By Michael Pennywark
Image courtesy of Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts
Photo by David A. Brown
So, spring is here and like almost everyone else you feel you should enjoy the handful of pleasant days before the sauna-like heat of Houston’s summer sends us scrambling back inside. Once you manage to get past the excitement of being able to sit outside while sipping your favorite frosty beverage, you might start to wonder what other things you can see and do outside in the middle of April. Of course, you could experience the great American tradition of drinking $8 beers at the ballpark while watching the Astros chase after the league’s worst record for the second year in a row. But what should you do if you leave halfway through the seventh inning–when they are down by 10 runs–or get kicked out for heckling your own team?
Luckily, Discovery Green is a stone’s throw away from Minute Maid Park–that oasis of sanity amidst the concrete chaos of downtown. As you wander through the park, wondering where on Earth you parked your car, you are probably dreaming up your own awesome soundtrack and scaring away little children by performing air guitar solos to the songs in your head. OK, well, not all of us have our dignity and if you happen to be there on April 20th, you may not be the only one in the park with your own soundtrack. Daniel Bernard Roumain (also known as DBR) has teamed up with the University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts to present a new site-specific installation with a unique interpretation of another American tradition–the marching band. “En Masse” is a four-hour musical marathon featuring University of Houston’s Spirit of Houston Marching Band as they play Roumain’s recently commissioned work “En Masse Studies and Etudes.” As Roumain put it, “En Masse is a deconstruction of a marching band.”
Audience members can stay for as little or long as they like and will find that taking in the performance will involve a certain amount of participation on their part. Talking to Roumain, he clarified this by saying, “The band will be moving throughout the park and the audience has to make a choice. They participate in the choices that they make: to follow the band or not; to follow one person from the band or not; or to stay for the entire four hours or not. I think the best way to explain it is that the audience is invited into the piece to the extent that they deem fit. We’re inviting them to make choices that ultimately will determine how much they enjoy the piece or not.”
Roumain promised that the audience can expect “a good, important time. They should expect all the things that we as Americans associate with a marching band: festivity, sport, entertainment, appropriation, often times, of popular songs, and spectacle. At the same time, you should expect the furious work of an American composer and an American director. By that I mean this is an art piece. This is an installation. This is new music and this is fundamentally a new perspective on the marching band experience both from the point of view of the audience at being able to get really close to the musicians, which isn’t always normal. And also by hearing them play serious music––original music.”
Roumain is no stranger to collaboration, having worked with creative minds such as Bill T. Jones, Lady Gaga, Philip Glass, Savion Glover, and even 2 Live Crew. For this project, he has been working closely with director Marc Bamuthi Joseph and UH Director of Athletic Bands Troy Bennefield as they coordinate the 300-plus members involved in the performance. So just how hard is it to produce an event on this scale? According to Roumain, the piece, from conception to performance, has taken about two years. And as he explained, “It really is a way of kind of bringing to life an audible perspective to the park. So rain or shine, I think the piece is going to go on. I mean if it’s an all-out downpour I think we do have to consider the instruments but hopefully the weather will be on our side. And whether people come for four minutes or for four hours, I think it will be a really wonderful way to appreciate things we oftentimes take for granted.”
As long as I don’t have to listen anyone play “Call Me Maybe,” I’ll be happy.
April 20, 2013
Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney