Guitar virtuoso Elden Kelly performed a Jaycees benefit concert

March 19, 2016  |  by Bonifas Arts Center
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Singer and guitar virtuoso Elden Kelly performed a concert to benefit the Delta County Jaycees, in partnership with the Bonifas Arts Center Friday, March 18.

“Elden Kelly’s music is like a chance meeting of brilliant forces embodied in one person: his illuminated guitar playing, hauntingly pure singing and expansive songwriting,” raves singer/songwriter Dominique Eade.

Kelly performed some instrumental pieces—his versions of popular, familiar songs as well as his own compositions—and sing original songs influenced by the genres that have moved him, including jazz, bluegrass, and flamenco, offering “something for everybody,” he said.

With each song he writes, Kelly strives to create something new for listeners to experience, “a sonic reality” others can enter, he said.

“The driving force behind all music, I hope, is touching people’s hearts, moving people … maybe it changes their thinking about something, opens their minds and makes them consider things they hadn’t considered before, which can improve our understanding of what’s possible,” said Kelly.

Throughout each performance, Kelly improvises, an art he savored growing up listening to the “spontaneous composition” of jazz, he said, and still cherishes as a “celebration of the moment” and “making art out of being in that moment.”

This means listeners can expect something unique at each concert, he said, partly because those in the audience, the feeling he gets from them, influence which songs he performs and how he performs them. When music-lovers are fully present, engaging with the music, this “vital interplay,” the give and take between a performer and listeners, makes a concert a more powerful, more deeply transformative, and a more “memorable and excellent experience” for all, said Kelly, who lives in Lansing.

“There’s something very ancient and special about a live musical performance,” said Kelly, who has been hailed a unique global fusion stylist. “It reminds us of our heritage as human beings with cultural rituals, and musical performance is one of those. It goes back very far in our history” and remains “unmatched,” offering listeners a “richness” they cannot experience listening at home or watching performances online.

Funds raised from the concert will help the Jaycees, a community-service organization for those ages 21 to 40, give back to the community. Each November, for Thanksgiving, the Jaycees distribute turkey baskets to families that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a turkey and all the fixings, in 2015 providing food for 250 families, said Chris Germain, Delta County Jaycees president.

Jaycees also support area veterans and make annual year-end donations to local organizations, said Germain, including, for example, in past years, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Delta County Search and Rescue, the BAC, Tri-County Safe Harbor, and the YMCA.

In some of Kelly’s music, a direct call for peace, love, and growth emerges, inspired in part by his faith that change is possible despite the destruction still often seen in the world, he said.

“There is a current of people around the globe that have a vision of world peace, for love and understanding to conquer war, and I believe that is a stronger force, love is a stronger force, so I focus mostly, as much as possible, on promoting love and peace because we need more of that,” and while it may seem naïve to believe music can help change the world, Kelly said, in the past, it has.

Also an active educator, Kelly taught a workshop for guitarists, singers/songwriters, and musicians on Saturday at Jim’s Music in Escanaba. The workshop included demonstrations, time for participants to ask questions, and practical instruction.

As a teacher, Kelly works to “foster creativity, cultivate curiosity, and inspire wonder,” he said, while helping musicians acquire as many tools of expression as possible.

Originally from Vermont, Kelly has a degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory of Music and a graduate degree in Ethnomusicology from Michigan State University.

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