CSO Look Around: A Musical Experience Like No Other
by Franck Mercurio
Picture it. You’re walking across Ziegler Park’s Great Lawn in Cincinnati’s Pendleton neighborhood when you hear the sounds of live music, both instrumental and choral. Several small ensembles converge: singing songs, beating drums and playing instruments. These groups begin to lead a musical procession out of the park and along 13th Street, heading west toward Music Hall. They invite you and others to join them. Along the way, they invite curious bystanders, too.
As this musical cavalcade makes its way through Over-the-Rhine, it attracts more participants, gaining momentum. This “joyous noise” eventually spills into Washington Park where it converges with other musical ensembles. Eventually, all the groups and “spectators” intersect at an outdoor mainstage featuring the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in a grand finale reflecting the musical tapestry of compositions performed throughout the event.
This unique musical experience—CSO Look Around (set for Saturday, Aug. 3)—is the brainchild of three artists: composer Shara Nova (New York), director and choreographer Mark DeChiazza (New York), and poet Siri Imani (Cincinnati). With the financial and artistic backing of the CSO, the three are collaborating with more than 30 local groups, mainly choirs and bands. This massive, one-of-a-kind event will kick off the CSO’s 125th Anniversary Season while celebrating the Orchestra’s place within the community and celebrating the community that supports it.
CSO Look Around will be the CSO’s gift to the city. For a few hours, it will transform Washington Park and OTR into a “musical environment” that visitors can explore on their own—for free. In the words of the curators, Look Around will “re-orient” the park for participants, toward the music and toward each other.
The event’s title, Look Around, is taken from Imani’s poem “Lost Generation.” In it, she essentially poses the question: How can people better see one another?
With this concept in mind, Nova noted, “Look Around is about seeing your neighbor. How can we look at our neighbor and not just past our neighbor?”
In composing the music, Nova took inspiration from the mockingbird and its ability to listen and repeat the songs of other birds. “The mockingbird is teaching us how we can hear one another, learn from one another, and acknowledge one another,” said Nova. “So I built that into the music.”
This call and response technique encourages audience participation in Look Around. “We are trying to dissolve the preconceived division between audience and performer, and make that much more porous,” said DeChiazza. “You can’t really say ‘this is the audience space and I’m going to sit here and watch.’ Instead, there will be times when the person next to you might start singing, because they are part of a chorus, and that chorus has been embedded in the ‘audience’—surprise!”
In this way, CSO Look Around is designed to be fun and engaging for everyone. Listening to some of the catchy tunes and fun lyrics of Nova’s compositions—including songs like “Two-cent Candy” and “Big Dog”—participants can’t help but enjoy themselves as they connect with others at the event.
Louis Langrée, the CSO’s Music Director, summarizes the power of Look Around. “I can think of no better way to kick off this celebratory season than to bring people together through music in the spirit of seeking and sharing inspiration.”