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January 23, 2001

Lagniappe - An Unexpected Gift

A Review by Pat Pinson

On Thursday January 11, the South Alabama Music Faculty presented a "Chamber Music Concert of the Gulf Coast" full of imagery and finesse.  This program was wide ranging in its styles from jazz to Ravel to the premier of a new work.  But whatever it attempted, this faculty pulled it off with aplomb, apparently ready for their Carnegie Hall performance on the 15th.

It opened with the iridescent colors of jazz -- alto sax and flute over the basic sounds of keyboard and percussion in a work composed by Frank Clark, chair of the Department.  The laid back, casual entrances of the performers onto the stage when their part came in suggested a little different evening in recital hall.  Formal black concert attire was only the frame for a kaleidoscope of colorful works.

The Creston Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (played at breakneck speed in places) was clean and exciting, as was Schocker's Airborne for flute and piano.   The Ravel works were the earliest compositions on this modern program and Linda Zoghby's rich mezzo made the three Greek songs resonate with the golds and reds of a Mediterranean afternoon.  The vocalise of the third song floated airborne easily above the motion in the piano.

The Toccata by Owen Middleton (who was present in the audience) blazed and stormed through the entire gamut of the piano performed by Jerry Alan Bush with power and intensity.  There were especially nice effects of voicing and pedal in this work.  Robert Holm's performance of the other piano work captured the washes of sound of the water sprite in Ravel's Ondine, especially apropos in the reference to the coast.

The premier of the Anderson work A Sensation of Music: Works by Walter Anderson by Dee and Frank Clark, was innovative and actually the most effective presentation of the works of Mississippi Coast artist Walter Anderson that I have seen.  The ensemble included all the performers as well as the art projected by the computer.  Divided into three movements, the first was an easy going allegretto to the images of still lifes and flowers which turned, dissolved, fragmented or rippled from one image into another.  The night-music of the second movement was reminiscent of Bela Bartok's use of night sounds and actually used a nature sound track with piano and percussion to the blips of frogs on the screen.  The final movement used Anderson's poem, "Invisible Music" to the forms of animals.  The imagery and the music were so correlated that they seemed to be extensions of each other, and as in the greatest collaborations, each rose to a higher plane through the pairing.

Unfortunately there were no program notes to identify the performers or explain who Walter Anderson was.  Even some comments during the intermission would have helped and not compromised the professionalism of the performance.

This visionary faculty not only performs well and pushes itself to compete on an international level, it creates and embraces a broader perspective that weaves it into the fabric of real life outside of the rarefied air of a university department.  What a shame that departments which have so much in common get so lost in the rigors of skill building that such breadth of vision is often lost.  This music was intensely visual from the jazz opening to the stormy atonality and hard-edged primary colors of Middleton's Toccata to the cool color washes of Ravel's water imagery.  Pulling the entire evening together was the tour-de-force of sound and sight in the work based on Anderson's art.

The nose to the grindstone of specialization policy that seemed necessary to compete in today's world has created people who have lost the ability to see associations, and not recognize the power that an idea can have in other forms.  For so long, we have recognized the importance of building math skills but haven't seen the obvious connection in teaching young children to play the keyboard -- which brings home spatial and numerical ratios through touch and sound, and elevates math test scores.  We want business executives to be creative in their use of resources and programs, but we don't teach them how to create by placing kids in front of a blank canvas and told to look at an object from ten different viewpoints.  The arts are vital to development and effective professional growth in a variety of fields.  If all knowledge were a diamond, then art and music and math and biology and literature and economics are all facets of the same thing.  We are all working toward the same knowledge, just from different perspectives.  It would behoove us to collaborate more often.

So Bravo!  This music faculty not only has skill and musicality, it has vision.


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