Review: 25th Anniversary National Conference (part 8)

By Walter Saul
October 17-19, 2019

Intermission: After the marvelous dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers, we got a chance to enjoy more of the fine art and theater and dance facilities of Belhaven University. On the way to the dance center, in the same building, I took in an exhibition of “Visual Art from a Christian Worldview,” featuring art not only by Belhaven students but also from students of all ages in many schools in the Jackson area. It is evident that all of the arts play major roles at Belhaven and have helped this university become one of the major arts resources in Mississippi’s capital city. And, when it comes to dance, Belhaven has become a nationally and internationally recognized center. A family I know from Fresno, California, has sent two of its daughters, both accomplished dancers, to Belhaven to study dance. Perhaps this is why Concert 4 took place.

Concert 4: Dance

For the first time in my memory, the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers National Conference incorporated dance into its program at the 2:00 pm concert later on Saturday, October 19, in the Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center at Belhaven College. This program featured two music-dance collaborations and then a discussion about the collaborations and collaborating in general.

Cynthia Newland, Adjunct Professor of Dance at Belhaven, and Trailand Eltzroth, who just joined the Belhaven faculty as Adjunct Instructor of Songwriting in 2020, gave a fine introduction to music-dance collaboration, as Newland began this with eight silent steps, Eltzroth responded with improvisation and repeated it, then they improvised together. Hence it became a dialogue, with dancer and composer/performer trading leading and following roles and moving together.
Student dancers then joined the ensemble and hitchhiked on callouts from the audience for rivers, fire, boxes, mother, space, and exploration.

They then performed Explorations by Eltzroth, a three-movement collaboration based on dance and musical motives. The opening atmospheric movement led deftly into a slower movement with more pronounced rhythms and then the work concluded with a faster section. The marvelous give-and-take of dance inspiring the music which then leads to new dance steps reminded me in its form of sangita, the Indian term for both dance and music that emphasizes their oneness. How wonderful that the whole structure seems ideal for dancing (or most other physical exercises) by encouraging stretches and warm-ups before leading into slow, then faster dance steps. Eltzroth displayed great sensitivity and skill as a collaborator by being responsive to the dancers and their progression of steps and expressions. He also integrated many different sonorities and timbres in his accompaniment to the dancers. While some of the electronically-generated sounds mimicked traditional acoustic orchestral instruments, such as strings and bass drums, other gestures included breathing forest sounds and harsher electronic timbres that complemented the crawling and writhing of the dancers. Explorations as a whole follows an arch form, with the work loosely charting a retrograde of itself, returning to the pentatonic shapes and quiet open 5th chords out of which they grew.

The next work, drOpped, by CFAMC member Jason Palamara, an Assistant Professor of Music Technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, follows several of the procedures of Explorations in a 20-minute improvised work that again moves from slow to fast, as if it were introducing Palamara to the dancers and shifting the “pace of conversation,” as Palamara describes it, between dancers and the music. While acoustic violin, guitar, and the human voice are involved, all these elements float in an electronic bath of sounds that are generated through what Palamara calls Human-Inclusive Musical Intelligence (HIMI) systems. Palamara wore a special suit and gloves with sensors that capture and respond musically to physical movements. This seemed to create an even more intimate connection between music and dance.

The ensuing conversation included observations about “rests” in dance, moments of stillness that speak just as eloquently as movement does, yet afford dancers necessary breaks in physical exertion. Both Eltzroth and Palamara employ these restful places in effective ways that lead to greater contrasts and emotional releases in both dance and music.

For several of us, myself included, this program was eye-opening and unveiled fresh vistas into a new dimension of making art, particularly as a collaborator. On his website Palamara details many other collaborations and varied types of collaborations with dancers, other musicians, and creators of artificial intelligence. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this event is the challenge to find and make collaborations!

While I was unable to find links to music by Eltzroth, I did find, on Palamara’s website, an abbreviated version of drOpped at