Dallas — “Vocal and especially choral music is the closest thing in the arts to the actual human experience,” says Sam Brukhman sipping the last of a double espresso. “It uses the full range of human emotion and voice. That makes it the perfect way to tell a story.”
Storytelling is near and dear to Brukhman. He is the founder and artistic director of Verdigris, a new choral ensemble which completes its first full season with a concert performance entitled The Consolation of Apollo on at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at the University of Texas Planetarium in Arlington.
“One of the pieces [in the concert on Saturday] sets actual transcriptions from the Apollo 8 mission to music,” Brukhman says. “Each voice part in the chorus is a different character in the story with the other voices acting as the reverb and feedback that were part of the transmissions.”
Not only is the story itself innovative but, as with all Verdigris concerts, it will be augmented by the setting. “We are planning to have the planetarium display the star settings that the astronauts saw as the mission was unfolding. That should make it a very immersive experience for the audiences.”
Immersion is at the core of Verdigris’s art. In young history of the group, they have either chosen music that is a full-fledged story unto itself or have used music to enhance an existing story. Their most recent concert for example (reviewed here) featured readings of the Velveteen Rabbit, punctuated by music which augmented the themes of the narrative. “The Velveteen Rabbit is a children’s book that touches on some very deep subjects,” explains Brukhman. “It encompasses death, loss, love, identity. The music we chose (Thomas Lavoy’s Songs of the Questioner) is also rooted in each of these subjects. Although you wouldn’t immediately think to put such an adult piece of music with a kid’s book, the more I thought of it, the more I felt the fit was perfect.”
Brukhman was first inspired to pursue a musical career by the storytelling nature of music. “I went to a concert of Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky at Carnegie Hall when I was young. I had done all my homework for it and read up on what each of the movements was about. But I was astounded by how vividly the music illustrated the story.”
He feels that modern music is geared more toward narrative, possibly due to its immediacy. “Once you recognize the story, then even the strangeness of the 12-tone setting or the bi-tone or whatever you are doing goes away and you are experiencing the narrative.”
He also thinks that once listeners start to appreciate the way music reveals its story, they will be able to recognize the same type or narration even in more formal classical works. “In a piece like The Consolation of Apollo you can hear the different voices because they are obviously playing different named characters. But when you listen to a Bach fugue, for instance, the voice parts are doing the same type of interweaving and interaction. Each part has its own movement, its own character. You may not be able to give them astronauts’ names, but they are definitely discrete.”
By making the music more immersive and interactive, Brukhman and Verdigris hope to inspire a love of all choral music. “We’re a gateway drug,” he boasts. “Even though the innovative music we do can be very complex, our concerts strive to make it more approachable and satisfying. Our hope is that our audiences will get such a taste for choral music that they will want to attend more and more, not only ours but more traditional ensembles like Orpheus [Chamber Singers] or Arts District Chorale.”
True to its mission, Verdigris is one of a very few choral groups that distributes a newsletter promoting not only their own concerts but all choral concerts and other art experiences in the Dallas area.
And about the ensemble’s name? “Verdigris is the greenish patina that forms on copper. Not only is it beautiful and classical in itself. It also is the biography of the piece of copper. The patina tells all about the copper’s experiences. I felt the name matched the roll that our ensemble chooses to play in the presentation of music.”
Brukhman was coy about future plans for Verdigris in anticipation of a formal season announcement later this spring. “People will be able to expect more of what we started — interesting and complex musical pieces or familiar ones reimagined and then set in unusual venues. We plan to play around with the traditional roll of the chorus in terms of movement and involvement in the other things that are going on during the concert.”
So, no rows of gleaming tuxedos, then? “That format still has a place. Everyone in Verdigris has sung a lot of concerts like that. But our idea is to loosen the boundaries between performer and art and audience. We want to use every device we can find to show audiences how expressive choral music can be. And hope they get hooked on our music and that of every other chorus in the area.”
» Verdigris will also perform excerpts from The Consolation of Apollo on April 27 at the Perot Museum of Science and History in its Social Science event at 7 p.m.