Monday, March 21, 2011

'Lights and Music:' Andy Strain brings musical magic to Lincoln children

Yesterday, March 20, 2011, Lincoln was treated to the performance of trombonist Andy Strain with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. This concert was titled “Lights and Music,” and the audience was full of families with children. Beforehand, the Sheldon Museum of Art was open to children who wanted their face painted or visit the “musical petting zoo,” a few instruments that the children (and adults) were invited to try playing.
Andy Strain, a Lincoln native and UNL alumni, currently resides in California and has made it his mission to reach out to elementary school children with his music. According to Strain’s own program notes, “the trombonist: a roaming occasionally down-trodden, troubadour of sound. The trombonist especially enjoys playing music for young ears (which, unscientifically speaking, can be opener than older ears). More importantly, the trombonist believes in miracles, which are sort of like magic.” In his performance, Strain makes those “miracles” take place for his audience.

Strain combines his musical efforts with the technological and visual work of Jerry Smith and Yotam Mann. Together, they create a stunning visual and musical picture. The most fascinating part of the concert was the performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” or “Gypsy Airs.” Originally written for a violin solo, Strain performs this virtuosic piece with his trombone. Upon his trombone, he has tied a ping-pong ball with infrared lights in it—this is where the work of Smith and Mann come into play. Suddenly, instead of just hearing the music, we are treated to see images projected on a screen that help visualize the music. Strain’s program notes enlighten us:

“We took a video game camera that watches for infrared light (something our eyes can’t even see!) and turned its lens onto a trombonist, who not a lot of people can see either. Then, we took a ping-pong ball filled with infrared light and attached it to the trombonist’s trombone slide. Then, we got these really cool guys named Jerry and Yotam to write a computer program that uses that camera to track the ping-pong ball of light…Together, they figured out how to do cool things with infrared tracking. For example, the trombonist can play a lullaby for a digital butterfly, serenade dancing leaves, or offer a bouquet of sound to that girl on a hill.”

The effect held the audience, young and old alike, quite spellbound. “Gypsy Airs” was certainly the most fascinating part of the concert as Strain’s trombone/ping-pong ball concoction controlled a moon as it danced across the night sky, growing larger or smaller as the volume of the music swelled or diminished.

Best of all, Strain encouraged the children in the audience to go home and listen to classical music themselves, and to imagine or draw pictures according to what they feel or hear in the music. It’s never to soon to experience the magic of music!
Lincoln children can thank Andy Strain for bringing this magic a little closer to them this weekend.

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