Courtesy of Martha Chudy

One of the most interesting (and terrifying) questions that classical musicians face today is how to make their music, whether it be Beethoven or Webern, accessible to a contemporary audience.

Percussionist and Eastman School of Music senior Peter Ferry is not only trying to find an answer to this question, but actively building his career around it.

During the Rochester Fringe Festival, Ferry presented two solo performances at Hatch Hall that incorporated multimedia. However, this ambitious project was by no means the beginning of Ferry’s creative dialogue between music and other artistic media.

In an avant-garde film class that Ferry took during his sophomore year, Associate German Professor Reinhild Steingröver challenged him to think of his role as a performer.

“Having to think about what the audience experiences has pushed me to ask questions about what [the music] is about,” Ferry said.

Since then, he has brought film and photographs into his performances and has also thought of other creative ways to make the audience feel like a part of the musical experience.

One example of this innovation is a piece called “The Nostalgia Project.” Created through a collaboration between Ferry, Matt Evans ’12E and a team Rochester Institute of Technology students and faculty, this piece has been performed numerous times for diverse audiences.

The inspiration for the piece is Polaroid photos. Its form is like a pop song, switching back and forth between hanging bells and a melody played on the vibraphone.

At the beginning of the performance, he asks the audience to submit photos using their smartphones. The photos are then added to a pool of pictures from past performances and displayed on a screen onstage during the show.

Ferry believes these photos and videos make the piece very meaningful for the audience.

“Somewhere in the world, this photo is important to somebody,” he explained.

Ferry puts an emphasis on charismatic performance and this shows in the direction he takes his music, engaging the audience at every opportunity. For example, during another performance, of composer Steve Reich’s duet “Clapping Music,” he starts by explaining the concept of the work to the audience and have them try to clap the main rhythm.

The original aspect of this performance is that Ferry’s duet “partner” is actually a recorded version of himself, and not another percussionist. This adds a sense of comedy and novelty which develops the relationship between Ferry and the audience, ultimately making the music much more accessible.

“[The audience] gets excited when the performer’s excited,” Ferry said.

Since percussion has only started to flourish during the second half of the last century, Ferry lacks the solo repertoire available to other instrumental performers. He, however, sees this as a great advantage and a unique opportunity to popularize his inventive style.

He calls the present “the golden age of percussion” because the repertoire of percussionists is not solidified yet. This gives a performer more power to help make a piece known. Ferry is doing just that by trying out different ways to “get people interested and behind the arts.”

Overall, Ferry is confident that he is doing something important and making a greater impact on his audience as well as the arts.

“My voice is necessary to the world,” Ferry said, repeating one of his favorite mantras.

Chudy is a member of
the class of 2013.

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