Brenda K was dreaming: She was trapped in a room on a sinking aircraft carrier. The door out was built like a manhole and she managed to squeeze through it, but the heavy lid came down and trapped her violin case. She was tugging on it and crying in frustration, but couldn’t free her instrument. She told her boyfriend of the dream the next day. “It could be interpreted only one way”, Chi said, ignoring the obvious references decrying the military-industrial complex: This dream meant her music was trapped. It must be let out. “We must play together as a band”. Out of this, and real-life experience, was born The Panache Orchestra. Two different musicians, two different people from two very different countries and four cats, seeking to bridge the gap between classical and pop/rock without falling into the precipitous gorge below.
“Neither of us have any idea how we thought we could make it work,” Brenda K confesses, reminiscing through the many years of frustration from their own epic communication failures to the incompatibility of the music they were creating with the demands of the music industry. “Up until three years ago, we had heretofore been focusing on work as side players with other professional bands and ensembles, and I never saw a logical insertion point for the music we were making as The Panache Orchestra.” It took a while for the two to understand that their radical differences might make for a marketable, if volatile chemistry.
The Panache Orchestra suggests turning off your cell phones and your useless genres. If you must have labels, perhaps Brenda K’s classical violin and Chi Saito’s rhythm-driven acoustic guitar and dramatic instrumental compositions are “Rattling the Chamber-Music Cage.” Or “Anime Beatnik Combo.” Another label might be simply “Beautiful.” Woven into TPO's DNA are strands of The Beatles, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli , Mahavishnu Orchestra, and traditional music of Europe and Japan shaken up with a shot of vintage rock ‘n roll, and as the night grows longer and the cocktails accumulate, a dynamic, swashbuckling romanticism emerges.
Brenda K once tried to walk what she calls, “the normal career path for a classical player”. A protracted academic life at San Diego State University was followed by playing weddings, musical theatre gigs and on other musicians’ recordings, edging hopefully toward a seat in an orchestra. When nothing materialized, she gave up music and flew away to Japan, where her other degrees in business and the Japanese language might be of use. It was in Tokyo on a New Year’s Eve weekend that she awaked in her apartment “at the crack of noon” and discovered a paper chop stick wrapper from the saké-drenched previous evening at a sushi bar. On it was written a train-station name, a phone number and the name: “Chi Saito”. Oh, yes, Brenda K recalled. The cute water boy from the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Chi “Mr. Groove” Saito was another disillusioned musician who has very little formal musical training and likens his musical education to “eating out of the garbage bin of a world class hotel”, having learned on the job while living the rock and roll lifestyle playing cabarets and nightclubs, and later taught, composed TV soundtracks and backed major touring acts at arena shows all over Japan before walking away, intending to focus on his own writing, dreaming of the day when he would form his own band to perform and record the vast amount of music he had composed during his long career as a professional player. He was helping out a friend at the sushi bar the night he spotted Brenda K. They married in 2003, moved to Brenda’s hometown of San Diego the following year, and in 2006 fled to Los Angeles as “economic refugees.”
They’ve worked through the inherent incompatibility of classical and rock, navigating hostile terrain full of land mines such as endless language and cultural misunderstandings due to their personal as well as musical backgrounds. Brenda says that grasping Chi’s lessons in pop and rock rhythms and how to work that into her classical programming “has led to much psychic bloodshed”, adding that “I’m hardwired to expect everything written out. And not a pop chart, but a score. That does not fit the outline of his musical milieu.” Yet Brenda has embraced the world of non-conformity. Their brand of Insurgent Melody is perhaps reflected in one characteristic that Brenda K and Chi do share: a rebel, anti-authority streak, and a common lack of interest in creating music that mimics established styles and conventions.
Their musical dream, and the message conveyed by the sinking aircraft carrier, was realized with The Panache Orchestra’s U.S. launch in 2008. Chi would sometimes consult a medium who had set up shop at a chicken restaurant down the street from their Tokyo apartment, and brought along Brenda K on one visit. “She told us, ‘The karma of this relationship is so strong,” Brenda K says, “you cannot break it, no matter what.’”
In late 2011 The
Panache Orchestra has recently expanded their line-up and sound, adding
Philippine- American drummer Michael Agorrilla, whose talent was
recognized early on and put to good use by producers and artists on
major labels as he built his career as a freelance drummer and session
player. His contribution adds a distinct colour to the transnational
Panache palette, as all three members hail from different points of the