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Sioux City Conservatory of Music 'rhapsodizes' over classic Queen tune

Sioux City Conservatory of Music 'rhapsodizes' over classic Queen tune

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Student Machele Hale, a staffing manager for the North Sioux City-based Empirical Foods by day and wannabe guitarist at night, said she grew up listening to Freddie Mercury and Queen, while musician-turned-teacher Zach Pickens learned about the legendary glam rockers through his mom and dad.

"What can I say? My parents had great taste in music," Pickens, best known for his work as a guitarist in the band Port Nocturnal, said with a smile.

Both Hale and Pickens will be among the musicians playing along to Queen's classic, six-minute suite, "Bohemian Rhapsody," during "Find Me Somebody to Love," a fundraiser for the Sioux City Conservatory of Music, beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre, 528 Pierce St.

According to Conservatory co-founder Gia Emory, the goal of bringing local musicians to join in on the Queen song was to secure a place for the city in the "Guinness Book of World Records."

So, how's that working out? Not too well, she admitted.

"Guess we miscalculated the number of musicians needed to achieve a world's record," Gia Emory acknowledged. "We'd need more than 1,000 musicians to get in the world record book. Instead, we'll have about 400 musicians rocking out to Queen."

If truth be told, she doesn't look too disappointed by this shortfall of possible players.

Instead the real reason behind the benefit is to help the nonprofit Conservatory raise money for scholarships and instruments for students who otherwise couldn't afford music education.

In addition to the open-to-the-community Queen-a-thon, an auction will take place as will performances by many of the Conservatory's young (and young-at-heart) music students. 

Jose Juarez, a 10-year-old from South Sioux City, will be among the students shredding for Freddie.

That is if the Harney Elementary School fourth-grader can master the chords of his guitar.

"This is tougher than I thought it would be," Jose said toward the beginning of his second lesson with Conservatory co-founder Ron Emory.

A member of the pioneering, California-based punk band T.S.O.L., Ron Emory founded the 1307 Pierce St. Music Conservatory with his wife Gia Emory more than a decade ago.

"Jose, let me tell you what my grandpa once told me," Ron Emory said to his apt pupil. "My grandpa said if I learned how to play a guitar, I could travel the world with my music, follow my passion and never work a day in my life."

"Guess what?" he asked, plucking a pick out of his pocket. "Grandpa was right on the money."

So was Jose, as he joined in with his teacher in learning Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over," which will be one of the major set pieces for the Orpheum concert.

Indeed, everybody from the ukelele players to the Conservatory's pint-sized dancers will be grooving to Florence Welch's classic song.

"Remember the Orpheum stage is very big," Gia Emory said while offering last-minute choreography advice to the Conservatory chorus line kids. "You gotta make sure your movement is equally as big."

The Conservatory has always been a passion project for Gia Emory, a Sioux City native who also runs the adjoining Blue Cafe in addition to The Block, a series of small businesses that includes an indoor skateboard park, consignment shop and art gallery.

"Music is such a positive thing," she said, mid-rehearsal. "It doesn't matter your age or background, music is a constant in our lives."

That was certainly the case with Gia Emory, who grew up with a steady diet of 1980s music including, you guessed it, the sounds of Freddie Mercury.

The Zanzibar-born and United Kingdom-raised Mercury was best known for his four-octave vocal range and for being the flamboyant frontman for Queen.

"Freddie Mercury was the ultimate rock star," Gia Emory said of Mercury, who died in 1991 from complications associated with AIDS. "He was larger-than-life."

This made Mercury the perfect choice for the 2018 big screen biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody," which earned actor Rami Malek an Academy Award for lead actor in his portrayal.

"The movie brought 'Bohemian Rhapsody' back into the mainstream," Gia Emory said. "But the music of Queen has never really gone away."

After all, Queen's catalog appeals to everyone from a punk rocker like Ron Emory as well as to Port Nocturnal's Pickens, who is feeling more jazzy nowadays.

"If you ask me who were my biggest musical influences, I'd say Frank Zappa, Chet Baker, Django Reinhardt and John Coltrane," Pickens said, listing off his personal faves. "Wait, did I forget to say (Jimi) Hendrix? Guess loving Hendrix goes without saying."

At age 10, Jose Juarez is probably too young to know who Florence Welch, Jimi Hendrix or, even, Freddie Mercury are.

But the budding young guitarist already knows he'd like to be a rock star.

Heck, Jose has even invested in a rock star's guitar, complete with an embossed skull on the instrument's headstock.

"I knew Jose meant business when he came in with a kid-sized guitar with a skull on it as well as well as with picks that came with identical skulls," Ron Emory said in admiration. "It's cool to feel like a rock star, even when you're a kid."  

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