116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As Brucemore’s summer music series evolved from Cabaret in the Courtyard to Music in the Courtyard over the past two decades, artisan-in-residence Gerard Estella has had a hand in all but one or two of the popular programs.
For this 20th season, he’s put together two shows that will alternate weekends, beginning Friday, July 29, 2022, and continuing through Aug. 20.
The first, titled “Looking In,” features vocalists Jordan Arnold, Jackson Bartelme and Kelsey Madsen, all of whom have theatrical backgrounds and have appeared in previous courtyard concerts. Their program — with band members Estella, Lincoln Ginsberg and Greg Kanz — will weave various elements and emotions driving the human experience.
The second concert, “Voices,” showcases artists new to the series. Their program is described as focusing “on the beauty of the human voice and how music unifies regardless of culture or background.” Vocalists include Valda Horton, Trevell Fisher and Kelan Young. Shawndell Young will add keyboards and vocals, joining band members Estella, Jim Coates and Dave Nanke.
Estella is spearheading the series, as well as arranging and directing all the music.
What: Music in the Courtyard
Where: Brucemore’s Carriage House Courtyard, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. July 29 to Aug. 20
“Looking In”: July 29 and 30 and Aug. 11 to 13; with vocalists Jordan Arnold, Jackson Bartelme, Kelsey Madsen and band Gerard Estella, Lincoln Ginsberg and Greg Kanz
“Voices”: Aug. 5, 6, 18 to 20; with vocalists Valda Horton, Trevell Fisher, Kelan Young and band Gerard Estella, Jim Coates, Dave Nanke and Shawndell Young
Tickets: $30 individual seats; $100 table for up to four people; $130 table for up to five people; discounts for Brucemore members; (319) 362-7375 or brucemore.org/events/month/
Extras: Gate opens at 7 p.m., closes at 7:25 p.m.; seating is first-come basis; bring your own wine, beer, snacks — no concessions sold on-site
“As part of Brucemore’s Artisan Studio series, Music in the Courtyard aims to provide opportunities for audiences to enjoy never-seen-before shows and Eastern Iowa artists to have professional opportunities to showcase their talent,” Executive Director David Janssen said in announcing the series. “(Estella) has curated two groups of extremely talented musicians around two different concepts that will remind us of the power of the arts.”
Through the years
“At the very beginning, (the series) was a gorgeous idea, which was, let’s showcase Iowa talent that’s gone out, and we bring them back into Iowa. So many people in the area realize that there’s a lot of talent, and I don’t think they really realize the depth of it because you’re around it all the time,” Estella said.
“So when you have these artists that leave Iowa, and they become successful in their own right in their own niche of art — whether it be dancing, singing, performing, to theatrical, non-theatrical — and then Brucemore had relationships with a lot of organizations and (folks) to be able to go, ‘Hey, would you come back and do a small show in front of like 200 to 300 people in those days?’ Taking somebody who was just on the roadshow for like, a major Broadway production, and saying, ‘Would you like to do a show in a town for 200 people?’
“And everybody always said yes,” he noted, beginning in August 2003 with performances by Cedar Rapids natives Lynne Rothrock one weekend and Robert Lindsey-Nassif the next weekend. Subsequent years featured Broadway actors Timothy Shew, Christopher Johnstone and Kevin Worley; bands including the Daugherty Family and Orquesta Alto Maiz; and established singers Susan Werner, Dan Bern and Sidney James Wingfield — all of whom have Eastern Iowa roots.
As the annual series grew in popularity, the quandary became sustaining that momentum. Estella credits former Brucemore Executive Director Jim Kern with switching the focus to local performers who were beginning their careers or were already established, but based in Cedar Rapids, with the idea of engaging more of the community into the process.
“The emphasis was always on somebody being able to perform an intimate evening and connection, which is why it was called Cabaret in the Courtyard,” Estella said. “As time progressed … it started to morph into what other things that can be shared in that intimate way.”
With more people sharing the spotlight, moving away from a solo cabaret feel, the name has changed to Music in the Courtyard, reflecting the more recent ensemble emphasis.
Regardless of the format, the mission has remained the same, Estella said.
“One, that it showcases people that the organization believes; that it’s unique — in other words, you can’t go see this show anywhere else, because in most cases, the artists that are put together don’t even know each other when they started, which is the case this year. And the third one is that it showcases the artistry of Iowa,” he said.
“So those three things are really where we’ve gone into. The shows are ensemble driven. I like to refer to them as we introduce people that you may already know.”
But not in the way you’re used to seeing them, he added. The “Looking In” actors will be playing themselves, not characters.
“By being characters, they always have to inhabit somebody else’s mindset, getting into who that person is. And so the thought was, what if we have you guys do the same thing, but what you’re really looking inward to is yourself? What songs would you want to say? What songs would you want to sing? They don’t have to be about you … but what do you really want to say?”
He thinks audiences will be surprised by Madsen’s choices, which veer from the stylings that landed her on television’s “American Idol” in 2010.
“I wanted somebody here who the audience has experienced, but not in this way,” Estella said. “We all know her as an amazing, soulful performer. She can sing for days and people would be like, that’s great. But it’s really her personality as one of the most peaceful and calming people I’ve ever met.”
The “Voices” show will introduce Brucemore audiences to singers from the Cedar Falls area, and Kelan Young, originally from Cedar Rapids. When Estella heard each of them sing, he immediately wanted to work with them. And even though they all don’t know each other, he said they share a common background in church music and have “killer voices” that help create a different vibe when it’s put all together.
“That show is really about the joy of singing,” Estella said, “because you can’t help but feel it when you hear these guys.”
And the unifying, unsung cast member in all of these shows is the Carriage House Courtyard.
“I don’t have to worry that much about scenic design,” he said. “We try to use a couple of signature pieces for the theme. But this beautiful building — that’s our backdrop.”
Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com