One piece involves playing flowerpots. Another takes children’s letters and sets them to music by a soprano and a percussionist. And one of the longest compositions is a free improvisation whose musical inspiration comes from the sight of audience members painting on a person.
Welcome to the new world of new music, in which sound serves as the palette and the audience creates with the performers rather than merely listens.
The Resound Duo, Baylor University graduate students Tyson and Jennifer Voigt, will give Waco listeners a taste of such new music Saturday night when the married couple and several musical friends perform an evening of original and improvised music at Croft Art Gallery.
She sings soprano while he plays percussion — anything from the marimba to, well, flowerpots — and the lack of music written for that pairing ultimately proved more freeing than confining.
“We were shocked by how little repertory there was,” recalled Jennifer, 26, who holds an undergraduate degree in music education with a master’s in vocal performance.
Their solution? Ask friends to write for them and compose pieces of their own. That proved a learning experience from both sides of the fence. Percussionists accustomed to writing works more with an ear for rhythm and variation had to think about exploring the flexible tone of the human voice and phrasing their music so the strong syllables of a text fell on accented beats.
As a vocalist used to singing with the support of piano, Jennifer found herself “very exposed” when the only backing she got was a cymbal, drum or string bass or when she was called on to improvise in tone or volume.
That taste of new work led the Voigts to take the next step and form an ensemble from like-minded Baylor music students, the renew music group, said the 25-year-old Tyson. The Voigts’ Resound Duo evolved from that.
“This duo is something no one else has done,” said Tyson, who also combines a music education undergraduate degree with a graduate degree in performance.
They found support in Baylor associate professor of composition Scott McAllister, professor of musicology Jean Boyd and assistant professor of percussion Todd Meehan. Meehan, in fact, had experience in creating new musical groups. He was a founding member of the New York-based contemporary percussion ensemble So Percussion and presently plays in the Meehan/Perkins Duo.
Faced with limited job openings in classical music and wanting to stretch the envelope of musical expression, many young musicians are becoming musical entrepeneurs: blazing paths as performers who write or find their own music, plan their concerts and tours and figure how to do it rather than compete for the handful of open symphony positions.
“It’s more mobile, more flexible and more efficient in many ways,” Meehan noted. “I think we’re seeing more and more of this in orchestral situations . . . I think this is a defining moment for classical music in general.”
Younger musicians and composers also are showing an openness to new styles and forms of music and a desire to pull the audience in as collaborators. “Cut Piece,” a performance art piece staged by Baylor art students last fall, in which the audience was invited to cut away clothing worn by the performers, inspired the Voigts to create their own performance work for renew music group, “Casting.”
“Casting” invites audience members to paint two people wrapped in white paper and as they daub and brush color on the paper, musicians improvise on what they see.
Saturday’s concert includes a reprise of “Casting” plus a mix of duet and solo works. The Resound Duo will play Alan Smith’s “Songs of Wandering,” Matt Shaver’s “Songs of Liberation,” a work by Edmund Harzell still being composed as of last week and the duo’s “Children’s Letters To God,” a musical interpretation of a book by that title.
Jennifer will sing Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza III” while Tyson will perform Frederic Rzewski’s “To The Earth,” which features spoken percussion and the aforementioned flowerpots.
Such a concert requires a slightly different mindset, Tyson admitted. “The best advice Dr. Meehan ever gave me was ‘all sounds are music.’“ he said. “It’s important to realize you don’t have to have certain instruments or tones in order to create expressivity.”
Jennifer added, “You don’t have to like everything. We created the program to provide some variety for people.”
The Voigts will leave Waco later this year to start doctoral work in percussion performance and pedagogy at the University of Miami, but will continue to press forward into new music territory. The two presently play for the Trinity Lutheran Church’s praise team and Jennifer finds herself itching to open up the genre of Christian music.
Part of the excitement of a new music program is an anticipation of something unique and distinctive, said Meehan. “We have to come with an openness . . . We know it’s not going to be Mozart or Beethoven, but it will be new and potentially exciting,” he said. “There will be sounds people will be experiencing for the first time.”