January 26, 2005
Inspired Trombone Performance at MASS MoCA
(North Adams, Mass.)-- When Brown Butterfly, a dance inspired by Muhammad Ali, was performed at MASS MoCA two years ago it was trombonist Craig S. Harris who stole the show. "Harris is a throwback to the days when brass players made their instruments speak. He can manipulate his slide and plungers to produce…moans, shrieks, horse laughs, mock war whoops and comic epithets," as the Philadelphia Enquirer put it. Harris returns on Saturday, February 26, at 8 P.M. with God's Trombones, a work inspired by trombone shout bands and James Weldon Johnson's book God's Trombones: Sermons in Verse, a collection of sermons of turn-of-the-century itinerant preachers.
God's Trombones is a reinterpretation of Johnson's classic collection of sermons in free verse form. A talented jazz composer and trombonist, Harris's piece combines the text with beautiful harmonies, complex arrangements, and syncopated beats capturing the rhythm and cadence of the poems. The Hunter Center stage will be filled with a jubilant trombone choir, dozens of vocalists, musicians, dancers, and spoken word artists. Williams College's Sandra Burton choreographed the piece, and Beth Herron will direct. The performance will bring together professional musicians with Williams College's most outstanding talent as part of the Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance conference.
As a young musician growing up in Harlem, Craig Harris would pass the United House of Prayer and hear the sounds of the trombone shout band inside. This unique musical form stems from a late nineteenth-century African American religious revival that renounced the staid and stoic forms of traditional Protestant denominations in favor of a charismatic and emotional style of worship. The shout form incorporates an up-tempo "wall of sound" that sets it apart from the European tradition of brass performance.
Although deeply rooted in the work of these Christian preachers, Harris's vision for God's Trombones looks beyond the sectarian roots of the sermons to the realm of the spirit that underlies and moves all religious experience. Thus, God's Trombones both hearkens back to the spirit of the original work and reinterprets it for a contemporary audience. At its most fundamental level, the project strives to bring Weldon's poems, and the unique preaching style they preserve, to life. Harris's composition will consider God's Trombones through the intersection of sound (specifically, the trombone shout form) and word and movement. Technically, Harris envisions a work that is operatic in scale, with the pitch, melody and harmony finding inspiration in the original poems, with the text (and its recitation) and the choreography (and its presentation) serving as partners in the overall composition.
Composer Craig Harris began playing trombone at age 10 and continued his studies at SUNY Old Westbury. Since 1978 he has been performing throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia. He has performed on Broadway with Lena Horne and was a featured performer in the American Music Theater production of Mystery of Love. Harris has led ensembles including Tailgater's Tales, Cold Sweat, and Nation of Imagination and is a founding member of Slide Ride. His awards include two Audelco awards. Harris often leads workshops for young people and has worked as the music curator for the American Center in Paris and the Firewall Arts Festival in New York and was composer/ performer in Roots Expansion at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
God's Trombones is funded in part by a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts and Meet the Composer, Inc., with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts. The piece is co-presented with Williams College as part of Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance, and partial funding is provided by Williams College's W. Ford Schumann '60 Endowment for the Arts.
Tickets for God's Trombones are $16 (or $10 for students with ID.) Performance ticket-holders will also qualify for a special reduced $6 admission to the museum galleries which will be open until 7:30. As always, MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount on tickets to the performance. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 A.M. until 5 P.M. (closed Tuesdays). Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at www.massmoca.org.
MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Katherine Myers
(413) 664-4481 x8113