World Premiere of Rinde Eckert’s “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” (Nov. 15-17)

Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge talks about the commission and research process for Rinde Eckert’s “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” (Nov. 15-17).

Rehearsal of Rinde Eckert’s “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” in CFA Theater.
Pictured: Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14 (sitting), Christine Treuhold ’13 (lying down).
Photo by John Carr, Wesleyan University Professor of Theater.

I met Rinde Eckert for the first time in 2008 at a gathering of universities who had been awarded Creative Campus grants from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.  Rinde had just finished creating a work entitled Eye Piece at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. He worked with theater students and faculty to research the effects of macular degeneration and the experiences of people dealing with eye disease, including those who have lost or are losing their vision.  A Grammy Award-winning musician, writer, composer, librettist, and director, Rinde is one of this country’s most innovative performance artists whose work spans music genres of all kinds, experimental theater and dance.  When he spoke about his work in Iowa, I was struck by his generosity of spirit—how he took students into his production that other faculty members were unable to cast in their productions.  I saw how moved he was by the process of making the work and how it was every bit as meaningful to him as the end product.  I thought, this person can collaborate with anyone in the world, but he chooses to work with university students—this is a unique and special artist, a perfect fit for Wesleyan.

The Center for the Arts is in year three of the four-year Creative Campus Initiative, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. One of the Initiative’s primary goals is to support generative artists in theater, music and dance (including faculty artists and visiting artists) who work with scholars and materials in both arts and non-arts disciplines to advance the artists’ research and extend the arts into campus curricular and co-curricular life.

Rinde became an ideal candidate for a commission.  We invited him to Wesleyan in November 2010 (he remembered his first trip to Wesleyan was when he was attending graduate school at the Yale School of Music). Rinde Eckert has built a dynamic theatrical logic that he describes as “fiercely interdisciplinary.” When Rinde met with the Theater Department and Center for the Arts staff he discussed the idea of writing a play about “otherness.” In the spring of 2011, Eckert was invited by the Theater Department to create a work over the course of 2012 that would result in a Department production in the fall of 2012, devised by Eckert, faculty and visiting designers, and theater students.

Over the course of the two years, Eckert was in regular conversation with Kari Weil, University Professor of Letters at Wesleyan who has published widely on theories and representations of animal otherness (Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now, 2012). He conducted a module in Weil’s spring 2012 course, Thinking Animals: An Introduction to Animal Studies. In addition, he discussed his ideas extensively with John Kirn, Chair of Wesleyan’s Neuroscience and Behavior Program. He also presented a Music Department Colloquium and met with other faculty members across the campus.

During the summer of 2012, Eckert was awarded a Creative Residency by Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP). He spent a week working on the piece in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Studio; discussing his creative process with ICPP students and students at the Center for Creative Youth; working with music collaborator Ned Rothenberg; and meetings with scenic designer and Adjunct Associate Professor Marcela Oteíza to prepare for the fall rehearsal period.

The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy emerged as a work about a man raised by wolves who finds himself toward the end of his life at the top of the food chain. Powerful and erudite, he longs for a return to the wildness of the wolf he was—but how does one recover one’s original, less conditioned or acculturated self?

Marcela became an essential collaborator in the development of the piece.  She devised a visual identity for the work anchored in 144 small wooden benches that measure 10.5” x 18” x 8”.  The benches are unfinished, in their natural state, but at the same time, they are hand-crafted, “man-made.”  The actors arrange them horizontally when they form the camp-fire but as the world of the play becomes more “civilized,” vertical structures emerge.  As the play develops, the actors literally sculpt the set before our eyes.  The effect is tremendous.

In his program note for The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy, Rinde writes: “I’ve been thinking about nature and culture. I’ve been considering wolves. I’ve been interested in our self-descriptions, the line we draw between ourselves and the rest of everything. We are storytellers. We tell stories around the fire, protected by it, warmed by it, and if we get too distracted, burned by it.”

This is a play with big ideas enacted by Rinde Eckert and eight student actors: Sivan Battat ’15, Solomon Billinkoff ’14, Mikhail Firer ’13, Audrey Kiely ’13, Matthew Krakaur ’14, Jiovani Robles ’13, Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, and Christine Treuhold ’13.  This is a world premiere, developed by an extraordinary artist with the help of Wesleyan faculty members and undergraduates—don’t miss this, it’s Wesleyan history in the making.

The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy
World Premiere
Written and directed by Rinde Eckert
Performed by Rinde Eckert and Wesleyan students
Thursday, November 15 & Friday, November 16, 2012 at 8pm

Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 2pm & 8pm
CFA Theater
$8 general public; $5 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $4 Wesleyan students

Click here to watch a preview video of “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” which features interviews with Rinde Eckert and Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14.

Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talks to Mark Slobin about “Music & Public Life” (Nov. 8-9)

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns annually tackles subjects as diverse as the course catalogue at Wesleyan, from the politics of oil to issues of race in the 18th century.  This year, the Shasha Seminar explores current trends in the role of music in public life, locally, nationally and internationally. CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talked with Mark Slobin, Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music at Wesleyan, who is leading the seminar this year (November 8-9). 

The Shasha Seminar this year begins with a keynote address by Anthony Seeger on Thursday, November 8, entitled “Can We Safeguard Disappearing Musical Traditions? And if We Can, Should We?” Mr. Seeger, a renowned author and professor at UCLA, has acted as Executive Producer of Smithsonian Folkways label, and comes from a long line of prolific folk musicians. He has also worked for forty years with the Suya people in the Amazon rainforest. His wide-ranging experience informs a singular knowledge of music and its impact.  Beyond his work in Amazonian music and record production, he has participated in international frameworks including committees of UNESCO.

Thursday evening’s keynote address will be followed by two lively performances that represent the many facets of the Middletown community: the contemporary gospel group, the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church‘s Unity Choir [under the direction of Wesleyan University Adjunct Professor of Music and vibraphonist Jay Hoggard], and the well-established string-band, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem [featuring Rani Arbo on fiddle and guitar, Andrew Kinsey on bass, banjo, and ukulele, Anand Nayak ’96 on electric and acoustic guitars, and Scott Kessel ’88 on percussion].

On Friday, November 9, Ethel Raim, the Artistic Director of New York City’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance, will be speaking. Professor Slobin explains “the Center has been helping communities develop their own musical and artistic representation on stage for over forty years. They are not concert managers, but rather community developers. They produce these extraordinary groups out of collaborations with communities.” The musical groups showcased Friday night in Fayerweather Beckham Hall will be Merita Halili & The Raif Hyseni Orchestra, an Albanian music ensemble led by Raif Hyseni, and La Cumbiamba eNeYé, a Colombian ensemble led by Martin Vejarano. The Friday events also include two panels with members of the Middletown and Wesleyan communities, as well as other experts in the field.

The unique structure of this year’s seminar, unlike seminars in other years, incorporates panels and discussions along with workshops and concerts because, as Professor Slobin explains, “if you are going to get involved and engage with music, you have to do it yourself.”

The Shasha Seminar is an extension of Wesleyan’s year-long initiative Music & Public Life. Professor Slobin explains, “Music and Public Life is a program that was initiated by Wesleyan Vice President and Provost Rob Rosenthal, who thought that the large and impressive music offerings and faculty, along with the immense amount of music on campus, would be a great focus for a year-long exploration. This year-long initiative, and more specifically the Shasha Seminar, is organized around the idea that music engages on so many different levels. Music works on the local level, showcased in the concerts of Wesleyan and Middletown groups, [while simultaneously] working on a more national scale.” This is exemplified in local venues blending into the larger American music umbrella. “Music is also transnational. There is an undeniable transnational flow of capital, people and music. More than anything really, music cuts across boundaries of race, class, gender and national identity.”

Music & Public Life provides a year-long exploration of music through many lenses. Please join us for the Shasha Seminar events today and Friday, and mark your calendar for next Wednesday’s talk by New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff [November 14].

The 11th Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns

Keynote Address at 7:30pm by Anthony Seeger—“Can We Safeguard Disappearing Musical Traditions? And if We Can, Should We?”

Performances following the keynote address by Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, and the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church’s Unity Choir 

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 7:30pm

Crowell Concert Hall
, 50 Wyllys Avenue

Before the keynote address, there will be a welcome by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal, as well as a musical invocation by the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble, directed by Professor of Music Sumarsam and Artist in Residence I.M. Harjito.

Merita Halili & The Raif Hyseni Orchestra & La Cumbiamba eNeYé
Friday, November 9, 2012 at 8:30pm

Fayerweather Beckham Hall
, 45 Wyllys Avenue
FREE! Tickets required.
Call 860-685-3355 or visit the Wesleyan University Box Office for free tickets.

A Talk by Ben Ratliff of The New York Times

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 4:15pm

Daltry Room (Music Rehearsal Hall 003)
, 60 Wyllys Avenue

Ben Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic for The New York Times since 1996. He has written three books: The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music (2008); Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (2007) a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Jazz: A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings (2002).

Monica M. Tinyo ’13 interviews Noah Baerman (Nov. 2)

This Friday, renowned jazz pianist and composer, and Wesleyan University Jazz Ensemble Coach, Noah Baerman will present a free concert entitled “Jazz with a Conscience” at the Green Street Arts Center as part of Wesleyan’s year-long celebration Music & Public Life. Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talked with him about this upcoming show.

Noah Baerman

“The concert presents music without lyrics, as vehicles for social consciousness,” Mr. Baerman explains. While two pieces will have vocal accompaniment by Jessica Best ’14, “the goal is to draw attention to instrumental music as emotionally resonant and capable for social consciousness and change.”

“People see the most direct connection between music and social causes in vocal music, thinking in terms of lyrics that are political in nature. Although I do some of that as well, my primary medium is instrumental jazz. The challenge is to evoke the same [emotional resonance of a piece with lyrics] as a piece without lyrics. Although in some ways it’s a challenge, it is also an opportunity. The reason I work with instrumental jazz is not because I dislike working with singers or writing lyrics. It is that a lot of what I am trying to express is emotional substance that is difficult to articulate. To me, a big part of why doing music is important or relevant is to express emotions that have no other vehicle for expression.”

Mr. Baerman is also participating in the formation of a non-profit called Resonant Motion. He explains, “The premise behind it is to explore and nurture the relationship between music and social causes, personal transformation and other extra-musical content. Music can be a means of raising awareness and inspiring people about causes that aren’t themselves related to music, whether it be as simple as discussing the connected cause during a performance or in the liner notes of a recording, or something that is more involved or integrated.”

“I had an experience over the weekend that validated the [communicative power of music]. I was asked to play something at a memorial service for my aunt. I took on the task of composing a piece in her memory and honor for this event (I will also being playing it at the concert at Greet Street this Friday). I called it Ripples thinking about the ripple effect of acts that affected people several generations removed from those who came in direct contact with her. I was a little self conscious about how palatable it would be for those in attendance [who did not prefer modern jazz] but it came off very positively. I was surprised by how many people were moved by the piece. What that validated for me is how being sincerely and uninhibitedly emotional with what you are trying to communicate can break through barriers of what people believe their stylistic preferences to be. Although this seems counterintuitive in the assumption that the most direct way to communicate with someone is verbal, [music] has a capacity to reach people in a uniquely direct way.”

The Green Street Arts Center of Wesleyan University is an ideal setting for Noah Baerman’s Jazz with a Conscience. “Green Street offers an eclectic mix of events, exhibitions, classes, and workshops to a diverse population [in a] three-story, state-of-the-art educational facility that includes a sound recording studio, black-box theater, computer and media labs, and dance and art studios. [It] has grown from a collaborative spirit of Wesleyan University, the City of Middletown, the North End Action Team, and other stakeholders who recognized their community’s potential to rise up and become a beacon of change.”*

We invite you to become part of Green Street’s unique community and join us this Friday at 8pm to celebrate Noah Baerman and his trio partners, bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza.

*Quotation from Green Street Arts Center’s website.

Noah Baerman: Jazz With a Conscience

Friday, November 2, 2012 at 8pm
Green Street Arts Center, 51 Green Street, Middletown