Boxer Chauncy “The Hillyard Hammer” Welliver was a little dumbfounded when he heard Spokane Symphony concertmaster Mateusz Wolski’s pitch.
Wolski, organizing his next “M Show,” which combines music, comedy and science, wanted Welliver to go head to head with percussionists Rick Westrick, Bryan Bogue, Meagan Gillis and Paul Raymond, who would play something Welliver had to imitate.
“It was like ‘You want our worlds to collide? What are you talking about?’ ” Welliver said.
But it didn’t take long for Welliver to realize this was an opportunity for him to act as a middle man and introduce, or re-introduce, members of the Hillyard neighborhood he knows and works with to the symphony and vice versa.
“It definitely seemed odd, but odd is what makes things beautiful,” he said. “This isn’t something I’d listen to before a fight, but I’m slowly becoming a huge fan and I know when I bring in my Hillyard crew to see the show, they’re going to fall in love with it as well. These guys are going to create a lot more fans and bring in a different world, a different aspect, which I feel grateful that I get to be a part of it.”
“The M Show: Percussion Edition” will be at the Washington Cracker Co. Building on May 23-24.
Musically, “The Percussion Edition” will feature everything from AC/DC to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Wolski has also created a short documentary that features area percussionists including Japanese taiko drummers, the Ferris High School percussion students and percussionist/composer Nebojša Jovan Živković, who recently performed with the Spokane Symphony during “Eckart’s Farewell.”
“To me, the big theme of the show is how do we connect to each other,” Wolski said. “The language of drums, it’s fascinating. It’s like English. It’s not too difficult to pick up, unless you’re trying to be Shakespeare. But on the rudimentary level, we can very quickly all pick up the basic vocabulary and connect with each other by making music together.”
The show also features science experiments Wolski completes to try to better understand the instruments. One such experiment, inspired by the White Walkers of “Games of Thrones” and done in the Symphony Bureau of Investigation lab, involves using liquid nitrogen to test how extreme cold would affect the instruments.
“I try to ask questions that a lot of people would normally, besides the silly ones, feel maybe a little stupid by asking,” Wolski said. “Because we don’t know the answers. We’re not experts in a lot of things and a big part of, I think, the symphony experience for some people, they feel intimidated because they don’t feel like they know enough to truly appreciate it. People who come to the show are also curious and they’re not afraid to go into something that is not known.”
Welliver has never worked with a percussionist in any capacity before, though he caught on quickly because so much of boxing, he said, is based on a beat or rhythm.
But he’s looking forward to the challenge of stepping into the ring, or rather, on the stage, with the musicians.
“One thing is I hate to fail so I’ve got to whoop his butt,” Welliver said with a laugh.
Welliver and Wolski have only known each other for a month or so, but the pair have found a lot of common ground, despite their wildly different professions.
“He’s awesome and Spokane should be grateful to have him and this whole production in Spokane,” Welliver said.
Wolski said Welliver has been a delight to work with and sees his participation as helping to break down barriers between the symphony and the audience, which he tries to do with every “M Show.”
He also hopes these shows break down barriers between sections of the symphony and get musicians to step outside of their comfort zones.
Collaborations between percussion and strings are hard to find in the classical repertoire, which makes it difficult for the two groups of musicians to connect.
With multiple “M Shows” under his belt, Wolski has seen firsthand how new friendships develop when those connections are finally made, and that those friendships last long after “The M Show” is over.
“It’s absolutely amazing because I feel like I sort of had colleagues in the orchestra prior to ‘The M Show’ and now I feel because of ‘The M Show,’ I have a lot of friends,” he said. “Then it’s a very different relationship to me. In the good times, it’s wonderful but in the tough times, it’s even better because we can really come to each other.”