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.
Please click on the titles below to experience three of the existing pieces in LIGHTEN UP.
footage: Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s home and church, Niagara Falls, NY | Aug 2015 • text: Ezekiel • music & vocals: Eve Beglarian • video: Matt Petty
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
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
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 Dollhouse, Animal 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.