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Classical 101

Jason Mraz Breaks New Ground With Contemporary Youth Orchestra

Jason Mraz is going to do something this weekend that he’s never before done.

When the Grammy Award-winner was in Cleveland last year, he met Contemporary Youth Orchestra Music Director Liza Grossman. She told Mraz about the ensemble, which is known for performing orchestral arrangements of rock and pop music often with the composers of the works as guest artists. Grossman wondered if Mraz would be interested in working with the orchestra.

“I didn’t even wait until she got to the end of her pitch. I starting hoping that they would invite me, and of course they invited me, so I said yes immediately because I’ve never had the opportunity to have my music arranged for an orchestra. I thought doing so, with a youth orchestra, would be such a beautiful and fun way to start,” Mraz said.

Mraz will team with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, whose members range in age from 12 to 18, for concerts this weekend at Severance Hall.

Selecting the music for the performances has been a collaborative effort.

“We worked together. I knew that they would want to try a variety of tempos, time signatures and keys so that the students would be challenged and it would create a nice night of musical diversity. I suggested some songs that I think would create a great narrative and then they pulled out some (songs) that I almost had completely forgotten about that I’m thrilled to be bringing to the stage,” Mraz said.

A self-taught musician, Mraz regrets not taking advantage of the opportunities to engage in the kind of formal study of music that the members of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra have undertaken.

“As a kid, I was too easily distracted. I wanted to do so many other things. Singing was first love, so I rarely sat down to practice piano. I never practiced guitar when I was a kid. I didn’t start that until my adult life. Now looking back as an adult, I wish I would have gone to those piano lessons. I wish I had that relationship with music and an instrument. I really admire these kids. I admire their discipline and dedication to their instrument. It will be something they will have for the rest of their lives,” Mraz said.

Mraz, whose Jason Mraz Foundation supports arts education for young people, wants parents to know just how important the arts are for their children, even if they don’t make it a career.

“Art gives you an ability to collaborate. It helps you to re-think and resolve situations. Art is about using the imagination and the human capability to pull together so many different resources to create something unique and beautiful that makes an impact, “ Mraz said.

While Mraz, who records forAtlantic Records, is known for making music that brings joy, he did go through a period where he performed some edgier works, but has put those pieces aside for what he is billing as his “Good Vibes” tour.

[photo: Justin Bettman]

“We wanted there to be a positive exchange of energy from musicians to audience and from audience to audience, highlighting good and gratitude, and where there is good work being done in the world, “ Mraz said.

Given his sunny optimism and upbeat music, it might seem hard to believe that Mraz has bad days, but he does. However, no matter how he might be feeling personally, when he hits the stage Mraz said he has a job to do for his audience.

“I grew up watching ‘Mister Rogers.’ I’m sure he had bad days but he never brought it into the neighborhood for his television viewers. The way I look at it, I’m too blessed to be stressed. I don’t want to bring my stress to a stage or interview or camera because I’m more grateful than that. I cultivate happiness and peace. I don’t deny my bad days or inequalities in this world that break my heart, but I choose to look for and celebrate the good. I try to write songs that bring people together and not necessarily highlight differences,” Mraz said.

Jason Mraz and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra will perform at Severance Hall Saturday June 8 at 7pm and Sunday June 9 at 4:00 pm


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