Performing As Art
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been discussing how my recent adventures in music performance have engendered growth in my compositional vision and in my ability to advocate for myself. Before finally moving on to other topics, I’d like to consider one additional advantage I’ve reaped from this focus on playing live music: an enhanced connection to other art disciplines.
I’ve always been fascinated by the visual and literary arts—yes, I’m one of those people who has, in the words of Michael Cunningham, “swooned over sentences” (just as I trust that writers exist who have leapt with joy at harmonies)—and I consider music an integral part of the greater intellectual community. I frequently garner creative sparks for new pieces from works in other disciplines, and I find that the obsessions of non-musical thinkers often can provide incredibly fertile soil for germinating compositional ideas. Despite this willingness to engage with visual art works, I’d felt stymied in my abilities to collaborate across fields. On those few occasions when I’d been able to work with poets, choreographers, and visual artists, the relative slowness with which I compose had forced me away from true co-creation into an ultimately unsatisfactory exchange of final products. Instead of collaborative works, we found ourselves piecing together completed ideas from our different home fields in hopes that the juxtapositions might somehow create a coherent whole.
My current engagement with performing began as a way of overcoming these barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration. By responding to artistic impetuses with sounds that I was able to physically produce in the moment, I was able to share in the genesis of installations and events. My music became an integral part of the process of conceiving these artworks and the resulting creations felt truly collaborative. Currently, I’m happily working towards a September gallery opening at which I’ll be directing a team of musicians as we perform on a water-based gallery-sized installation by Baltimore artist Katherine Kavanaugh. As you can see from these photographs, the visuals will be stunning!
I’m finding that thinking as a performer in these types of situations can be liberating. If I were thinking solely as a composer, at this moment I would be physically nauseous at the thought of having about two months to produce an hour-long composition on an instrument that doesn’t exist yet. As a performer, I’m looking forward to exploring new sounds that can’t possibly exist in the concert hall and to interacting with an audience of art lovers in a unique setting. As an artist, I’m very excited to be able to create a new piece in collaboration with someone whose work I greatly admire, and I’m thankful that my newfound path has led me to these sorts of opportunities.