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Student artists shine in ‘Play like a Champion’ concert

| Monday, September 10, 2018

Joseph Han

What do you get when you combine 1980s classic rock with a talented group of college students? You are given Todd Rundgren’s “Play Like a Champion Concert: Students Play the 80s.” Serving as an opening for the Debartolo Performing Arts Center’s “Presenting Series,” which will hosts artists such as Kristin Chenoweth and Raul Midon, Todd Rundgren and his band members, alongside Notre Dame students, gave a powerful performance. The concert consisted of 18 songs which included duets, acapella performances and drum solos that had attendees in the Leighton Concert Hall up and out of their seats.

While Todd Rundgren is a rockstar, he was not the focal point of his own show. Rather it was the 30 or so students who performed alongside him. Students of all different musical backgrounds came forward onstage and put their own spin on hit songs from the 1980s.

Senior Kay Bontempo gave excellent renditions of “Bye Bye Love” and “Just What I Needed.”

“[It was] especially cool to be chosen for this performance because Bon Tempo, my band, is used to playing in local bars,” she said. “I am really passionate about rock music and being able to perform with classic rock legends during my senior year was a cool opportunity.”

Bontempo was not the only multi-talented performer at the concert. Ronnie Mansour, a sophomore, shocked the audience with her beautiful singing voice and melodic cello in “Prime Time” and “Pretending to Care,” two songs which she performed with her brother, senior Alex Mansour, on piano. 

This is the second time senior Alex has played with Rundgren — he also performed with Rundgren when the musician visited campus in 2016. A classical cello major, Mansour performed as the keyboardist for the band on Friday, which he says was “a blast.” Compared to a class lecture, performing with another professional musician is an impressive learning opportunity. “The opportunity to perform side by side with the people they bring, that’s pretty unique,” Alex said. “I think you learn a lot.”

For fans of Todd Rundgren, it was particularly interesting to witness the fusion of old and new school. An unexpected rap performance by Bree Connor, which was complemented by Todd Rundgren’s raspy voice, shocked the audience. Shock factor seemed to be theme of the night as a countless number of surprising collaborations were introduced. For instance, lacrosse players Mitch Olinger and Justin Cheng, joined Todd Rundgren with their guitars for a performance of “Bang the Drum.”

Another interesting surprise was a duet of “A Dream Goes on Forever” by Todd Rundgren and voice actress and professional Broadway performer Brigid Harrington. In comparison with her other performances, Harrington said this show was “different, because I have collaborated with other Broadway performers on galas and other professional performances, but this was my first time working with a rockstar.”

Student singer-songwriter Felix Rabito, a junior, said that “It had come to the point where I knew it was happening, but it wasn’t until I was on stage with [the band] that it really hit me.” 

“[It] was one of the coolest things,” Rabito said. “It was an abundantly joyful response from the crowd.”

Alvaro del Campo, a senior, said that he appreciated the opportunity.

“I learned so much about how to hold my own with people who have had decades of experience playing music,” del Campo said. 

The performances were important not only for the students but Todd Rundgren as well. Rundgren founded an organization called the Spirit of Harmony Foundation, which promotes the benefit of a musical education in the lives of children. Rundgren said believes that the “Spirit of Harmony Foundation exists to make sure new hands are learning to play music, new ears are learning to appreciate it and new hearts are learning to love it.” 

These performances were not only impressive from the perspective of a student but also to the fans in the audience.  Jean D. Lachowicz, the Executive Director of the Spirits of Harmony Foundation, said she appreciated the fans’ response.

“What struck me and what the struck the fans that were there was how happy Todd was in showcasing the students and their talents,” she said.

Through music, Todd Rundgren was able to help bridge a generational gap — bringing together different sounds and perspectives. 

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