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Turning Orchestral Music into Visual Art

By Steven Dawson

Papier mâché dress created by AU student Lauree Tu.

Papier mâché dress created by AU student Lauree Tu.

The American University Symphony Orchestra and conductor Yaniv Dinur have found an innovative way to involve college students in AUSO concerts.

This fall, Dinur taught Understanding Music, a general education class designed for non-music majors. Its purpose was to expose students to the richness of the world of classical music. The class’s final project involved creating visual work inspired by the music being performed at the November AUSO concert. Those pieces included Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, Violin Concerto by Samuel Barber, and Symphony No. 3 by Robert Schumann.

The art works were then presented before the concert in an exhibition held in the Kreeger Lobby outside of the Abramson Family Recital Hall at the Katzen Arts Center.

“This is something that I've been wanting to do for a long time,” says Dinur, “and finally making it happen was kind of making a dream come true. The idea behind this project was my passion to bring college students to the concert halls. I believe that doing this would create a special experience both for the students and for our orchestra that would be performing for a young audience. I realized that the best way to actually bring this young audience to the concerts was to have them be an essential part of the event and the process beforehand.”

The student artwork included paintings, sculptures, and photography. One such work was a series of 10 photographs by AU student Iana Kozelski. She explains, “I sectioned Danzón No. 2 into 10 parts, each with a different distinguishable melody which the dancer, Alessandra Lacson, represents. The photos are in order of the sections in the song.”

Another featured piece was a traditional Mexican dress made with chicken wire, papier mâché, and tablecloths. This was created by Lauree Tu. “The traditional dress that is worn on special occasions in Mexico inspired me to want to design my own dress that would best convey the vision I imagined when listening to the Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Marquez,” she says. “The red and black colors best represented my feel of the sultry tone that Marquez’s Danzón conveyed, and the swooping of the dress was to emphasize the liveliness of the piece.”

The exhibition was a success, and the event brought many university students to the Katzen Arts Center, both to see the exhibits and to hear the AUSO perform the music that inspired these art works. “At the beginning of the process I was quite worried,” Dinur admits, “because I didn't really know the students and had no way to predict how this whole thing would turn out. But it was important to me to go through with it no matter what the result would be. At the end, I was overwhelmed by the works that the students made. It was a special experience for everyone.”

Dinur expects to create similar student engagement activities for future concerts. “I am currently working on new projects and more ways to involve all the students in what we do,” he says. “The most important thing is to open the door to this incredibly rich world of classical music for the students. Most of them are very intrigued by this kind of music that they never heard before and that has new things to offer them that other kinds of music cannot. I discovered that once that door is open, they are not afraid to go through it.”

For more information on Dinur and the American University Symphony Orchestra, visit AU Arts.