'Musical Mapmaking' Event Encourages People To Interpret Music Through Art

Published: Thursday, August 20, 2015 - 2:24pm
Updated: Thursday, August 20, 2015 - 4:52pm
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There’s music in the air. Can you see it?

A group of Valley musicians and composers is hoping you do.

Their new event asks listeners to draw to music. And not just because it’s a zen activity. The idea is to use colors, lines and shapes to illustrate what you hear.

It may seem strange to draw something that’s invisible, but the Phoenix nonprofit Oh My Ears is asking people to give it a try. It’s a new event they’re calling “musical mapmaking.”

In this room at the Burton Barr Central Library, a few tables are topped with art supplies: big sheets of white paper, crayons and markers.

Michael Ferraro co-directs Oh My Ears, along with Elizabeth Bayer.

"This particular piece that we’re going to hear, it’s called 'Daughter of the Waves,'" Bayer said. "You’re going to hear the flute, which is a higher pitched instrument that you blow into to make a sound."

Bayer lists the french horn, trumpet, electric guitar, violin, viola and cello. A lot of instruments to pick apart in just one piece. 

Now the drawing begins. Everyone has their own interpretation. It’s almost like a conversation. The music says something and the listener responds on the paper. Michael Ferraro suggests considering how the music makes you feel.

"Does this make you think of cool colors, this part, does it make you feel warm colors?" Ferraro said. "Does it make you feel like using real big, aggressive strokes or are you doing small stuff?"

This exercise is often used in youth music education, said Dr. Alex Ruthmann, director of the New York University Music Experience and Design Lab.  

"One thing that drawing along and imagery does is it gives you a reference point to have a conversation about what somebody might be hearing or paying attention to or listening to," Ruthmann said.

Ruthmann said the differences in the drawings help students compare elements of a song. He often has students re-listen to songs while looking at their classmates’ drawings. 

"It is then evident to the other kids... All of a sudden they heard what that other kid heard," Ruthmann said. "They’re creating meaning through tracing and drawing and sharing with their friends."

Sierra Collister is drawing with her three kids at Burton Barr. Their drawings of fish and robots might not be direct translations of the music, but Collister is satisfied. 

"They would have never sat for a half an hour listening to classical music without the art," she said. "And then the snacks helped as well."

The Oh My Ears event is a combination of music and art and Michael Ferraro said he thinks it improves both experiences.

"Something about it just allows people to kind of like, be content with sitting there and focusing on both the music and what they’re drawing," he said.

Oh My Ears has plans to bring live performers to future events, to create an interactive concert experience.

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