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The Alan Singley Orchestra: Saturday, Sept. 29

A Portland pop mainstay reveals his classical side.

[CLASSICAL] When he was 11 years old, Alan Singley bought an album containing all of Beethoven's symphonies. This wasn't a parental directive; they listened mostly to classic rock. Rather, it stemmed from the young Singley's realization that popular classical tunes, like Tchaikovsky's cannon-climaxed "1812 Overture" and Johann Strauss Jr.'s "The Blue Danube," "were just the pop sensations of their day," he says. "Catchy is catchy. A good tune is a good tune."

A few weeks later, his ears primed by Beethoven, Singley, who grew up in Florida, was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean when he heard symphonic sounds in his head. He realized, right then, that he wanted to be an orchestral composer.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Singley takes a big step toward fulfilling that youthful ambition. Nine years after moving to Portland and establishing himself in the local rock scene with his energetic, quirky pop songs, the 30-year-old musician will perform a concert of two original, classical song cycles, scored for a small orchestra.

"I've been doing this behind the scenes for years," he says, laughing, "but I just never pimped it out the way I wanted to."

Six years ago, Singley started teaching at Ethos Music Center. While hanging out with string players who also taught there, he indulged his curiosity about classical instrumentation, augmenting his recent recordings with strings, flutes and tubas. He enrolled at Portland Community College's Cascade campus and spent a year learning the basics of music theory and honing his craft by orchestrating albums for other bands. 

"Guitar-and-drum rock music is pretty cool," Singley says, "but nothing is as cool as when you go to the [Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall] and see The Rite of Spring, with 80 musicians working their asses off to make this complex sound.” 

His new works don't adhere to classical structures like traditional sonata-allegro form. "They're more like a song cycle," Singley says. The first half of the show is composed of theme exercises, while the second is devoted to a tribute to the 1950s classical-jazz hybrid called Third Stream music.

The concert—which also benefits the Old Church, an important Portland music venue—signals not just a culmination but also a departure. Next month, Singley will return to Florida to work in his mother's restaurant. He'll be back next year to debut his next album, "a Latin thing with horns that's already in the computer." In the interim, he'll use the time away from Portland's enticements to "bust out the string thing. I've got to learn how to talk to the string players in their language so I can know where they're coming from and what their needs are. I'm learning a lot on the fly.

"I've always been meaning to get to this place," he continues. "I'll probably spend the next 10 years just doing instrumental orchestral music. I don't plan on writing words for a long time."

SEE IT: The Alan Singley Orchestra plays the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., on Saturday, Sept. 29. 8 pm. $10-$25 sliding scale. All ages.