Monday, October 8, 2012

Thinking, Talking, and Communicating

Last Tuesday, I attended a "Think Concert". The event was advertised as "an evening of thought, journey, and discovery with sonic slide show". The so called-slide show, in addition to its rather conspicuous trombone pun, refers to a new piece by the Boston-based trombonist and composer Norman Bolter, who also conducted the piece. Bolter's piece comprises several movements, each representing a certain aspect of Bolter's recent visit to St. John's, Newfoundland. The movements  varied in nature from musical representations of the composers emotions to an explicit homage to the St. John's "Boat Concert", where each of the players imitated the sound of a boat horn.

This premier, however, was only the second half of the concert. For the first half of the concert, Bolter spoke to the audience directly and informally in what the program billed as a "Think Concert with sonic prompts". Bolter lectured on art and music as well as philosophy and science. Moreover, he stressed awareness of all of these things and the concept of focusing in the moment.

While it has long been common for the conductor to give a pre-concert talk about the music to be played, Bolter's talk was extraordinarily uncommon. For one, the talk was billed as part of the concert itself, rather than the "pre-concert". Also, Bolter did not even mention the piece to be premiered until the last minute or so of his talk. This concert format represents a new brand of audience inclusion strategy. While many musicians fancy themselves painters of sound on silence, Bolter uses sound to forge links between one mind and the next.

Music, as with all forms of art, is about communication. In order to communicate effectively with his audience, Bolter elected to prepare them for the music, rather than simply playing and being prepared to blame the audience should the piece receive a poor reception. It will be interesting to see if more performers adopt this concert format, especially when for the premier of a piece that audiences may not be able to understand at first glance. Bolter has a small but strong, almost cult-like following in the greater Boston area, and I'll be curious to observe the greater impact of this event.

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