A new Beatle-mania

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Genn Buhr thought he was just going to watch one of his former students play with a local band, but what he got was an idea.

It was November of 2010 and local ‘60s-inspired group the Urban Monks were performing the Beatles’ White Album, in its entirety, at the Button Factory in Kitchener. That’s when Buhr’s wheels started turning.

“I was so floored by what I saw,” said Buhr, a professor of composition in Wilfrid Laurier University’s music department.

“Just by watching these guys piecing the music together on their own I saw it as how the Beatles created their music and I thought ‘this is very interesting’. I want my students, I want my patrons to know this.”

And that was when Buhr decided his local music society, Numus, would team up with the Urban Monks to put on the last eight Beatles albums live, “note-for-note.” All the Urban Monks had to do was learn about 81 Beatles songs.

“The idea of trying to replicate those performances note-for-note was daunting for sure,” said Urban Monks frontman Pete Oldridge. “The Beatles were so skilled at what they did, but I know these songs pretty well, because I’ve been obsessed with the Beatles since I was 15.”

The Waterloo-based Urban Monks, made up of Oldridge (who graduated with a master’s of social work from Laurier last year), Dave Neigh, Johnny Sauder and Ryan Kimmich, were joined in their performance by an orchestra and choir comprised primarily of Laurier students. Eight albums and four shows later, Buhr feels they accomplished something special.

“There is some deep quality in this music and it’s worth bringing out,” he said.
“Everyone seemed to leave really really happy and they looked at the music from a different perspective. And that’s the kind of respect I have for this music and I was hoping to pass on.”

On March 9, at the final concert of the series, Numus performed Abbey Road and Let It Be at Kitchener’s Conrad Centre. This show was the most highly attended of the four performances, including Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.

With the success of the Beatles series, Buhr hopes to raise Numus’s exposure in K-W.

“We’re mandated to try and bring very interesting, experimental music out of the shadows and put it in front of an audience and the Beatles really don’t need that,” said Buhr who is both the artistic director and general manager for Numus.

“I might get my knuckles rapped by our subsidiaries but I think Numus needed it. We needed a shot in the arm to show the audience what we were doing and get them curious about what else we do.”

Next up for Numus will be a fundraising show on April 12 at Huether Hotels’ Jazz Room. The show will feature a jazz cabaret, the Penderecki String Quartet and the Urban Monks playing the best of the Beatles.

The Urban Monks will also be teaming up with Buhr’s band for a series of concerts featuring the music of Bob Dylan.

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