Professors Perform Eclectic Spectacle: Barnes, Polashek Shine at Transy Composers’ Concert

by Victoria Sullivan

The Transylvania Composers’ Concert, performed on Feb. 23, was a showcase of Transy’s two resident composers: Dr. Timothy Polashek and Dr. Larry Barnes. Despite the fact that both of these men have dedicated their lives to creating and sharing music with this campus, the similarities seem to end there. All of the pieces were innovative and like nothing I have ever heard before, but the two composers’ styles were in fact very different.

Polashek opened the concert with a piece titled “Stitching the Bell.” This piece was quite possibly the most unique of them all, combining the traditional with the technological. Using the sound of a flute played by Merilee Elliott, Polashek utilized a machine that scrambled the “sine waves” of the note to replicate the sound of a bell, hence the title of the piece.

Although what resulted may not qualify as “music” in the typical sense of melody and harmony, it is important to remember that the technique was the goal, rather than the result. The result, however, was quite intriguing: a mix of sounds that could have jumped straight out of “The Twilight Zone.”

Next was music professor and pianist Dr. Gregory Partain’s “Toccata: Act of War.” It certainly did, as he put it, “blow me away.” Performed by and written for him as well, “Toccata: Act of War” was inspired by the gruesome and tragic events of 9/11.

From the very beginning of the piece, you could feel the tension in the air. The first movement crashes with bombastic, dissonant chords that you can almost see, angry and dark. Suddenly, the music softens to a haunting melody, a reflection of the sorrow that was to come. Then the piece takes you back again into the furious frenzy of chords, until the piece ends with no warning. It was a terrifying, painful piece, but it was thrilling nonetheless.

From there, the concert took a more serene path. Barnes took to the stage himself with Clyde Beavers on cello to perform “River of Heaven,” which is based off of a line from an ancient Japanese haiku. This piece was, indeed, indicative of a river. The dissonant yet lilting notes of the cello, when combined with the distant chords of the piano, were reminiscent of water flowing over the rocks: gentle, yet unpredictable.

However, what made this piece most interesting was the use of an implement that I could never have imagined being musical: an ashtray. By rubbing the ashtray against the strings of the piano, Barnes produced a sound that, although similar to the cello, was much more mechanical and harsh. It was an intriguing addition, although perhaps extraneous. On the whole, however, the piece was a success.

Polashek followed up with “Garden Rain,” perhaps the most traditional piece of the evening and a major diversion from his first piece. Written to reflect quite literally the experience of watching the rain fall in a garden, the piece used broken chords to represent the falling of the raindrops. It was melodic and beautiful, a nice reprieve from the earlier tension of the concert.

Finally, Barnes finished up with a grand finale in “Rituals.” Written for a minimum of three pianos, the piece was meant to replicate the sound and mood of a tribal dance, which it accomplished with irregular meter and rounds — a spectacular end to a spectacular evening of music.


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