More ideas

This comes from Michael Gilliland, whom I’ve met on Twitter. I asked him to tell me more about something he tweeted, and this e-mail was the result. I’m copying it here with his permission, of course. You’ll see that he starts with something the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Symphony did — which sounds just marvelous — and goes on to ideas of his own.

Thanks so much, Michael!

One event in which I was a participant was fun, and engaging for the young people in attendance. This event was staged by one of Arkansas’ regional orchestras the Fort Smith Symphony, which is one group in which I am a member. This was for a series called “EarQuake” and is presented to about 5,000 elementary age students in the greater Fort Smith region and Northwest Arkansas each year. For the one particular EarQuake performance our former Composer in Residence Michael Schelle composed a work for the orchestra that would include audience participation. The orchestra performed a base for which the elementary students would then play their part.
The elementary students performed on a variety of sound producing items. Some were toys, while others were toy instruments, and many other devices. One might think of this as Musique Concrete meets Schroeder’s toy piano meets Ancient Samurai movie score meets Wham-O, as in Frisbee, Hula-Hoops, Sound hose (YouTube Video). The end of the video shows the fun an adult might have with a car and a large sound hose.
With all of the above we had a young audience, a full symphony, a composer with some pre-scored music, tons of toys and sound-making things, and the composer lead the elementary students in playing on top of his pre-scored music during the live performance. One interesting aspect was the some students just made noise with their toy instruments, giggled a lot, and had fun. Other students seemed to try and make music on top of what the orchestra was playing. One could occasionally hear long melodies coming from a student or two, or those with the sound hoses would spin faster and slower making intervalic leaps that at times seemed quite tonal within the framework of the pre-scored music by Schelle. It was actually entertaining for the kids and for the orchestra.
My thought that I mentioned via Twitter getting the audience involved with snippets they think of and then provide to the orchestra is one that pops in my head occasionally. The thought is to have an orchestra, and a composer and have the audience throw out musical snippets that are in their head. Doesn’t matter what the snippet is and could be from any genre to include baroque, classical, rock and roll, or whatever. The goal would be to develop these snippets into a musical work via the composer. Of course, this would not be an historic work but a short work to try and keep this something that could be done on a normal performance evening.
Maybe this should be thought of as Composition Night were the audience brings their musical snippets and a new work is created. Multimedia could be used to show the development of the work on large screens in the auditorium as the composer works magic on paper or computer. The end product would be a work of musical interjections and maybe even a recording as most symphony house have recording capabilities in house.
Not a fleshed-out thought, but maybe the beginning of something fun for all.
I have also thought about something similar to some movies where the audience used to choose how the movie ended. The audience would choose between three or four different endings and that would be the one performed. Maybe an audience could be provided with different endings and they choose via vote while enjoying their time just prior to the performance.
One final thought would be the use of “choice” devices where audience members press a button or different buttons. Depending on which button is pressed or the order in which the buttons are pressed the music evolves based upon those choices.
This regional symphony in Arkansas is always looking for something new to try and engage, or bring forward those that might not normally attend a performance. After I left the Air Force Band I happened upon this group and found all involved to not be the norm that one sees in the symphony world. It is a per-service regional group and all of us play in many groups or teach are various universities, but it has to be the friendliest group of people in music I have come across over the years.

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  1. Ian says

    I love this. I’d be interested to hear more about how the orchestral players responded. In my experience, these sorts of programs work best when the orchestra play with as much committment as they would when approaching Mahler and don’t just write it off, mentally, as a kiddies’ concert.

  2. says

    Very interesting! Regarding various sound effects, does anyone remember the PDQ Bach ‘Concerto for Horn and Hardart’? Peter Schikele incorporated many of these sounds into this piece. It was attractive to audiences of all ages, and very clever.

  3. says

    In Leeds a couple of years ago I saw adverts at the playhouse for a participatory youth theatre production where the audience could send sms messages to the stage and the actors would respond, weaving the fragment or stage move into the audience.

    How about SMS messages with chords or notes? Rhythm changes? Filter through a moderator and have them scrolling…

  4. Jonathan says

    About 2 years ago, the Chicago Sinfonietta commissioned and premiered a cell phone concerto from jazz master composer David Baker. During the first part of the piece, a “cell phione concertist” had solos with specifically chosen phones and ringtones. At the climax of the piece, everyone in the audience contributed ringtones to an exhilarating mass of sounds.

  5. Michael Gilliland says

    Just catching up on this thread. Thanks Greg for posting the information about the Fort Smith Symphony.

    Ian, you asked about how the orchestral players responded to the work. Out of the many groups in which I have performed this group is probably the most open about trying “new” works. Yes, will always be the dissenters as I am sure all have experienced. This particular band has a flow of young musicians just starting to cut their teeth in the professional world, along with several of us “been around the bush” players.

    One thing that I believe is important with the Fort Smith Symphony is that it all flows from the top. Huge support and young ideas from the conductor, the board, the community at large, and many within the band. It is an organization willing to take a “well crafted” chance and has an extremely strong base of support.

    For myself, I am always looking for performances of new works, and most likely something eclectic. The “classics” are wonderful and always enjoyable. But isn’t it nice to taste something a bit raw and spicy sometimes? I think so.

    I think of performances much like I would like to see my music shoppes. I would love to walk in the door, rummage through the bin, and find something other than Beethoven 5, 7 or 9. I would love to to unexpectedly exclaim, “Ooooo … I haven’t heard of this work … and by THAT orchestra”.

    It is difficult to satisfy and quench the thirst of all in the audience with every work that is programmed. There are gambles to take, gambles from which we learn, and some that surprise us. I liked to be surprised.