p.1Kamenski-10-13-11St. Sebastian director of liturgy and music Mike Kamenski conducts practice at Sussex Hamilton High School on Monday, Sept. 12. The group will perform as part of a symphonic rock concert with rock legend Daryl Stuermer on Sunday, Oct. 23 at the Hamilton Fine Arts Center at the school. More photos can be viewed and purchased at http://photos.chnonline.org.(Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)Mike Kamenski, 54, had only known the world of classical music during his entire professional career as a musician, composer and conductor. Even as a kid on the south side of Milwaukee he was never lured into the world of rock ‘n’ roll.

For Daryl Stuermer, 58, another south side native and former lead guitarist for the bands Genesis and Phil Collins, he was never involved with classical music in his more than 30-year career.

Now Kamenski, director of liturgy and music at St. Sebastian Parish, Milwaukee, and Stuermer are blending the best of both worlds.

“I’ve had this idea for probably 15, 20 years,” Stuermer said. After joining Genesis in 1978, Stuermer thought the band’s music had a symphonic feel and it made him realize he eventually wanted to tour with an orchestra.

“I thought over the years (Genesis) would do that themselves but it never happened,” Stuermer said. “I felt this would be a good time for me to keep their music going and finally do what I felt should’ve been done 15 years ago.”

While trying to figure out how to fuse rock and orchestra music, Stuermer’s tour manager suggested in April that they talk to Kamenski about how to get it done.

Along with his work at St. Sebastian, Kamenski is an associate professor of music at Alverno College, Milwaukee, and the conductor and director of the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra.

Classical questions from rock musician

“(Stuermer) had hundreds of questions, like where do the musicians get the music? How does it happen?” Kamenski said. “So basically I was teaching him how he would do this. And that’s all I was expecting.”

Stuermer said in the beginning he just wanted Kamenski’s initial reaction as to how to get this accomplished.

“The first meeting with him wasn’t necessarily to have him as our conductor,” Stuermer said. “It was more like to get an idea how you do this, because we felt that if anyone would know, it would be him.”

Eventually Stuermer asked him to be his conductor and music director.

“When I do business with people I try to be very fair and straight, and put all the cards on the table,” Kamenski said. “And I said, ‘Daryl, I have to honestly tell you that I’ve never heard of the band Genesis.’”

Stuermer wasn’t surprised.p.3Kamenski-10-13-11

“When he said that I thought, ‘Why should he? He’s in the classical world,’” Stuermer said. “Generally, we come from the same era but we come from different musical backgrounds. But see, I find that interesting so I can learn something from his classical world, which helps me.”

Angered by Christmas Mass without music

Even though Kamenski has a classical background, he has challenged musical norms in his past.

Kamenski’s first instrument was the accordion and he played in a Polish dance group on the south side.

“In grade school I was earning money doing music, which was unheard of,” Kamenski said.

“One Christmas (Mass at his home parish, St. Adalbert, Milwaukee) there was no music, none at all,” Kamenski said and remembers being angry with the priest for allowing this. “I knocked on the door of the rectory to the pastor and I was going to tell the pastor how mad I was that he didn’t make sure there was music at the Mass.”

The priest gave the then seventh grade Kamenski keys to the organ, church and choir loft.

“I never had a lesson on the organ, all I played was accordion so I had to teach myself all the stops and pedals, figure out how it all works,” Kamenski said.

Eventually he learned and went on to conduct the St. Adalbert Church choir.

“I was conducting in seventh grade with a baton, not knowing what I was doing,” Kamenski said.

Poland offered musical, political education

From there he got a degree from UW-Milwaukee in music theory and composition, and then attended the Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland for graduate school. During his time in Poland, communism was being overthrown.  Kamenski said he remembers riots and an intense political tension between people and government.

“Music is least what I learned in Poland,” Kamenski said, but he earned his master’s degree in symphonic and operatic conducting.

“Classical music provides the necessary discipline to do all styles of music,” Kamenski said. “Classical musicians kind of put down rock musicians. They feel they’re not as good, but there are rock musicians who actually read music, who write songs, who have fine ears.”

Kamenski was most impressed with Stuermer’s ability to listen to a song, find mistakes and recall that information without taking notes.

Co-writer of Grammy award-winning song

Stuermer has a strong foundation in more traditional music, playing the trumpet from third grade through high school at St. Francis High School, St. Francis. When he injured his lip in an accident, he was prevented from playing trumpet and turned to the guitar.

In 1973, he played in a band called Sweet Bottom, one of Milwaukee’s hottest bands at the time. From there he went on to play for French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty in 1975 and toured the world until he went to Genesis in 1978 as virtuoso lead guitarist of the super-group featuring Phil Collins.

In 2007, he toured with Genesis and said it was “probably” their last tour. He was a co-writer of Phil Collins 1989 Grammy Award-winning, Billboard No. 4 single “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven.”

Since then he’s been playing with his band, the Daryl Stuermer Band, and working on his symphonic rock show.

While getting ready for the show in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this summer, Kamenski attended a band practice without the orchestra and followed the set-list with just the score in his hand.

“He has an incredible ear,” Stuermer said.

He recalled a moment during that practice when the bass player improvised for a moment during a song. Not anything unusual in the rock world, but in the classical world it can cause major problems and Kamenski heard the difference.

“Just because the bass player played something different than what was on the score, he recognized it immediately,” Stuermer said.

Kamenski asked the bass player about it and he admitted to the change.

“I was impressed by that and so was the bass player… It made everyone realize you can’t change it the night of the show; you have to play it the same way you did at rehearsal,” he said.

Symphonic rock idea takes off

Stuermer said it helps having Kamenski around because he understands the musicians in the orchestra and demonstrated it in Ohio.

If you want to go:
The symphonic rock
concert of Genesis music will be Sunday, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Hamilton Fine Arts Center, W220 N6151 Town Line Road, Sussex. For
tickets, call (262) 246-1973,
ext. 1550, or visit: http://www.Hamilton FineArtsCenter.com.

“Mike got up there and spoke with (the orchestra) and they knew right away he speaks their language and that’s important because I do not,” Stuermer said. “The hardest thing to find in the music industry is people who are reliable. When you have a guy like Mike, you know he’s going to be there when he says he’s going to be there.”

Stuermer said from the beginning of his symphonic rock idea, things have gone easier than anticipated and it showed during that Ohio show.

“It went smoother than I ever expected it to go,” Stuermer said. “I expected a little more tension between the band and orchestra and there was none. When you’re putting a rock band with an orchestra you’re trying to marry electronic instruments with acoustic, and that could be a problem.”

Stuermer credits Kamenski with helping the show go so well because he had the respect of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

Kamenski now a Genesis fan

Another unexpected benefit is Kamenski’s ties to Milwaukee.

“Mike and I understand each other because of our roots here,” Stuermer said. “Communication is so much easier.”

All the members of the Daryl Stuermer Band are from Wisconsin. Stuermer said it makes things easier when it comes to planning each step of the process.

Kamenski said while helping compose the 12-song show he learned about rock music by watching how other rock musicians like Sting and Peter Gabriel used symphonies.

“A lot of rock musicians and bands are going to the symphony stage,” Kamenski said. “The orchestra actually adds to what the band is doing.”

Since his relationship with Stuermer began, Kamenski has become a fan of Genesis.

“The songs are very good; they’re very interesting,” Kamenski said. “I really like the ballads. There’s some really beautiful melodies.”

Stuermer said he’s learned more about the classical world and wouldn’t mind continuing on this road.

“I’d like to do something like this for the next 10 years,” Stuermer said. “I think it’s really sellable to an audience.”

He noted that there are many symphony orchestras around the country that are suffering financially and something like this can help them stay alive.