This is the fourth year for New Music Gathering, a summit of composers and musicians that work in the classically-trained, contemporary music sphere. I am neither a composer nor a musician; there appears to be a small handful of us “other”. (I am accustomed to being part of the “other”, part of my punk ethos.) This year, the Boston Conservatory at Berklee is hosting the event. (I am a huge, life-long, Red Sox fan, which has no bearing on anything, except I am watching a game on TV as I type this.)
The morning of Day 1 began with a short, maybe 60-second, introduction and welcome, then bang! the first musical exercise. Stephen Miles, of Sarasota Florida, introduced us to his idea for “social virtuosity”. (Go ahead, say, “Sarasota” aloud; there’s hardly a better oral sensation.) This is not a virtuosity of performance; it is a virtuosity of listening and participating. Try to take in the whole. “Pitch Chess”, designed for anyone who wants to participate, is an exercise that governs space, movement, and sound.
A center line (blue tape) is marked across the stage, the “central flame”. Every participant begins on the center line, singing the same tone. Then, consider a grid; each participant may choose to move downstage (towards the audience) or upstage, or move stage left or stage right. If the participant moves downstage, they must sing a higher note; upstage a lower note. If someone moves between a higher note and the center line, then they must sing a note in between. Et cetera.
I did not sing. (Even though Stephen implored us that the participant does not need to be “a singer”, I was spared due to space constraints of the room, and wily maneuvering farther and farther back, behind everyone else.)
Interestingly, individual personalities come out. One person might test their range, moving downstage, and then all the way back upstage. I noted a woman, with pink hair, continually moving downstage, downstage, downstage; showing off the high range.
Even from the back of the room, this is an immersive experience. Fun!
(I’m skipping a lot of content, hitting those things that I want to address this evening.)
Helga Davis gave the keynote address. Danny Felsenfeld introduced her, saying she once delivered a version of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” that fit today.
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
A long way from “Sweet Jane”, but I love that song, damn, could Lou Reed write a line.
It was an odd keynote, in that, Helga did not lecture, really, as much as ask questions and solicit audience participation.
Helga finished the hour with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”; while I cannot reproduce that for you, imagine a song, any song, close your eyes, and imagine what she might do with your song:
Lou Reed is never far from my consciousness, and I cannot get him out of my mind now. Let’s take a break and listen to this.
Finally, I happened to meet Dean Rosenthal. He gave me a flier, a composition, for you, me, everyone, anyone to perform. Check out this piece at www.stonespiece.com. There’s taste of the fluxus movement going on here, a breath of Yoko Ono. Cool guy. Cool idea.
I feel like we need a third song, at least, to close the article. NMG put Lou Reed in my mind, so let’s listen to a Velvet Underground song, except, sort of honoring Helga Davis, let’s listen to the fucked-up version by Cowboy Junkies.
[A quick note about the lead photo. I came into Boston a day early and hung out with my nephew, who lives here. I snapped a photo of a seemingly appropriate book that I bought.]
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