on myself, I feel younger," says Rodriguez. "I feel that I am a part of these kids. I’m jealous, I wish I could be here as a student too.”
The contest is part of an effort to bridge the gap between pop music and classical music. Kishi Bashi is also donating new strings for the entire orchestra, courtesy of major string maker D’Addario.
Kakinuma thinks the experience will push many fellow students into music careers. And true to his promise, Kishi Bashi will be at Grady High School in April for a concert and workshop.