Nashville hosts the ultimate East meets West concert

chinaZeitgeist Gallery inaugurated its new location at 516 Hagan St. on Sunday night with its most adventurous Indeterminacies concert yet. The performance featured guitarist Denny Jiosa and composer-percussionist Robert Bond improvising via Skype with students in East China. These two groups – separated by over 8,500 miles – gave a joint performance that was intimate, immediate and remarkably meaningful.

bondBond, an adjunct professor at the Blair School of Music and a busy studio artist, came up with the idea for this intercontinental improv session during a recent Skype conversation. He was discussing his Indeterminacies project with Fran Zinder, a former Apollo Middle School teacher now working as an English instructor in the city of Ma’anshan. Suddenly, it occurred to him that Zinder’s high school-age students could join the performance.

“Robert suggested that my students could participate in the Indeterminacies event,” Zinder wrote in an email. “I asked the students and they were very enthusiastic. So we tested out the Skype link in the classroom and decided to do it.”

With their Skype image projected onto a wall at Zeitgeist, the 18 students opened with a traditional Chinese folk song called “Thinking of You.” The students sang the tune – with its decidedly pentatonic-flavored melody – with sweet simplicity. Jiosa and Bond responded in kind, providing rhythmic and harmonic support that was colorful but unobtrusive.

Jiosa“Thinking of You” was based on an 11th-century poem of the same name by Su Shi. As an added bonus, this Song Dynasty (ca. 1078 C.E.) poem was recited by one of the students. The group concluded with probably the most widely-known of all Chinese folk songs, “Jasmine Flower,” a tune that’s been incorporated into everything from Puccini’s Turandot to music for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

After their performance, the students answered questions from Indeterminacies’ moderator Alan Fey and from the large and inquisitive audience. We learned that some of these young musicians played piano, while other played a variety of traditional Chinese string instruments. Many indicated a penchant for math. Almost all associated the city of Nashville with just one name – Taylor Swift.

Before connecting with the students on Skype, Bond and Jiosa played several improvisations on their own. This was layered, textured music. Using music software and a laptop, Bond would start with a rhythmic pattern, which he could then add to by tapping his fingers on a touch pad.

Jiosa joined in with harmonies and melodic fragments that he could loop using a foot pedal. An old-school melody lover at heart, the jazzy Jiosa would usually climax with a long, lyrical and fleet-fingered tune. This glistening, ambient music was played as artist Greg Pond’s video images were projected onto a wall. Pond’s art will be the first on display at Zeitgeist’s new location.

Indeterminacies’ mission is to present musicians with the opportunity to try new things. On Sunday, an international assortment of musicians got to experiment with the latest in digital technology. The audience, meanwhile, caught a glimpse of music’s promising future.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.