By Rachel Ward
Picture this: dramatic notes of music fill an auditorium, flowing from over a dozen instruments. As the music builds to a crescendo, the room suddenly flashes with blinding white light. Overcome with emotion, you raise your hand to shield your eyes, and your heart beats rapidly.
On November 2, the 79-person wind symphony ensemble performed a selection by Steven Bryant: “Ecstatic Waters,” “Solace” and “The Automatic Earth”.
Unlike prior wind symphony concerts, the wind symphony director, Dr. Chet Jenkins, and others programmed a brilliant light display to accompany the live music.
The lights reflected the tone of the music, engaging the audience’s eyes as much as their ears. As the music intensified, the lights grew bright. As the music calmed, the lights dimmed. They morphed to a harsh red during segments about chaos or anger and switched to gold when the music expressed simplicity and harmony. The lights also matched the rhythm of the music, adding emphasis to every note.
While visually captivating, the lights and special effects made the performance especially tricky for the musicians.
“This was my first time ever with any electronics,” flutist Johanna Brunsberg said. “I can see sometimes, but you kind of have to have parts memorized, or else you’ll be in trouble.”
While the lights flashed, pre-recorded sound effects from Bryant’s composition helped tell the musical story. At one point, as the live music grew urgent, a sound like a siren broke out and red lights flashed.
The corresponding visual and auditory elements combined to pull the audience through a story with conflict, a climax, and resolution.
A Story of Humanity Apart from Christ
That story, according to composer Steven Bryant, portrays the ultimate struggle of humanity.
In five movements, “Ecstatic Waters” brings the audience through a journey of naïve joy, to naïve pride, to wrath and finally to clarity.
In an explanation of “Ecstatic Waters,” Bryant writes of his grim view of the future.
“In this work, I was ultimately optimistic [that people will] eventually become more than human, to transcend our organic limitations and become happier, fitter creatures.”
The middle movement, “Solace,” exists independently from the others, involving numerous pre-recorded sound effects from the musicians.
In another five movements, “The Automatic Earth” looks to the future, portraying the dangerous consequences of technology. Bryant composed this piece in a more cautionary tone than “Ecstatic Waters.”
“I’m not so sure [becoming overcome by technology] will be a good thing,” he wrote.
And yet, he does not shift his perspective.
“If it’s possible, then it’s inevitable. Humanity will alter itself, or it will perish.”
A Story of Humanity, With Christ
Bryant’s ideas, rooted in climate change concerns and Darwinian philosophy, took a very different tone at Cedarville.
The performance opened in prayer, reflecting a worldview much more hopeful than Bryant’s.
Apart from God, the future looks bleak, and Bryant’s literature reflects that sentiment. But with Christ, there is hope for the future, and Christians await his return.
Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As seen in this performance, technology can be used as a tool to glorify God, the God who has a purpose and plan for the future of humanity.
A Job Well Done
Following the performance, the audience erupted in a standing ovation. The musicians deserved every moment of it.
Brunsberg said putting together a live music performance is a feat unto itself, and the lights and electronics made the process even more challenging.
“We didn’t waste any rehearsing time,” Brunsberg said.
When asked how she felt after the performance ended, she smiled.
“I feel so accomplished,” she said.
The next musical event at Cedarville University, the Women’s Choir Concert, will take place this Saturday, November 11.
Rachel Ward, class of 2028, is a dual enrollment student studying journalism. She loves to write whenever possible and enjoys running with her cross-country team in her free time.
Image courtesy of the Cedarville University Music & Worship Facebook page