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Release: May 1, 2001


Millennium Festival commission took Cedar Rapids used-car-lot culture to Carnegie Hall

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1999-2000 Hancher Millennium Festival at the University of Iowa provided an answer to the age-old question, "Would you buy a ‘Used Car Salesman’ from this man?" The answer was, "Yes" -- as long as the man was award-winning composer Michael Daugherty, whose father, Willis Daugherty, worked as a used car salesman at Rapids Chevrolet in Cedar Rapids.

The Ethos Percussion Group premiered "Used Car Salesman," Daugherty’s theatrical and comic tribute to his father’s much-maligned profession -- as well as his moonlighting career as a percussionist for a local dance band -- at the UI on April 18, 2000. And a month later Ethos took this slice of Iowa used-car-lot culture to one of the nation’s Meccas of high culture, Carnegie Hall in New York. Featured in the array of Ethos percussion pummeled on the Carnegie Hall stage were auto parts salvaged from Ace Auto Recyclers in Iowa City specifically for use in the premiere.

Some members of the Carnegie Hall audience undoubtedly already knew the story behind the piece, and even the source of the reverberating brake drums and cymbal-splashing hub caps, because National Public Radio’s "Morning Edition" carried a feature about the unusual composition -- including ambient sound from the salvage yard as Ethos member Michale Sgouros searched for the right resonances and timbres -- produced and hosted at UI radio station WSUI by Gayane Torosyan.

"The season has been going well for us and ‘Used Car Salesman’ has been on just about every program so far this season," Sgouros reports. "We will be recording the piece in a few months as well."

Ethos touring this season has taken its piece to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Bermuda, Alabama, Tennessee and Maryland.

One New York City audience last fall got a more choreographed perspective on the piece when the Ethos Percussion Group participated in the Silver Anniversary Gala of Jonathan Hollander’s Battery Dance Company at the John Jay College Theater of the City University of New York.

Vanessa Page-Swanson wrote in the Dance Insider, "’Used Car Salesman,’ the program opener, features two slick con men, hawking their wares to live percussion composed by Michael Daugherty and performed by Ethos Percussion Group. Garishly lit and costumed in bright blues and greens, the men gleefully attempt to win our trust through energetic dancing and mimed social gestures. Repeated phrases such as ‘I never lie’ and ‘kick the tires’ create a literal foil for subtle undertones of loneliness and fatigue."

The homecoming of Michael Daugherty and the Rapids Chevrolet career of dance-band drummer Willis Daugherty were not the only Cedar Rapids connections for the Ethos premiere. Yousif Sheronick, one of the members of Ethos quartet, is both a Cedar Rapids native and an alumnus of the UI. Sheronick was even a stagehand at Hancher during his student days in the mid-1980s, when he studied percussion with long-time UI music professor Tom Davis.

Daugherty, who has been appointed composer-in-residence by the Detroit Symphony and won the prestigious Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, has emerged as one of America’s most successful and in-demand contemporary composers, noted for his affinity for both pop culture and humor.

Other of his works have been inspired by pop-culture icons including Superman comics, J. Edgar Hoover, Liberace, Motown Records and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A faculty member at the University of Michigan, Daugherty has won a Fulbright Fellowship and a Friedheim Award from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

One of North America’s most active touring percussion ensembles, the Ethos Percussion Group has been dedicated to the advancement of the percussive arts in performance and education. Embracing musical styles from around the globe, the ensemble’s programming highlights both their musicianship and their extensive and unique collection of instruments.

Daugherty sees a bright future for the percussion piece inspired by his dad’s vocation and avocation, predicting that "’Used Car Salesman’ is a work that will be performed for years to come."

Ethos has been the resident ensemble of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and has performed at Lincoln Center and other major venues, as well as in educational residencies throughout the country.

The Daugherty commission was made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Hancher’s season-spanning Millennium Festival -- the nation’s most ambitious and extensive performing-arts millennium celebration -- featured more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance.

In addition to the "Used Car Salesman," new works were created by artists including theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Ushio Amagatsu, Bill T. Jones, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Paul Taylor, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers Richard Danielpour, Paul Schoenfield and UI alumnus David Lang with his Bang on a Can associates. Performances have involved American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the Kronos Quartet, Dawn Upshaw, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Sankai Juku, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Ahn Trio and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.

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