Some belated thoughts on the May 2oth Music at First show: Margaret Lancaster (featured above in a video by Jon Williams) used the multifaceted space and her training as an actor and dancer to create a riveting performance.  Communicating a furtive, skittish persona, Margaret started her set up in the organ loft for the first two pieces (by Paul Steenhuisen and Corey Dargel; I unfortunately missed these do to door duties!), and then scampered down to the front of the church, still in character, into a chair explosion of her own making. From here she performed Arthur Kampela’s hyperkinetic “Happy Days,” in which she squeaked and squealed in between lightning-fast melody fragments on the flute and piccolo.

Moving to the middle of the stage area, she performed Paula Matthusen’s “Forgiveness Anthems,” and Wil Smith’s “Black Book,” both for flute and electronic track. In Paula’s piece, the flute line lived inside a semi-pitched electronic world, sounding at times underwater. Wil’s subtly expressive piece laid down a bed of ominous dial tones over which Margaret played, some of the flute’s tones seeming to splinter off into the track and sustain, the piece conveying the many and varied emotions associated with dialing certain phone numbers. Margaret finished her set behind the lectern, appropriately performing JacobTV’s “Jesus Is Coming,” arranged for Lancaster by Milica Paranosic for flute and electronics, which had Margaret playing along with pre-recorded flute tracks (of herself playing) and “found” recordings of baby laughs and histrionic preachers. JacobTV’s clever aligning of the flute line with the found recordings in rhythmic unison created a kind of heterophonous effect, in which the flute seemed to be playing the “melody” of the preacher’s expostulations and the baby’s hiccups.

I had the privilege of singing in Eric km Clark‘s piece, rosebud: Deprivation Music No. 10—Music at First’s first ever commission—which was quite a unique performance experience for me. The piece was divided into two big sections: in the first section, the singers received pre-recorded instructions (sometimes also following a score) and sang accordingly, and in the second section, the recording of the first section was mixed and played over the speakers while the singers were free to walk around the room, and “optional organist” Wil Smith played on the organ.

In the first minute and a half of the video above, which was shot by Music at First staffer Ruben Etienne, you see eight singers wearing blindfolds and headphones, creating the core material of the playback. In the rest of the video, you see my recording of a part of the second section, wandering around the space to hear different facets of the newly created piece and visit Wil up in the organ loft. Though the vocal part was pretty challenging (some of the notes were really high!), interpretation was encouraged, which was a very liberating feeling for someone whose day-job involves always playing the “right” notes (I’m also an organist), a feeling intensified by the fact that we in the choir were pointedly discouraged from interacting with each other or the audience via the use of the blindfolds and headphones, which was not as unsettling as I though it would be!

Music at First will begin its Fall season in September.