Nebula Ensemble disputes musical assumptions


The Robert and Judi Newman Center for Performing Arts at the University of Denver [Photo by: Cooper Dahlen-Pagano]

Nebula Ensemble’s recent recital at the University of Denver’s Newman Center sought to challenge the audience’s preconceived concert-going expectations and they delivered an immersive experience unlike anything the crowd had ever experienced before.

The theme for the evening was rituals and what role they play in our day-to-day lives. While one might expect a ritualistic concert to feature something along the lines of traditional religious or tribal melodies, the term “ritual” was taken decidedly literally.

Sarah Perske, one of Nebula Ensemble’s composers, took to the stage at the beginning of the concert and asked everyone to consider what their rituals are as consumers of music. As she discussed our culture’s norms for attending concerts and the behaviors we embody as concertgoers, Perske instructed the audience to engage with the material in ways that they are not accustomed to.

For example, everybody was told to applaud in a new way following the conclusion of the first piece. When the music stopped, some people clapped with their elbows and some others stomped their feet. While many were unsure what to do, they all made an effort to express their satisfaction in a unique fashion.


Kyle Hughes, Nebula Ensemble’s percussion [Photo by: Cooper Dahlen-Pagano]

“This concert makes you acknowledge and appreciate all the different kinds of rituals out there,” said Kyle Hughes, Nebula Ensmble’s percussion. “Besides how we listen to music, we have rituals that we aren’t consciously aware of.”

Even though the audience’s orders were somewhat unusual, they proved to be quite effective in generating active participation. When asked to change their seating arrangements, a lot of people ran down the auditorium to sit on the stage, just a few feet away from the performers, when they learned that it was allowed.

As silly as that may sound, nobody treated the material as a joke. In fact, the audience’s willingness to try to approach the material differently was ultimately beneficial for Nebula Ensemble, as they themselves were doing things differently as well. The concert experience as a whole was new for everybody involved.

“It is exciting to premiere new kinds of music, especially for a new audience” Hughes noted.

None of their compositions were by any means conventional either. One piece consisted of three musicians standing on different parts of the stage making a disjointed beat by hitting the sides of their instruments, rather than playing them. While that sounds somewhat off-putting, it was serene in some sense.

The program asks each attendee to “be aware of your personal concert rituals as you prepare to listen to music that explores the natural world through a ritualistic lens,” and I like many others took this to heart while going into the concert hall.

Given the context of Nebula Ensemble’s presentation and being asked to look at music in a completely different light, I found myself appreciating things I may never would have thought of otherwise. Every concert I had attended prior to Nebula’s Ensembles had been purely for entertainment value but now I am motivated to see more performances where I am challenged as a critical thinker.


One thought on “Nebula Ensemble disputes musical assumptions

  1. Thanks for sharing your review of the Nebula Ensemble, Cooper! It was cool to see you there. I liked how you saw these pieces of music as ways to consider music using critical thinking. I also enjoyed how you included a musician’s perspective in your piece, that dialogue adds a lot to your review. I would have to agree with you vis à vis the unconventionality of the work. It definitely was unconventional, and a genre of music I had never experienced before. Thanks for your input!


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