“What Do You See When You Hear Music?”

An intriguing series of performances that combined music and art concluded at United’s Garrison Green community featuring Rolf Bertsch, piano professor at the Mount Royal University Conservatory and artistic director and conductor of Calgary Civic Symphony, and the residents of Garrison Green.

“The concept was to use music to inspire the creation of art, “explained Rolf. “We titled the project ‘What do you see when you hear music?’ We all have a deep emotional connection to music. Music can also evoke images, which can then be the basis for creating a variety of art.”

The program, which is part of Mount Royal University’s Arts and Culture program, is a favourite at United. It was introduced to residents last year when Rolf performed Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, which produced a range of paintings, drawings, fibre art and poetry that represented what residents heard.

For this winter’s program, Rolf chose to focus on nature with three themes: snow, moonlight and water.

“For the snow segment, I included two very different works by Claude Debussy. The first was ‘The Snow is Dancing’ with its perpetual and generally gentle, even playful, snowflakes. The second, ‘Des pas sur la neige’ (footprints in the snow), is an eerily still winter scene of very little movement.

“The moonlight segment combined two very obvious choices, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and Debussy’s Clair de lune with two others – a Johannes Brahms Intermezzo that the composer had originally called “Nocturne” and Robert Schumann’s famous Träumerei (Dreaming).

“For the water segment I included three works describing different realizations of one of Nature’s most powerful forces. The first was Chopin’s so-called “Raindrop”
Prelude; the second was the Etude-tableau in A minor, Op. 39, No. 2, by
Rachmaninoff – the association with water came through a Respighi orchestration of
this work which the Italian composer called “The Sea and the Seagulls”.

While it almost certainly was not Rachmaninoff’s intention to have this association with the ocean, one can certainly see and hear why Respighi interpreted it this way. Finally,
there was a piece by the little known Portuguese composer, Luis Costa, entitled
“Water on the Mountains” which ended the program with a brilliant cascade of
mountainous water!”

For an encore, Rolf gave a nod to George Shearing with the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

To introduce each piece, Rolf explained what both he and the composer were thinking, but was careful not to affect the residents’ interpretation of what they heard. “When I make music, I don’t usually think in terms of images. For me it’s more about the colour and character. Therefore, when I introduced each piece, I didn’t want to influence the residents with my own interpretation. As a result, residents produced a wide range of artwork around the general themes.”

“The result was astonishing,” Rolf said. “Creating art from music is an interesting way to spark the creative juices. It’s not about sitting back and passively enjoying the music, but actively engaging in an emotional response to the music. As I mentioned earlier, Rachmaninoff likely wasn’t thinking about the sea and seagulls when he composed his Etude-tableau in A minor, Op. 39, but it evoked those images in Respighi.”

Resident Alexis Beddoe was attracted to the program because she  likes to try new things. “I found the whole exercise very freeing. I’m not an artist but I felt free to make the effort and not worry about whether I was doing a good job. What mattered to me was the process. I really discovered something new about myself!”

“And that’s really what the arts is all about,” said Rolf. “Taking an emotional response to music or a nature scene and creating something new that is highly meaningful to the artist and to the viewer or listener. I’m really looking forward to working with the residents on our next program!”

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