Putney Central tackles ambitious music-poetry project

Tuesday January 8, 2013

PUTNEY -- The sounds are out there, in nature, and they reflect the constant cycles of time and place, Due East percussionist Greg Beyer said.

The rustling of leaves in autumn, the flowing water in spring and the swoosh of snowfall in winter all mark a moment, but at the same point a turning from one season and toward the next.

Beyer has been spending time at Putney Central School, helping a group of middle school students compose a musical piece using sounds and haiku poetry.

Beyer, along with Erin Lesser, who plays flute for Due East, is traveling to Putney three times over the course of a year, in fall, spring and winter, to work with the Putney Central students.

Due East is a flute and percussion ensemble that is visiting Putney as a Yellow Barn artist in residence.

The duo is also working with students at Brattleboro Union High School.

They were in Putney a few weeks ago gathering nature sounds on iPads the school has, and working with the students to develop the recordings into a soundscape that will play behind the poetry that the students are writing in the Japanese haiku tradition with middle school teacher Mary Anne Deer.

"It's very exciting how this has come together," Lesser said. "We want this to be about the students, and about where they live. We want to use the campus as the inspiration for composition."

Beyer and Lesser have also brought in composer Elaine Lillios, who writes electro-acoustic music on, and for computers, and Amherst, Mass.-based poet Wally Swist.

Lillios and Swist are putting their own multi-media piece to recognize the seasonal cycles and the place sound and poetry have in marking the rhythmic flow of life.

In the spring, when Beyer and Lesser return, they will lead a performance with the school's music and poetry along side the work of Lillios and Swist.

The plan to bring in Lillios and Swist came when Due East was talking with Lillios about another project.

She mentioned that she had been working with Swist, a haiku poet.

Beyer and Lesser at the time were putting together their plans for visiting Putney, and they were building their project around the song "Moonlight in Vermont" which has its verses built around the haiku form of three phrases of five, seven and five syllables.

After Lillios handed over one of Swist's books, Beyer and Lesser knew they had an outline to put together their residency in Vermont.

Lesser said he has been impressed, and surprised, with how the Putney Central students have been able to navigate their iPads and mix down the natural sounds into a musical background for their poetry.

He and Beyer are still putting together the final performance which will be presented in Putney in the spring.

"The kids have really taken to this. The more work we do, the more invested we are in this idea," said Lesser. "There is a lot of energy behind. I'm excited to see what happens when we pull it together in the spring."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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