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FreshGrass and R.O.P.E.S Team up for FreshGround

By Alliey Pevay

With FreshGrass around the corner, I am busy readying the campground for festival-goers. I have realized that FreshGround camping has become an important part of the North Adams community since its inception. As a resident of this city, it is exciting to see its culture intertwines with the culture of MASS MoCA and the bluegrass festival. A portion of camping pass proceeds is given to the R.O.P.E.S. program, which in turn provides organization and logistics to operate the campground, while a local sports team often provides concessions. In the past, campers from R.O.P.E.S. have helped lay out campsites in addition to helping FreshGround campers move in their gear.

R.O.P.E.S. is a camp run by local law enforcement and emergency personnel. The acronym stands for “Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-Esteem.” Campers divide into six teams, each led by an officer, and are challenged by low and high ropes courses to encourage teamwork and friendly competition, as well as overcome difficult obstacles physically and mentally.

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Each course has a different objective and a new lesson to be learned. One example of this would be the “Leap of Faith.” This obstacle is a high ropes course in which a camper is hooked to a harness and grounded (via a thick climbing rope) by his or her group leader. A call-and-response communication method is used: a camper starts with, “Team can I trust you?” and the team echoes back, “You can trust us.” “Spotters ready?” comes next, with the leader responding, “Spotters ready.” Finally: “Ready to climb?” and the leader responds, “Climb away.” The camper then begins ascending thirty-five feet up the pegs hammered into a tree until he or she reaches a one square foot platform. Once at the platform, the camper is challenged to leap in an attempt to touch or grab a ball hanging about three feet away before flying back down to the ground.

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As a young camper, I sat on that platform and was too scared to jump, as both my leader and teammates yelled up to me that I would be okay and could make the leap. Eventually someone suggested that I climb back down, and I did so with haste. After one year of R.O.P.E.S., campers may return as mentors who assist leaders in getting the kids through the obstacles. As a mentor, I still was afraid of the aforementioned course, but somehow the campers talked me into putting that harness and helmet back on and trying again. As I reached the platform and gazed down at my team, I was struck again with fear. This time, as my leader picked me up off my feet and scooted me closer to the edge, I heard one camper yell that I would be doing push-ups for the rest of the week if I did not jump. So I laughed and took the plunge and on my way down learned that trust really is key to any relationship.

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As a member of the R.O.P.E.S. program, not only did I learn about teamwork, trust, respect, and all the other usual camp “take-aways,” but having law enforcement officials trust me with campers up in a tree while they set up the next event taught me a great deal about responsibility and accountability as a mentor. This experience gave me the opportunity to take the work I did and use it to form connections through my teenage years and into adulthood. As an intern for FreshGrass I now work with Lieutenant Dave Sacco – who I know well as the head of R.O.P.E.S. – as we map out campsites for the FreshGround area.

R.O.P.E.S. is not only meaningful to me, but to many North Adams families. Having a positive, organic experience with law enforcement has the ability to open the eyes of local youth. The proceeds from each FreshGround camping pass help the program continue growing for years to come, and for that I am grateful.

If you want further information check out R.O.P.E.S.’ website, as well as MASS MoCA’s website for tickets to FreshGrass.

Posted September 10, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, FreshGrass, Interns, North Adams, Uncategorized
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Welcome back, Roomful of Teeth

By Michelle Marrocco

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, Roomful of Teeth is a vocal project dedicated to mining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from non-classical traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning project, invites today’s brightest composers to create a repertoire without borders.
[from roomfulofteeth.org]

Roomful2011Blog

Since its inception (with the exception of last year), Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth has come to MASS MoCA every summer to spend a few weeks away from the distractions of everyday life. During its stay here, Teeth (their abbreviation of choice) spends the first week of its residency working with coaches who specialize in two or three specific styles of singing. In the past, these styles have included Tuvan throat-singing, Inuit throat-singing, yodeling, belting, Korean P’ansuri, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, and pop-singing. This year Teeth is focusing on classical Persian singing with Sepidah Raissadat and the vocal techniques of Hindustani music, traditional music popular in northern India, with Warren Senders. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of these coaching sessions.

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As Teeth members filter in to the rehearsal hall, it becomes obvious that this is a family reunion and MASS MoCA is Grandma’s house. As vocalists tend to do, there are the obligatory lip trills and weird noises referred to as warm-ups, there’s chatter around the snack table, and fussing over how big someone’s baby has become (mind you, this baby is adorable and just as much a member of the group as anyone, as she coos along). Eventually all eight members of Roomful of Teeth, along with director Brad Wells, make their way to the circle of chairs in the center of the room. The level of comfort they all feel with each other and with this space is palpable: shoes are off, and smiles are abundant as everyone folds into their seats and prepare to sing.

I slowly realize that all attention is focused on one woman. She’s petite with dark hair, reserved, and soft-spoken, but she commands attention. This is the last day of coaching sessions before the composers arrive on Tuesday, so Sepidah Raissadat answers some last-minute questions and imparts wisdom before launching an improvisation session. While Raissadat strums what looks like a small, four-stringed sitar (which upon further research, I discovered, is actually called a tanbur), Dashon Burton (bass-baritone) begins. As they move around the circle, everyone improvises while Raissadat echoes them on the tanbur and doles out advice for a more authentic Persian sound.

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“I like how we sing and it’s murky and then you play it back clearly,” comments mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken. “That’s because I know the hierarchy of notes, so I know which ones to pass over,” Raissadat replies in reference to the dastgah, the Persian modal system. The difficulty in teaching Persian music to western, classically trained singers lies not only in technique and scale, but also in communication. Just as languages with different alphabets do not easily translate, neither do musical traditions. During her coaching session, Raissadat struggled to explain, in terms of western music, how the pitch one sings differs when ascending as opposed to descending.  Eventually she resorts to teaching this idea the way she learned it: through imitation. Raissadat and Roomful of Teeth end the session by singing a song they learned together the day before. In a style of music characterized by trills, flips, and complicated vocal maneuvers, the texture created by multiple voices is uncommon and striking. As they sang, single voices wove in and out of the whole and created a texture that was charged by moments of perfect synchronization and moments of collective individualism.

After a half-hour break, during which Teeth chatted, wandered, and refueled, the group returned to tackle its final coaching session of this year’s residency.

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Raissadat has moved over a seat and been replaced by Warren Senders, a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair poking out from beneath his hat, who immediately reaches over and turns on his drone machine in lieu of a sitar. Without much preamble, Senders spurs the Teeth into a call-and-response singing session; he sings a phrase or a line, and the Teeth echo him. It’s immediately evident that some members are very comfortable with this style of learning, eyes closed as they succumb to the poignancy of the melodies they echo. As a performer, composer, and teacher of Hindustani music for over 30 years, Senders easily shifts back and forth between Western and Hindustani musical verbiage in a way that makes even the most unusual concept understandable . As he sings, he gestures with his hands to clarify the direction of the melody and interjects with advice. After an especially intimidating run, he clarifies by first breaking up the phrase, with hand gestures acting as guidance. “You’ll come down with maximum twiddliness.” Hindustani singing seems to be more fluid and less precise than the Persian music Teeth was learning earlier, but it is also characterized by embellishment.

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Again Teeth is called on to improvise solo. Using only his body language, Warren directs attention to one person, sings a phrase, and he or she echoes. I’m struck by this process and the response to it. Some members flourish, and some are nervous. (I’m reminded of times I was asked to sing solo in school choirs – it’s a frightening experience!) Senders hears the fear and responds, “just make music.” You can feel the tension dissipate. As the session continues, Senders pulls everyone in – “sometimes it’s secret music” – and tells the story of the music they’re studying. He has that kind of presence. He’s a highly charismatic and revolutionary teacher, and he has a knack for pulling singers out of their comfort zone in a way that still feels safe.

For the second week of its residency, Roomful of Teeth will work with composers Michael Harrison (who has three decades of study and practice of Indian music under his belt), Julia Wolfe (who was here in July as a co-founder of Bang on a Can), and singer/songwriter Sam Amidon (who will be here again for FreshGrass in September), informing their compositions with Roomful of Teeth’s new-found knowledge of Persian and Hindustani vocal technique. Be sure to catch Roomful of Teeth’s performance in MASS MoCA’s Courtyard C on Friday, August 29, at 8pm!

Posted August 27, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Work-in-progress
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Elysian Fields: Under the Pavilion

By Jacob Liverman

 	Fredericks and Brown Concert on the Drey Pavilion

If you have ever been to a MASS MoCA Dré Pavilion show, you already understand it’s magic. My first Pavilion show was Fredericks Brown on June 7. I have been a lifelong blues listener; the grit and soul of Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and, of course, Taj Mahal, have always been standbys. The blues are honest. They celebrate and they complain, they scream and they croon. There is no hiding behind trendy sounds or fancy effects; they embrace the good and bad of their voices and of their lives. This, to me, is the essence of soul. And Fredericks Brown had it.

As good as they were, the concert would not have been as captivating anywhere else.

 	Dré Wapenaar: Pavilion

Deva Mahal, the front woman for Fredericks Brown, has vocals that cut through the late spring air under DrĂ© Wapenaar’s pavilion canopy. Wapenaar hung each canopy separate from and complementary to the one next to it. They are technicolored and arranged at different angles, forming a dynamic ceiling. The canopy reflects the lighting and music over the audience. Wapenaar reappropriates the symbol of the tent for the museum’s pavilion space. The tent, one of humanity’s earliest communal spaces, becomes a place of gathering at MASS MoCA. This space is at once familiar and exciting, transforming the acoustic courtyard into an intimate concert space. Even from the back of the venue I felt connected to Fredericks Brown, and from speaking with Deva after the show – she felt it too.

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At MASS MoCA, we always strive to shake up the atmosphere, whether that means inviting musicians into our galleries for the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, or hosting 6,000 people in Joe’s field for Beck. Elysian Fields, our next Dré Pavilion concert, on Saturday, August 16, at 8pm, offers a dramatic shift from Deva Mahal and Fredericks Brown.

Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields offers elegant and sometimes haunting dream pop, but in all the right ways. Guitarist Oren Bloedow’s tasteful restraint and harmony make Jennifer Charles’ ethereal voice only more piercing. Their music, like water, gently fills the environment and ripples with each jazzy chord.

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Over the past 20 years and 9 albums, Elysian Fields has remained faithful to making the music it loves – regardless of passing trends. Through this, the band has earned tremendous respect among its fans. If its music sounds like a Jeff Buckley resurrection, it is because Elysian Fields includes all the members of Buckley’s band. Although Fields’ music is similar to the late Buckley, their cocktail lounge sway/noir rock is uniquely their own. Fields manages to negotiate Buckley’s dynamism with vocal performance similar to Lana Del Ray.

Their song Red Riding Hood demonstrates a command over narrative and diversity, retelling the Charles Perrault fairy tale in its original, sinister form. The retelling of the classic children’s story mixes in a dash of Tim Burton and exposes all of the underlying tensions in the story.

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Fountains on Fire is a song that you can’t help but sway with. Charles’ voice is hypnotic and sultry without falling into absence. Jennifer Charles’ soaring vocal riffs are complemented by Oren Bloedow’s scorching guitar solo, before they both melt back into softness. They show off their skill in carefully modulating their sound, going from a gentle nightscape into passion and back without a hiccup.

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There’s nothing better to wash down a MASS MoCA summer concert night than Elysian Fields’ sexy, ethereal sound. Upon her visit to the museum last year, Jennifer Charles walked through the galleries and returned to the box office, begging to come back. She feels at home in our refurbished, shabby-chic factory. Elysian Fields’ sounds are golden and dark sapphire, colors reflected in both the Teresita Fernández and Darren Waterston shows, and its dreamscapes echo Izhar Patkin’s veiled rooms; they transport and hypnotize. These galleries will be open until 7pm on Saturday night, just enough time for the sun to set and for you to grab a drink and dinner under the Pavilion before the show.

Elysian Fields intimate August 16th performance is not to be missed.

Posted August 13, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Alternative Cabaret, BLOG, Interns, Music
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A Kid's Summer at MASS MoCA

By the MASS MoCA Education Team

Kids Camp with Mark Stewart-12

Want to feel like a kid again? Take a look inside MASS MoCA’s summer art camps!

Jen

During the week of July 28, our Melody Makers camp created their own musical instruments and constructed a musical obstacle course.  The Bang On A Can musicians, who were in residence at MASS MoCA during the month of July, came by each day and shared their talents with our campers. The Melody Makers tried out instruments ranging from the musical saw to a one-of-a-kind silent guitar that can only be heard through a stethoscope.

Kids Camp with Mark Stewart-14

This week our Story Spinners campers are creating shadow puppets, character masks, and elaborate sets and costumes to bring their original tales to life.

KidsTable

During the last two weeks of August, art camps will continue with the Garden Gnomes & Fairies and Art Ninjas camps. Campers can expect to create fairy and gnome homes in the forest and hone their ninja skills in our expansive galleries.

Come get messy with us next summer or join us sooner for our February break camp!

Kids Teresita

Teresita Fernández, Black Sun (2014). Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Posted August 6, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Kidspace, Museum Education, North Adams
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Getting to know yMusic

By Shannon Fox 

This weekend we continue our adventures with film as we move from the airport back to our home screen and welcome filmmaker Sam Green and his work, The Measure of All Things. Through exploration of the legends that have captured our collective imagination, Green weaves together portraits of the people, places, and things featured in The Guinness Book of World Records. He is on hand to narrate the film while groundbreaking ensemble yMusic provides live music score. If you are unfamiliar with yMusic or its virtuosic musicians, fear not! We have combed through their impressive résumés to come up with some key factoids that will get you ready to dive into the world of this  indie-pop-classical chamber sextet.

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First off: yMusic as a whole

  • The group was created in 2008 to bring a classical chamber music aesthetic to venues outside the traditional concert hall.

  • Not just a garage band with strings: they were all conservatory trained at the prestigious Juilliard School.

  • Even if you have never heard of yMusic, it is still likely you have heard at least one of its members perform. A shortlist of artists that individual members have worked or recorded with include Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright, The National, St. Vincent, Interpol, Björk, Arcade Fire, and Grizzly Bear. This doesn’t even include their works with MASS MoCA favorites Vampire Weekend, the Philip Glass Ensemble, David Byrne, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond (who will be returning to MASS MoCA for our Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival).

Next: its illustrious members!

Rob Moose

Rob Moose (violin, guitar, and viola)

  • Co-founder of yMusic

  • FreshGrass fan? Rob has performed with Emmylou Harris (who will be hitting the MASS MoCA stage this September)

  • A familiar Berkshire face:  Rob has graced the Berkshire Hills with his work with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the Shed at Tanglewood and last summer he performed at MASS MoCA with Gabriel Kahane.

  • Shara Worden changed his life: Rob was studying at Columbia University for his master’s degree in American studies when Shara told him that British singing sensation Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) was looking for a guitarist. Rob took the gig, went on tour, dropped out of grad school, and began a career in music. “That whole experience,” he said in an interview with Strings Magazine, “changed my life in so many ways, and it’s brought me so many opportunities.”

CJ Camerieri

CJ Camerieri (trumpet, french horn, and keyboard)

  • Co-founder of yMusic

  • The family business: CJ’s father is a middle school band director, but that doesn’t mean dad cut him any slack. He would not give CJ any lessons until he could could read all of the notes on the treble and bass clef staves.

  • The National connection in a national election: In 2008, CJ’s trumpet solo in The National’s song “Fake Empire” was blasted to the universe on election night, as it was a part of Barack Obama’s election campaign.

  • Proudest accomplishment? CJ earned himself two Grammy Awards for his work on Bon Iver’s 2011 album Bon Iver, Bon Iver. He gave one of the awards to his parents.

Clarice_Jensen

Clarice Jensen (cello)

  • More than a musician: Clarice has held many jobs, including time spent as production coordinator and assistant to Björk.

  • World premiere woman: Clarice has performed the world premieres of Dimitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Hearing Solution and Donald Martino’s Rhapsody.

  • TV famous: Clarice has performed on MTV Unplugged, The Oxygen Network, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Saturday Night Live.

Alex_Sopp

Alex Sopp (flute)

  • 30 Rock-n-Roller: Alex has worked as a musical coach on the set of NBC’s 30 Rock.

  • Bang on a Can love: Alex has performed as part of the renowned Bang on a Can Marathon (and if you want your own Bang on a Can Marathon, experience swing by MASS MoCA on August 2, for a six-hour boundary-busting festival finale).

  • Fortune’s favorite: Alex’s life was turned upside down when $40,000 worth of her instruments were stolen in New York City. They could have easily disappeared forever into the city of over 8 million people, but New York City Police reunited Alex with her beloved instruments just hours after they were filched. Needless to say: she was ecstatic.

Hideaki_Aomori

Hideaki Aomori  (saxophone, clarinet, flute)

  • Young success: At the age of 18, Hideaki released his recording debut, Young Man With a Horn. For this album he worked with jazz legend Sir Roland Hanna.

  • Broadway magical: Hideaki has spent time in the orchestra pit for the original New York run of Tony Award-winning Matilda: The Musical.

  • Degree fiend: Hideaki has bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in clarinet performance and his master’s degree in jazz saxophone.

Nadia_Sirota

Nadia Sirota (viola)

  • Hey! DJ: Nadia hosts a radio show on WQXR’s New Music radio stream, Q2Music, for which she was awarded the American Society of Composers’ Deems Taylor Award in Radio and Internet Broadcasting in 2010.

  • New York Times certified:  Nadia’s debut album First Things First (2009) was named a record of the year by the newspaper.

  • Master’s master: In 2007, Nadia became a member of the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music for its Masters Program in Contemporary Music Performance.

ymusic

The more you know! We’ll see you outside under the stars on Saturday, July 12, at 8:30pm, for a screening of The Measure of All Things, with live narration by Sam Green and live music provided by the talented and illustrious indie-classical ensemble yMusic. Tickets can be found here.

Posted July 9, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film+Live Music, Music
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A Day in the World of Art Fabrication: Lee Boroson Edition

By Kelly Cave

Here at MASS MoCA we have an excellent team of art fabricators that assist artists in the creation and installation of their work. Depending on the size of the exhibition,  the museum may hire contractors and interns to provide an extra hand to the full-time fabrication staff. Currently, a fantastic rotation of interns is coming through to assist with the work of Lee Boroson. Boroson’s show will be installed in September, but there’s much to do before we’re ready for that. This particular piece of the exhibition is going to be a giant inflatable made up of thousands of circles that will fill part of our huge Building 5 gallery. Here is an inside look at how the sculpture is being constructed!

So far we have a couple thousand circles sewn in five different sizes. Here they are stacked according to size and pattern of holes cut out on the surface.
The Circles
To make a completed circle we first roll out some fabric and double it up. The fabric is a nylon similar to the material from which parachutes or tents are made. We then place templates of circles on the fabric and trace them with a marker. Next, we put a few pins in each circle to ensure that the two pieces of fabric stay together once the circles are cut out.
pinning
Once the circles have been cut out they are sent over to my good friend, Sergio the Serger. He is a crazy-fast sewing machine that cuts the fabric while making a sturdy seam along the edge. He uses five threads as opposed to a regular sewing machine that only uses two. If you’re interested, I suggest looking up what the inside of a serger looks like because it is very delicate and quite stunning.
sergio
After the circles have been sewn, de-pinned, stacked, and cut with the proper pattern of holes, they are ready to be sealed. We use a special spreadable mixture that’s placed along the outer seam to help fuse the circles together. Sometimes this step can be a little harsh on the sinuses so we like to use respirators as a precaution.
sealing
When the sealing has dried it is time for the final step, which is to put the circles together. We use the serger to make different clusters that build off of each other from large to small. In the photo below we have our confused interns sporting one of these clusters in its deflated state. Turns out you can’t blow up this inflatable like a balloon! 
finished product
Those are all the secrets that the Fab team is willing to give away at the moment, but make sure to get on over to MASS MoCA in the fall to find out what the final product will look like! Lee Boroson’s show will be in the Building 5 Gallery, beginning October 2014 and you can read more about it here. See you then!
Interns pictured: Keenan Cassidy (RISD), Georgia Costigan (MCLA), Barbara Gooding (RISD), Garcia Sinclair (RISD), Nafis White (RISD)

 

Posted June 18, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Uncategorized
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