Among the concert frenzy that made up my trip to New York this week was the big closing event of the Tune-In Music Festival, a performance of Inuksuit by composer John Luther Adams. I have been an avid admirer of his music and his beautiful writings for many years, and as a former percussionist, I couldn’t possibly resist the urge to hear 72 percussionists (!) perform this expansive work in the Park Avenue Armory. Although I knew this was going to be a great show, I was happily caught off guard by how completely glorious the event turned out to be!
Numerous friends and colleagues have been breathlessly recounting their personal experiences of Inuksuit, and it has been wonderful to hear the many insights and ideas that emerged as a result of being engulfed in a sea of percussion for 85 minutes. Favorite moments of my own included wandering into a “sweet spot” in the space during a particularly intense section of drumming on bass drums, tom-toms, and other skins. I immediately got goose bumps (I enjoyed several episodes of goose bumps, which to me is a clear sign of something very excellent in progress) and felt as if I were being showered by invisible ping-pong balls. Another particularly beautiful time was the transition between waves of drumming and thundering gongs into a magically sparkling section of glockenspiels, triangles, and piccolos, which, timed perfectly with the changes of light outside as dusk set in, evoked a sonic portrayal of stars emerging after sunset.
But what struck me most was the spirit—the sense of community and goodwill engendered by this event. Many listeners wandered throughout the space, stopping occasionally to quietly inspect the percussionists and their stations of instruments sprinkled throughout the drill hall, both on the ground floor and in the balconies. Others plopped down on the floor to listen, while some enjoyed the sounds and sights from chairs around the periphery of the space. There were, from what I could see, over three generations of the new music community represented (including numerous people from out of town as well as very small members-to-be!), and those walking through the space could been seen encountering familiar faces and silently exchanging big smiles or warm hugs and moving on the enjoy the sounds in progress. The thought kept popping into my head that this is what a musical event ought to be; not only an inspired performance of an expansive work of art, but one that can potentially, within that pocket of time and space, create a small universe for audience and performers. One of the greatest strengths of John Luther Adams is his ability to remind us through his music that the world is indeed a sacred space to be cherished and treated with the utmost respect, and expressing that concept so powerfully in the heart of any big city is an accomplishment that I am honored and astounded to have witnessed.