In C

I went to a performance last night headed by Jim Olsen and the A3 school in Springfield, OR; they were performing Terry Riley's "In C" along with student compositions based on Elliot Carter's "8 Etudes and a Fantasy", performed by a woodwind trio.

The student compositions were rad. The impetus for writing the piece was given by Jim Olsen through giving each student the Elliot Carter score, a recording, and an analysis; they then had to generate an idea for an original piece using the Carter piece's orchestration techniques as a model. Rad. Hearing music that is so inherently exploratory and not-so-serious is always a great time.

They then followed up with a mega-ensemble of "In C", celebrating it's 50th anniversary to the day, with strings, winds, brass, voices, electric instruments, and even a visual artist taking part.  "In C" is both constantly becoming something as well as coming away from what it was before, and the visual art really accented that to me; the soundscape being so transient and the visuals so static in comparison, being able to see into the past as we watched her layer colors on top of themselves. More striking to me, and I can only assume this is because I followed the national election coverage on NPR the whole way down from Portland, was how democratic (in our governmental sense) this piece was in performance.

As I watched, at many times I saw, whether overt or not, a distinct change in what people played or how people played based on what someone else was doing, particularly in the voices. At first, when the aural diversity is so limited by design, it was easy to hear what was going on, as people "agreed" on what they were playing, but as the piece went on, people would jump in with their gritty new tonality. There was an inevitability with how these loops came, like an infection; the other performers had a choice to change or to remain, but inevitably joined up in the ranks. You would hear one totally "out" note in the wash of C major, and bit by bit, new instruments would pick it up: clarinet, bass, saxophone, trumpet; there were many points in the voices where one vocalist would come in LOUD with their loop and all of a sudden, it would grow and grow as the majority of the eleven voices joined, and what was at first the quietest sound in the ensemble became dominant, almost even challenging the omnipresent glockenspiel.

It's reminiscent to me how when a population become so loud that they are finally heard, a movement begins to take hold, like women's suffrage, African-American civil rights, or in my lifetime, LGBT rights. Slowly at first, but with a sense of inevitability. Not that these things simply occurred; more and more voices joined in and changed what was once "how the world was" with a hope of how it might be into what it is, and all of a sudden there is this realization that the conversation has finally changed and that this change is inevitable.

A big thanks to Jim Olsen and the A3 school for performing such intriguing and relevant work. Concerts like this make me excited to be a musician and to perform new music more. I wish that my high school had been as ambitious as yours!