Author Archives: caldwewf

Looking at the Big Picture: Presenting Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky

By Ashley Overby

When the board of the Miami University Symphony Orchestra  learned that we would be performing Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, we knew that we wanted to do something special. The Russian composer originally wrote a suite of 10 pieces, interspersed with movements titled Promenades, for piano. The piece depicts a journey through an exhibition of paintings, inspired by the paintings of Viktor Hartmann. Each promenade is a depiction of the viewer or listener walking from piece to piece, reflecting on what they have seen, and the main movements depict the art itself. Ravel later orchestrated this piece for a full symphonic orchestra. Because the music was based on works of art, we wanted to incorporate the visual arts into our performance. We wanted to present our own exhibition.

The idea was suggested that we perform the music during an animated video portraying the images we were imitating through music. One video in particular was based on the art of Natasha Turovksy, who created a series of paintings inspired by Mussorgsky’s music, since many of Hartmann’s original paintings are now lost. We would then present the paintings of Turovsky in the lobby for the audience to view. We also wanted Miami University students to be able to present their works alongside Turovsky’s. All of the paintings would be available for viewing after our performance with the video, coordinated by an Interactive Media Studies student. This program encourages students to consider digital content and media such as graphics, text, and sound, and how people interact with this media. We felt that this was a perfect job for an Interactive Media Studies student because of the presentation of images and music through the use of technology. It was an ambitious plan, but we felt we could pull it off.

There was a lot involved in making it happen. The board members were responsible for proposing the idea to the Art and Interactive Media Studies departments. Thankfully, they were on board and thought it was a fantastic idea. This is when our initial concept began to shift and change. One of the art professors suggested that rather than display student paintings, we have students and professors painting and drawing while we perform. Their art would then be shown after our performance and would be available for sale. This seemed like an even better idea, creating artwork based on the music, the reverse of how Mussorgsky created his work. We eventually learned that we wouldn’t be able to present Turovsky’s paintings, but we now had something better lined up: a live interpretation of the music.

The days leading up to the concert were stressful. Not only was it challenging to put together a proposal, but we also had to develop a plan to market the event. We worked with Jeanne Harmeyer, the Marketing and Communications Director for the College of Creative Arts, to develop a poster. Then we decided what the most strategic locations would be to place the posters as well as the digital displays. We also had to decide on a price point for our tickets. We don’t typically charge entry for our concerts, but because of the cost of renting the video and the intrinsic value of the concert experience, we decided to charge for tickets.

The actual logistics of the concert were tricky. The video was controlled through a special software program run by an Interactive Media Studies student who was also a musician. This made sure that the music lined up with the movie correctly. We also had the responsibility of testing equipment such as the stand lights. There was concern that something wouldn’t run smoothly, that the images and music wouldn’t line up, or that our stand lights would go out mid-performance. There was no telling what would actually happen the day of the concert.

Despite all of our concerns, the performance was a huge success. Everything ran smoothly and the artists created a variety of beautiful artworks. It was a rewarding experience for everyone involved. It was one of the first large scale collaborations between different arts departments that we know of, and we certainly look forward to projects like this one in the future. I think all of the board members began to appreciate how much work goes into planning an arts event, and there are people who do this kind of work everyday in order to present the arts events we all enjoy. It wasn’t easy, but eventually all of the details came together, working in harmony to create a magical experience of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Ashley Overby is an aspiring orchestral musician studying Music Performance and Biology at Miami University.

From Page to Stage and Everything in Between: A Timeline of Making a Musical

by Austin Lamewona

March 2015

I am a budding playwright with dreams of one day acting and writing professionally. I have what I think to be a cool concept for a musical about two feuding singing groups. I call it “Octets.” After writing a few poorly constructed scenes in a small notebook, I realize that I do not have the musical ability or even a solid enough idea to continue writing. In frustration, I toss the notebook in the back of my closet to separate myself from what I thought to be a pathetically embarrassing writing experiment. Despite this, the concept of this musical perpetually lingers in my mind.

Summer 2016

Almost a year and a half passes, and I experience a few successes with a couple plays I have written. I am about to embark on my Freshman year at Miami University. For various reasons, it does not include theatre as a major or minor. Fearing that my aspirations for a career in theatre would vanish overall, I search for a project that I can really dive into. I stumble upon the notebook for Octets and read the atrocious scenes I had written a year and a half prior. I decide to take another stab at it.

Nick Witzeman had graduated from my high school two grades ahead of me and was going into his junior year at Miami University. He is an extremely talented musician that I had always looked up to, so I send him a Facebook message asking for help on the music-making front of writing Octets. Fortunately for me, he is receptive. We meet up and begin to focus and develop the plot that I have in mind. After this first meeting, Nick asks me what my end goal in writing this musical was. I have no idea.

Fall 2016

My Freshman year begins, and I hear about the new Arts Management co-major program through an email. Figuring that a knowledge of managing the arts would be a useful skill to have, I set up a meeting with Todd Stuart. After talking with him about the program, I get to thinking: as an aspiring artists, perhaps I needed to start thinking of myself not solely as a creative, but also as a manager and producer of art.

As my first semester progresses, I spend every moment of free time working on the book and lyrics of Octets. As I finish a set of lyrics, I send them to Nick and briefly explain what I was envisioning. He transforms those lyrics into a song and sends back an audio recording. Listening to music for the lyrics brings the musical to life in a much more real and exciting way than just reading lyrics and scenes I had written. At this point I start to think that we were working on something that had potential. The idea of producing Octets at Miami starts running through my mind. But since I have no resources or know-how to do this, I decide to talk to Todd Stuart.

Spring 2017

After Todd listens to our ideas and some music that we had recorded, he is on board. He helps me set up a meeting with Julia Guichard, the chair of the theatre department. Before I met with her however, I have to finally decide what I want a first production of Octets to look like. This decision is accompanied by a near-overwhelming number of smaller decisions. Do I want to do a staged reading, or a full production? Is our script even ready for a full production? Do I want to charge tickets or make it free to the public? Do I want to hold auditions for the show, or cast it from the people that I was already familiar with? These questions would ultimately decide the identity of our production. And to find answers to them, I start implementing skills that I gained through taking Arts Management classes.

It is springtime and my Freshman year is coming to an end. I go into full managing mode, and secure many of the logistics of producing Octets. The book, lyrics, and music of Octets are all in solid places, and wouldn’t benefit from anything less than a full production. After meeting several times with Julia Guichard and other theatre department faculty, I am able to reserve Studio 88 for April 2018. I map out the timeline of the production including dates for auditions, rehearsals, and shows. I develop a production team full of students who were passionate about the pursuit of art in whatever division they specialized in. Over the summer Nick and I relentlessly edit the script and score.

Fall 2017

The summer ends, and my Sophomore year begins. The pressure of putting this production together is mounting. I started holding production team meetings. I notice that many of the conversations we have in our meetings are parallel to conversations that take place in my Arts Management courses. My team and I develop marketing plans using the same strategies that Professor Caldwell has students use in his Arts Marketing class. We discuss ways of getting both Miami students and Oxford residents interested in Octets, and I am able to use some of the research gained from my Arts Engagement class to bolster the conversation. I also write multiple proposals for funding, and in them I explain the effect that producing a musical can have on both the performers and the surrounding community, an idea central to any arts organization.

Present day

Today is a Monday, in late November of 2017. It has been two and a half years since I wrote the first couple scenes of Octets. Taking a musical from a blank page to a staged production is a long, enduring journey. At frequent points throughout the process, I have seriously questioned whether or not I had the ability to do it. Often times, I still do. Making a musical has come with a large amount of doubt, stress, and ambiguity. But it has also created a more well-rounded, ambitious, and creative person. I am still here, a thriving artist. And considering that I hold auditions for my musical tomorrow, the story is nowhere near over.

Austin Lamewona is both an aspiring writer and a student at Miami University studying Marketing and Arts Management.