November Program Report
If you weren't at First Presbyterian Chapel on Wednesday, November 6th for our monthly meeting, you missed something unique and special. How often do we get the chance to get acquainted with a new instrument - in the hands of a master?
Our performers were Greg Howard, Chapman Stick (his internet 'handle' is 'Stickist', and does he ever deserve it) and Angela Kelly, flutist. Their program, "Alpha and Omega: Connecting Instruments through Time," was an informance in the best sense: a lecture-demonstration with a light touch. Greg invited us all into the world of the Chapman Stick and its versatility in tandem with one of the world's most venerable and ancient instruments: the flute.
Greg Howard - who studied English at UVA - was a marvelous musical guide, introducing us to the history of his 'axe.' The Chapman Stick is an innovative electric stringed instrument using a two-handed tapping method developed by Stick inventor and builder Emmett Chapman in the late 1960s. He explained and demonstrated his intimate connection to the instrument, which is held against the body in a long diagonal. It can be plucked or tapped in a combination of techniques. Each hand does everything independently. The instrument is fretted like a guitar, and fully chromatic, but has no visual references like the black and white keys on a piano. It is unusually tuned, with one set of strings like a backwards cello in fifths (including a low C like on a double bass), with a second set of strings in fourths, with a range of 5+ octaves.
Greg opened with a Renaissance lute medley of music by Adrian LeRoy and Vincenzo Galilei (the father of the great artist and inventor) to give us a sense of the instrument as a solo voice. Angela Kelly joined him for the 'Winter' Concerto slow movement theme from Vivaldi's
The Four Seasons
. Next up was a lovely arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for flute and Chapman Stick.
Our artists then switched gears for a Brazilian tune - Luiz Bonf
theme from the film
. Greg demonstrated his background as a jazz saxophonist with a splendid improvisation on the Stick.
Next he noted that, like many composers for new-ish instruments, he's written his own pieces for Chapman Stick (as well as making arrangements), since there's so little literature for Chapman Stick. His next selection, "A Charmed Life," included a filler-transition lick used by NPR. His original piece was a free riff with surprisingly complex textures.
Angela Kelly rejoined him for a medley of 'Greensleeves' and 'My Favorite Things' that morphed into a free improvisation on the Rodgers tune.
Howard's most impressive number (to this listener, anyway) was
, written by a Polish guitarist who wrote for films in East Germany in the 1960s. This piece had an accompaniment (left hand) in 5/4 time and a melody in 4/4 time. I was gobsmacked: this guy is a real virtuoso, and a tremendously accomplished musician.
Angela Kelly rejoined Greg for the final numbers, based on traditional Christmas carols: "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Carol of the Bells." Their imaginative arrangements incorporated attractive elements of jazz. Extended and well-deserved applause greeted the pair at the conclusion. Quite a few WMC members made a beeline for the front, where Greg and Angela had several of their CDs available for purchase. "That was
" several people exclaimed to me. I couldn't agree more!
---Laurie Shulman, Program Chair