LIGHTEN UP

LIGHTEN UP is a new, evening length multimedia song cycle created by New York composer Eve Beglarian and Louisiana video artist Matthew Petty. Commissioned by the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, LIGHTEN UP will premiere in March of 2018. Performed by the LIGHTEN UP quartet, this 80 minute concert combines video projections with lighting and set elements that invoke the force and imagery of the visual artists it honors.

Initially inspired by the life and work of Houston’s Flower Man, LIGHTEN UP explores the visions of visual artists whose life and work re-shape the American Dream in imaginative, powerful, and healing ways. While sometimes called “outsider artists,” these artists’ work springs from sources deep in the ground of the places they live, and inside their deepest selves.

LIGHTEN UP is more a fantasia on the work of these visionary artists than a conventional documentary. Matt Petty’s videos include footage of the work of Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man, Pastor Juanita Leonard, Prophet Isaiah Robertson, Jeff McKissack (the Orange Show), Kenny Hill (Chauvin), Dr. Charles Smith, and others. Eve Beglarian’s music sets texts by Louise Glück, Ezekiel, and Reverend Milton Brunson as well as the artists themselves. The piece also explores the way Eve’s and Matt’s lives have been transformed by their relationships with these artists and their work.

The music is performed live by the LIGHTEN UP quartet comprised of James Allen (keys and vocals), David Steele (clarinets and other reeds), Matt (trombone and vocals), and Eve (vocals and electronics).

Eve and Matt began working on LIGHTEN UP in the spring of 2015, under the auspices of the Marion International Fellowship for the Visual and Performing Arts. This year-long development and travel grant culminated in a workshop showing of a first version of LIGHTEN UP performed by the quartet of Eve, James, David, and Matt at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX in June 2016.

For the premiere, the quartet will create original music and color guard choreography to be performed by students of an under-resourced school band program in the Greater New Orleans area. Along with the high school residency, younger children will work with Pastor Juanita Leonard, one of the visionary artists featured in LIGHTEN UP, to create visual environments from found materials. These artworks will be featured as set elements in the live performance.

Touring performances of LIGHTEN UP can optionally include a two week residency during which the quartet works with the band program in a local high school to master original live music and and color guard choreography. The student marching band will perform their segment alongside the quartet of Eve, James, David, and Matt at the local venue.

Additionally, Sister Juanita Leonard offers residency activities that target children in settings such as homeless shelters, after school programs, and boys’ and girls’ clubs. A residency by Ms. Leonard can last three days to two weeks, and will invite the participating children to explore how our relationships can transform and be transformed by our communities, and how healing can happen through inclusive art-making.

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Please click on the titles below to experience three of the existing pieces in LIGHTEN UP.

Dust

footage: Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s home and church,  Niagara Falls, NY | Aug 2015 • text: Ezekiel • music & vocals: Eve Beglarian • video: Matt Petty

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All U Got 2 Do

footage: parishioners at Juanita Leonard’s Church, Montgomery, LA & St. Matthew’s MB Church, Houston | Oct & Dec 2015 & May 2016 • text: Reverend Milton Brunson • music: Eve Beglarian (and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis) • clarinet: David Steele • video: Matt Petty

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Enter In To My Heart

footage: Kenny Hill’s Chauvin Sculpture Garden, Chauvin, LA | Dec 2015 & Mar 2016 • music: anonymous harmonica player in New Orleans | Dec 2015 processed and mixed by Eve Beglarian and Matt Petty • video: Matt Petty

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LIGHTEN UP: Artist Biographies


According to the Los Angeles Times, composer and performer Eve Beglarian “is an idealistic rebel and a musical sensualist.” She was awarded the 2015 Robert Rauschenberg Prize from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for her  “innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation.”

Beglarian’s current projects include LIGHTEN UP, a multimedia music-theater piece about visionary visual artists in America;  a new collaboration with writer/actor Karen Kandel about women in Vicksburg; the long-term undertaking A Book of Days, text/music/visuals, one for each day of the year; and BRIM, the ensemble she has created to perform the repertoire she has created in response to her 2009 journey down the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle.

Beglarian’s concert music has been commissioned and widely performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the American Composers Orchestra, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the California EAR Unit, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Third Angle, Contemporaneous, loadbang, the Guidonian Hand, Newspeak, and many individual performers.

Highlights of Beglarian’s work in music theater include music for Mabou Mines’ Obie-winning DollhouseAnimal Magnetism, Ecco Porco, Choephorai, and Shalom Shanghai, all directed by Lee Breuer; Forgiveness, a collaboration with Chen Shi-Zheng and Noh master Akira Matsui; and the China National Beijing Opera Theater’s production of The Bacchae, also directed by Chen Shi-Zheng.

She has collaborated with choreographers including Ann Carlson, Robert LaFosse, Victoria Marks, Susan Marshall, David Neumann,  and Take Ueyama, and with visual and video artists including Cory Arcangel, Anne Bray, Barbara Hammer, Kevork Mourad, and Shirin Neshat.

Recordings of Eve’s music are available on ECM, Koch, New World, Canteloupe, Innova, Naxos, Kill Rock Stars, CDBaby, and Bandcamp.

New York Times profile

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Sister Juanita Leonard was born at the Huey P. Long Charity Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana and has been a Louisiana resident all her life. She currently resides in Montgomery, Louisiana (population 795) where she owns and operates Closer to Christ Ministries, a roadside church located off of Highway 71, that she built herself from salvaged materials. Sister Juanita focuses on serving the homeless, sick, and poverty- stricken members of the community, as well as released prisoners, and at-risk children. She provides daily free meals from her home and healing services for those in need, and has done so since 2001.

As an artist, Sister Juanita has been painting since she was 17 years old. Her artwork has expanded into other forms including sculptures, architecture, quilting, hat-making, and basket weaving. Her work has been featured in numerous shows and museums across the state of Louisiana, as well as the The Pennsylvania Museum of Art, in Erie, PA; The Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA; and Roff Graves’ Gallery in Lodi, CA. She has been awarded the title of Recognized Tradition Bearer by the State of Louisiana in 2016, and has also appeared in two books including Juanita Leonard’s Hard Times Bus by Jason Neville, and When the Spirit Speaks: Self-Taught Art of the South by Margaret Day. Additionally, Sister Juanita has appeared in publications by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, CBS, Raw Vision Magazine, The Folk Art Messenger, SPACES Archives, and The American Folk Art Museum.

Raw Vision profile   |  Folk Art Society of America profile

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Matt Petty is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and video artist based in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He is a graduate of Northwestern State University, where he received degrees in Music Education and Trombone Performance. Matt Petty uses low-fi gear to create music-based multimedia productions involving sound, video and live performance. Matt is an alumnus of New York’s Watermill Center, where he worked as a performing artist, collaborator, and technical assistant; and was influenced by artists such as theater director Robert Wilson, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and the American freak-folk band CocoRosie. He is also a founding member of the experimental-Americana ensemble Kisatchie Sound, with clarinetist and co-founder, David Steele; a group that creates music with a sense of place.

As a collaborative artist, Matt has worked with numerous visual artists and musicians across the U.S. performing concerts and making video pieces. He has screened experimental video in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, California, New York, and Vermont. Additionally, Matt is the creator of the feature documentary, Sacred as Folk, about the life of Louisiana artist, Brother Michael David Elvestrom. Most recently, Matt is traveling across the country working with and documenting visionary artists for a grassroots multimedia collaboration with composer Eve Beglarian titled LIGHTEN UP—a project that promotes diversity and healing through art as a social practice. Additionally, Matt was one of 25 international artists selected as Lucas Artist Fellows in Music at Montalvo Arts Center, in Saratoga, CA. Matt currently serves as Adjunct Professor of Music and Fine Arts at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. For more information, visit Matt’s Vimeo page.

ADDITIONAL COLLABORATORS

James Allen is the music director and organist at First St. Matthew’s Missionary Baptist Church in the Third Ward of Houston, Texas. A singer since the age of three, he graduated from Madison High School of Houston in 2003, and from Alcorn State University in Mississippi in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Music Performance. His home church is Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. James has performed as a musician and collaborator with Eve Beglarian and Kisatchie Sound as part of LIGHTEN UP’s workshop performance at The Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, in the Summer of 2016. Additionally, James works as a lifeguard and swim coach at the YMCA of Houston.

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David Steele
, a native of Houston, Texas, has been part of the music faculty at Northwestern State University since August 2012 where he teaches clarinet, woodwind methods, and fine arts. He is also a founding member of the chamber ensemble, Kisatchie Sound. While clarinet is his primary instrument, David plays the chalumeau, various woodwind instruments and several folk instruments. He plays an active role as a director, instructor, choreographer, and visual technician throughout the Louisiana/Mississippi Color Guard and Percussion Circuit for area marching bands and color guards. David studied at Northwestern State University, the University of New Mexico, and the University of North Texas. He has worked for Popejoy Hall, New Mexico’s premiere performing arts venue, in the Education and Outreach Department. His teachers include Dr. Malena McLaren, Mr. Keith Lemmons, and Dr. Kimberly Cole Luevano.

While at Northwestern State University, David performed with the university’s Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, and Jazz Orchestra. He has played principal clarinet with the University of New Mexico’s Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra. While attending the University of North Texas, David performed and recorded with the U.N.T. Wind Symphony as principal clarinet under the direction of Dr. Eugene Corporon. Additionally, David has performed with several professional groups such as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Roswell Symphony Orchestra, Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, Texarkana Symphony Orchestra, South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Many Chamber Orchestra, and the Northwestern Faculty Quintet. He has also performed as a musician, color guard performer, and visual artist at the Alley Theater in Houston, and as a woodwind specialist and technician in the pit-orchestras at Long Lake Camp of the Arts in New York. He is a recipient of the McCutchens Award for Musical Excellence, the Magale Award for Musical Excellence, the Bess McNeely Award for Outstanding Musical Performance, and the Albuquerque Community Education and Outreach Award.

As a recording artist, David has recorded with renowned brass players Joe Alessi, Sam Pilafian, Marshall Gilkes, and J.D. Shaw. He has recorded with composer, Eve Beglarian, and the chamber ensemble, Kisatchie Sound. David’s playing is featured in the sound track of the documentary film, Sacred as Folk. His playing and color guard choreography is featured in the multimedia production of LIGHTEN UP

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Christina Giannelli is a Houston-based lighting designer. Her work in Opera and Ballet lighting design has taken her around the world and gained her national recognition.  She has been the Resident Lighting Designer for Houston Grand Opera, Cleveland-San Jose Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, Houston Ballet and most recently for the Metropolitan Opera. Firmly committed to furthering the growth and development of the Arts in Houston, Ms. Giannelli has served on the Boards of Zocalo Artists Yard, Infernal Bridegroom Productions, the DiverseWorks Artists Board and is the founder and president of Dance Source Houston, a service organization that supports and promotes Contemporary Dance.  She is also the co-proprietor of a guest house for visiting artists and innovators located in EaDo.

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Where Your Treasure Is

In September of 1967, when I was nine, and my brother six, my parents brought us to my aunt’s house in Michigan and went to Ireland for a month on their own. Thinking back on it, I find this a little surprising. My parents were not the type of people who had “date nights”, let alone “date months.” School started right after Labor Day in New Jersey in those days, so I missed the first month of third grade, and my brother of first grade. My cousins were in school already in Michigan, and my aunt and uncle both worked, so we were home with the cleaning lady most days.

I wonder why my parents didn’t bring us along on this trip to Ireland. Could they not have made the trip in the summer instead of the fall, and brought us along with them? (In fact, we never once traveled as a family outside the United States, and rarely within the country either, except to visit other family members, even though we all traveled separately quite regularly.) Or they could have gone on their own in the summer, which would have made our visit to the cousins in Michigan a little more like a vacation for all of us, and avoided having my brother and me miss a month of school.

Perhaps they were having what would have been called “marital troubles”, and decided precipitously to rekindle their relationship with a trip to Ireland. Or perhaps we children were driving my mother insane and she needed a respite from us. (She was a stay-at-home mother in the 60s, with a husband who traveled a great deal for work, which would drive almost anyone insane, and my mother was more sensitive and high-strung than most.) But when I asked my aunt about this recently, she confessed to being as unclear as I am. So I guess I will never know what led my parents to embark on this slightly mystifying adventure.

They returned with many stories and photographs, and with all the enthusiastic energy a good trip engenders. They had rented a car and wandered all over the country, and while I don’t remember many details, the overall emotion was utter joy. I think they had a very good vacation. (I haven’t found the photos yet, they’re in one of the boxes in storage, and when I find them I’ll post a few.)

And they had bought a painting. They were very excited about it. They had met the artist, a young woman, younger than they were themselves. They loved her work and they thought she was impressive and talented.

Maybe a month or two later, the painting arrived, having been shipped from Ireland, probably on a freighter.

I have a vague memory of the immense wooden box it was shipped in. And the painting itself was very large. And unlike any painting I had ever seen. It was a painting of a dolmen, a prehistoric burial mound. And there were Irish rocks and Irish moss affixed to the canvas itself, to make not just a painting, but really sort of a sculpture, since the stones and plaster actually protruded from the canvas. I was fascinated. I thought the head of the dolmen looked sort of like the skull of a horse, perhaps, even though I knew it was stone and not bone. And the background of the painting was so different from the dolmen itself. It seemed very flat, almost an abstraction of sky and horizon and a bit of hills in the distance, and a ragged fence on one side. I kind of loved the dolmen, its feeling of being somehow organic, even though it was stone depicting stone. But the background bothered me. It seemed, I don’t know, incomplete, maybe. Half-formed. An afterthought.

My parents absolutely loved this painting. I don’t know if it was a talisman of their excellent vacation, or aesthetic delight in the painting itself, or both. They spoke of the young artist with great respect and delight: her talent was their shared discovery, their shared pleasure. The painting felt like it contained mysteries of adulthood, of my parents’ existence as a couple, as two individuals in a relationship, rather than as parents. It may have been the first time I glimpsed them in this way.

And so the painting was hung in the place of honor, over the fireplace in the living room of our house in New Jersey. And when we moved to Los Angeles two years later, it hung over the fireplace in the living room of that house for fifteen years. And when they sold the house in California and bought a house in Westchester, it hung over the fireplace in the living room of that house as well, for eighteen years. After my father died, and we had to sell the Westchester house and move my mother to assisted living, the painting went with her to New Jersey once again. A couple of years later, my brother wanted a turn taking care of my mother, so we moved her to Los Angeles. But my brother refused to take the painting. He told me he had always hated that painting.

So I packed it up and brought it to my tiny New York apartment, which has no fireplace. And I hung it for a while over the dinner table in the living room, but it was overwhelming and ridiculous. When my then-lover visited from Athens, she, in her forthright Greek way, asked me if I liked that painting, if I wanted it looming over the dinner table. And I explained this whole story (she was patient), and she told me I didn’t have to hang the painting in my apartment. You understand I was in my late forties by now, certainly an adult. I had had my own apartment for thirty years. But it had never occurred to me that I had a choice about living with this painting. It was part of my inheritance, whether I wanted it or not.

So with great emotion, we encased it in packing foam and bubble wrap and put it in the very back of the hall closet. It sat there quietly for maybe eight years. In the meantime, my mother died, and then my brother died. I am the only person left of my immediate family, and I have no children to whom to burden or gift this inheritance.

Ten years ago, I bought land in Vermont. It’s quite a bit of land, and there’s a stream and a ravine, and a beautiful view of the Green Mountains, and lots of trees and ferns and rocks. Many rocks. Vermont is rocky. And one night in June I was sitting on the porch of the master bedroom (every room is a separate structure: there’s a bedroom shelter, and a composing cabin, and an outhouse shelter, and dining shelter and a reading/guest-room tent and so on.) And I suddenly had the idea to bring the painting from out of the closet in New York and put it on top of one of the big rocks on my land, the one that overlooks the dining area’s fireplace. I imagine the big rock is a formation left by the glaciers, a glacial erratic, that itself looks almost like a prehistoric burial mound. I could place the dolmen painting on the natural dolmen, and gradually the painted dolmen will disintegrate into the natural dolmen.

This is the right thing to do with the painting. I am sure of it.

In mid-July of 2015, I pulled the painting out of the back of the hall closet, and my friend Meredith helped me lash it to the top of my car (it wouldn’t fit inside), and I drove it up to Vermont and placed it at its final resting place. Every day I am here on the land, I take a photograph of the current state of the painting. I don’t know how long it will take to disintegrate, but I will document it as well as I can.

And there will be a piece for the dolmen every three months in A Book of Days, at each solstice and equinox. As time goes on, each of the pieces will be revised (both musically and visually) to reflect the current state of the dolmen painting. My idea is that the texts for these pieces will all be taken from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but that may change as the project develops.

And one of these days I will take my own trip to Ireland, in honor of my parents’ psychically important trip, in honor of my Irish ancestors about whom I know nearly nothing, and in honor of my own status as an “erratic”, carried by forces larger than myself to a resting place I cannot predict or imagine.

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Orphan Girl is the first piece I have made as part of this project. It is posted as September 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, and I am imagining I will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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Tower of Ivory is the second piece I have made as part of this project. Matt Petty made the video for the piece. It is posted as December 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, and I am imagining we will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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Mistake is the third piece I have made as part of this project. It is posted as March 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, there will be a video shortly. And I am imagining we will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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You are warmly invited to support this ongoing project: