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The duo Popebama will be performing at Ohio University on Sunday (Photo provided via @popebamanation on Twitter).

New York-based duo to bring an array of new music to OU

On Sunday, the Ohio University Composers’ Association is hosting musical duo Popebama, who will showcase its unorthodox performance styles to those who attend in Glidden’s Recital Hall at 8 p.m. 

Erin Rogers, who plays the saxophone, and Dennis Sullivan, who plays percussion, are the musicians who make up Popebama. Based in New York, the duo performs experimental works that emphasize creativity and unconventional sounds, weaving electronics into their instrumental pieces to form energetic and unique musical works. 

Rogers and Sullivan first worked together in 2016, with their first duo performance occurring in Brooklyn, New York. Months later, the duo went on tour and has been playing together ever since. 

Sullivan said the year they met greatly influenced the decision to call themselves “Popebama.”

“We had a running joke that if you were going to mash up your names, you were only allowed to do that if you were the two most important people in the world,” Sullivan said. “And that was about 2016, (when) Barack Obama and Pope Francis were dominating the news cycle. It was a silly thing we came up with, but then it stuck. It really was well-received by fans … so we stuck with it.”

Sullivan said their musical style is a hybrid between avant-garde classical and improvisation, pulling inspiration from both of those worlds to form their own sound.

Despite the spontaneous and chaotic sound of the performances, Sullivan emphasized that each sound is intentionally chosen to create their personalized production.

“We strive to be very well-rehearsed,” Sullivan said. “Everything is these quick jump-cut textures and quick, odd little transitions that are highly rehearsed. We've been told a lot of times that the music sounds almost similar to avant improvisation but highly rehearsed instead of the spur-of-the-moment kind of sound.”

Rogers and Sullivan were initially taking part in a tour in Texas, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Rogers said they still had booked stops along the way and decided to set up a performance here in Athens for OU students and faculty. 

“OU was on our radar because an ensemble that we're close with … had recently done a project with the OU Composers, so we knew about the program, and we knew that there would be an enthusiastic audience for this type of music,” Rogers said. “We got in touch with the head of the composition department, Robert McClure. And he was excited that we were coming through and booked the show for us.”

McClure, assistant professor of composition and theory, said the OU Composers’ Association aims to bring a “wide array of new music” through concerts such as this to expose OU students to new styles of performances and new performers overall.

Rogers said the performance will consist of five pieces by five different composers that each have a different flair to them. 

“We have a piece by composer Paul Pinto that’s all text that we sit and speak out to the audience,” Rogers said. “Sometimes, that text is sung. Sometimes, it's just spoken very quickly, but there's a lot of high energy in that.” 

The performances, Rogers said, are extremely high energy and fast-paced, playing out oftentimes like a “ping-pong game,” as it alters the attention of the audience in various directions. 

Rogers said the duo is excited to demonstrate their special performances to engage with the audience. In particular, their final performance of the night because they have only performed it one other time in its entirety.

“(Our final piece) is an epic journey,” Rogers said. “So what it does is it plays with the audience's attention span throughout a duration of 40 minutes and tells a long story as it goes. In fact, there's a story going on the entire time that can really draw audiences in. The program itself is what we're really excited about to present to the OU audiences.”

With the performance styles and eccentric musical talent of Popebama, McClure said he hopes those who attend the performance appreciate the techniques the duo brings to the stage.

“I hope attendees enjoy the energy, experimentation and absolute virtuosity that Popebama brings to every concert,” McClure said in an email. “They are world-class performers and we are so excited to have them here at Ohio University.”


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