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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Music

Students from Carmen High School debut their composed work for Present Music's season finale "Home Place."

"Home Place" explores the city and the concept of shelter


A piece of art is never done. It's always evolving, creating new meanings and inspiring new works, which in turn inspire more works.

Case in point: Late last year, Reginald Baylor, Adam Carr and Art Milwaukee debuted TypeFace, a collaborative public art installation project that used the words of four neighborhood communities – Harambee, Lindsay Heights, Sherman Park/Washington Park and Burnham Park – to bring color, playfulness, history and meaning to a vacant part of town.

They unveiled the four pieces to media members and supporters on a bus ride through each neighborhood last fall, explaining their tactics, questions and inspirations for each work. Along for the ride was Christine Liu, the general manager of Present Music, and a board member, who were both amazed and moved by what they saw.

"It was really cool, and we thought it would be great to merge our Creation Project – our education program in Milwaukee where we pair up local composers with students at different schools and organizations to write original music and perform it here – with the TypeFace project," Liu said.

Inspired, Present Music and several of their composers – Eric Segnitz, Connie Grauer and Kurt Cowling – went back into the same four neighborhoods and, working with schools, organizations and a senior center in the communities, developed new works based on their words and experiences. The results were three new pieces of music and one art project.

In the past few weeks, the pieces made their debuts in the neighborhoods that spawned them. Then, on Saturday, June 21, they'll be brought together at the Broadway Theatre Center as an integral facet of Present Music's season finale, "Home Place," a musical and visual examination of what words and concepts like "home" and "shelter" mean on several levels.

"We wanted an opportunity to feature new music on a national level, as we do as a new music organization, but flavor that in with combining local amateur musicians with professionals," Liu said. "There is this really cool mix. They're writing about their home and shelter here on a very local level, but it's also being woven into things on a national level."

The centerpiece of the performance is "Shelter," a 65-minute, multi-movement new music piece composed by David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe and accompanied by a film from Bill Morrison. The work examines the many definitions and connotations of shelter, something that would grow into the main concept for the entire program.

"Usually, Kevin Stalheim – our artistic director – will build a concert theme around an entire piece or composer," Liu said. "I think 'American Home' is the title of one of the movements, so Kevin started thinking about the general ideas of space, place and home – and also what that means to Milwaukee, since Present Music was founded here and it's been our home for 32 years."

From there, Stalheim, Liu and Present Music followed the inspiration of TypeFace, developing the two-part season finale that will take the stage – and the nearby Catalano Square – this Saturday.

The show will begin outdoors in the park, with all four neighborhoods' artistic creations on display. The students from Carmen High School in Burnham Park wrote a geographical fugue, using words from the neighborhood and melding them into a musically layered spoken word-esque piece, while students from Lindsay Heights created musically-themed shelters – with a variety of interpretations, both literal and artistic – from recycled materials.

Harambee's contribution comes from the Clinton & Bernice Rose Senior Center's gospel choir, who wrote an original gospel piece for "Home Place."

"Their perspective of being in Milwaukee and that neighborhood for 50, 60, 70 years is very different," Liu said. "So their piece is very reflective and thoughtful and soulful."

All four works will come together in harmony for the first segment of "Home Place," creating a unique visual and auditory panoramic slice of the neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

"It's cool because it reflects the diversity in Milwaukee, for people in Burnham Park to hear and see what Harambee is doing – something totally different yet you're both using music and Milwaukee as a common thread," Liu said. "Everyone is seeing what everyone else is doing, and people in the audience can walk around and experience that as though you're walking around the city."

After the outdoor portion, "Home Place" will then move inside the Broadway Theatre Center for "Shelter," as well as two additional, thematically similar pieces: "Aheym" by Bryce Dessner (accompanied by a video from Matthew Ritchie) and "Passacaglia" by Caroline Shaw.

It's a thematically fitting finale for Present Music, a self-described "nomadic" organization that performs in venues across the city. They've travelled across Milwaukee; now, they're bringing their season-long journey, their experiences and the various, diverse communities of the city, back to a single place – their home within a home – in harmony.

"In a way, we sort of bring new music to different parts of Milwaukee," Liu said. "So culminating with a concert at the Broadway Theatre Center, our office home, is kind of a nice tie-in or finale. It's like branching out and now bringing it all back in."

And who knows what art it will now inspire.


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