Boyz II Men performs with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Saturday. One third of the Grammy-winning chart toppers, Shawn Stockman, spoke to the Observer from his adopted home of Los Angeles about performing with symphonies, arts programs, and how music helps his autistic son.
Q. How do symphony shows differ for you from regular concerts?
A. For me – and I think I speak for the rest of the guys – it’s better. The musicianship of it and the fact that our songs are being played by an orchestra is just so refreshing. It allows us to be more creative and our vocals to flutter a little bit more. You have smooth strings and oboes and flutes and all that other stuff, so we embellish. It’s peaceful and tranquil. We’re able to just stand there in tuxedos and look nice and we don’t have to worry about routine. It’s about music. It’s about the sound of the experience. The people get it, too. They can close their eyes and just listen.
Q. Does it change the set list?
A. We actually do songs that are considered albums cuts but translate a lot better in an orchestra setting. Our fans appreciate hearing those songs. It makes for a better experience for us to sing songs we normally don’t sing.
Q. How does the symphony setting relate to who Boyz II Men is?
A. It definitely goes right in line with who we are and how we became a group. We all met in a creative and performing arts high school where we were taught Brahms, Bach and Vivaldi, and us doing this is coming full circle. This is how we all met. We were very familiar with sonatas and arias from those composers. Doing that makes it feel like we’re back home.
From the music education side, the orchestral element of most stuff you don’t see in the mainstream. You hear it in movies and TV shows. People don’t get a chance to experience it firsthand. This is us lending ourselves to the culture, and saying you can enjoy it too and in a modern type of way and still get an appreciation for it.
Q. As someone whose career was partly determined by your music education, what are your thoughts on the current lack thereof?
A. I think it’s a travesty. If it wasn’t for the arts program in my school, Boyz II Men wouldn’t exist. I have to pay respect and homage to it. I know it would do the same for kids today. It helps kids become better in school and all those things. It baffles me that our government and school systems would take such an integral element out of the curriculum. This is one of the reason we do symphony shows – to inspire, to make kids understand there are outlets to express yourself if you want to pick up an (instrument). Everyone doesn’t want to be a rapper or a beat maker.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. We’re actually doing a film documenting the history of doo-wop. We went all the way back to the Flamingos, the Imperials ... going further down the line years later into modern-day doo-wop. We have a couple special guests talking about doo-wop. People will hopefully appreciate what we’ve done (especially) for the younger artist who isn’t privy to it at all.
Q. Has music been a part of your son’s development?
A: It is actually. Part of having autism is their delay in speech, not only talk but talking with a specific cadence for him to understand the difference between asking a question and making a statement. We deal with that using a specific rhythm with a metronome. It kind of makes it fun, and it’s rhythmic, and everybody remembers the rhythm no matter what condition you’re in. The metronome has been huge in his development.
Boyz II Men/Charlotte Symphony
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.