Think Out Loud

Pink Martini singer Jimmie Herrod performs with Metropolitan Youth Symphony

By Allison Frost (OPB)
Jan. 5, 2024 6:20 p.m. Updated: Jan. 12, 2024 7:28 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, Jan. 5

Jimmie Herrod is the featured artist at the Metropolitan Youth Symphony performance, Feb. 9, 2024 at the Newmark theatre.

Jimmie Herrod is the featured artist at the Metropolitan Youth Symphony performance, Feb. 9, 2024 at the Newmark theatre.

Courtesy Richard Poppino for Jimmie Herrod


Portland musician Jimmie Herrod has sung in many different kinds of venues for a variety of performances. He’s been a guest vocalist with Portland-based Pink Martini since 2017. He was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2021, and his past shows include performances with numerous symphonies, including the Oregon Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra. But his upcoming show with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony is a unique performance. The program consists of orchestral arrangements done in collaboration with youth composers for six of his original songs: Are You Lonely, Beautiful, I Love You, I Want To Run, Mouche, and Willow Bed. MYS trombone player and composer Elaina Stuppler arranged I Love You with only a rough recording Herrod made for her on his phone. Music Director Raúl Gómez-Rojas facilitated the unique project, which will be performed on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at the Newmark Theatre in Portland. He joins us in studio, along with Herrod and Stuppler, to talk about the creative process and bring us a sneak peak of the show.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Portland Musician Jimmie Herrod has sung in many venues with many different collaborators. He’s been a guest vocalist with Portland-based Pink Martini for the last seven years. He was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2021. His past shows include performances with the Oregon Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra, but his upcoming concert with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony on Tuesday, January 9th, at Portland’s Newmark Theater is going to be something new. The program consists of orchestral arrangements of six of his original songs created in collaboration with young musicians. Herrod joins us now to talk about this project along with one of those young people. Elaina Stuppler is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego who plays trombone in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. She’s also the youth roving reporter for All Classical Radio. And Raúl Gómez-Rojas is in the studio as well. He is a music director of MYS and a host At All Classical. It’s great to have all three of you on the show.

Raúl Gómez-Rojas: Thank you for having us.

Elaina Stuppler: Thank you.

Miller: Raúl, first. How did this collaboration come to be?

Gómez-Rojas: I’ve been a fan of Jimmie’s for a long time and I heard him sing live a couple of years ago. The time was a bit blurry. But then I reached out to him through a friend that we have in common and we went out for coffee and I asked him if he would be willing to do something with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. And then I asked him, if you’re willing to, what would you like to do? What would Jimmie Herod like to do? And that’s how I learned about his compositions, his original songs and the possibility of doing those with a full orchestra.

Miller: Jimmie, why did you say yes to this?

Jimmie Herrod: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think for me, I get a lot of opportunities to perform. But this was such a unique opportunity to work with people like Elaina, I didn’t know yet, but I’m so thankful I got to because I got to see people who are so young doing so much already, which is inspiring to me and a chance to really share music that I don’t get to perform on some of the bigger stages I’m normally on. And this is just a chance to show more signs of myself.

Miller: Elaina, were you already familiar with Jimmie when this opportunity arrived?

Elaina Stuppler: Yes, I saw Jimmie at a Pink Martini concert at the Reser about one or two years ago and I actually heard him play “I Love You” and was just so entranced by his beautiful voice and the incredible composition

Miller: That is the song of his that you arranged.

Stuppler: Yes.

Miller: So you’d heard it a year or two before you got a chance to actually do your own version of it.

Stuppler: Yes.

Miller: Did you get to choose that? There were six songs and there were six young arrangers. Did you choose it yourself?

Stuppler: I did.

Miller: OK. Well, the way this actually worked is fascinating because Jimmie, you provided us with the iPhone voice memo [laughter] of you playing piano and singing your song, the version that you gave to Elaina so she could then do the orchestration of it. First, can you just tell us, is there a story behind this? It sounds like the kind of song that has a story. Am I wrong about that?

Herrod: I like to say this is a song about meeting someone in a foreign country or something. And you don’t know what they’re saying to you and then you realize they’re saying they like you and it’s just a sweet sentiment. I also wrote it slightly with the intention of a lot of what Pink Martini - who I’ve had the chance of performing with all these years - has done and gone to many places, and they sing something in another language or just something for the people there. And this is loosely also written about my partner who is from Russia.

Miller: OK. So let’s have a listen to the piano and voice version that you just recorded for Elaina with your iPhone. This is “I Love You.”

[Piano music plays]

I took a trip to a foreign land

I went to Russia after Japan

That’s where I met a Tatar man

He said я тебя люблю

No I didn’t know what it meant

But his breath smelled of peppermint

And he sure was a gentleman

He said я тебя люблю

я тебя люблю

я тебя люблю

я тебя люблю

He said it means, I love you

Oh, я тебя люблю

я тебя люблю

я тебя люблю

He said it means, I love you

[Music ends]

Miller: It’s a surprisingly lovely recording from just a tiny little microphone. I mean, a not surprisingly lovely song. [Laughter] Elaina, do you remember when you got that recording?

Stuppler: I do. Yes, it was so beautiful just to hear all of the spectacular harmonic progression. And in the recording, Jimmie played these spectacular little motifs in the right hand that just really lend itself to the upper winds and the love and the passion and the strings.


Miller: So you mentioned two of the groups of the orchestra there, what were you actually arranging for? How many parts or instruments were you going to turn the piano part into, to go along with Jimmie singing?

Stuppler: The full Metropolitan Youth Symphony.

Miller: Which is what?

Stuppler: Let’s see, strings, woodwinds, brass percussion.

Miller: All of it?

Stuppler: Yes.

Miller: When you first heard it, did you have some immediate ideas of what would be what? Orchestration to me is a beautiful mystery.

Stuppler: Definitely. The strings definitely lended because it’s just such a beautiful song and I love how all the instruments have vibrato, but I am especially enamored with the strings vibrato. And so that definitely lends itself to the strings. There’s one section of the piece that kind of has a break in it with the piano and it’s almost a brass choral. I included the horns and the trombones and also I had a solo moment for the xylophone on it.

Miller: What was your process of actually doing it? You didn’t have a ton to work with. You had just this one recording.

Stuppler: I started with listening to the song so many times until it was really etched into my brain. And it was a good process because there was just so much to work with for the piece and it all came together.

Miller: As I understand it, there’s no recording yet of the full MYS orchestra playing this piece. We did get sort of a stripped down version of your orchestration and we’ll listen to that now. This is from a recent broadcast on All Classical Radio. Am I right that this is a piano and a string quartet and Jimmie?

Stuppler: Yes.

Miller: OK. So I just want to remind listeners again, this is not the full version that you just described with xylophone and brass and woodwinds, but it gives us a little bit of a sense for how you turned Jimmie’s piano and voice version into what folks can hear the full version of on Tuesday. Let’s have a listen.

[Orchestra music & Jimmie Herrod singing “I Love You”]

Miller: Raúl, how common is it for youth symphonies to give their young musicians these kinds of opportunities?

Gómez-Rojas: It’s actually rare. I think we’re moving in the right direction as a nation, hopefully globally, towards giving young musicians more access to compose music and have that music performed and recorded by full orchestras. But I should say that this project is something we do in collaboration here locally with the Young Composers Project, which is a program of Fear No Music. They have been educating young composers for decades. And the work they do is extraordinary. When I first heard a concert by them, I reached out immediately to ask them, have you ever had these young people write for a full orchestra? And the answer was not yet. So as a result of that, over the last six or seven years, we have been commissioning new works from young composers to be performed, and in some occasions conducted, by their peers and it’s really powerful to just see and hear the extraordinary amount of talent on stage. That’s 100% young people.

Miller: Elaina, you’re a multi-instrumentalist. As I understand you started in piano, now [you] play trombone and other brass. How did you get interested in composing or arranging?

Stuppler: When I was very young, I went to story times, musical story times at public libraries. And that really sparked my love of music. Then I went into piano, violin, trombone and I was very grateful that I went to an art school and I took a compose and record class which really sparked my love of composition.

Miller: Has learning, composing, doing some arranging, changed the way you think about music that was written 300 years ago?

Stuppler: I think I have a lot of respect for composers and taking a small idea and expanding it to full orchestra.

Miller: Jimmie, what’s it been like for you to work with these young musicians? My understanding is that it didn’t end with you, for example, sending an iPhone voice memo. There were some sessions you had with the individual arrangers. What were those like?

Herrod: Yeah. It seems like just so long ago now, but we had like 30 minutes each with each young composer and we talked over what tools I sent them, essentially some version of the song written out and then some recording to go with that. And really to get that chance to speak with the person and hear their ideas and what they thought to essentially expand what’s there and to create obviously as well was super rewarding for me. As I said before, it’s extremely inspiring. But to be in that sort of collaborative experience was really special for me as well.

Miller: Had you imagined arranging any of these songs for a full orchestra yourself in the past?

Herrod: Yeah, that’s a funny question. Yeah, I would say there are ones that I’ve written that feel so piano centric and they feel like songs like this one. And then there are some others you’ll hear at the concert that feel already sort of in a dramatically-arranged world, heightened by a variety of instruments. There’s one that started out with an arrangement that was for two clarinets and percussion and now it is for a full symphony. I typically thought, when it comes to orchestration, and I was saying this before and when I was in school, I didn’t spend as much time with the strings. I grew up playing clarinet and you don’t want to hear today. But I feel like I know woodwinds much better than I know strings and maybe brass as well. So I try to leave that to the people who have spent more time focusing on that, but it’s not out of reach.

Miller: Raúl, how has the Metropolitan Youth Symphony grown or changed since you took over, what, 8 years ago?

Gómez-Rojas: This is my eighth season. Correct. Well, we have grown in numbers and also in our geographic reach. We have a site in Hillsboro now where we have three string ensembles in the beginning strings class in Portland. We have, and have had for 49 years - next year is our 50th anniversary string ensembles for orchestras - jazz wind ensembles, et cetera. We have grown the amount of ensembles that we have. But I think perhaps more significantly the type of music and the type of concerts that we program and the type of educational pedagogical experience we’re giving our young musicians has evolved to something that’s a lot more inclusive and diverse, not only in the background of our composers that we play or even our guest artists, but the type of music that we are teaching these young musicians is part of the center of what an orchestra can do - where we combine the great masters of the past with masters of the present, like Jimmie Herrod and Elaina Stuppler, where they’re of equal importance and equal weight.

Miller: What’s the reason for saying, we’ll still do the western classical tradition, there will still be some Mozart and Beethoven, but we’re going to expand what we’re doing? There are people out there who say “I want the Mozart. Give me the Shakespeare.”

Gómez-Rojas: I think that speaks to the difference between access and belonging, right?

There’s a reason why we play Mozart and Beethoven. There’s a universality to their music. It’s very human, it’s deeply human. But we can say the same about so many other types of music. We’re doing ourselves, as an industry, a disservice if we’re excluding music that doesn’t belong to a certain, certain part of the world or for a certain time in history. When you go to a concert you might enjoy it. Will you come back to hear the orchestra again? Yes, if you felt like you belonged. And I think the best way to do that is to dramatically expand the palate of music that we present and the music that our young musicians are growing up playing and seeing as normal.

Miller: I want to hear one more song from your recent collective performance on All Classical Radio. Jimmie, what should we know about “Willow Bed” before we hear it?

Herrod: “Willow Bed” is a song about family relationships, you can say. I guess to really sum it up is to say that sometimes the people who are doing their best are just simply doing that. That doesn’t always mean it pans out to what we would hope, but it’s sort of an introspective song.

Miller: This is “Willow Bed.” It was a song composed by Jimmie Herrod, arranged by Lex Cornelis, performed on All Classical Radio.

[Orchestra music & Jimmie Herrod singing “Willow Bed”]

Miller: That’s the song “Willow Bed.” A song composed by Jimmie Herrod and arranged by Lex Cornelis.

I’m curious, Elaina, just what this opportunity means for you to have a song written by a now nationally famous singer who’s been on TV a lot, that you arranged, that will be performed by your symphony at the Newmark Theater, a major theater in Portland? What does it mean to you?

Stuppler: I am so honored to have been able to write this arrangement and I think it’s truly special to write something for someone that you really admire. I am beyond grateful for the Young Composers Project and Metropolitan Youth Symphony. It’s just so spectacular how they really champion young composers and young musicians.

Miller: You’re only a sophomore though, you’ve got two more years here after this year. What are you hoping to do musically in the next two years?

Stuppler: Definitely keep writing. Keep writing and performing. That’s definitely what I want to do with my life is composing.

Miller: Elaina Stuppler, Jimmie Herrod and Raúl Gómez-Rojas, thanks very much.

Herrod: Thank you.

Gómez-Rojas: Thank you.

Stuppler: Thanks.

Miller: Elaina Stuppler is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego. She plays trombone in Metropolitan Youth Symphony. She is one of the young people who have arranged Jimmie Herrod’s songs for the concert that’s going to be this Tuesday evening at the Newmark Theater in Portland. Raúl Gómez-Rojas is the music director for Metropolitan Youth Symphony.

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