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Former city resident thrives in New York City classical music season, releases rock album

Ex-Fellowship Students bassist Nathan Siler is now a seasoned performer in the New York City classical scene and leader of experimental rock band Portraiture.
BY GENE TRIPLETT Modified: January 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm •  Published: January 9, 2013

Nathan Siler did not want to move to New York City. His wife made him do it.

He would have been perfectly happy to remain in Oklahoma City, occasionally playing and writing with his longtime bandmates in the Fellowship Students and pursuing solo musical projects.

“I came up here because my wife (Jamie Buxton) is a music theater performer, and she said, ‘You know, I absolutely have to go to New York to make my living,'” Siler said in a recent interview from his New York City home. “When my wife told me that she wanted to leave, I absolutely did not want to come here. We fought about it a lot and I eventually relented. I had a lot of fear and anxiety because I've always loved Oklahoma and I loved playing with the Fellowship Students. But once I moved here and kind of lived here for a year and sorta got used to it, I really started to like it.”

Now, five years after the move, Siler is paying the bills as a classical singer, having made his Carnegie Hall debut last year with the American Symphony Orchestra and the Collegiate Chorale. He's also a soloist in the chamber choir Musica Viva of New York, among other gigs.

And he's finally turned his long-held dream of releasing a solo alternative rock album into reality with “Real as Ritual,” recording under the moniker Portraiture. He's supported on this 12-song collection of experimental pop-rock adventures by Fellowship Students members Matthew Alvin Brown (guitar, backing vocals), Jacob Becannen (drums, backing vocals, percussion), Steven Stark (guitar backing vocals) and Mark Vollertsen (piano, Fender Rhodes).

Siler — on lead vocals, electric and string bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer and percussion — coproduced the album with Trent Bell, who engineered it at his Bell Labs Recording Studio in Norman.

With the exception of the dreamlike instrumentals “Miami Weiss (Part I)” and “Miami Weiss (Part II),” which were written by the Fellowship Students as a group, all songs were written by Siler over the last 10 years, dating to his sophomore year at Oklahoma City University where he pursued a degree in music composition with a minor in vocal performance. First recorded on a four-track machine, the songs served as a safety valve relieving the pressures of “serious” composition.

“I always was in bands before I started going to college for composition,” Siler said. “But I didn't really know when or if it was going to become an album. I just kept doing it. I just kept putting it down onto the four-track and I really liked what I was hearing and I didn't know, I was exposed to so much at the time — 20th century music, experimental stuff and the regular classical stuff — that I didn't know how it was influencing me, but I know somehow it's all in there.”

Over the years, the songs have been performed live in various forms by the Fellowship Students. The polished and perfected versions that make up “Real as Ritual” are characterized by unconventional melody, chord and rhythm structures owing, no doubt, to Siler's classical training, as well as his eclectic pop influences.

He cites Morrissey, Shellac, the Weakerthans and Pavement as his “adolescent influences.”

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