Vanguard music ensemble presents “Graphic Notation”

Southern Utah University’s new Vanguard music ensemble performed their first recital on April 4 in Thorley Recital Hall. The ensemble was directed by music department faculty member Gary Joe Howe.

The program consisted of music composed in graphic notation, an experimental form of musical notation that uses images to evoke musical ideas. 

“Graphic notation is something really cool in music that allows us to take more liberties in what we’re playing onstage,” said Howe. “It’s all up to the performers to decide what to do.” 

The performance began with “Metaphysics of Notation” by Mark Applebaum. Written as a series of 12 graphic panels, the piece has no intended form of interpretation. For this performance, the musicians used various percussion instruments to perform the piece. 

After “Metaphysics of Notation,” the program continued with original compositions written by students in the ensemble.

“One cool thing about the students and how they all wrote their pieces is that they’re all very different. The ways that they chose to seek inspiration and how they chose to write it are all very different from each other,” Howe said. “It’s a lot of experimentation.”

The first student composition was titled “Midtones” by E. J. King. Following the movements of an animation, the performers interpreted the piece on various instruments. The first movement was performed by a string bass and marimba, and the second movement was performed by a euphonium duet. 

The compositions utilized many different forms of instrumentation and imagery. “Hydraulicks” by Kathryn Weeks was performed using various pans and glasses filled with varying amounts of water. 

The final piece, “Looking Left” by William Broussard, was performed via the collaboration of the whole ensemble, using various percussion and auxiliary instruments, including a bucket.

Many of the pieces were purposefully composed so that they will never be performed the same way twice, making the performance unique. 

“When we take away the boundaries of Western notation, we’re left with a lot of cool things,” said Howe. “[Graphic notation] makes the students think about what music really is.” 

Story and photos by: Gracie Butterfield