New Music New College: Out there and in here

Photo courtesy of Miya Masaoka
Masaoka works with technology and light in her concerts.

The New Music New College (NMNC) program began in 1998 with an invitation for collaboration from Ringling Museum. A new exhibition was being opened and the museum wanted to know if New College could put on a show appropriate to the theme. Professor of Music Steve Miles accepted the invitation.

The concert that followed was a creative experiment in violating the expectations of a concert: aside from being held in an art gallery, which Producer of NMNC Ron Silver described as “not a traditional performance space,” performers would move across different sections of the exhibition and play, scattered across two rooms. “There was no one place to be the audience and there was no one way to be the audience,” Silver said.

“What was really cool and we couldn’t predict this … Everyone watched in a different way,” Silver said. “Some people stayed in one place, some people followed one performer, some people got caught up in the art, some people would choose places where there could see two or three different performers at a time for a while … And it just made sense for that piece so much.”

Since then, NMNC has become a staple of the New College music program, with Director Steve Miles and Producer Ron Silver collaborating with performers and artists both in the college, within the Sarasota area and scattered across the country to host five concerts a year. Typically held in September, November, January, March and April, the concerts put on by NMNC have carried with them the theme of pushing boundaries and expectations.

The first concert of this season was held in September, and featured the Wet Ink Ensemble. “There’s always new music that’s just being made for the first time,” Silver said, and Wet Ink’s performance plays on that idea precisely. The name Wet Ink stems from the group’s shtick of playing music that is so new the ink hasn’t dried down on the page, with many of the pieces performed in the concert still uncompleted.

The program has extensive community support, and much of their funding comes from ticket purchases from the community (students and faculty have free access to all concerts) as well as grants from various organizations. And NMNC is not limited to concerts, Silver emphasizes. “It’s easy for people to see one aspect of what we do and not see the whole thing.” Part of the program includes bringing in visiting artists to host discussions on a variety of topics, not necessarily limited to the scope of music – a roundtable discussion featuring pianist Marilyn Lerner, who is also a therapist, was hosted by the Gender Studies department.

Creativity and pushing boundaries is the name of the game for NMNC. “No two [concerts] are the same,” Silver said. “Our definition of music is very broad. We really hope that we can interest a lot of people even if they’re non-music students.”

Concerts are held for an hour, in various venues across campus. One concert was held in the grass behind Heiser, with performers arranged in a circle around the audience. Others are held in “Club Sudakoff” – the NMNC term for their unique set-up in Sudakoff when concerts are held there. Some are held in the Black Box Theatre (BBT), such as a show held a few years ago featuring the JACK Quartet. Situated in each corner of the room, with the audience in the center, the quartet members played in total darkness; every light in the BBT was off or covered, including the Exit sign with the permission of the fire marshal. One of the student assistants had night goggles on hand in case an audience member needed help.

Other concerts included music composed entirely by New College students and alumni; still others invite the audience to participate or learn how to play.

The JACK Quartet is returning this academic year, coming in January to play a show called ‘Wind in High Places’ in Sainer. “It’s gonna be a really cool, ethereal, atmospheric piece,” Silver said.

All concerts are preceded by a half-hour talk given by Miles, where he explains and discusses the ideas motivating the artist for that particular show; audience members can gain some insight into the performance by attending the talks, but they are also free to skip it and arrive at the start of the performance instead.

Concerts bring in a varied audience; some shows fill Sainer, others are less populated. Despite the fact that Sarasota members must pay for tickets ($15 for one show, $60 for a season pass), the shows typically attract more of them than New College students and faculty.

“There is music going all the time,” Silver said. “Even if you’re not paying attention there is a whole ton of music being played all the time.” New Music New College invites the New College community to see just what that means.


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