If it looks, sounds and tastes like a musical instrument …

This Sunday, the EsQuire Alberta Men’s Chorus will perform the choir’s inaugural concert. The first half of the concert will have the men’s choir singing standard choral works, such as some pieces by Brahms. Then, in the second half, the power-tools come out—the Chorus will premiere a work called “Construction – A Power Tool Concerto,” a work composed specifically for this occasion and for these, well, instruments. This concerto is exactly what the name suggests: a musical work played on the kinds of instruments and implements you’d normally see at construction sites.

This concerto for power tools joins an already-established tradition of writing music for objects that aren’t musical instruments, at least not in the conventional sense. It’s to some of these works that I now turn.

Such a discussion could not proceed without mentioning composer John Cage. During his work entitled “4’33”,” the audience sits quietly for that length of time; the sounds surrounding the audience create the musical work. Cage believed that everyday sounds and noise are musical in themselves, and that people just need to spend time listening to their surroundings. While this work doesn’t actually manipulate what audiences will hear in the background, it does encourage people to consider ambient noise in a new way. Furthermore, this piece also challenges audiences to expand their views of what music is, or more generally, what counts as art.

In other instances, a symphony might play on, well, beer bottles. This happened recently, when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Victoria played on beer bottles in a Victoria Bitter beer ad.

A discussion about turning beverage containers into an instrument leads logically to a related topic: food. Yes, parents might tell their kids not to play with their food; however, nobody ever said anything against playing on a vegetable. The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra does just that—it makes instruments out of fresh veggies, and yes, uses power tools to do so. The members of this ensemble carve recorders out of carrots and pipe peppers like trumpets. Genre-wise, this music covers a lot of ground, and the compositions are written just for this group and its unique needs. Kind of like special dietary restrictions, but not really.


Sun, May 16 (2 pm)
EsQuire Alberta Men’s Chorus
Enmax Hall, Winspear Centre, $35

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