October 3, 2007

Dancing with Your Johnson

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The northwest corner of Central Campus is marked by a strange, enormous concrete building, (the Johnson Museum of Art,) that it nearly begs you to take a look inside. Designed by architect I.M. Pei in 1973, the Johnson features six floors of permanent and rotating exhibitions, and offers the best view of Ithaca and beyond at the top. Even more exciting, the museum is currently getting underway with its next big project expanding the galleries further underground. Besides the art, though, hitting the museum on the right day means an unexpected treat of some live music.
The best music nights at the Johnson are definitely the opening receptions held for new exhibitions on various Thursday and Friday nights throughout the year. Museum director Frank Robinson is always postering campus and handing out flyers near the libraries for the events, so just keeping your eyes open for bulletin boards is the best way to find out about them. The grand entrance gallery, normally home to quiet conversations at the Two Naked Guys café, is turned into a concert hall. Big bands, quartets, jazz singers, and blues groups alike play a few hours in the evening. Small crowds of students and locals line the perimeter of the room with small plates of crackers and cheese, watching the few happy couples brave enough to dance.
The event a few weeks ago for Kenro Izu’s photography exhibition “Sacred Places” featured Ithaca’s Ageless Jazz Band playing Duke Ellington, Basie, and Glen Miller charts competently but without much flair. Smaller groups tend to do better there, when the sound of a few musicians fills the space well, and a lone trumpet solo can echo beautifully. Either way, the acoustics aren’t half bad, and because sound really travels well yet is contained, all the groups can play entirely acoustic sets with a balance between instruments that turns out just right.
Besides openings, less-publicized events featuring live music dot the annual calendar. Last spring, a full line-up of campus bands and student groups including Size of Stamps played the Student Arts Showcase in the underground galleries. Friday nights here and there also organized by the Museum Club give ten or so acts twenty minutes each on stage, so they’re good nights to drop in if only for a few minutes to get a good of idea of what’s happening musically on campus.
Additionally, the museum always brings in great music acts for their more family-oriented days. This Sunday, October 6, Ithaca musician John Simon will be leading a musical guided tour of the museum with his guitar. A musician through and through, Simon is comfortable performing for kindergarteners solo as well as with his cover band Radio London. With a lovely voice and guitar skills to match, the idea of a museum tour by way of folk music sounds compelling enough that I might join the parents and little kids myself to see what happens. While the Johnson’s galleries are already stimulating, they, like anything else in life, are only all the more powerful with a backdrop of live music.