Insights on “Insights”, with Dr. Tom Echols

By Thales Smith, ACG Social Media

“It will be great in Insights that people will have an opportunity to hear music, to hear it talked about, to ask questions, and to share if they have comments or insights of their own.” – Tom Echols

This fall, we’re launching a new series:  Insights.  Over the years, ACG has broadened audiences’ experience of the classical guitar with the International Concert Series, Summer Series, Classical Cactus, Salon Concerts, and FlamencoAustin.  Now, in response to many requests, we’d like to deepen those experiences with “Insights” into the art and artistry behind the amazing music we hear! 

Led by Dr. Tom Echols, Insights will explore the music of selected concerts each week for four weeks preceding the concert.  This fall, for example, we’ll explore “Pepe Romero and Guitar Music of Spain” beginning September 11th and then “Les Freres Meduses and Joseph V. Williams II” beginning October 16th.  Register for Insights online here.

I had a chance to talk with Tom about what he has planned for Insights and, as we sipped coffee at Houndstooth, he shared some insights of his own:

“As a performer, I get really caught up in the meaning of music – it’s incredibly rich and wonderful.  It’s fun to stop and think about how all those layers exist in the music, and how I can share some insight so that audience members feel aware of what they’re participating in.  It’s not about helping people to do things “right” when they’re listening or even to “listen correctly” so much as to bring to people’s awareness to all that they’re actually hearing.  Listening to music is a joyful thing.”

“Coming up with techniques for understanding and interpreting music to help me share these things with other people has been an obsession of mine since I was a teenager.  So Insights is something I’m really excited about.  Not only will I get to have meaningful and focused discussions with our community about music before concerts, but I’ll be able to have special guests drop in along the way!”

These guests will include ACG’s composer in residence, Joseph Williams, who is writing a piece for the duo Les Freres Meduses to perform on the International Concert Series in November, and flamenco dancer Pilar Andujar, who will perform before flamenco legend Tomatito’s Austin debut in March.  Imagine getting to meet and talk with these people days prior to actually walking into the concert that features their music!

Tom explained how he will contextualize each of the concerts:

Insights will be structured to approach the concerts from multiple angles.   There will be historical context with artist information, and we’ll also be looking deeply at the music itself – with a lot of listening.”

The first Insights will focus on Pepe Romero’s October 5th concert:

“It will be really fun to start out with Pepe because I actually studied with him!  I always tried to listen very carefully to everything Pepe said because he’s such a special human being:  he’s just a genius.  He was once telling me a story about how he came to leave Spain:  During the Spanish Civil War, Celedonio, Pepe’s father, was on the list of artists that were going to be killed in Spain, and someone told him to get out of town.  Celedonio walked straight to the train station, got on a train, and left town without being able to even talk to his family.  As he was on the train, he realized that he was passing through a town where one of his previous students, a doctor, lived.  So he got off the train and stayed with the doctor, who helped Celedonio make arrangements for his family to go to Santa Barbara.  It was an exile story which was deeply connected to Spanish history in a beautiful yet terrible way.  This is even more poignant now because this year is Celedonio’s 100th anniversary, and Pepe is playing a special program dedicated to him!”

But Tom won’t just be talking!

“I’ll have my guitar.  I’ll play pieces as they are actually written, but I’ll pull them apart:  play what could’ve happened, play what did happen, and demonstrate that, just like in a chess game, a composer is looking at a series of possible paths and picking this brilliant wonderful path out of all the many choices.”

As much as music is about communication, it’s also about sonic slights of hand:

“Sometimes music’s like a language… and sometimes it’s like a magic trick.”

Tom aims to deepen and empower the concert listening experience:

“Something I think surprises audience members is that you don’t know what a piece of music means until you’ve heard the whole thing…music’s not about one listen. I want people to come away feeling like they have their own authorship – feeling empowered to take more control of their own audience experience.  This means grabbing onto the things that are powerful, the salient features of the music, and exploring how and why those moments are special.”

“There’s a communicative vibe when the audience is really connected to the musical experience – you can feel it as a performer, and it feels great.  It is so special when people are tuned in.  It will be great in Insights that people will have an opportunity to hear music, to hear it talked about, to ask questions, and to share if they have comments or insights of their own.  These sorts of things will allow them to take more control of their listening experience.  Concerts aren’t just about having people there paying for tickets or putting bodies in a room for an artist to play in front of – they are fundamentally about connection and communication.”

The first Insights begins Wednesday, September 11 from 7 to 9pm on “Pepe Romero and Guitar Music of Spain.”

Find out more information here.