CMI City Sounds: Frank Felice & Eric Salazar
Words by Elizabeth Frickey
For many people, the idea of “classical music” conjures up certain images: concert halls, buttoned-up performers, reading the names of composers long past in printed program books. Classical Music Indy has always strived to make classical music more accessible for audiences and artists in Central Indiana, but the recent CMI City Sounds project is redefining accessibility for local audiences, performers, and even composers. Supported by the Indy Arts and Culture Restart & Resilience Fund, CMI chose 10 well-known Indianapolis sites to serve as performance venues for local musicians. Now, by scanning a QR code at each site, visitors can find video recordings of each performance. Of the 10 possible sites to experience, four of these performances feature original works by local composers.
To local composer and Butler University professor Frank Felice, this is a great opportunity to connect with new audiences in creative ways. “This is a marvelous commission to have landed for this [project],” said Felice of the opportunity to compose a piece for the Sunken Garden at Garfield Park. “You also then have the ability to say, well maybe someone who is not a ‘classical music person’ is going to hear one of these and go, well I want to listen to the other ones. Then you end up building not only an audience but a community based on what their idea of Garfield Park is, hearing how my music interacts with that and them, and then also how this starts to act with a lot of other pieces of music.”
For Felice, someone who has written music in a wide variety of styles and genres, finding out that he would compose a piece for Indianapolis’s oldest municipal park meant deeply considering his audience and the space itself. “From the moment it was open, [Garfield Park] was a place where a lot of people could go and spend time,” said Felice. “The kind of music you would hear on evenings there in the park was stuff that everyone could enjoy […] I knew that I had to write something that was going to be indicative of that space.” Inspired by the early 20th-century origins of the park, Felice immediately settled on a “Scott Joplin-esque” style ragtime. This evolved into a multi-movement work entitled “Postcards from Garfield Park” for woodwind quartet featuring flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, and bassoon with each instrumentalist also doubling on an auxiliary instrument, including piccolo, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and contrabassoon. What results is a piece full of lush and varied musical imagery: glistening fountains, shady groves of trees, and children playing tag.
Of course, the performers also play a vital role in this project. Eric Salazar describes himself as having a bit of a “quadruple life” when it comes to the CMI City Sounds project, serving not only as the clarinetist on Frank Felice’s piece but as the project manager, Classical Music Indy Director of Community Engagement, and composer of “The Indianapolis Cultural Trail” for its performance at Lugar Plaza. “Being a performer for newly composed music is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Salazar. “I really like working on newly-composed music because it’s sort of my way of connecting to that classical tradition. And if we don’t do it, then we’re severing that link audiences will have to classical music, because those pieces of earlier times will just exist in a vacuum.”
In many ways, this project is about getting classical music outside of the vacuum and into the community. Salazar’s composition, a duo for harps in three movements, was recorded at Lugar Plaza along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. “I was fascinated by the idea of depicting movement along a trail by two very stationary instruments,” said Salazar of his instrumentation choices. “I was interested in challenging myself to say ‘Okay, let’s put two instruments where you literally have to wheel them in, unpack them, and set them down and they can’t move and let’s see if they can depict movement along the trail.’” Each movement of the work is intended to reflect encountering different atmospheres on the trail at different points in the day, including afternoon, the break of dawn, and in the dead of night. As listeners encounter the trail (and the piece) at different times, the performers are also faced with different challenges, such as opportunities for improvisation and extended techniques.
For both Felice and Salazar, the City Sounds project has presented new possibilities for experimentation, but also the chance to expose potential listeners to music in exciting ways. “Something that I like about it is it’s your choice to scan the QR code or not,” said Salazar. “So it’s not like music is being forced into your ears at any given time, it’s you choosing to engage with it if you feel like it.” By giving the people of Indianapolis the option to listen and to seek musical experiences in new ways, CMI City Sounds can start to give back to the mission of Classical Music Indy as a whole: “to inspire people in our community with the power of classical music.”