Music is an integral part of the New Orleans experience. In older parts of the city, jazz is the right soundtrack to accompany the sight of ironwork and the soulful aroma of gumbo. In newer parts of the city, bounce is the right sound for getting down with life-affirming booties and grilled hot sausage. In more suburban areas, R&B is the right sound for an afternoon by the lake with a take-out shrimp po-boy, dressed.
The confluence of music and other arts was highlighted Thursday during “The Art of Music,” a special program presented by the Faubourg Quartet at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
The idea of looking at multiple arts as one is far from new. In the 1800s, the concept of “correspondences” emerged, referring to the relationships among the senses and between the senses and the arts. “Harmony, value, theme, motif” are “employed equally by musicians and painters,” the critic Camille Mauclair wrote in 1902.
The NOCCA program opened with a performance of the first movement of Claude Debussy’s sole string quartet, “Anime et tres decide,” which premiered in 1893 and reflects the Impressionistic outlook of the time with tonal shifts in place of rigid structure.
The quartet fast-forwarded about a century to its next piece, String Quartet No. 4 (Buczak) by Philip Glass, which had its premiere in 1989. “Currents,” a video by Michel Varisco, played as a backdrop to the musicians, with watery images reflecting the floating, interweaving passages of the music.
Next up was “Hellbound Highball,” the fifth movement of “At the Octoroon Balls” by Wynton Marsalis. The music evokes the forward motion of a train, and the energy was reflected in an Alphonse Smith video depicting the creation of the painting “Motive” by Ayo Scott.
Dance and drawing were incorporated into the performance of “Lento doloroso, sempre cantabile (‘to my father’),” the second movement of Four Pieces for Violoncello by Tania Leon. In front of Ron Bechet’s large charcoal drawing “For my Fathers,” six dancers floated and bowed with the sounds of Jee Yeoun Ko’s cello, joined by Luther Grey’s drumming.
Finally, pianist Ellis Marsalis was joined by Ko for a rendition of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” dedicated to his friend John T. Scott, an artist best known for his large woodcut prints and for his African-Caribbean-New Orleans-inspired kinetic sculptures.
After the performance, Ko coaxed Marsalis back on the stage to share some remembrances of Scott. He told of a time when the two gave a presentation on improvisation for teachers from the New Orleans Recreation Department. Scott illustrated how cabinets full of materials are not required to create art, bending a wire coat hanger into the shape of a horse as he talked to the teachers.
Similarly, Marsalis handed each of the teachers a stick of scrap wood and told each to strike a beat in turn, keeping a steady rhythm. Then, with the same rhythm in mind, he invited each one to skip a beat at will. Soon enough, musical patterns emerged, with teachers able to anticipate what those before them would do. With only the most basic materials, he taught them to make artistic use of space, of silence, of the space between beats.
A NOCCA alumni exhibit will open Sept. 12 at the Kirschman Art Space at the school, 2800 Chartres St.