Visiting an art museum has become more than strolling from painting to painting while observing hushed library etiquette. For years, art educators have sought ways to engage their audiences, through themed tours, audio guides and interactive family learning.
The three-year-old Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has never been without interactive programming; their Music and Museum series began a month after they opened with chamber concerts among the artwork. By inviting a second medium into the gallery, the viewer’s chance of connecting to an idea doubles.
The Bechtler’s next Music and Museum concert on April 9 will explore 20th-century ideals in “Modernism and Sensuality” as expressed by composer Claude Debussy and artist Edgar Degas.
The Fire Pink Trio of Winston-Salem will perform a Debussy sonata. And museum Vice President Christopher Lawing will lead a discussion of how a Degas sketch in the Bechtler collection and the music relate to each other.
As a student of art and music, Lawing prepares a Powerpoint presentation that highlights the regional and political context of these pieces.
“I’ve come to know that people think of music happening in a bubble by itself, of literature in another little bubble,” Lawing said, “but the arts are all interconnected. Artistic movements and mediums don’t live in bubbles. If you think about a big Venn diagram, the two intersect. Allowing the audience to focus on the overlapping portion has a more meaningful connection.”
Performance arts have a rich history of collaboration and overlapping with other genres. An opera, ballet or theater production include costuming and scenic construction, but audiences may be less inclined to notice the collaboration; we still think of opera as music and ballet as dance.
When the visual arts reach out to music, the collaboration is in the foreground, so an art museum may have the most to gain from such an alliance.
“Visual art is a place that can really make the interdisciplinary nature of the arts more pronounced in the audience’s mind,” Lawing said.
The artistic and musical communities benefit from this alliance by providing their patrons with multiple avenues of exploration.
In the case of the music, the advantages are not limited to the listeners. As the Fire Pink Trio – harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett, violist Sheila Browne and flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta – recreates works by Debussy, Arnold Bax and Dan Locklair, they incorporate visual components into their musical choices.
“As a performer,” said the Fire Pink Trio’s Bartlett, “having a visual helps us develop an idea about sound qualities and textures. It’s interesting how all of those same components go into a visual artist’s work. They’re looking for similar things to make their work communicate properly.”
For all the sophisticated ideas behind these events, the presentation style is informal. With images and information projected onto the clean museum walls rather than a printed program, the concert feels more like a music and art appreciation class, but without a disinterested classmate beside you.
In the Bechtler’s fourth-floor gallery, it is possible to sit three feet from the performers, certainly less formal than most venues. It’s so close you can see exactly how much pressure a cellist uses to produce the sound you’re hearing and the sniffs musicians share as cues. There’s so much to learn about production that enhances what you hear and see, and the raw presentation quality makes the experience personal.
Through this intimate, familiar presentation of cultivated material, the Bechtler’s Music and Museum series demystifies visual and musical arts as well as enhancing the traditional consumption of sight and sound.