Anansi and the Great Light
A collaboratively composed children’s opera
Photo: Students at Girard College with Nick after an interactive opera workshop.
Image © 2018 David Swanson
Image © 2018 David Swanson
Anansi and the Great Light, produced by The Curtis Institute of Music’s Family Concert Series, explored a new model for community involvement in the creative process. As the composer of the opera and a Community Artist Fellow at Curtis, Nick designed a series of residency workshops that involved students at Girard College in North Philadelphia in every phase of the work’s creation. Girard students directly contributed to the libretto and to the score for Anansi through fun, interactive activities. High school students at Girard designed and created the set for the opera, and elementary school students experienced the opera firsthand, performing as a children’s choir in the role of Nyame, the god of all things. Nick detailed the collaborative creative process for this opera in an article for Curtis’ magazine, Overtones. If you’d like to read more, explore Nick’s article, “Doing Opera.”
Esi and Afia, daughters of Anansi the Spider, worked together to save their father from an unfortunate mishap. Anansi wants to reward the daughter who saved him; only he can’t decide which one was more heroic than the other. The god of all things, Nyame, tries to help Anansi see that his daughters saved him through teamwork and should share the prize; the great light. As Anansi and his daughters argue about who deserves the light, Nyame decides that none of them deserve it since they cannot see the value of sharing. Nyame takes the light to live in the sky for all the world’s creatures to remember how important it is to share. This great light in the sky is the one we call moon.
-Kanika Ambrose, librettist
Image © 2018 Eric Sucar/Penn University Communications
Creative Expression Through Music, a collaboration between the Penn Memory Center (PMC) and the Curtis Institute of Music, is a new, free program for PMC patients experiencing memory change or those with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage dementia. It’s intended to provide participants with a greater understanding of music, fun new tools for interacting through sound, and creative musical experiences that flex their imaginations. Nick developed this curriculum in order to engage participants in collaborative, creative musical experiences and assess their impact on participants’ mood and well-being. The curriculum includes singing, body percussion, drum circles, graphic notation, and group compositions created with a looping pedal. Penn Memory conducted an internal research study on this program that showed improved mood with a high degree of statistical significance. The program also paired PMC participants with Curtis performers and composers to develop collaboratively written works. Curtis performers helped turn PMC participants’ ideas into sound, then Curtis composers helped notated those ideas into larger-scale pieces, working back and forth with PMC participants until their musical visions had been realized. The first year of this program culminated in a concert of these collaboratively composed new works at the Curtis Institute of Music.
For more on Creative Expression Through Music, feel free to read an article in Penn Today that describes the early phases of the program.
Artwork by Emmanuelle Ayrton
Cityscaping is the culmination of years of effort by Nick and The Brass Project to bring engaging, adventurous new music to a wide audience. Nick initiated this commissioning and performance project with a desire to amplify many different composers’ voices, bringing their music to new listeners outside the concert hall. True to that vision, The Brass Project has performed these thirty-two new works in dozens of public concerts across New Mexico and Philadelphia in a variety of non-traditional spaces—public parks, schools, markets, and the like—and premiered twenty-six of these works in an art gallery concert hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as "superb."
Nick asked the composers for Cityscaping to write music they imagined might be performed in a public space, perhaps even outdoors. This imagined scenario of outdoor performances in civic spaces hearkens back to an era when participation in town bands and other forms of civic music was a central part of American culture. Nick also asked that they keep their works short – roughly three minutes in length - in order to showcase today’s wide range of compelling genres in an approachable way. Nick hopes this program can encourage a fresh mode of engagement with new music; you may even think of it as a kind of sonic tasting menu.
The composers who contributed works to this project are all very accomplished and write with beautifully distinct voices. We’re confident you’ll thoroughly enjoy these brief musical offerings. They may even inspire you, encouraging you to further explore the fascinating worlds of chamber brass and contemporary music. To listen, check out The Brass Project’s debut album Cityscaping on CDBaby or your favorite streaming platform.
The Last Lost Space
N. Cameron Britt
Great Globulous Glop
Thread and Tether
Fanfare and Hustle
Aaron Jay Kernis
Fanfare after Color Wheel
Look Both Ways
no gleam, no shadow;
no sound or motion
Composition (in brass)
Motet for Medhbh
(Philadelphia) Sky Sketch
The Oxford Laptop Orchestra (OxLOrk), modeled after the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, is a performance ensemble that operates with six hemispherical speakers and an assortment of digital controllers. Nick co-founded OxLOrk in 2012 with composers Nigel McBride, Dan Jeffries, and Huw Davies. With Nick presiding over its inaugural year, OxLOrk presented five concerts, including a feature at the Barbican Centre in London and a collaboration with Oxford’s Ashmolean Art Museum.
The concept behind OxLOrk is that each player controls musical parameters digitally, in real time, with their laptops and a wide variety of different controllers. Members of the orchestra are trained to code not only new pieces for the ensemble, but also new software instruments that are as musically expressive as possible. OxLOrk performs their music with specially designed hemisphere speakers, which mimic the sonic properties of acoustic instruments and allow listeners to perceive each member of the ensemble as an individual performer. The ensemble seeks to expand the boundaries of concert music and to spark new kinds of creativity--musical, artistic, and intellectual--across Oxford's community.
For more information on OxLOrk, watch Nick’s interview for the Westport Arts Adivsory Committee’s first ever Thinkers, Educators, Artists (TEA) Talk, aired on Connecticut Public Television. Or, listen to BBC Radio Oxford’s interview with Nick and OxLOrk co-founder Dan Jeffries in advance of their first ever concert.