(I wrote this a few years ago as a page on our homepage. Not sure when I’ll have time to resurrect the now defunct site, I’ll first give this piece a second life.)

I joined the Krannert Center Student Association just a few days after I arrived in America, and ushered about a score of shows during the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 seasons. I made quite some friends, frequented all the halls of the great Krannert Center, and most importantly, experienced many spectacular shows — absolutely free! Once every few weeks, I would go to that little secret room beside the Foellinger Great Hall, put on a jacket, put on a badge, put on a smile and started saying “Good evening”. When the lights are dimmed, I sit down and enjoy the ultimate luxury in a busy graduate student’s life — live performing arts.

An old musicology professor once told me (actually he told my mother, who then told me) that he would rather go see a third-class orchestra live than listening to a world-class performance recording. It’s a bit over-dramatizing, but it’s true in the sense that there’s nowhere else you can find the magical interaction in live performances. Though I couldn’t help falling asleep for a few periods of time during most of the shows, I found many memorable moments while I was awake.

The ushering department of KCSA is no doubt the most popular one in the association. In order to assign shows fairly, we used a cumulative scoring system in which the more shows you usher, the more scores you accrue, the more priviledge you have toward selecting shows you want to usher. During my first semester, I had little capital to choose, but fortunately most of the shows I was assigned to were pretty good. Starting from the second semester, I could easily get what I wanted to see. It’s a huge pity that I became too busy from the third year and didn’t usher any shows, wasting my hard-earned senior usher status.

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Here are some quick notes for all the shows I ushered, with some important names bolded (I’ve kept all the program notes):

  1. Go West Young Dad, University of Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club, Dad’s Day Annual Concert, 09/20/1997
    The very first show I ushered, it was a perfect beginning. I always love chorus, and the hilarious The Other Guys (consists of eight exceptional singers from the Men’s Glee Club) became my instant favorite. The next year I watched the same show with J. They’re the best!
  2. Christopher Parkening, guitar with Jubilant Sykes, baritone, 10/03/1997
    Classical guitar and baritone, a combination I’d never imagined, worked as magic.
  3. Images of Sound, Champaign-Urbana Symphony, 10/04/1997
    Champana’s local orchestra born out of the cornfield, it’s no counterpart to C.S.O. but it’s definitely worthy of hometown proud.
  4. The New England Ragtime Ensemble, 10/24/1997
    I thought Ragtime only exists in history records by now, but the show made it alive much more than Michael Jackson.
  5. Faculty Recital, Suren Bagratuni, cello and Edward Rath, piano, 10/29/1997
  6. Illini Symphony, 12/11/1997
  7. Juilliard String Quartet, 01/24/1998
    It’s one of the world’s best quartets, but the music is still a bit too serious for me 🙂
  8. Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, 01/30/1998
    Afro-Carribean jazz
  9. Georgian State Dance Company, 03/12/1998
    It’s Georgia the former Soviet Union state, NOT the state GA!
  10. Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group, 04/03/1998
    Bluegrass
  11. Annual Mom’s Day Concert, UI Black Chorus, 04/25/1998
  12. Marsalis/Stravinsky, 04/26/1998
    Wynton Marsalis meets Igor Stravinsky–crossover doesn’t get bigger than this. Marsalis played Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” in the first half, and then his own “A Fiddler’s Tale” in the second. The latter was composed “as a companion piece” of the previous, both with a Faustonian storyline of man (in Wynton’s piece, woman) trading soul with Satan. I need more time to listen to both pieces to really appreciate them, since they’re not as accessible as the Kennedy/Hendrix project later.
  13. Dee Dee Bridgewater: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, 09/23/1998
    Claimed as the heir to the “First Lady of Jazz”, Dee Dee is a U of I alumni (she dropped out, though :). It was the first time I listened to scat and it was mind-blowing. Later when I listen to the real Ella, I don’t think she’s even half as vibrant as Dee Dee.
  14. Nigel Kennedy, violin and the Kennedy Collective, 11/05/1998
    Definitely the most intriguing show I’ve ever seen. Please read my notes here.
  15. The King’s Singers, 11/14/1998
    Another great show. Please read my notes here.
  16. Chick Corea and Origin, 01/23/1999
  17. Monsters of Grace, A Digital Opera in Three Dimensions, by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, 03/02/1999
    The last show I ushered, unfortunately it turned out to be a huge dissapointment. Philip Glass is regarded as a modern master (composer of Martin Scorsese’s Kundun), but his music sounded like nothing but tedious, repetitive, and cheap synth. Computer graphics is supposedly the highlight of the piece, but all I saw was raw materials for CG101, to say the best. Stop wasting money!
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