Energy, Excitement, Emotion: The Lunar Octet reunites in Ann Arbor.
The Lunar Octet appears to promise eight performers, but there will be 11 when the band appears Aug. 14 at the Ark in Ann Arbor.
That’s because the show serves as a reunion and will include some of the entertainers who joined and left the ensemble over the 32 years since it was formed. The group played regularly into the late ’90s and started working again in 2014.
Jon Krosnick will be there for sure. The percussionist, who earned his doctoral degree in social psychology from the University of Michigan, will be on break from teaching communications, political science and psychology at Stanford University in California.
“The performance is really going to be a tour de force revue of the history of our original music,” Krosnick, 57, explains. “We have composed in various styles, inspired by sounds from highly classical to African highlife and everything in between.
“The music stands the test of time, we know, because we had a sold-out show in Michigan for our 30th reunion. When we play our music today, we are interpreting it and expressing styles of the 21st century. We are all active players involved in the interim years, sometimes as composers.”
Krosnick explains that the instrumentalists are aiming to bring back a live expression and contemporary sentiment of the “energy, excitement, musical complexity and raw-fun emotion” that were at the core of the band in the 1980s. The mix of players ranges from those who fall into the category of professional musicians to those with instrumental music as a second career.
The musical group started out with another misleading name that might be remembered by early fans — the Lunar Glee Club. The name was intended to suggest singing through instruments, not vocalizing.
“It was a marketing tactic but not a smart move,” says Krosnick, who counts 25 instrumentalists participating in the ensemble at one point or another. “Many of the members are still in the Ann Arbor area. Jazz pianist Mark Kieswetter, coming in from Toronto, is among the travelers.”
Krosnick, raised outside Philadelphia where he took piano lessons, developed and changed his musical priorities during summers at Interlochen. His mother, opera singer Evelyn Rieber, decided on the camp, and his father, a music enthusiast, drove his son there for nine summers.
“At Interlochen, there was a program called Talent Exploration,” Krosnick recalls. “Each day, campers would try different instruments to find what they liked. As a result of that experience, I loved drumming, and that became my interest for life.
“I played percussion in the symphony orchestra, concert bands and jazz ensembles at Interlochen, and I became part of a tremendous culture there.
“The peak of my classical career was when I won the Philadelphia Orchestra Student Concerto Competition and performed with those musicians. I knew I loved classical music and jazz so when the Stan Kenton Orchestra played at Interlochen, Peter Erskine became my inspirational drummer.”
At Harvard, where Krosnick decided his interest in psychology would form the core of his undergrad studies, he played with the university orchestra. He also participated with the MIT Symphony and area jazz groups. While playing with a big band organized at the University of Michigan, the drummer met a musician forming the Lunar Glee Club and joined.
“After I finished my studies, I became part of the faculty at Ohio State University for 18 years and drove back to Ann Arbor for Lunar gigs,” Krosnick says.
In 1992, the group Charged Particles was created in Columbus, and it has become Krosnick’s primary jazz outlet. That group, playing about 100 performances a year, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Charged Particles is reminding Krosnick of his Jewish background, which settled into cultural identity since his bar mitzvah at Har Sinai Temple in Trenton, N.J. The group is playing a circuit of venues at Jewish centers, most recently at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center outside San Francisco.
“I’m a composer in a tiny, tiny way,” he says, thinking back to that experience while living in Ann Arbor. “When I was working regularly with the Lunar Octet, we realized that the shows we were doing were high-energy and loud volume all the time, and we needed to create some diversity in our offerings.
“One night, I was sitting at a Mexican restaurant waiting for my later-to-become wife [Catherine Heaney, a public health specialist] for dinner and thinking about how we could solve this problem. Thinking about her, I grabbed a napkin and pen and wrote a song, ‘A Smile of Love.’
“It has become the anthem of our relationship, and the ensemble is going to perform that piece at the Ark. It’s a fun song and captures the gentle romance of our marriage. Charged Particles plays it at almost every show.”
While the Lunar Octet has not recorded in many years, members are thinking about going into a studio while in Michigan or bringing the necessary technology into the Ann Arbor venue.
“We’ll have a few days of rehearsal in Ann Arbor,” Krosnick says. “We’re working on creating new approaches to the music and making this ensemble strong for today.”
— Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer