Musical Maps Engage Listeners

 Alvin ILucier's "Sitting in a Room"

Oh My Ears, spearheaded by composer Elizabeth Bayer and Guitarist/Educator Michael Ferraro, strives to create an “engaging communal hub for new music.” In that spirit, this Sunday, August 2, 2:30pm, OME presents a free Afternoon of Musical Exploration, Musical Maps, at the Burton Barr Library in Downtown Phoenix.

1) What are musical maps, and where did this idea come from?

Michael: In the simplest sense, musical maps are drawings produced while under the influence of music. Musical Mapmaking is an activity that allows people to engage in music listening that supports their natural abilities of visual connections, movement, and singing while providing opportunities for community connection.  The concept arose while brainstorming different content/feature ideas for the Oh My Ears 'zine.  We thought that instead of having traditional reviews, it would be interesting to present artwork or drawings created while listening to a piece of music.  Some further research on the internet revealed that music educators, such as Dr. Deborah Blair, have developed classroom lessons geared toward musical maps as a listening activity and teaching tool.  As idea developed, we decided that musical maps meetups might be a creative and fun way to foster new music listening and connection throughout our community.

2) How does this allow a listener to be more engaged?

Michael: Musical maps allow listeners to become more engaged because they are activating different physical and visual connections to the music through drawing.  I think it creates a sense of being at play with music and allows people to follow their own intuition as they listen.  Thus, the music listening experience is active rather than passive.  And there are no pre-requisites for creating a musical map, it's just about the willingness to listen and create something in the company of others.  We've noticed a natural silence and concentration that occurs during the actual musical mapmaking.  Afterwards, people have something tangible in the map they can share, and this can be launching point to discuss what they heard in the music.

3) How does Sunday's event, a Musical Exploration of Musical Mapmaking, fit into OME's mission?

Elizabeth: OME endeavors to be an engaging communal hub for new music. One way we do this is by reaching out to young people and their parents, through events that are educational and foster an appreciation for new music. I wasn't introduced to modern composers (even older names like Stravinsky) until I started studying music in undergrad. OME wants to bring people into the fold of classical and new music-as an audience member, performer, or active supporter. It’s important to our mission, to give young people, and the people that will be supporting them in their studies, a chance to experience new music in a new way. These community maps events will also give us a chance to sneak in some academic music vocabulary in a non-academic setting.

4) Elizabeth and Michael, you are both musicians, and listening is an important part of your profession. Did this exercise change how you experience music? Can you give an example?

Elizabeth: At the first maps meetup at my house, we were listening to a string quartet I thought I knew well. As I was following different themes on paper, I noticed a cello line that I swear I've never heard before. While drawing a musical map, you just hone in on different things. It also keeps you actively listening and engaged in music that you might have dismissed otherwise. And since you are looking at your paper, you also are blissfully unaware of other people's reactions. Overall, it can make for a much more enjoyable listening experience.

The founding team of Oh My Ears consists of Elizabeth Bayer and Michael Ferraro.  Elizabeth has a MM in Composition from ASU. She is an active local composer, performer, flautist, and barista. Michael has a BS in Communication from ASU, and is a current post-bacc Music Ed student. Furthermore, he is a local performer,guitarist, and private teacher.  Michael and Elizabeth met in downtown Phoenix coffee shop, where they soon realized they shared a similar passion for music and the community.  Elizabeth was in the process of planning the 2015 marathon concert, and Michael offered to help and perform, too.  They were both very excited after the success of the 2015 marathon concert, and quickly began brainstorming and planning to further grow Oh My Ears.

-Jane Hilton