By Micah Smith
Jackson officially earned the nickname of the "City with Soul" back during Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.'s administration, and it's fitting. If you pick up any issue of the Jackson Free Press, you are bound to find more soulful music than you could shake a drumstick at. For one, you can always expect to read interesting, in-depth interviews and stories about local and touring artists from a variety of genres.
Keep flipping through, and you will end up in the events section, where we highlight a few of the big concerts coming up in the next two weeks. Then, of course, we have the weekly music listings, which can almost never hold absolutely all the entertainment offerings taking place in the Jackson metro area.
Even with all that, we can barely scratch the surface of the capital city's creative output. Thankfully, we have the annual JFP Music Issue to put an extra spotlight on just a few of the local acts that help make our music scene the thriving source of original sound that we know it to be. "Artists to Watch" certainly does not list every Jackson artist who is currently killing the game, but we hope you will find a few new names to check out.
And no, the "City with Soul" is not just about soul music. In the next few pages, you will find stories about a diverse collection of musicians with unique stories. This year's "Artists to Watch" include a classical cellist with a passion for improvised music, a New Orleans-gospel-singer-turned-Jackson songstress, a 20-year R&B-hip-hop veteran, and a Clinton deathcore crew playing heavy music in a town with fewer outlets for heavy music.
Without further ado, take a look, and then, get listening.
Cellist Veronica Parrales' has a few philosophies that are unique among classical musicians, one being that sometimes less is more, and another that new can be as good as old.
Growing up in New York City's East Village, Parrales says she developed an appreciation for a variety of music. Her father was a Latin percussionist and played music around the house that was more about rhythm and form than individual notes. At the same time, she had a somewhat more traditional music education at the Third Street Music School Settlement.
Parrales also studied under Alice Kanack, a woman nicknamed "Mozart's Mother," who created the "Creative Ability Development" curriculum. Parrales says she was part of the "beta testing" of that curriculum for almost 10 years
"All we did was improvise on different concepts," Parrales says. "Like, she would pick a scale or a mood or a key that day (in a different style of classical music), and tell us how long our solos were going to be. We would all take turns, and it would be really, really fun, actually. I was lucky in that I had this exposure to improvisation in a really non-threatening, welcoming environment at a young age."
Parrales spent much of her adult life in the world of music education. She studied at the Manhattan School of Music from 1998 to 1999 and the Purchase Conservatory from 2000 to 2001 before getting a master's degree at Hunter College in 2005 and completed her doctorate studies at Rutgers University in 2014.
She also worked as a music teacher through the Third Street Music School Settlement from 2005 to 2010.
Since 2016, Parrales has served as the principal cellist for the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, which will spotlight her in its next Bravo Series concert, "Fiery Flight," featuring Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33," John Adams' "Lollapalooza," Leonard Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances" from "West Side Story," and Igor Stravinsky's suite from "The Firebird."
The orchestra has also provided opportunities for her to use her skills as an educator through the MSO String Quartet, which often performs at Mississippi schools. Parrales has helped that quartet cater to students they play for, whether it's using seasonal music or choosing discussion topics to help children engage with the material.
While it is one of her favorite things about playing for the symphony, it is not without challenges, though the schools do the best with what they have, she says.
"When we go out on the road and do this outreach stuff, I call us the 'Reality Quartet' because we deal with all kinds of circumstances—let's put it that way," she says with a laugh. "We'll have to play in a lunch room, or play in weird situations that are half classroom and half custodial closet. They won't have air conditioning, or they won't have parking. You just never know what the environment is going to be like."
Parrales says one of her favorite performing situations outside of the symphony has been her work with the Diamond Trio, an ensemble with Belhaven University professor Stephen Sachs and violinist Shellie Brown, a Belhaven alumnus.
Playing for the trio is gratifying in part because of the variety of music, she says. Last year, they played tango from Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, and this year, they're preparing Paul Schoenfield's "Cafe Music," a hybrid gypsy jazz, she says. In the near future, her position with the Diamond Trio may also assist with another of her passions: premiering new music.
In spring 2017, Parrales played with Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra members for dance company Of Moving Colors' adaptation of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," which featured new work from composer Christian Frederickson.
"It was gorgeous," Parrales says. "The music was so supernaturally haunting. It was minimalistic and romantic at the same time, and I just fell in love with the music. I asked to keep my music after it was over, just so I could play with the melodies by myself because I love them so much."
A few months ago, she learned about the Mississippi Arts Commission's grant programs and reached out to Frederickson, asking if he would consider arranging "The Tempest" for a piano trio. He told Parrales he loved the idea and was surprised he hadn't thought of it before.
"(It's) in the works—I'm going to apply for this grant, and he's going to arrange his score for piano trio, and hopefully, by this time next year, we can premier it here in Jackson," she says.
The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra's "Fiery Flight" is at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6, at Thalia Mara Hall (255 E. Pascagoula St.). Ticket prices range from $21 to $64. For more information, visit msorchestra.com.
Fiery Flight Concert Program
John Adams, Lollapalooza
Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 Veronica Parrales, principal cello
Igor Stravinsky, Suite from The Firebird
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