Composer, improviser, and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn came up playing country and western music, but her ear eventually led her down a decidedly more singular experimental path. “You’ve got be naked in your mind to be able to play and express yourself—you have to be naked and fearless and that’s not easy, especially the older you get.”
We tried to describe what different instruments looked like and we realized that what we needed was a live concert. There was great concern among the prison administration that the violin was a dangerous instrument. The strings could be turned into a weapon. Emails and phone calls went back and forth for months.
It was shockingly easy to forget, in the midst of the classroom environment, that the majority of the students were serving life sentences for committing horrendous acts. I reminded myself that my goal was to share the joys and mysteries of music making, to try to understand their need for creative expression, and in turn, gain insight into my own personal and artistic motivations.
Imagine a class where every student feels it is a privilege to learn, yearns to participate and be heard, and absorbs all of the material with passionate curiosity. Within the nightmare of incarceration flourished the dream of education, an unabashed, provocative insight into musical meaning and expression.
Electronic music pioneer Laurie Spiegel sees a lot of common ground between the seemingly oppositional aesthetics of folk traditions and the digital realm. But whether she’s creating a computer-realized algorithmic composition, crafting a short piano piece or orchestral score, or jamming on a guitar or a banjo, the most important element in all of her music making is emotional engagement.