Painting the town and all that Jazz

Thursday, April 18, 2019
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O Sole Trio members (from left) David Shenton, Erin Shields and Michael Kelly concluded their two-week Montana tour in Hobson. This talented ensemble has played for thousands, selling out major venues like Carnegie Hall, and graciously shared their talents with rural Montanans April 13 and 14. Photo by Melody Montgomery

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Vocalist Erin Shields (left) harmonizes with Michael Kelly (right). Shields studied voice in Indiana as well as in Vienna, Austria. Kelly received his Master’s Degree in Vocal Arts from Juilliard and has sung Zürich Opera in Switzerland.

Photo courtesy of Vicky McCray

"Notes amplify emotions.”
- David Shenton, violin and piano virtuoso


The Judith Arts Society concluded its four-part concert series for 2018 – 2019 on a high note this past weekend with a tribute to Broadway musicals, and all that jazz.

On Sunday, April 14, O Sole Trio shared their accomplished talents with an appreciative audience at the Hobson Auditorium, as well as the entire Hobson and Judith Gap Schools the following Monday.

“The members of O Sole Trio are professional entertainers of high caliber,” said Judith Arts Society Member Vicky McCray. “Many of our audience members seldom get a chance to witness such talent, and if they do, they have to travel great distances to do so.

“The trio also served somewhat as ambassadors of New York City. So often our visions of the ‘big city’ are clouded by what we see on television.”

During the past 8 years, O Sole Trio has toured 46 states as well Canada and the United Kingdom. Many of the trio’s songs performed in Judith Basin were from their recent album Bravissimo Broadway, a tribute to Broadway musicals and show tunes. Interestingly, some medleys combined multiple famous tunes.

In Hobson, with one microphone stand short at the performance, the ‘show would go on.’ Mike Woods, Hobson custodian and art patron, improvised a clever microphone stand using a cymbal holder, impressing even the impressive performers.

Importantly, O Sole Trio left audience members with many tunes to play in their memories, including Memories itself, from the musical Cats.

“[Trio members] Erin Shields, David Shenton and Michael Kelly were delightful people – kind, considerate and fun to get to know,” said McCray, which also proved true during their question and answer series with Hobson Students, discussed later in this article.

About the trio

Vocalist Erin Shields explained in Hobson that the trio’s name is a play on words from the song title ’O Sole Mio, written in the late 1800s.

The group is composed of Shields and fellow vocalist Michael Kelly, as well as pianist/violinist David Shenton. All three are highly accomplished musicians.

Shields completed her vocal studies at the Indiana University School of Music and studied voice in Vienna.

Her voice and talents caught the ear (and heart) of Shenton, originally from England and a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London. As their love story goes, Shields was cast as the leading role in a musical written and composed by Shenton.

“I liked her so much, I asked her to marry me,” Shenton told students in Hobson, when asked how they met.

While growing up, Shenton said he paid for his music lessons by working at his father’s furniture shop as an apprentice. He began by practicing one hour a day. During his teen years, he practiced more, three hours a day. In his 20s, he began practicing as much as 6 hours a day.

“It’s a huge commitment,” he said.

While their busy touring schedule keeps them from raising children, they have adopted eight elephants in Africa, they told students in Hobson.

The third part of the trio, Kelly, only very recently joined up with Shields and Shenton. Their two-week tour performing in Montana, which concluded in Hobson, was Kelly’s first time with the trio, but his talents make him a pitch-perfect fit.

Kelly began his creative arts career at the age of four as a ballet dancer. He then went onto study saxophone, nearly finding his calling. However, musicians are encouraged to be versatile and know multiple instruments. For this reason, Kelly began choir and found quite another talent inside him – his voice.

Kelly received his master’s degree in vocals from Julliard and has has sung with the Zürich Opera. He was recruited by Shenton and Shields following a performance for Robert Gilder’s 60th birthday. Gilder is an international artist manager and Kelly’s agent. Kelly explained to the students that an agent is someone who helps an artist find work.

Students receive music lessons

At the Hobson School, O Sole Trio took several questions from the students, who were most curious about the music itself.

Shenton showed them how a song could be transformed from happy to sad by the simple change of a note.

“Notes amplify emotions,” said Shenton.

Shenton also put them in awe with his ability to play the piano and violin simultaneously.

“You can think outside the box with music,” he said.

Moreover, Shenton played the Mission Impossible theme song on both the piano and violin for the excited students.

In addition to discussing the hours of practice involved in mastering an instrument, Shenton explained to the students that learning an instrument is like lifting weights – you don’t start by lifting 100 pounds. It would be better at a young age to practice maybe 30 minutes a day so as to avoid a similar muscle strain, he analogized.

The child’s mind: questions answered

Highlights of the performance were the questions the children asked in Hobson, such as “Can you speak a different language?” and “Can you speak French for us?” Oui. Shenton went on to converse with the audience in Français (French).

It turns out the trio speaks many languages, including Italian, French, German, Spanish, Russian and even Japanese, although perhaps not all fluently. Music itself is its own language, too.

Shields explained that when studying at a music conservatory, one is required to know other languages so as to be able to sing in them.

Another question asked was “What is it like in New Your City?”

Shields reminisced about her first visit to her present home.

“There are all these lights and tall, huge buildings with millions of people living on top of one another in small apartments,” she said.

While it might seem crowded, it is also the city that is said to never sleep, with round the clock access to goods and culture, Shields added.

Kelly, who grew up in New York, said he feels completely out of place in places like Hobson, being so used to constantly weaving and pushing his way through crowds of people.

“There are two million people in just 12 miles on the island of Manhattan,” said Kelly.

The children were also curious if the trio envisioned this future when they were growing up.

Growing up in New York, Kelly said he met people from all over the world, so travel was a natural way of life for him. He began travelling at four years of age.

Shields, while growing up, often went to Chicago with her mother to watch Broadway shows on tour, eventually setting her sights on Broadway itself and beyond.

Shenton moved to New York from England to begin offering his work to a different audience, and travel for music fell into his work, setting them on their present journey.

“Can you play Beethoven?,” asked another student.

Shenton, playing on Hobson’s grand piano, artfully offered pieces of Moonlight Sonata, Für Elise and other parts of Beethoven’s symphonies.

“Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote most of his music,” Shenton told the students.

The students also asked about pets. Kelly joked that he has a plant.

Then, the students challenged the violin virtuoso, Shenton, a step further.

“Can you play The Devil went down to Georgia?”

Shenton was able to improvise; he can play by ear and has perfect pitch.

“It is important to be versatile as a musician,” said Shenton.

“Does the trio play other instruments?” a student asked.

Kelly jokingly he “plays a mean triangle” in addition to his more serious accomplishments on the saxophone. Shields can also play the flute and some piano.

Shenton, in addition to piano and violin, plays the viola and guitar.

The students also wondered what the trio member’s favorite songs are.

“It changes so frequently,” replied Shenton.

“I try not to choose favorites,” voiced Kelly.

“I love singing Somewhere over the Rainbow,” said Shields.

The questions and curiosities continued to pour from the room. What are your favorite places to visit? Do any of you have perfect pitch? How many songs have you played? What is your favorite instrument? What are you favorite places to visit? Can you play Hot Crossed Buns? How do you play piano? Where were you on this tour? Do you have any tips on playing?

The gracious trio answered all questions presented until the clock chimed for them to move to their next performance.

The event undoubtedly not only left Sunday’s attendees with many a song to hum but also the students with an idea of the boundless opportunities that may play out before them in life.