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Responses for toy piano (2020) by guest on 6th July 2020 09:30:03 PM

As the Covid-19 Pandemic ravaged the world, creatives had to rethink their collaborative projects. This includes Westben, who reimagined their 2020 performer-composer residency. What is typically a summer music symposium/festival that features live performances of co-composed compositions became an all-digital web-design project between Westben’s facilitators, designers, staff, and sixty-plus performer-composers. The goal: collaborate with a preassigned group to create workshops or compositions that would be forever showcased on Westben’s website. We had only three short weeks to design a website and organize its content, with one video conference call a week and intermittent instant messaging. 

The residency began at the start of June, a trying time for Americans affected by the murder of George Floyd, whose death reinvigorated BlackLivesMatters protests. With the pandemic, protests, and the rest of 2020 leaving our lives exhausted and anxiety-ridden, my group members and I felt this residency was the perfect moment to respond to the turbulent first half of 2020. 

We each picked a word or idea to focus on—exploration, guilt, realization, changes, unrest, and hope—using them as inspiration for short musical responses. My word was unrest. So, in terms of timeline, the fifth movement of this collection was the first piece written. The rest of the movements I wrote after as meta-responses to the other group members’ responses, similar to social media, where one person creates a post and others respond to it. Here are some notes on each movement: 

I. search 

Group member, Michael, responded with “exploration.” His piece explores the violin’s noise-based nature. Similarly, my response explores the toy piano’s noisy proclivities. This rhyhtmic opening to the collection uses a hard metal beater and a soft cotton swab to temporarily prepare the instrument. 

II. sorrow 

Group member, Ivonne, responded with “guilt.” Her piece is a spacious and contemplative composition. My response transforms one of her motives and expands on the work’s quartal harmony. 

III. know 

Group member, Kent, responded with “realization.” This was his way of publicly recognizing his white privilege. My response is a horrifying and bizarre take on my own privilege. 

IV. change 

Group member, Jim, responded with “changes.” His improvisational work has a classical flair. My response is the tiniest variation cycle I have ever written. 

V. unrest 

This was my first response and contribution to the project. Instead of tackling the instrument with all the unrest I could muster, I set the unrest in relief with peaceful bookends.     

VI. yearn 

Group member, Bang Lang, responded with “hope.” Her improvisational work quotes and recaps each members' response, adding to it her own Scriabinesque connective material. My response is a tribute to Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op.28, No.4. 

-M.B.

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