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TORCH Performance Uses Art, Music to Explore Complex Ideas

By Whitney Rich '20

The chamber music group TORCH performs on stage as an animated art video plays near them.
The chamber music ensemble TORCH performs in the Chism Recital Hall along animated art by Scott Kolbo.

Art and music came together on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 in Chism Recital Hall. Audience members experienced a world of moving sketches and live music exploring anxieties around national security, immigration and ecological crisis, but also sharing messages of hope and resilience.

The performance, "Passages: A Fable in Six Cycles," included work by artist Scott Kolbo and musical performances by TORCH, a contemporary chamber music ensemble. The event was sponsored by the Sheehan Gallery in collaboration with its spring exhibit, "Written in Light: Meditations on the Moving Image." Scenes from "Passages" are on display in the gallery.

Continually emphasized throughout the evening was the idea of diversity, exemplified in the quartet's diversity of image, sound and composition. Trumpet player Brian Chin said each member of Torch brings a different style to the piece that combine creatively to tell a story.

"What we decided to try and demonstrate was that the four of us as individuals, different composers with different styles, can create something together artistically," said Chin, who also is the founder and artistic director of Common Tone Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to arts education and music. "You hear different composers work throughout the piece, but it holds together with the same artistic, or the same motivic, melodic and rhythmic components."

TORCH's music combined with animation by Kolbo to use humor and absurdity to tackle complex subjects like immigration, the border wall and patrol, gun ownership and national fear.

"I think that the goal we had was to satirize the current political moment we are in with all the madness that goes on," Kolbo said. "We thought that having a humorous doorway into the subject would help talk about some serious parts of it as well and would make it accessible and a little less threatening."

Earlier that day, TORCH held a workshop for Whitman College students about music improvisation for the 21st century musician.

"Our message was that improvisation is a core skill, regardless of genre," bassist Steve Schermer said. Schermer is the assistant principal bassist with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, principal bassist with the North Corner Chamber Orchestra and professor at the University of Puget Sound.

Kolbo visited an advanced drawing class taught by Assistant Professor Maria Lux.

Art major Hannah Morel '20 said she was excited to see how drawings could be combined with movement and music to transform into storytelling devices.

"I thought that he had a very real way of describing one's artwork: as a witness to the experiences both individual and universal," she said. "We had a really great discussion in class on the political position of an art piece, whether or not a ‘witness' can or should remain neutral."

Bringing together artists, musicians, students, faculty and community members is one of Kynde Kiefel's goals as a curator of the Sheehan Gallery.

"What I have loved about the moving image exhibit is that we have been able to welcome so many members of the community, I feel like the moving image and music can be this shared language that we can continue to dissect and revisit, there's both an internal and communal aspect," Kiefel said.

The event was recorded and is available online.

Published on Mar 6, 2019
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