Music filled every corner of the Weeks Gallery on February 18 as three of JCC’s faculty members played two short improvisational compositions in response to some of the pieces in the Warhol Effect display. Neil Flory, Assistant Professor of Music and Coordinator for the music program at JCC, Justin March, Instructor of Reading and coordinator for the developmental studies program, and Bill Eckstrom, Adjunct Instructor of Music, created striking soundscapes with the piano, bass, and percussion, practically forcing all who attended to experience both the visual art and the music in surprising new ways.
Piece One: Individuality
For the first short musical piece performed, the musicians purposefully played very different pieces at the same time. Each musician chose an image in the gallery that grabbed his attention and responded to it musically. They didn’t discuss their choices beforehand, but by pure chance Neil Flory and Bill Eckstrom both chose Andy Warhol’s Truck, while Justin March channeled Piotr Szyhalski’s propaganda-inspired prints, We Are Working All the Time. The sounds created and the tempos used suggested a sort of tonal madness coming from the instruments. Chaotic notes flew through the air, aggressively burrowing inside the minds of the audience. The musicians did not try to harmonize or blend, and I could easily pick out each instrument as it was played. After the improvisation composition was finished, the musicians stressed how hard it had been for them not to play along with each other. Musicians usually aim to harmonize with each other and correct issues when something’s amiss, and the concept of discord seemed to be new. Having been involved with concert and marching band for nine years, I understood the musicians’ struggle.
Piece Two: Collectivity
For the second short composition, all of the musicians responded to Warhol’s portrait of Sitting Bull, a Native American leader from the late 1800s. Again, they had not rehearsed ahead of time, and each improvised and responded to the piece in his own way. This time, though, it was possible to discern a definite tone and an overall mood created by the music. The slow tempo and soft notes conjured by the bass and piano were accompanied by the soft yet abrupt beat of the drums, creating the sensation of a tribal meeting occurring right in the gallery. The musicians let their emotions shape their musical interpretations of the piece. After the composition was completed, the three discussed how they had drawn from Sitting Bull’s personal history and the persecution of Native Americans during that time period. They each tried to represent the somberness of the image in their notes.
The event forced the audience to reflect on the images in front of them. I enjoyed seeing how musicians can express emotions of joy and sadness through patterns and notes. The audience was captivated by the musicians’ interpretations, and the event was a great success. I look forward to events in the near future like the JCC Juried Student Art and Design Exhibition, opening on April 23!