Impressions from Row G

Today we introduce Arlene and Larry Dunn and their new ICE blog feature: “Impressions from Row G.


Hello to all you ICE lovers out there. We are here as a result of conversations we had with Claire Chase surrounding the recent Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at Oberlin. We attended the conference in part for its great series of four concerts in four nights, featuring ICE on the final night. We also participated in the institute as “audience critics.” We hoped to heighten our music listening skills and hone our ability to express ourselves about a music performance by jumping into the cauldron of having to write and submit reviews by 9:00 AM the day after. It was exhilarating and exhausting, and we will relate more about the experience in future blog posts. In the midst of this Claire wondered “wouldn’t it be great if we could leverage what you are doing into blog entries that provide an audience reaction and perspective on the ICE experience.” Well, you may know that it is hard to say “no” to Claire (her contagious energy is very persuasive!) . . . so here we are. 

We’re calling our posts “Impressions from Row G” because we always seem to be sitting in Row G for performances at MCA Chicago, where we enjoyed our first live ICE encounter a few years ago. We thought it would be helpful to begin our ICE-blogging adventure by providing a bit of background on just what sort of audience perspective we are bringing. We have become rabid followers of contemporary music rather late in life (Larry is 62 and Arlene is 69) by a long and winding path.  Between us, we have a total of one college course in Music Appreciation. Neither of us grew up in “musical” families, no performers among our immediate families or ancestors, and not even much interest in music listening. We each have made ill-fated attempts to play music -- Arlene took a run at the piano when she first retired, and Larry made several attempts to play the guitar and bass to no avail. But our failure to master music performance at any level in no way denies music’s power to profoundly move us, and that is an experience we continually crave. 

We are quintessential naive, self-taught listeners. Arlene got hooked on R&B and early Rock and Roll in high school, then got into the beatnik folk scene in Cambridge while she was going to Brandeis. Fellow beatniks turned her on to jazz and some classical music too, and she became an avid listener of all those genres. Larry’s first real immersion into music came in the hippie era of the ‘60s with a deep dive into psychedelic acid rock and early “Album Rock” radio. Larry’s ears were opened up considerably when he met Arlene and her friends in ‘68 and started exploring their eclectic album collections. Together we have pursued many musical threads over the years. In the ‘80s we moved to Chicago, subscribed to the CSO and Lyric Opera, and began to realize there was this contemporary branch of music out there. The mainstream of audiences around us were confused at best, appalled at worst, when such pieces would show up on programs. But we were exhilarated at the energy and creativity we heard in this “music of right now.” Starting with Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, we indulged in contemporary music when and where we could find it; and It wasn’t always easy to find. Live performances were especially sparse. Fortunately contemporary music prospects in Chicago have improved significantly in the past 10 years. Ensembles like ICE, Eighth Blackbird, and Fulcrum Point; and series like CSO’s Music Now and U of C’s Contempo have all greatly expanded the opportunities to hear contemporary music live and introduced us to a wide array of new (to us) composers. 

So, here we are, new music junkies seeking a fix wherever we can find it. Live performances are always the best avenue for satisfaction. The web is a big boon to our searching, not only for performance opportunities but for sources of interesting recordings and background information on composers and performers. The WQXR (NYC) new music radio stream Q2 is indispensable. And we have found a surprisingly rich catalogue of contemporary music on the web-based music service Rhapsody, which we stream into our home audio systems using devices from Sonos. No doubt Rhapsody’s competitors like Spotify and MOG have similar catalogues you can tap if you already subscribe there. We also have an extensive CD collection that is deepest in Jazz, our other strongest music interest, and Classical music of all eras. 

For us, ICE is the pinnacle of our contemporary music adventure. Perhaps we can sum it up in one statistic -- ICE has premiered over 500 new works in ten or so years of existence. That’s an average of one new work per week for ten years people! 

We have postings in the works about the recent Oberlin ICE concert and the Rubin Institute and about the concert at the Art Institute of Chicago on January 27. We will attend the February 5th concert at MCA and the May concert in Boston and will write about those too. Fellow icicles, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. 

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)