The concert was at a hospital. The instrument was the human body
Come out for an evening of refreshments and entertainment — at a hospital.
The invitation came from the Pasadena organization Muse/ique, which organized a concert titled “Human Instrument” at the Huntington Hospital on Sunday night. The setting had been selected to complement the show’s theme: music composed and choreographed for the human body.
The evening wasn’t without humor. The a cappella group Arora gave a serious demonstration of each member’s role in achieving harmony, but when they got to Ben McLain — who had provided only “vocal percussion” throughout the show — he busted out with a melodramatic “ ‘O sole mio” as the others walked away in mock disgust.
Arora performed covers of Coldplay and Chris Isaak. Eric Gradman, who sported a bright red mohawk and was introduced as an aerialist and fire-breather, whistled Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” with warbling, virtuosic flair.
Jackie Kopcsak, an assistant professor at USC’s dance school, choreographed a new piece for two ballet dancers — Jackie Schiffner and Zackery Torres — who wore mics that captured the breaths audiences normally don’t hear. At times the breathing sounded like natural exertion, at other times it had a musical intentionality — as well as, perhaps unintentionally, sexual undertones.
The “extreme body percussion” ensemble Molodi rattled the temporary stage with a traditional South African gumboot chant, a kinetic mix of vocals, tap dancing and rhythmic slapping of knees and torsos.
The groups all hung out on the small platform together, tapping in and out for alternating performances and often accompanying one another with whoops and claps from behind. When Tracy LJ Robertson delivered a rousing scat-song number, the other artists fanned out into the crowd and encouraged a singalong.
About 400 people were mostly seated at small lawn tables in the hospital’s south patio. The crowd skewed toward the grayer end of the hair spectrum; some of the younger attendees were students invited from the Academy of Music for the Blind.
Rachael Worby, artistic director of Muse/ique, served as emcee and gave a poetic monologue that wove the program together.
“Tonight we are here to honor, principally, the breath,” Worby said, inviting the audience to take three collective deep breaths to start things off.
Worby, the former music director of the Pasadena Pops, founded Muse/ique in 2011 to knock down barriers between audiences and musicians, to mingle genres and disciplines and to explore unorthodox venues. This concert was part of Muse/ique’s “Uncorked” series; the next one will take place on an ice rink, with professional figure skaters accompanying the music.
Just before the final number, Worby noted the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and read from his opening address at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964: “When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.”
The concert ended with all of the artists providing vocal and body-percussive accompaniment to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” sung by Brandon Takahashi, a member of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus with a cherubic voice.
The audience — using their instruments — sang along.
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