Bang on a Can Summer Festival


I spent 3 weeks this summer as a fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival.  Attending this festival, nicknamed Banglewood, made it the best summer of my adult life.  The festival is in residence at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams - the perfect venue for the fun and intense three weeks of daily music making. I suspected that I would enjoy the experience but I didn't think that it would be life changing.


The best thing about Banglewood: the people.  The faculty, made up of Bang on a Can All Stars as well as other prominent new music figures, treated the fellows as colleagues and true collaborators.  The museum staff made it easy to share our music with the audience. And most importantly, the other fellows were all amazing.  When one goes to a prestigious music festival, one expects that everyone would be really good at their main instrument/skill.  This was, of course, the case at Banglewood. The amazing part is that every fellow there was an expert or at least quite competent on at least one other musical skill whether it's proficiency playing another instrument, composing, improvising, etc.  The most unique thing about this group of fellows was that everyone there was the organizer/visionary and "bandleader" back home. Because of this, everyone had a positive, can-do attitude that led to easy collaboration and communication.

Me, Zach Herchen, Olivia Shortt, Kendra Emery, Ben Willis, and Gabe Taubman.

Me, Zach Herchen, Olivia Shortt, Kendra Emery, Ben Willis, and Gabe Taubman.

We spent every day rehearsing and performing brand new compositions or pieces written in the last few years. Every kind of contemporary music style was performed. Among other things, I performed a piece by Jacob Druckman written in the 1990s, sang some Ozzy Ozbourne with a live karaoke band made up of fellows, and premiered several composition fellows' pieces.

 It seemed as though there was an absolute-highlight-of-the-festival every day.  Every day, I would think to myself, "this is the most incredible musical thing ever - the highlight of the festival for sure!" And then the next day, I would have another mind-blowing experience.

Without fail, there was an unforgettable musical experience EVERY day of the festival.

Just a few of the mind-blowing experiences:

Nighttime visit to the Xu Bing Phoenix exhibit at Mass MoCA, with impromptu vocalization/dancing:

Exquisite Corpse piece written by all ten composition fellows and performed by fellows after one rehearsal - and I got to conduct it!

The Ableton Live presentation by faculty member Todd Reynolds, the Senegalese drumming sessions, performing "Yo Shakespeare" by Michael Gordon, playing the Schoenbeck original instruments...all unforgettable! 

I made life-long friends.  I think it's common to bond with others when you experience the same trials or difficult experience - but in this case, I think the bonds are so strong because we didn't live through a difficult experience. Rather, we experienced together the most delightful and positive experience EVER.

Here's another unforgettable moment from the last days of the festival thanks to some silly composer fellows. Ben Hjertmann and Adam Cuthbert playing the slide whistle contraption and Erik DeLuca enjoying the improvisation: 

Here's a really great montage video from the 3 week festival edited by Zach Herchen using video footage shot by Mass MoCA:

Others have written nice reviews and summaries of this summer's festival:

I miss all of my new friends terribly.  Thanks to the other fellows, faculty, and staff of Bang on a Can Summer Festival and Mass MoCA, I have a renewed sense of purpose and am more focused on making meaningful music and art everyday of my life from now on.  I want to live every day as if I was still at the festival making music with an open mind and child-like curiosity. 

With Australian Lina Andonovska, the other flutist at Banglewood this summer. 

With Australian Lina Andonovska, the other flutist at Banglewood this summer.