talztop Ann- Marie Rollo

The Acoustic Led Zeppelin Tribute Orchestra Project started out with a few friends and acquaintances, but word quickly spread among area musicians who wanted in. (Photo by Ann-Marie Rollo)

"I was trained at the New England Conservatory," says Terry Grissino. "I teach and perform. I'm involved in many projects; a jazz group, I have a recital in October ..."

"I'm a classical violin player and teacher. I teach the Suzuki method," says Attleboro resident Betsy Pabon. "I played in the Unitas Ensemble. Lots of Latin American and contemporary music."

"I'm an IT director at a finance company," says Bob Mercier. "I play guitar and mandolin."

Many are Massachusetts locals. Some grew up in Nashville and New York City. But they share a common master, and each has heeded the master's call: The Acoustic Led Zeppelin Tribute Orchestra Project.

Steve Marchena, with his bright eyes and light stubble, carries a certain warmth about him. With a career in music ranging across the States, Canada and Europe, teaching to the likes of Bentley and Berklee enrollees, and collaborating with musicians of all styles, he's no stranger to sharing his passion for sound.

"Zeppelin has been my favorite group for my entire life," he says. "When they were touring in the '90s, my friends and I followed them ... I've seen them about 50 times."

TALZTOP, as the group is known, is Marchena's pet project.

"I saw (Led Zeppelin's) first video from when they played at the Midway Cafe," recalls Nancy MacCallum. "I called my friend Joe, and said, 'WHAT IS THAT?'"

Though Marchena, spawned in 2013, found TALZTOP's first players among friends and acquaintances, word quickly spread throughout the local music community.

"Joe put me in touch with Steve," MacCallum says. "I asked him out of the blue (if I could join). He said 'sure, c'mon!'"

"I've invited a lot of people," says Marchena. "Scheduling won't work out sometimes."

Other conflicts have arisen. "(Normally) when you're playing or mic-ing things up, you want to turn it up!" Marchena observes. "But we're acoustic. There's not really room for ego like that in this group."

Zeppelin's is no easy music to play, either. In fact, Marchena's been amping up the workload for his players.

"The first season was simple. I said, let's put together songs that Zep recorded without using electricity. But the second year, we started adding material with electric guitar."

They've found clever ways to fill for Jimmy Page's solos.

"Sometimes I'll just say, 'Hey Terry, learn from 130-320 on this recording,'" Marchena says.

"For me, this is a real particular thrill," says Grassino. "Flutes and clarinets don't usually get to play in rock bands!"

This year, the band's aiming for songs even Zeppelin wouldn't perform live.

"I found out Zep played the song 'Four Sticks,' recorded it in the studio and then decided to not play it anymore," says Marchena. "Big red flag! That's my favorite kind of song."

On top of the challenging tunes, TALZTOP does it all without ever touching sheet music. And with practices limited to around 10 in a year, players are expected to learn and master all the music on their own.

"It's a really rigorous schedule," says Rosanne Evans, one of the group's vocalists. "It's a huge time commitment."

Mercier cuts in: "You gotta come in prepared. I had 35 songs I had to learn. It was daunting!"

But every member is willing to put in the practice, and when it comes together, the payoff is well worth it.

"It's like a gag," says Marchena. "If you were at a party, and someone starts playing a song, and then another person jumps in, and they get this spontaneous duet going ... it's like that, but there are 20 or 30 people who all know the song perfectly."

For all the challenge, it can be an enlightening experience.

"You have to be so perfect when you play classical," Pabon reflects. "There's a tension that goes with that. Playing this music has helped me get away from that. I've been loving all my music playing much more; I'm much freer."

For TALZTOP, it goes deeper than the music.

"With all of these people from all of these different walks of life, what's amazing to me is how we all get along," Mercier remarks. "You get 18-20 people on stage, and we're all walking off after, talking to each other, smiling. You don't see that in four-person bands sometimes."

Pabon concurs. "As we've gotten to know each other as a group and started to play better together, you start to feel people across the group. I can feel Steve, and I can feel Michael, and I can feel Terry."

"It's like a little - not that little! - family," says Grassino.

As with all families, there's a bit of discord; everyone seems to have a different favorite song to play.

"'Achilles Last Stand,'" says Mercier. "No wait, 'Four Sticks.'"

"'Baby Come on Home,'" says Evans.

"'When the Levee Breaks,'" offers MacCallum.

"The tune we're playing right now," says Marchena with a smile.

The Acoustic Led Zeppelin Tribute Orchestra Project will be playing at the Orpheum Theater, 1 School St., Foxboro, on Saturday, July 11, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. They may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1740128.

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