The Hartt School is known for its world-renowned faculty, students, guests, and concerts.  But, the concert put on by SPASM added a comic relief to this stalwart of classical and jazz music.

So, what is SPASM?  Spelled out, it is the Society for the Promotion of American Silly Music.  Founded in 2010 by Aaron Krerowicz and Tristan Axelrod at Boston University, this is an organization designed to showcase music of a lighter nature.  Aaron decided to continue SPASM’s work by bringing it to the Hartt School in West Hartford, CT.  The concert that ensued was quite enjoyable:

The first piece, “Music is Dead – A Paradox in Fugue” by Gary Noland is a sarcastic Bachian fugue for a cappella choir.  Upon reviewing the score, it seems to have four separate texts—one for each voice (SATB).  The lines range from the opening “Music is dead, and don’t you try and argue with me” to “there are more important things to think about, like getting rich quick” to the ending “[music] rest in peace… forever.”  This was premiered by the “Hartt Composer’s Glee Club” a choir formed solely for this piece and concert.  It consisted of two basses, two tenors, three altos (one of which was a male composer) and two sopranos (both were male composers, one of whom is a trained countertenor).

The next piece entitled “My Name Is” is a type of play-on-words, or more appropriately, “play on a name”.  The SPASM host Aaron Krerowicz’s last name is difficult to pronounce.  I’ll give you one try to pronounce it correctly: (say aloud now).   With all due respect to you and Aaron, I bet you have it wrong.  It’s pronounced “Keh-DOE-vich” (accent on DOE).  He parodied his name by writing a very witty electronic composition consisting of field recordings of people trying to pronounce his last name correctly.  So, it required a bit of knowledge beforehand to get the joke, but he hinted at it in the program—he spelled his last name “Krer9nqrmowicz”.

“Jack’s Vocabulary” was beautifully sung by 6 Hartt Musical Theatre students with the composer, Rachel Peters, on piano.  The text was based off Ms. Peters’s young nephew’s writings in school.  Some of the most hilarious sentences were a series of “Jack’s Facts” about random and surprising topics.  Another one concerned Jesse James, but the main point about him was that he didn’t brush his bad teeth.

6d8, by Jacob Mashak, featured solo performer playing soprano, alto, and tenor recorders.  This took the writings of John Cage and Harry Partch and had the performer speak the lines in between playing Zen-like or meditative recorder tones and silence.  At one point, the performer had to speak a line by Partch, “When I was a hobo…” upon which there was a burst of laughter by the audience.

Interactions, by Hartt alumnus Matthew Ferrandino, is a work in which a speaker exchanges ideas with an ensemble, in this case the Hartt Composer’s Ensemble, an organization that has a history of promoting new music at Hartt.  Before the concert, the audience members were each asked to write a word they found fascinating to them on a sheet of paper.  A reader would then conduct the ensemble while reciting the words on the paper in any way, whether belting like an opera singer or whispering into their ears.  This was the first movement, “Fascination”.  In the second movement, the players held a low C, while a reader read a poem.  However, whenever the reader would intentionally “mess up” the poem, the ensemble would explode in a raucous outburst until the reader corrected his/herself.

The co-founder of SPASM, Tristan Axelrod, presented a piece that was preceded by a fairly long talk.  It told “the truth” about the music scene, where all composers are competitive for money, fame, power, and of course that tenure spot in a composition department at a music college.  The piece itself consisted of wonderful saxophone improvisation by a Hartt performer, with singing and piano playing by Mr. Axelrod.

Asylum Cafeteria was, besides being funny, very fluid, melodic, and beautiful.  Written for violin, two violas, and cello, it proceeded to portray a picture described by the composer as in an “insane asylum.”  I hate to speak in a non-humorous manner right now, but I must say that I enjoyed the harmonic content and the activity present—this could be a real “concert” work.  The composer, Andrew Pergiovanni, is a talented Hartt graduate student.

The final piece, “Two Cautionary Tales”, had its first movement “Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion” performed by a variety of instruments and the composer, Steven Snowden, singing baritone.  It parodied a pamphlet “Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years” (in other words a discipline book to scare children into behaving).  This text was very old and rather outlandish by our standards today—to make a connection between a boy leaving his nurse at the zoo and therefore being eaten by a lion is preposterous and funny.  The piece was like “Peter and the Wolf” in the use of illustrative music for the text.

There were many performers who deserve a ton of credit, but I have not listed their names for purposes of privacy.  There was a conductor, though, who made the winter journey from Massachusetts to help make this happen: Peter Freisinger, a magnificent conductor and pianist.

Many thanks to all who were involved, especially the organizer, Aaron Krerowicz.  This was a fun night to step back and take it easy about the music we all love.  (Even more amazing, it was a basically budget-free event!)  I can’t do the humor on that night justice—it was a very funny evening of cacophony, calamities, and wit.

Thanks for reading!

Dan

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