On the unseasonably warm evening of Nov. 5, jazz fans young and old flocked to the Woodward Opera House in Mount Vernon for a concert titled “Jumpin’ at the Woodward” by the Knox Community Jazz Orchestra and a dance lesson from the Kenyon College Ballroom Dance Club. The event was a rousing success, prompting many audience members to join in the dancing while they enjoyed the talents of the orchestra.
The Knox Community Jazz Orchestra, which was established in 2016, prides itself on bringing both classic and contemporary big band jazz to the community. At this performance, the band played a mixture of longer jazz compositions and dance songs, allowing Kenyon’s Ballroom Dance Club to teach swing and rhumba to interested participants. The club, which was founded in 1998 to provide an outlet for Kenyon students who “love to dance” (according to a Collegian article from October of that year), teaches tango, waltz, foxtrot and many other dances to interested students.
There was a great deal of interest in the dance lesson. Club president Zoe Miller ’23 began with the basics of swing, and club members remained on hand to provide extra pointers to those who needed them. The crowd was full of fast learners, and soon, the dance floor was filled with couples dancing to the orchestra’s jovial renditions of standards such as Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” and Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Later on in the evening, the Ballroom Dance Club returned to the floor to teach rhumba, a slower dance with roots in Afro-Cuban rhythms and culture. The change in style proved to be as popular as the initial swing lesson, and many couples returned to the floor to master the dance’s simple box step. On the subject of the lessons, Miller wrote in an email to the Collegian, “Going up in an audience to learn a dance is pretty intimidating, so I was really excited to see that so many people — both from Kenyon and Mount Vernon — were so willing to jump in and learn something new! Their enthusiasm and willingness to learn made the whole event so lively and fun! I really hope this is something we can do again in the future.”
Punctuating the dancing were numerous band-only feature sets showing off the Knox Community Jazz Orchestra’s musical prowess. The orchestra played numerous instrumental tunes such as Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” (for which the event was named) and Mark Taylor’s “Love Beams.” Included in the concert were a few vocal jazz classics featuring the orchestra’s vocalist, Amanda Mayville. “A Foggy Day” by George Gershwin and “Almost Like Being In Love” by Nat King Cole were notably crowd-pleasing performances.
The concert brought together the Kenyon and greater Knox County communities, as many members of the band were either current or former music educators spanning primary, secondary and collegiate education. Such members included John B. McCoy-Banc One Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music Dane Heuchemer, who is director of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and Ted Buehrer, professor of music and director of the Kenyon Jazz Ensemble. In addition to the Kenyon community members on stage and in the Ballroom Dance Club, the audience was made up in part by students who had made the trek from Gambier to Mount Vernon to hear the music.
In all, the evening was an example of one of many ways in which Kenyon students can participate in the surrounding community. Attendees left with smiles on their faces, having learned something new while enjoying the music and reconnecting with friends and neighbors. Although stereotypes about “small-town life” pervade discussions about our rural corner of Ohio, the concert embodied small-town life’s most positive attributes.
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