Can Music Be a Call to Action?

Hip hop artist Klassik, Madison soprano Sarah Brailey and others take on challenging contemporary fare.

By - Oct 22nd, 2020 04:43 pm
Gil Scott Heron, Klassik, David T. Little, Sheri Williams Pannell, Emma O'Halloran, Sarah Brailey, Frederic Rzewski

Gil Scott Heron, Klassik, David T. Little, Sheri Williams Pannell, Emma O’Halloran, Sarah Brailey, Frederic Rzewski

Present Music offers its first major concert of the season Saturday evening in an online presentation. The program explores the role of music in raising a call to action on critical social or political issues.

The concert will feature Klassik, a Milwaukee performer and producer. He has been recognized as Milwaukee’s best rap/hip hop producer for three consecutive years. His work spans genres, incorporating soul music, jazz, videos celebrating Milwaukee scenes and passionate poetry addressing contemporary issues. Two Klassik songs from his well-received recent album, Quiet, will be featured. Reality Check and Spirit will be sung by Klassik, backed by a nine-member Present Music ensemble as arranged and conducted by Co-Artistic Director David Bloom.

The last time this ensemble played a composition by Klassik he was in middle school and a participant in the Present Music Creation project.

Klassik will also present a classic spoken word composition from 1973 by Frederic Rzewski — Coming Together. That work quotes a letter from a prisoner in Attica in the 1970’s. Michael Lewanski, reflecting on the text of Coming Together observes that “If (this) music can be a metaphor for American prison life in the 1970s, surely it can be a metaphor for many other things as well. If the particular circumstances of inmates at a particular point in history can be ‘expressed’ in music (of all things!, we might say, indignant on our artform’s behalf), surely, then we might find echoes and parallels between that situation of confinement and countless others in our existence.”

Another 1970s work, Gil Scott Heron‘s The Revolution will not be Televised (from 1970) will feature local theater actress, singer, and producer Sheri Williams Pannell. Heron’s lyric reflects the Age of Aquarius and to some, the present day:

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televised.

Recent works to be performed will include Sweet Light Crude, a satirical song by David T. Little, and Constellations, a contemplation on creative women by Emma O’Halloran. O’Halloran finds metaphorical meaning in ancient French cave drawings that were produced by women at that time. These two songs will be sung by Sarah Brailey, a co-founder of the Madison music series, Just Bach, and an acclaimed soprano who has performed of a wide range of music, from early to contemporary.

Present Music has been exploring production options in adapting to COVID-19 restrictions. The artists met on a garage rooftop with stunning views of Milwaukee to produce the videos. Social distanced performers actually synced that concert taping to recordings made within a studio. Studio recordings were layered by combining isolated players. Percussionist Carl Storniolo was able to stack tracks to expand the percussion session for certain works.

Our goal, Bloom says, was to combine “disparate elements so unlike one another” and to demonstrate that they have “fundamental similarities.” This unified set of experiences from song, to spoken word to rap over a 50-year span, offers a fascinating look at composer and artist as a social commentator. The quality of guest artists and the care with production ensures a great experience.

To “attend” purchase a ticket here. $10 per person is a small contribution to the costs of production. Season tickets are available as well. The concert will be online for ticket holders to listen to again through January 24. Opportunities to hear new music a second time can be an important way to appreciate it.

Present Music will bracket these carefully produced segments with live zoom sessions before and after the concert starting at 7:30 pm. This permits the artists and audience to discuss the concert, offering perspective and reflection. This is a feature rarely offered to the traditional concert audience.

On Sunday, November 22, Present Music will take on their most challenging online “re-invention,” the popular Thanksgiving tradition usually held in the soaring acoustic of Saint John’s Cathedral with community members participating in the celebration.

Present Music events are scheduled each month – some likely offering hybrid or outside events that would allow some of the audience to attend in person. See the Present Music site and last month’s preview for more details.

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