News  •  Cleveland School of the Arts students practice sirens and conch shells for 'Inuksuit' performance

Cleveland School of the Arts students practice sirens and conch shells for 'Inuksuit' performance

Posted September 19, 2014 in Articles

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- How strange it must have sounded: conch shells, triangles, sirens. Passersby must have been truly confused.

There was a method to the madness, however. All that noise coming from the band room Thursday at Cleveland School of the Arts was simply a rehearsal for John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit," an outdoor work for 99 percussionists being mounted Sunday at Lake View Cemetery.

Five students from the school are taking part in the performance, a presentation by the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Thursday was their first encounter with the score, an hour-long odyssey in which music and the sounds of nature overlap and take turns in the spotlight.

A full rehearsal is on the calendar for Sunday morning. First, though, percussionist and "Inksuit" stager Doug Perkins wanted to meet separately with the students – some of the first young adults ever to take part in the piece – to ensure their ability to play the required instruments and follow its strange directions.

"The most important thing is to see if you know how to play a conch shell," said Perkins at the outset.

Well, they didn't. Not at first. After a few minutes, though, Perkins had them trumpeting away on the shells like professionals, comfortable enough with the task to stroll around the room and play in the patterns demanded by the score.

Triangles came more naturally, but also required greater concentration. That section of the score, the finale, also contains some of the piece's most open-ended directions, and that left some students feeling nervous.

Perkins said not to worry. "There'll be people much more uptight than you at the show," he said.

That just left the hand-held siren, the easiest instrument to master. Once the students got the hang of the mechanism and inured to the volume, all they had to do was count and crank.

Perkins advised ear-plugs. It's one thing, he said, if the siren snaps. Quite another if their ear-drums rupture.

"If it [the siren] breaks 'cause you're rocking so hard, that's fine," Perkins said. " But it's gonna be loud."

[Video of practice available at Cleveland.com]