Your Culture for the Year

 

Sometimes I finish a gig and couldn’t be more relieved to put the experience behind me. Either the music didn’t offer much challenge or depth, or the overall experience felt like one of those “phone-it-in” engagements you grit your teeth and agree to take to fill the schedule gaps. I’m glad to say that on Friday, as we sang our final Consolation of Apollo chords at the Perot Museum, I was already looking forward to the next time I get to sing this program.

This piece has been with the choir the longest of any of our programs this year, and it’s dense. A high level of complexity (read: difficulty), rich poetry and text, and unusual musical material led us on a path of continual improvement and discovery. With the added layer of performing this piece in spaces where we and the audience felt immersed in the experience and sound, this program latched itself to my imagination.

The Perot hosts their Social Science event every few months for adults to meander the exhibits with drink in hand while reconnecting with their inner chemistry/biology/astronomy nerd unencumbered by littles on field trips . Or just dancing the night away on the first floor and taking selfies with the giant Alamosaurus skeleton. No judgement. Sam met with the Perot last year about the possibility of performing in one of their exhibits, and, as we walked the bass drum in through the loading dock door, he mused, “I can’t believe I talked to them almost a year ago about this, and tonight it’s actually happening.”

As one of our primary goals is to reach and rope in a younger audience that may know little to nothing about the choral art, we wanted to focus on the marketing opportunity that this event offered. Around two thousand adults - most in the 21-40 age bracket - attended this sold out event. We created a social media scavenger hunt (in order to get people to connect with us online), had our most successful email haul of any event, and - most importantly - wore some swanky blue t-shirts with our logo in shiny copper print. When we weren’t singing, we were tasked with handing out 4x4 cards (beautifully designed by Sam, he’s getting handy with print marketing) with our name, social media handles, and scavenger hunt instructions. Alex Bumpas, in his usual bombastic style, recruited listeners with the promise that this could count as their culture for the year.

We sang three performances in the Expanding Universe Hall at 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 - “on the thirties” as we were telling passing guests. As soon as Alex thwacked the bass drum for the start of movement 5 (Sam told him to really go for it and he really did, our second performance drew a surprised yelp from the crowd), an audience - some standing, some milling past - packed into the relatively small exhibit. Some even looking down from the balcony above to get a glimpse. By contract, we could only sing ten minutes of music at a time, so for each performance we sang movements five, two, and seven with the hopes that movement five (loud, rhapsodic) would catch their attention, movement two (horizontal, dialogue-driven) would make them listen deeply, and that movement seven (velvety, serene) would capture their hearts.

Far from the highly controlled environment of a formal concert, it was an exercise in focus amidst chaos. The space exhibit has an ambient sound track that is almost impossible to turn off and in C major, an unhelpful tonality when dealing with our key signatures of four or five flats. There was constant crowd noise that only grew as the night went on. Members of the crowd were taking flash photos. Several of the shot glasses provided by Jack Daniels, the evening’s sponsor, met a shattered demise on the hard museum floor. And amidst it all, we sang with a life-affirming freedom afforded by the buzzing (and for most guests, buzzed) atmosphere.

Our ever faithful photographer, Dickie Hill, was in attendance, and I’m sure you will see the fruit of his diligence on our various social media platforms this week. I usually tour you through his work in these posts, but, in keeping with the immediacy and spontaneity of that evening, your window into our evening at the Perot will come through the lenses of the various smartphones and social media feeds in attendance. Check it out.

 
Erinn Sensenig