Bubbles, rubber chickens, bursting balloons and toys aren’t usually associated with classical music or jazz concerts.
An interview with Adam Simmons for Jazz Australia.
“Some of the qualities that I see art engenders, such as acceptance, compassion, generosity and faith, are vital to help society function. And despite Rodin talking about the usefulness of art in response to the ills of society over 100 years ago, it appears that we are in need more than ever before.”
JK: What was the impetus for this collaboration with Michael
AS: I first worked with Michael around 15 years ago in a Lloyd Jones production at La Mama Theatre. It was definitely unconventional – I spent most of the time kind of “un-playing” the saxophone and avoiding interaction with the other musicians, but at the end of the season, Michael invited me to write something for us to do together. I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but the offer was repeated again when we were performing the premiere of Kate Neal’s Rabid Bay. I liked the idea of combining Michael with one of my main projects at the time, the Adam Simmons Toy Band, as I knew that he would have a strength in his playing that could match the intensity of this 8-piece ensemble despite the disparity of styles. This dichotomy was borne out through the utilisation of concerto form as the basic structural idea. I didn’t expect or want Michael to be subsumed into the ensemble as a jazz pianist might, even if he was quite content to do so – the idea was to feature him as a concert pianist, because that’s what he is and does so well.
I had intended for the piece to be a vehicle for developing the Toy Band’s skills in a more improvised theatrical direction, but it was never realised in that form. Finally, I had the opportunity to present it at the 2015 Festival of Slow Music (Ballarat) with Michael and the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble (ASCME). It may not have served its original purpose, but it has helped contribute to the develop of another ensemble and I can recognise now how the learning curve involved in the composition process has impacted upon subsequent projects.
JK: What do you think is the usefulness of art?
AS: If I go with Rodin’s thoughts on the subject, it is to bring happiness. This was enough to help me justify pursuing a career in music. If helping make people happy is useful then it allowed me to feel I might actually be of benefit to my community.
This helped inform my ideas about endeavouring to share music with people. But I have since come to feel it is so much more than this as well, through a mixture of experience and research. There are the quantifiable economic benefits, which are not insubstantial, but the less tangible benefits are what I believe are of much greater importance.
A short list includes development of community through shared experiences, increase of empathy and understanding, and forging new neural pathways. Some of the qualities that I see art engenders, such as acceptance, compassion, generosity and faith, are vital to help society function. And despite Rodin talking about the usefulness of art in response to the ills of society over 100 years ago, it appears that we are in need more than ever before. And by art, I don’t mean simply entertainment, but I also don’t mean it has to be difficult and complex. It can be a mix of those things, but ultimately, I feel art poses questions, maybe with some suggested answers, but the good stuff does encourage the audience to engage somehow with the work which then continues beyond the experience. This is useful art.
JK: How do you hope to influence people’s perceptions from these performances?
AS: The hard part – trying to change the world! I am not so grandiose to believe that these performances will affect great political upheaval, but I do intend to help generate greater awareness and contemplation about art in society. The notion behind “The Usefulness of Art” is not to create a protest movement. I won’t change perceptions by arguing with people. An understanding I cam to many years ago was that I had to endeavour to follow my beliefs and try to lead be example.
This series is about presenting works that illustrate and celebrate the kinds of qualities I mentioned earlier. The performative nature of live performance is such that it is recognised that it creates community, so rather than talk about it, these concerts will be about actually doing it. Increasingly this is what I have been doing, whether through creating the Festival of Slow Music or presenting my “100:25:1” project of 100 duets in 2015, or working with various community ensembles – bringing people together, often from very different backgrounds, to perform music together as equals. Presenting ensembles that have diverse representation, and performing original music of high quality that expands experiences, these are things that do affect the performers as well as audiences.
I have my ideas about how I hope people will be influenced, but I am fairly post-modern in that I do try to leave it up to people to make what they will of their experience. The main thing is that they do leave feeling something that makes them think a little.
I intend that “The Usefulness of Art” will be a vehicle for more than just my own concerts. Via the Facebook page, there will be the opportunity to expand on my notions about the subject, linking in with ideas in the subject from others as well. I know I won’t change the world, but I do know that it is possible to affect things on a local level and so this will be a beginning – I’ll have to wait and see how far we can spread!
Concerto for Piano and Toy Band (by Adam Simmons)
Featuring: the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble and Michael Kieran Harvey (piano soloist)
Dates: Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th March 2017, 7.30pm each night except Sunday matinee at 3pm
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
Phone bookings: 03 9662 9966
Further information: adamsimmons.com/gigs-news/
This concert is 60 minutes with no interval.