After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ensemble to sit idle for nearly 3 years, the BWBeatles Conservatory Performing Ensemble returned to the Gamble Auditorium stage on Saturday to perform the classic 1965 Beatles album “Help!” in front of a live audience.
The ensemble performed the album twice on Saturday at the Gamble Auditorium inside the Kulas Musical Arts Building. The first show was played to a sold-out crowd.
BWBeatles, a student-run organization dedicated to making complete Beatles albums as faithful to the original recordings as possible, last performed in March 2019 when the band performed “Abbey Road” in its entirety. However, none of the current band members were in the ensemble that year. Plans to perform “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 2020 was scrapped due to the virus.
Senior percussion performance major Alex Drews, drummer and chief bandleader, said Saturday’s performance marked his “first and last” time as a member – and added that the same could be said for his president, Principal Musical Theater Major Jack Hale. .
“We’re the only two people who were still around when the last gigs were on,” Drews said. “So for a lot of people this is the first time they’ve been exposed to it.”
The 2021-2022 academic year has been marked by many “firsts” for performing groups, as COVID-19 restrictions for the past two years have forced ensembles to give concerts that are mostly closed to the public and marred by social distancing measures. Drews, however, said the return to normal felt natural.
“I don’t think a lot of us actually stopped making music during the pandemic, it was just the audience that we missed,” Drews said. “The audience also missed being in the audience. So you can feel there is more energy and everyone is really happy and grateful to be where they are.
Drews said he selected “Help!” as this year’s album because he wanted to avoid the more traditional late period albums, such as “Abbey Road” or “Sgt. Pepper” which the band plays often, and play an album that represents more of a period of transition for the era-defining supergroup.
“You can see in so many songs that they’re starting to move into more art music-oriented songwriting styles and I feel like, ‘Help!’ is like right in that forever sweet spot like Britpop music and art music,” Drews said. “You have songs like ‘Yesterday,’ which is the most covered song of all time. It was covered [by] someone you can think of. But… there’s additional instrumentation, you can start to hear some of the other influences from different musical genres. But it’s just a good mix of songs where people would say, “Oh, that’s a Beatles song” and songs where it’s like, “Oh, they’re starting to think there’s something more in there”.
Drews said BWBeatles is a special project because it’s one of the only opportunities for musical theater majors and other Conservatory majors to collaborate. The band consists of 4 major musical theater singers, 4 guitarists who alternate between acoustic, rhythm, lead and bass guitar, 1 pianist – senior Lindsey Miller, who also serves as musical director for the singer – and Drews and a colleague at the drums and auxiliary percussion.
For Drews and his fellow ensemble members, BWBeatles is an important tradition to uphold for the BW and Berea community. But Drews is there for another important reason: he simply loves the Beatles.
“I feel like The Beatles is accessible music for people of all ages,” Drews said. “Whether you’re the people who grew up listening to it, or your parents introduced you to the Beatles, or you’re just starting to like them. Their music is as popular as it is for a reason and that’s because it’s very accessible to so many different people.