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Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - Contemporary Again

by Gillian Ellis

Last March, Alarm Will Sound (AWS), a 20-piece band committed to innovative performance and one of the country’s premier exponents of modern music, played to a packed hall in Varner. They almost certainly opened the ears and minds of many of our young musicians.

David Mety, a double major in percussion performance and music education, says he had heard contemporary music played on percussion at conferences before but never live on mixed instrumentation. Shortly after the AWS concert he approached Assistant Professor Miles Brown, who plays bass with the AWS, to ask about finding a forum to play that kind of music on campus. “I’m pretty sure other people did too,” says David.

As a result, this summer semester Contemporary Music Ensemble (MUE 365) ran at OU for the first time in several years. Throughout the semester a group of musicians, under the direction of Miles Brown, prepared works for a June 26 recital that showcased four premieres.

Composer and OU Technical Coordinator Terry Herald played guitar with the group and also contributed his original composition Partials Dancing. Kevin Naeve, a master's student, had his music IS0 featured and played saxophone and piano. Student Sean Parks’ music Echoes from a Parallel World was also on the program. Sean played bassoon and clarinet in the concert. Other musicians included Daniel Head on trumpet, Jenine Lawson Brown on violin, David Mety, Shannon Pelletier-Doyle and Jesse Durrell Gibbs playing percussion, with Tiffany Palmer on percussion and voice.

But the piece de la résistance of the evening, and the class, was the world premiere of Sun, Moon, Earth by world-renowned contemporary composer Robert D. Morris. Professor Morris is familiar with the work of Alarm Will Sound, many of whose members attended Eastman School of Music where he is chair of the composition department. He was gracious enough to rework the piece to fit the instrumentation of the OU class after sign up was complete.

Even so, the piece was really not well suited to Terry Herald’s instrument, the guitar. “Everything is in a pattern of five,” Terry explained. “Five pitches are sustained simultaneously from different instruments so they can be heard together.” Terry played with an e-bow to get a sustained sound on his guitar.

Sun, Moon, Earth is the sixth in a series of Morris compositions meant to be played outside, with the audience free to wander among the musicians and approach close to them, if they want to. On June 26, the piece was played after intermission to allow time for instruments to be moved outside. Because of the outdoor location, the experience of hearing Sun, Moon, Earth will never be exactly the same twice. David Mety says that certain aspects of the performance are intentionally left to chance. “There might be birds chirping or leaves rustling or not.”

“It is,” says Miles, “an exploration of sound in an open space.” The weather was perfect for the outdoor section of the concert and the ensemble was delighted that Professor Morris made the journey to Michigan to be on hand for the premiere. "I wanted to be here for the students," he said.

If you missed this performance you can still hear the new again OU Contemporary Music Ensemble play this summer. They will perform their program, including Sun, Moon, Earth, in the garden at Meadow Brook Hall on August 28, at 6 pm, as part of The Hall’s Twilight Tuesday Series. Find information at (248) 364-6263 or here.  There could hardly be a more perfect location to enjoy any kind of music.

And be reassured! Addressing the apparently challenging nature of contemporary composition Terry Herald said, “If you think you don’t understand the music, then you get more than you think!”

Photos: Upper: Left to right: Robert Morris, Sean Parks, Daniel Head, Tiffany Palmer, Kevin Naeve, Miles Brown, David Mety, Shannon Pelletier-Doyle, Terry Herald, Jesse Durrell Gibbs and Jenine Lawson Brown. Photo by Gillian Ellis.
Lower: Terry Herald's marked score of
Sun, Moon, Earth, with permission of Robert D. Morris.