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Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, The Curtis Institute of Music, and Artist and Composer Ari Benjamin Meyers Redefine Music as Public Art

Higher Education

Today, Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and The Curtis Institute of Music announced their call for the first public orchestra for Rehearsing Philadelphia®. Rehearsing Philadelphia is a citywide art-based public project created by Berlin-based composer and artist, Ari Benjamin Meyers, and jointly produced and presented by The Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and The Curtis Institute of Music. The project is supported by the first inter-institutional collaborative grant awarded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Rehearsing Philadelphia will consist of four performative modules – Solo, Duet, Ensemble and Orchestra. As part of these modules, newly commissioned works will be performed live and involve in-person audience encounters at a variety of public and private venues across the city, including Philadelphia City Hall, the School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Police Headquarters, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Cherry Street Pier and more. To accompany the live performances, artistic partner and digital strategist Vanessa Newman will design a parallel digital space where audiences can experience public art in the digital form. .

During the collaborative city-wide project, one aspect will be to form the first Public Orchestra, dedicated to honoring the diversity of the sonic landscape of Philadelphia. Members of this orchestra will be from a wide variety of musical backgrounds and experiences. The orchestra will perform specially commissioned works by internationally renowned artists including Ann Carlson, Ari Benjamin Meyers, Sun Ra Arkestra, Xenia Rubinos, and Ursula Rucker and will be led by Anthony Tidd. Applicants for membership can play any instrument or use voice as their primary instrument. The ability to read music is welcome but not required. Two informational sessions to learn more about the Public Orchestra will be held in October 2021. Rehearsals will take place between January and March 2022. Locations, dates, and times of the informational sessions can be found here: RehearsingPhiladelphia.com. Interested musicians can also directly submit their applications on the website by Friday, October 28, 2021.

“Traditional musical preparation focuses on rehearsing as a way to attain perfection, which then gets repeated in performance. This is not how we live modern life in a rapidly changing world of social and political upheaval, faced with pandemic outbreaks and looming environmental catastrophe,” said Mr. Meyers. “The future will be rehearsed, not perfected. Rehearsing Philadelphia re-examines the rehearsal processes as something that can allow people to act together and be empowered to create new realities; as an empathic learning process of transmission and translation, and as itself a mode of knowledge production.”

Rehearsing Philadelphia has enlisted over 200 local and international musicians from Curtis and Drexel, dancers and composers to participate in the foundational project. Notable participants include:
Ursula Rucker, Poet, Performer and Recording Artist
CAConrad, Poet
Germaine Ingram, Dancer and Choreographer
Fred Schmidt-Arenales, Artist and Filmmaker
Tyshawn Sorey, Composer and Multi-Instrumentalist
Philadelphia Heritage Chorale
Singing City
Dover Quartet, String Quartet

“Rehearsing Philadelphia will bring people together through shared experiences of music and art, modeling a vision for Philadelphia that prioritizes dialogue (rehearsing) between diverse individuals and communities,” says Mary Javian, Chair of Career Studies, The Curtis Institute. “We are delighted to have Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and The Curtis Institute of Music students participating in this landmark project.”

“Rather than a series of one-off public performances, each encounter will unfold as a process, a series of public rehearsals exploring new forms of collectivity and agency, where conditions are impermanent, seemingly ever-changing and the future unknown,” says Dr. Miriam Giguere, Department Head of Performing Arts in the Westphal College. “This project will reframe musical rehearsal as a process, as an essentially non-discursive activity, which allows people to act together and be empowered to create new realities.”

The project will begin the week of March 21, 2022, and culminates with all four phases having final performances on Saturday, April 9, 2022. For more information regarding performance details, participants and the virtual experience, visit rehearsingphiladelphia.com.

The Public Orchestra, a manifesto

Note: The word orchestra has its earliest known roots in the Sanskrit word ऋघायiत ṛghāyati. The word means to tremble with anger, rage, rave.

The Public Orchestra strives to be as diverse in all aspects as the city it is in. A sonically diverse orchestra is a diverse orchestra.

Membership into the orchestra is not based on skill but rather enthusiasm and commitment. Diversity across all demographics and heterogeneity representative of the host city are the guiding principles for the makeup and instrumentation of the orchestra.

The only musical requirement is ownership or access to an instrument on which you have some (any) level of proficiency. The voice is also an instrument. It is not necessary to be able read music.

Non genre-specific music education and expanding access to all instruments is a future and ongoing goal of The Public Orchestra.

All rehearsals are open.

All performances are free.

Rehearsing takes priority over performing.

Besides rehearsing musical works the rehearsals are also forums for conversation, discussion, and exchange. Rehearsals can also include a joint meal, a lecture, a film screening.

The Public Orchestra is not beholden to any repertoire or perceived standards of perfection. No pre-existing genre or tradition is ascribed to it but The Public Orchestra is indebted to the multitude of existing genres and traditions that exist in any one area.

Composers and other artists will be invited to create a new repertoire for this new body. The repertoire is shared between all Public Orchestras.

The Orchestra has a season; membership and rehearsals should remain more or less constant through each season.
New Public Orchestras are formed with input from existing Public Orchestras. After the orchestra has been established for at least one season, the orchestra members ideally take control of all decision-making. An advisory board may be established.

The Public Orchestra takes place locally but exists as a large interconnected body of all Public Orchestras.
The first Public Orchestra was created in Philadelphia in 2022.

-Ari Benjamin Meyers, Berlin 2021

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Ari Benjamin Meyers
Ari Benjamin Meyers (b. 1972, USA) lives and works in Berlin. Meyers received his training as a composer and conductor at The Juilliard School, Yale University, and Peabody Institute. Trading the concert format for that of the exhibition, his widely exhibited works – such as Kunsthalle for Music (2018), Symphony 80 (with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) and Solo for Ayumi (both 2017) – explore structures and processes that redefine the performative, social, and ephemeral nature of music as well as the relationship between performer and audience. His work has been presented and exhibited in major institutions and festivals around the world and his diverse practice features performances for the stage and for exhibition spaces as well as three operas including a commission for the Semperoper Dresden, a ballet for the Paris Opera, and most recently the experimental music-theater work Forecast (2021) for the Volksbühne Berlin. Meyers has often worked collaboratively and has realized multiple joint projects with artists such as Tino Sehgal, Anri Sala, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, as well as with bands such as The Residents, Chicks on Speed, and Einstürzende Neubauten. A number of his more recent productions including the upcoming Werksorchester (2022), the ongoing The Long Parade (2021), and Changing of the Guards (2018) focus on the public and civic sphere and involve large-scale communal rituals.

Vanessa Newman
Vanessa Newman is a strategist, designer, writer, spacemaker, music producer and DJ based in Brooklyn, NY. Their work lies in connecting dots, closing gaps and creating spaces that don’t exist through building products and spaces that live across the digital and the physical. Vanessa currently leads product strategy at Somewhere Good, a social search designed to connect people of color to the content and communities they love. They are also the co-founder of In Session, a digital initiative committed to creating and showcasing powerful communities of women, nonbinary, and trans music producers, and the founder of Design To Divest, a Black-led collective of designers, artists, technologists and strategists designing equitable futures by divesting from inequitable institutions, as well as No Insights, a community for women, nonbinary and trans strategists of color in the advertising & media industries.

The Curtis Institute of Music
The Curtis Institute of Music educates and trains exceptionally gifted young musicians to engage a local and global community through the highest level of artistry. For nearly a century Curtis has provided each member of its small student body with an unparalleled education alongside musical peers, distinguished by a “learn by doing” philosophy and personalized attention from a faculty that includes a high proportion of actively performing musicians. To ensure that admissions are based solely on artistic promise, Curtis makes an investment in each admitted student so that no tuition is charged for their studies. In a typical year, Curtis students hone their craft through more than 200 orchestra, opera, and solo and chamber music offerings in Philadelphia and around the world.

The Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
The center for creativity at Drexel University, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design trains the next generation of scholars, thinkers, makers, and doers in the fields of media, entertainment, design, and the visual and performing arts. Westphal offers 18 undergraduate and nine graduate majors housed in award-winning facilities that encourage collaboration across creative disciplines. At Westphal, we reimagine the role of design, media, and the arts in building a better future. Our programs challenge students to center sustainability, access, and equity in their approaches to design, creative work, and scholarship. Through experiential learning, studio-based curriculum, and Drexel’s widely recognized cooperative education (co-op) program, our students are uniquely positioned to face the world’s challenges and define the creative careers of the 21st century. For more information, visit https://drexel.edu/westphal/.

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage
The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is a multidisciplinary grantmaker and hub for knowledge-sharing, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and dedicated to fostering a vibrant cultural community in Greater Philadelphia. The Center invests in ambitious, imaginative, and catalytic work that showcases the region’s cultural vitality and enhances public life, and it engages in an exchange of ideas concerning artistic and interpretive practice with a broad network of cultural practitioners and leaders. For more information, visit pewcenterarts.org.