Mellifluous Meditation in “the common S E N S E”

Today’s blog post is written by Erika VanHorne, UW senior and choir president of the UW Chorale. 

On the eve of “An Evening in the Galleries with the UW Chorale,” a special event that was held in conjunction with the Henry’s exhibition Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, I was nervous. This experience was unprecedented for me as a collegiate choral singer – a deliberate inversion of my ossified conceptions of performance, space, and audience. Yet as the choir reverently filed into the gallery that whirred with otherworldly bullroarers, my sense of trepidation dissipated – replaced with a transfixed reverie.

Audience members expectantly dispersed themselves among the jumbled choristers – but my focus was directed at the machines that crescendoed in tandem with our voices. We moved next to the North gallery where canonical choral literature was sung among images of specimens printed on newsprint. The sheets which rippled softly as the audience quietly stepped around us and them. Next, the choir slowly dissolved and dispersed throughout the Henry – allowing singers to wander as individuals.

Photo credit: Robert Wade.
Photo credit: Robert Wade.

These improvisations took on a meditative nature – as I grasped for the names of the immured specimens through song, I induced an inner dialogue on the nature of human-derived taxonomies. In this time of independent song, a fellow chorister would occasionally sidle up next to me – intertwining a voice with mine in unexpected, sublime euphony. As the boundary between performer and gallery visitor also evaporated, I found another audience – the specimens themselves. Through lyrics, these creatures were anthropomorphized with an intimate sonic tactility – at once haunting and familiar.

Although I visited this exhibition at its opening, this event became an unexpectedly meaningful experience for me. Throughout my university experience, I have found that the most enriching experiences are those that transcend the false dichotomy within the arts and academic disciplines. In this interdisciplinary vein, artist Ann Hamilton and Dr. Giselle Wyers, director of the UW Chorale, crafted an evocative, organic experience through an unexpected fusion of song, art, material culture, and biology that challenged my boundaries as a singer and humanist.

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