Kennywood’s Open!

Ah, words that have a magic ring!  Kennywood Park is our local historical (but very up to date) amusement park. School children in Western Pennsylvania love the phrase “Kennywood’s open!” – it signifies that it is spring, school is almost over, and a great day at the amusement park is in order! But there is a second less obvious meaning that every kid and former kid knows, a local colloquialism that means “your zipper’s open!”

I may be rushing the season a bit, as the park does’t open until May, but I wanted to feature a piece written by my husband and musical partner, BIll Purse. When he was commissioned to compose a symphonic band piece for the local North Hills High School, he chose Kennywood as his inspiration and the famous phrase as the title of the piece. Bill has a history of writing pieces inspired by favorite places; Kennywood’s Open featured six vignettes based on his favorite park rides. In the name of research, we made several trips to the park to record the sound of the rides as well as photograph and videotape footage for what eventually became a combination of music and actual sounds from the park and plenty of resources for multimedia presentations.

Since its premiere, Bill has rearranged it for orchestra for a performance by the Washington Symphony Orchestra on the very day that the park opened for the season. The concert hall featured an enormous screen and high resolution projector, so I was able to create moving graphics of the park rides while the orchestra performed the piece.

When creating his solo CD Sonic Art, Bill  adapted the “Merry Go Round” section as a jazz piece featuring Duquesne University’s Catch 22 and jazz trumpeter Sean Jones. This video features the CD recording of The Merry Go Round combined with the Kennywood footage and some stills of Sean taken by friend and photographer Doug Harper. The video features the Dentzel Carousel installed in the park in 1927 and the 1915 Wurlitzer Band Organ whose actual sound begins and ends the piece.

Enjoy the ride!

My Brain On Jazz

When musicians play along together it isn’t just their instruments that are in time – their brain waves are too. from “Guitarists’ Brains Swing Together” Science Daily

photo of Jazz at JEN

Jazz at JEN

A few weeks ago, I attended (and performed at) a music technology/jazz educators co-conference. I dashed into the hotel deli at lunchtime intending to grab a sandwich “to go” but was stopped in my tracks by a jazz quintet led by trumpeter Ansyn Banks playing a lunchtime concert nearby. I immediately grabbed a table near the stage, ordered lunch, and settled in to listen. Something happens to the brain when listening to great live jazz. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician but I can speak the language enough to write for it and do some basic playing and improvising. As I listened, I was transported to another place. And this was not a “quiet as a mouse” polite audience concert hall – this was a public venue with food, drink, and lots of people in conversations who felt themselves drawn into the maelstrom of sound, the urgency of the message flowing from the stage. Feet and heads began to move, to nod, and a rhythmic oneness began to spread through the crowd.

As I listened, I could feel new neural pathways form and spark across the top of my head; long exaggerated words started to form in my mind. . …Fine………Ahhhhh………Mmmmmmm…..not unlike the murmurs one utters while eating a delicious meal.  And this WAS a delicious meal, an aural feast shared with hundreds of strangers who connected under the skin through a common language of improvisation – a central thread of sound that broke loose in unexpected ways and in brand new directions. And what was happening to my brain on jazz? Continue reading