Concert benefits Summit High

3 Leg Torso show supports high school band, choir, orchestra programs

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

Published Jan 25, 2013 at 04:00AM

When you have the unique sound and instrumentation 3 Leg Torso does, it can be somewhat challenging to come up with a description of your music, say the leaders of the Portland quintet.

“The short tag is that it's 'world chamber music,'” responded accordion player Courtney Von Drehle, who co-founded the band with violinist and trumpeter Béla Balogh in 1996.

“Oftentimes, because of the nature of our musical narrative arc — it tells a story, and we match it to film — so sometimes, it's 'cinematic world chamber music,'” Von Drehle continued. “It gets used in a bunch of films, too, so that's kind of a fair description.”

However you describe their inventive, exotic sound, the band — which includes percussionists and mallet players Gary Irvine and T.J. Arko and acoustic bass player Mike Murphy — may just leave you feeling you're sitting in a Parisian cafe rather than Summit High School auditorium when it performs there Saturday (see “If you go”).

The concert is a benefit for Summit High School's various music programs. “They had seen us performing with Central Oregon Symphony,” explained Balogh, referring to 3 Leg Torso's collaboration with the orchestra during its winter 2011 concert in Bend.

“That was a super show (with the symphony) ... and then Summit High School got a hold of us and said, 'We saw you, we really liked what you did (and) we'd like you to be part of our fundraising effort.'

“Well, at first I said, 'No,'” Balogh continued, chuckling. “I'm kidding. I said, 'Of course.' We love doing benefits for causes, especially geared toward music.”

The concert will help the school's music programs with travel and registration expenses, uniforms and more. “Music programs suffer, unfortunately, all over the state and country. This is something great that they're doing for their program,” Balogh said.

“They're being really proactive by trying to raise money for it. This is all across the board, for their orchestra, band and choir programs,” Balogh added.

That cinematic sound Von Drehle mentioned has been lent to such films as the UNICEF-funded documentary “With Hope and Help,” about living with AIDS in Thailand. They've also shared their music with filmmakers including Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”), Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) and animator Joan Gratz (“The Dowager's Feast”). Their music has also turned up everywhere from a Bosnian TV series and a 2012 National Geographic special about preparing for the apocalypse.

“Our influences are diverse,” Von Drehle said. “There's a lot of Eastern European influence, and a lot of that (comes) directly through Béla,” a first-generation Hungarian-American whose father and grandfather were both violinists. 3 Leg Torso is also influenced by tango, Middle-Eastern, Americana and modern classical music, Von Drehle said.

And don't leave out “cartoon music,” he continued, referring to the manic tunes that lent atmosphere to the mischief of Bugs Bunny and other cartoon critters of the mid-20th century.

Cartoon music, Von Drehle said, is rich in texture and narrative. “One of our riches in our band is having a great percussion section with mallets, vibraphone, xylophone and glockenspiel. Instruments like that are also some of the principle color instruments in a lot of cartoon scores, too.”

Balogh said that they grew up hearing the work of cartoon composer Carl Stalling, who wrote for “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies,” averaging a score a week for 22 years, according to Wikipedia.

“We grew up watching that stuff,” Balogh said. “It really got itself into our minds. Courtney has a great tune called 'Giant Stomp' that's definitely reflective of the Carl Stalling music.”

“Driving Along with My Cow in My Volga,” from their most recent album, “Animals & Cannibals,” also calls to mind Stalling's work through the liberal use of xylophone.

“But kind of an Eastern European Carl Stalling,” said Balogh.

Meanwhile, tomorrow at Summit, they'll perform two sets.

“We won't have any symphonic accompaniment this time, but we've got our array of sounds to bring down,” Von Drehle said. “We'll also have guest percussionist Joe Janiga,” who was a member of the band until 2002 and has been a frequent occasional member. “He's a dynamic groove player. The band will be grooving hard is essentially what I'm saying.”