Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Thrills

Ever since the VMFA transformed itself into a world-class museum, it's been one amazing thing after another. The latest was the lecture tonight by Jun Kaneko, the Japanese sculptor who did all those massive and beautiful pieces temporarily residing in the VMFA sculpture garden.

The evening got off to an auspicious start when, while walking to Will Call to pick up my ticket, I passed an Asian man with flowing white hair and glasses who smiled at me. Smiling back, I immediately knew that he was the artist and I don't even know why. And I could tell I was going to enjoy hearing him talk.

I joined a nearly full house to hear this painter-turned-sculptor share his life and art. His passion for creating imbued every word of his lecture and he emphasized that creative energy comes from curiosity. Being a naturally curious person myself, I loved having my need to know validated.

He said his origins as a painter left him in the dark about sculpture. "It's really great not to know anything because you have nothing to worry about, " he recalled. "Lots of things I did shouldn't have worked."

I could say the same about my own life, although I have no sculpture to show for it (well, except for the little blue glazed flower pot I made in 4th grade...but I digress). Next up was dinner.

With flamenco on the menu at Olio tonight, I couldn't resist a stop for food and a chance to listen to the flying fingers of guitarist Frank Bourke. I'd heard him previously at the Listening Room, so I knew how good he was. And how often do I have a chance to hear flamenco guitar playing?

I arrived in between sets, so I went to the counter to choose my meal. One thing I love abut Olio is that you don't have to order off the menu. Tonight I chose a couple of things from the case, paid by the ounce and was delivered a lovely plate of roasted chicken salad on mesclun greens with cumin-spiced black bean and corn salad on the side. It looked so much more appealing on the plate than it had in the plastic containers.

Between songs, a nearby diner asked if he could join me at my table, despite there being plenty of empty tables. He asked if I played guitar (ha!), informed me he likes music without lyrics and
then said I looked fantastic in blue ("It's your dark hair."). It seemed like a good time to leave for the Visual Arts Center and one of my favorite annual events.

Musicircus, the yearly tribute to composer John Cage, is assembled by drummer extraordinaire Brian Jones. The cacophony of a dozen or so different musicians and groups performing whatever they like simultaneously is an aural treat unlike any other.

Moving from room to room and space to space, music blends and becomes something different entirely. Tonight's offerings included Josh Small and Lance Koehler (banjo and percussion), yet another Brian Jones trio (drums, two bass clarinets), Scott Clark and Scott Burton aka SCUO (drums and jazz guitar), Richmond Gamelon Orchestra (they encouraged viewers to play the cymbals with them), Happy Lucky Combo, a female duo (violin and viola) and a bluegrass band I didn't know (upright bass, two banjos, fiddle, guitar and washboard). And that's just what I remember right now.

Moving around to hear and see different music, I ran into all kinds of random people. The complimentary biologist whom I'd also seen at the Kaneko lecture, the jewelry-maker I'd met at the Down Home Family Reunion, the renowned local guitarist I'd asked to explain pedal steel playing to me, the fellow former coworker who barely leaves the house anymore, and of course the walking writer I run into everywhere.

But I never lingered to chat for long because Musicircus only lasts for an hour and I didn't want to miss a moment of the experience. As Cage said, "You should let each thing that happens happen from its own center..."

And there was much happening from many centers. I was just there to bear witness to it all and smile with the pleasure of being part of it.

And, no, I did not have the nerve to pick up the cymbals and join in, although I thought about it. Maybe next year.

Because if Brian Jones puts on a musicircus, I will come. I always have. I always will.


  1. oo, brian jones is prolific in such a unique way around here, in that he seems all the time to be doing something everywhere. of course, facebook recommends that i friend him every day. so i may be projecting. but i don't think so.

  2. Prolific he is, not to mention a major local talent, but if not for him I don't know that we'd have the Musicircus...or the Mingus Awareness Project...or a live soundtrack to Tom & Jerry cartoons. Or, or...

    You could do a lot worse for a friend in this town.

  3. or a drummer for mandy moore! that's something i like about him, his willingness to accept all sides of music. the friend of mine who told me about him first, brian's his mentor, and he (the friend) almost exclusively listens to and plays experimental jazz--but he says that playing a straightforward beat without any flourishes is an art in itself, and a rare one at that, something brian taught him. i love that it's not an excuse in either of their cases.

  4. You don't have to sell me on Brian's brilliance.

    When I walked into the Visual Arts Center last night, he was the first person I ran into. He immediately did his prayer-hand bow to me to thank me for coming to yet another of his events.

    "No, thank YOU," I told him sincerely.

    He's definitely not an excuses kind of a guy.

  5. ooo- shouldn't you want to hear him?

  6. that's step three. i have to smell him second.