Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Music of North Side Spaces Recap

It's over! Music of North Side Spaces was a great success, and a personal triumph. If you missed it, here's a play-by-play of what happened, with some pho-toes to accompa-knee your reading. Tee hee.

New Hazlett Theater
The tour began at the New Hazlett Theater, with a ‘tour guide’ presentation by Danny Bracken, a coworker at Mattress Factory. The first piece of the tour was inspired by the New Hazlett building itself, which was built as Andrew Carnegie’s first library of Pittsburgh. All words in the piece came directly from Andrew Carnegie's writings, spoken/sung by four singers up on the balcony of the lobby. Three percussionists were stationed at typewriters, books, and rhythmically tearing papers. Much to the tour’s delight, a passing thunderstorm ended just as the tour headed outside.

Children’s Museum
At the Children's Museum/old Buhl Planetarium, we moved portable sound equipment outside for a performance inspired by old historical exhibit titles from the Planetarium and texts carved on the side of the building. For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars/For one star differeth from another start in glory. Beautiful! Three singers (also known as the band Wungsten, I don't know if you know them but you should, they're huge in Japan) played glockenspiels and electric bass while singing. One additional percussionist was placed about 50 feet away, playing antiphonal chimes, like distant stars and galaxies.

Aviary/Allegheny Commons
Two instrumentalists played birdsong-inspired improvisations near the Aviary. The audience walked along the trail through the park and was delighted to find the musicians located not on the ground but nestled up in the trees! I think this was a lot of people's favorite piece, short but very effective in presentation. It was not easy trying to stay up on those tree limbs, or so I heard from B and K playing soprano sax and flute. Sorry 'bout that. Thank goodness I didn't write the piece for instruments any bigger.

Lake Elizabeth

A brass quintet played at Lake Elizabeth, complete with frolicking kayakers in conjunction with Venture Outdoors' free kayaking program.The quintet began their music near the War Memorial, but marched while playing to the island of the lake, with one musician entering the water to play! I really wanted all the musicians to trudge down into the water, but wouldn't you know, over the course of the last couple months, all this algae grew on the stones in the "lake" (more like a man-made pond) that wasn't there when I tested out the space. Luckily one player had enough time in his music to hop down, and his two sons were kayaking right by him. It was a pretty great sight. The music was inspired by a music pavilion in North Park, torn down after the early 1900's. I also borrowed an idea from Pittsburgh ethnic groups who used to form small bands and would play Eastern European folk music in the park. The brass quintet had melodies of Czech folk songs and polkas as well as a snippet of chords from Billy Strayhorn's jazz songs. (We're missing our second trumpeter in this photo, but we do get more kayaks in the frame).

Mattress Factory
The final performance at Mattress Factory was constructed like one of the museum’s multimedia installations, and the music was an abstract tour of the collection. MF staff helped me create a small stage with colored lighting and amazing textured fabric, and I placed several ladders and musical instruments around the floor to interact with. I sang the vocal part of the work, but two singers and four improvisers also played found instruments and enthusiastically recited lists of art objects in the museum (One thousand bars of pink soap! Liquid gardenia scent! Medieval battle reenactors! Salt!). This piece finally let me make my dream of singing quasi-pop music (with an experimental twist) with a backing string quartet...pretty glamorous. 'Course, I also got to run up ladders, play a music box, a melodica, and dance around. By the time the tour reached Mattress Factory, we had a hundred people in the audience, much more than I ever anticipated! It was also about 90 degrees that day and I sweated through several shirts...but the audience seemed content, even through the heat.

I certainly learned a lot from Music of North Side Spaces, especially about grant-writing, budget-planning, rehearsal planning, and logistics. A Memo to Me: always hire anyone you want to document the work, it will be totally worth shelling out the cash and not having to worry about getting good photos or video. It was a great project, and I should have a CD release of some of the music at some point. Now I can't wait for working in Iceland, where culture is so intertwined with nature that you can't possibly walk outside without being affected by the landscape, right in your backyard.

(all photo credits: Magali Duzant.)

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