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Snider Visiting Artist Martin Arnold to present new piece

Snider Visting Artist will present new work at UTSC. (Photo by Ken Jones)

All musicians have limitations, whether classically trained or not trained at all. So Martin Arnold is not concerned that the performance of his new piece Thomas the Rhymer on Wednesday will include visual arts students with no previous musical experience.

“The piece continues something I've been doing, trying to come up with music in the same kind of sound world and embracing some of the same concerns as the stuff I write for virtuoso classically trained players ... The real point is that there are a whole lot of ways to make sound that can be organized and dealt with creatively that don’t require specialized training,” says Arnold, UTSC’s 2012 Snider Visiting Artist.

Thomas the Rhymer is based on an old Scottish ballad. The students and faculty members performing in it will include trained jazz musicians, visual artists playing bowed banjo and mandolin, and three singers. The piece takes about 40 minutes to perform.

“This really starts to encapsulate why Martin is so special,” says Marla Hlady, lecturer in visual and performing arts.  She says that Arnold is equally adept at speaking with musicians and with visual artists. “He’s really fluid in the way he can talk about the arts. He does it with rigor ... What I love is the way he’s always in there doing stuff.”

Arnold is a composer, teacher and musician. Four of his pieces will be premiered in 2012, including performances in Los Angeles, Zurich, Toronto, as well as a piece at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the UK. He also teaches regularly at Trent University, and appears as a performer, including with the Ryan Driver Quartet, which plays what he calls “psychedelic lounge music.”

Arnold, who has a PhD in music from the University of Victoria, says that as a teenager he played pop music on the guitar, but wasn’t serious about music until someone loaned him some jazz records at the age of 15. He began to play jazz, and entered the University of Alberta as a bass player.

But he found himself more drawn to composing than to the long hours of practice it took to become a professional jazz musician.

“The amount and diversity of music I listen to kept burgeoning. That’s where it became more interesting to me. I wondered if I could make something I wanted to listen to as much as I liked to listen to Eric Dolphy or John Cage.”

Arnold says that he’s especially influenced by early European polyphonic and monophonic music, as well as folk music from the British Isles. He’s less interested in Western functional harmony, he says, and more interested in music where the texture and the details of the sounds matter most.

He likes the ballad Thomas the Rhymer in part for its supernatural story about a man who is transported to the world of the fairies, and partly because it gives him scope for exploring the musical themes that interest him.

“There's a certain kind of expanse where people get over worrying about what’s going to come next and start listening to the detail. It's not very dramatic music that I write in general, and this is true with this piece as well. But there's a lot of texture, and a lot of ebbs and flows,” Arnold says.

Thomas the Rhymer will be performed Wednesday April 4 at 7:30 pm at the Leigha Lee Browne Theatre. Admission is free.



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