NakedEye Ensemble takes center stage at DCCC

By Victoria Lavelle

It was lights up as NakedEye Ensemble took center stage to present “Loud and Soft, High and Low” at the Marple Campus Large Auditorium as part of DCCC’s New Music Concert Series Nov. 2.

The eight-member electro-acoustic ensemble pulled from the group’s combined classical, rock, and jazz talents, and performed musical works by modern and “cutting-edge” composers, utilizing acoustics, electric guitar, toy piano, and a variety of unique sound-making instruments that included kitchen gadgets.

Founded in 2009 by pianist Ju-Ping Song, NakedEye began as the resident contemporary ensemble of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Music. According to Song, approximately two years later the group had developed into an independent organization in Lancaster, Pa., composed of professional musicians from classical, rock and jazz backgrounds.

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DCCC’s New Music Concert Series continued with NakedEye Ensemble’s Jeff Stern performance on percussion Nov. 2. Photo by Victoria Lavelle

“NakedEye’s body of repertoire reflects the group’s mission to innovate and explore musical expression outside of convention,” Song said. “From notated works to guided improvisations for flexible instrumentation, the group has established a New Music presence in its home city of Lancaster, from which it collaborates with composers and performers to import and export musical works in a rich, ongoing artistic exchange. NakedEye believes in the power of New Music to surprise, uplift, and change.”

In addition to Song, “Loud and Soft, High and Low” featured the sounds of cello performed by Peter Kibbe, electric guitar by Chad Kinsey, flute by Susanna Loewy, clarinet by Christy Banks, saxophone by Ryan Kauffman, electric bass by Mike Bitts, and percussions by Jeff Stern.

“NakedEye’s performance was full of life, with a new and modern sound,” said Downingtown adjunct professor of anatomy and physiology Navita Kaushal. “The way they put together the orchestra, along with the wind and brass instruments was absolutely great!”

From notated scores to guided improvisations, the group has established a New Music presence in South Central Pennsylvania. According to Song, the ensemble collaborates with composers and performers to import and export a diverse musical experience and ongoing exchange of talents.

As noted on the ensemble’s official website, their mission states, “The group is a working embodiment of its mission to perform and promote emerging contemporary music and talent, both locally and abroad.”

NakedEye Ensemble’s mission and direction is supported by the Thomas A. and Georgina T. Russo Family Foundation, PA Council of the Arts, New Music USA, The Amphion Foundation, and individual donors.

Song interacted with the audience throughout the show and narrated between musical selections, sharing background information and personal stories of the ensembles.

Composer Aaron Jay Myers of Boston described how challenging it became when he began composing the show’s music, calling the experience “complicated.” Myers shared that he had difficulties while composing the musical selection for NakedEye, due to an unexpected change in his eyesight.

Not long after beginning the musical composition, Myers said that he became increasingly worried that he might have amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” as it’s commonly referred to as. After seeking medical treatment, he was diagnosed with strabismus, a vision impairing condition in which the visual axes of the eyes are not parallel, so each eye’s vision appears aimed in different directions.

Myers said his rock and jazz roots are apparent in the music, he explained that his inspiration was something much different.

“I am honored to have composed these works for the fantastic musicians of NakedEye,” Myers said. “After being diagnosed with strabismus, it undoubtedly became the inspiration behind this orchestrated musical piece with the goal of turning something negative into something positive and productive. The melody starts out focused and clear, then some of the material turns blurry and hazy while gradually becoming unfocused. As it builds towards the peak and nears the conclusion, everything transitions back to being focused again.”

The ensemble earned “Time’s Illusion” Commissioning Project Award, and received the New Music USA Grant in June 2017, and the Amphion Foundation Grant in July 2017. The ensemble’s commissioned works have also received first prize at NYC’s UnCaged Toy Piano Composition Competition.

University of Wisconsin – Madison music composition professor Stephen Dembski composed “NakedEye Came” in 2014, but says he just recently revised the piece at his home in Manhattan.

“I just finished replacing the contrabass with the cello at Ju-Ping’s request, to properly fit the piece with the ensembles evolving instruments and players,” Dembski added. “I made the drive down to DCCC from New York City because this was the first performance of the new since the alterations and detailed specifications. This piece is struck by the heavy resonance of the name NakedEye, and I recalled its sonic sibling in the book of Job: ‘Naked I came from the earth, naked I shall return whence I came.’”

Altogether, the ensemble showcased six orchestrated pieces. Four additional performances by NakedEye included: “Fur Alina” composed by Arvo Pärt, “God Soul Mind Brain” by Randall Woolf, “Seven” by Don Byron, and “Workers’ Union” composed by Louis Andiessen.

After curtain call and the final bow, Song and the NakedEye members invited guests to stay and encouraged questions from the audience.

DCCC general studies major Charlie Smith asked the ensemble how they trained their minds to stay focused and keep precise timing without just glazing over each musical performance.

“It sounds easy, but it’s actually extremely hard,” Song replied. “If you lose your focus, you will indeed end up lost. One of the best ways to learn your timing, is to keep rehearsing it until you have it mastered.”

DCCC liberal arts major William McMahon directed his question specifically to the electric guitarist when he asked, “Who inspired you? Did you imagine yourself playing this sort of music, rather than the traditional ‘Rock-n-roll?’”

“I was inspired by Pete Townshend from The Who, and Mark Stewart from the group, Bang on a Can,” Kinsey replied. “I used to play the electric guitar in rock music, and I made it appear effortless because it’s actually rather easy and fulfilling. Becoming a member of NakedEye Ensemble has been a much different experience that I never anticipated. I never went to music school, so I’m up here on stage playing with doctors. I don’t know how to read music, but I grew skills and talent through my passion. I’m thankful and blessed to be a part of NakedEye Ensemble.”

Contact Victoria Lavelle at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu