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Academy of Music in Northampton opens concert Saturday

The eclectic mix of national and international artists who will perform this season at the Academy of Music in Northampton will appeal to a diverse cross-section of Valley music enthusiasts, says Debra J’Anthony, the theater’s executive director. In addition, J’Anthony says, she hopes to use the programming as a springboard to broaden community involvement by partnering with local organizations.

“This year’s season will give the audience an opportunity to see and enjoy the works of new and emerging artists as well as explore new and diverse work throughout the season,” J’Anthony said.

The season opens Saturday at 8 p.m. with an acoustic-duo performance by the continuously transforming songstress Joan Osborne and her longtime friend and accompanist, pianist Keith Cotton.

Starting more than 15 years ago with her breakthrough debut album “Relish,” which sold 5 million copies, Osborne has produced multiple musical successes and has scored seven Grammy Award nominations.

In 2002, she was featured in the documentary film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” and toured with the subjects of the documentary, The Funk brothers. She recently recorded her seventh album “Bring it on Home,” a collection of vintage blues, R&B and soul songs. Osborne started off singing folk music, moved on to Motown and is now singing blues and R&B of the 1960s and ’70s.

“What is interesting about Joan Osborne in relation to the Academy is that she is always transforming herself,” J’Anthony said. “This sounds appealing to an organization that is transforming itself.” The Academy, which has operated since the late-19th century has continued to evolve, J’Anthony says, as a venue for live theatre, music, dance, film and arts education.

In a phone interview last week, Osborne said Saturday’s audience can expect to hear an eclectic mix of music that is unique to this particular duo.

“We will present very raw versions of songs that they may or may not know as well as perform new songs that haven’t been done before,” she said.

In line with this year’s focus on blending audiences, the season will continue in October with Haitian musician and humanitarian ambassador BélO.

With his electrified acoustic guitar, BélO whose real name is Jean Bélony Murat, sings ballads and other song forms in French or Haitian Creole and offers a fusion of reggae, traditional Haitian music, jazz and soul. His debut album, “Lakou Trankil” (“Quiet Streets”), was released in 2005 and presents songs that explain and reflect the challenges that Haiti faces.

BélO is popular in Europe and Africa and gained international attention after winning the Radio France International Decouvertes (Discover) award in 2006. His humanitarian work to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake has been featured on PBS’ “Frontline” as well as in Time magazine.

In a Skype interview last week, the musician cum cultural ambassador said he hopes the Academy audience will discover the positive and culturally rich aspect of his nation that is not usually seen in the media through his music.

“As a Haitian cultural ambassador, it is always my goal to change people’s perceptions about my country. After seeing this show, they will have another opinion about my country,” he said.

Community Collaboration

J’Anthony said programs like that are part of an effort by Academy organizers to involve local communities. She is working with local organizations such as the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence’s “Support for Haiti” program, which has provided medical services and rebuilding assistance to Haiti schools. In addition, the Academy is moving some of the theater’s programs into public gathering spaces such as schools and churches.

BélO’s visit to the Valley will include three residencies and two concerts, starting with a jam session with students at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley on Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. That will be followed by a community forum, also on Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence about the challenges of rebuilding Haiti.

On Oct. 25 at 10 a.m. BélO will perform for local middle school students at the Academy and will later appear on the Academy stage for a public performance at 7:30 p.m. On his last day in the Valley, Oct. 26, BélO will give a talk at 10 a.m. at the Nielson Library at Smith College about the challenges of rebuilding Haiti.

The three-day visit is part of the U.S. State Department’s cultural program aimed at educating citizens and communities by bringing in international artists to share their culture and build relationships. The talks are free and open to the public.

Other collaborative programs include one on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m., when the theater will present a performance of “Treasured Stories by Eric Carle” by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. The Mermaid Theatre was founded in 1972 and is known for its unique adaptations of children’s literature. The programming is offered in conjunction with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Books and other items sold at the museum will be available for purchase.

On March 9, 2013, at 8 p.m., the Academy will present “Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction,” a night of food, music and conversations. The program is offered in cooperation with food-culture communities in the Valley, such as GrowFood Northampton and Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA).

Finally, a performance at the Academy on April 13, 2013, at 8 p.m. will feature the New York City-based band SonCafé. At that time, SonCafé’s CDs will be offered for free to Zumba classes in the community. Zumba instructors who want to be included may contact J’Anthony at djanthony@academyofmusictheatre.com.

To purchase tickets for all performances call the Academy of Music box office at 584.9032, ext. 105, or visit www.academyofmusictheatre.com.

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