My website

My website

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tony Memmel and the Symphony: Hearing His Music So Big...

Tony and his wife and band-mate, Lesleigh

I can only imagine how much fun it was Saturday night for Tony Memmel to hear his own rock music made BIG by the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Chorus.

My brother, Dan Grenier, is a singer/songwriter. Before he moved to California, I spent years following his various bands throughout Milwaukee. Once Dan said to me, "I want to hear my music so loud that it makes my ears bleed." Those may not be his exact words (although I think they are), but they are his exact sentiment. Musicians want to hear their music BIG - like artists who splash their paint on a giant canvas or big wall.

As a music listener, I do NOT want my ears to bleed. I have hearing damage to this day that I can trace back to a Neil Young concert in the mid-1980s (I remember desperately picking up cigarette butts, then shoving the cigarette filters into my ears as ear plugs).

However, I understand the joy of hearing music BIG. From the very little choral singing I have done, I learned the (surprising, delightful) truth that many voices and the right acoustics equal a sound that swells your soul.

Tony Memmel surely had that experience Saturday night, during the world premier of his "Five Songs for Chorus, Orchestra, and Rock and Roll Ensemble."

Someone once said, "There should be no violins in rock and roll." The Beatles certainly disagreed. And after Saturday night, I disagree also. The full symphony and the mighty chorus amplified the sound of Tony's beautiful songs...but not so the listeners' ears would bleed...just so our souls would swell.

Tony has an ultimate fan in Kevin McMahon, music director and conductor of the Sheboygan Symphony orchestra. Kevin discovered Tony when Tony was the resident artist for a concert of combined Madison area youth choirs, who sang Tony's songs. The SSO board commissioned Tony to orchestrate a suite of his songs to be performed by the SSO and Chorus, plus Tony, his wife Lesleigh on piano, and his drummer Brian Farvour on drums.

The five songs were loud, lively, and fun, especially when the giant chorus (50 or 60 people, I lost count) joined in. Tony orchestrated the pieces beautifully, so there was a balance between all the elements and all the artists. The overall feeling was joy, enhanced by Tony's brief explanations about the sources of his inspiration.

Two best sights during the concert: Tony and Lesleigh beaming at each other as they played - they were having the time of their lives - and drummer Brian with his hair flying all over, like a Beatle. They gave their best, and they got a giant standing ovation, much deserved. Here's to many more concerts!

Here's a link to Tony's site:

[My new book, Dessert First, is available through]


  1. What a nice tribute and review. I sing in the chorus and it was such a pleasure to work with tony and lesleigh. A genuinely nice family, too. Sheboygan rocks musically. We are very lucky.

    1. Your chorus was AWESOME! In addition to sounding beautiful on Tony's work, I was blown away by the Fauré pavane. I've heard it many times but never with voices. I loved the way the voices came in like counterpoint. It was breath-taking! Thank you for your singing! And yes, Sheboygan is lucky to have MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC!

  2. Gail - what a wonderful blog post. I love that you said the music swells the soul. Awesome! I know it swelled my soul, that is for sure! :) Thank you again for attending. What an awesome experience for me to share this music and concert with so many friends and family that joined us, supported and enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you Katie. I should put a link here to your blog post about the concert. If you comment again with a link, maybe that would do it!