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Detroit native helms ambitious new version of Styx hit

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Every spring, Liza Grossman hooks up her Contemporary Youth Orchestra in Cleveland with a rock star for a special concert.

That wasn't possible this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, but the Detroit-born musician and music director came up with an ambitious Plan B.

Teaming with Tommy Shaw of Styx, Grossman -- who's served as the band's tour conductor since 2006 -- created a new rendition of the 1977 Top 30 hit "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" with 90 members of the CYO, accompanying it with a video featuring all of the musicians involved. It was released Tuesday, July 7, to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Styx's trip-platinum "The Grand Illusion" album.

"I started pestering Tommy about collaboration as soon as the pandemic hit and we were shut down," says Grossman,

who was raised in Detroit's Lafayette Park district and attended high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy. (Her parents were on the steering committee for Orchestra Hall's preservation). With degrees in Music Education and Music Performance from the Cleveland State University, Grossman has worked with orchestras in Cleveland, Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville (Fla.), Colorado and a variety of other rock artists. She also did a stint at the University of Michigan's Summer Conductin Institute and has commissioned and conducted more than 500 world premieres..

"I thought this would be kind of a cool thing for my students to do since we couldn't meet in person," Grossman says. "(Shaw) is always down for something new and something exciting, which I appreciate about him. For a musician who's done what he does for as long as he has, I really appreciate that he's still open to all these new ideas."

Shaw is no stranger to the CYO. He and Styx played with the CYO in 2006, a performance that was turned into a home video later that year, while Shaw performed with the orchestra 10 years later for another home video, "Sing For the Day!" that's also been used as an AXS-TV special.

Shaw says the "Fooling Yourself" project was "an irresistible idea" and credits Grossman with "a lot of heavy lifting overseeing it. It's magical for me to watch and hear. The collective level of musicianship in CYO is really something to behold, especially having them performing a song that I wrote. What great way to get a taste of what is possible for aspiring musicians, and such bright, light and an uplifting thing for us all to experience during these heavy times we are all going through."

Making the new "Fooling Yourself" was an arduous and exacting process. It started with Shaw's performance, which he recorded and filmed on iPhone at home in in Nashville and then sent to Grossman in Cleveland. She filmed a video of herself conducting the song, then added a click track for timing and sent virtual "packages" to the students, aged 12-18, so they could record their part. Grossman also held sectional Zoom meetings/rehearsals with the participants to show everyone "what I was looking for, musically."

The students subsequently sent back their individual performances, which were knitted together by Los Angeles-based producer Michael Bradford (another Detroit native), while Adam Smalley at Cleveland's AJ Video created the visual clip.

"We wanted the video to reflect he movement of the music and also the vibrancy of Tommy and the children," Grossman says. "When you're working with something as sacred as any kind of music, you want to do it as much justice as possible and really make sure that it looks authentic and exact. I think we've really capture that here."

Grossman formed the CYO, an award-winning non-profit, during 1995 and it remains in residence at Cuyahoga Community College. It's comprised of 110 students from 64 northeast Ohio school districts. It has also collaborated over the years with artists such as Pat Benatar, Ben Folds, Melissa Etheridge and Jason Mraz.

Styx, meanwhile, has been off the road since the pandemic hit during mid-March but currently has concerts on its schedule for late summer, starting Aug. 2 in Durham, N.C.

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