Telephone: An Artistic Response Chain

Project Summary

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Telephone: An Artistic Response Chain

It was a dark and stormy summer evening when my family decided to visit my Grandma Mimi. This visit had 2 reasons: 1) Her food was better, and 2) after a nasty thunderstorm, we were desperate to get out of our powerless house, and even though she didn't have power either, we still needed a change of venue. After eating our fill and lighting some candles, we sat around her living room wondering aloud what folks did before electricity for evening entertainment. Someone mentioned a game called "Telephone" in which players sit in a circle and pass in whispers a phrase, trying to enunciate clearly enough so that the words might be the same at the end of the circle, but they never quite were. "Let's play!", someone suggested, and we arranged ourselves in a ring. We played for quite a long time, laughing all the while as sentences became garbled nonsense, and we would have to try and assess where the phrases went wrong in the chain. The most challenging phrase passed around was "the owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk." We figured out where in the chain "flight" became "strikes" but how the entire phrase became "Go to Mike's for bowling at midnight" was beyond us. I guess there's an "owl" in bowling.

Many years later, I was returning from a weekend of performing chamber music with friends and reveling in the pure joy it had been to collaborate with such an energetic group of instrumentalists. While rehearsing, we likely discussed the process that composers go through when writing music; we realized that each composition we performed was inspired either by another composer, an artist, or maybe a poet.

Clearly, the idea of collaborating with artists of differing media is not new. I began thinking about some of my favorite performances of which I saw or for which I performed, ones that kept my attention engaged without electronic help or pyrotechnics, and I realized they were always the ones that involved a cross-artistic genre collaboration: a dancer responding to the music of a solo flutist, a piece of music based on a poem, or maybe an old silent film performed with live, classical music. The ideas communicated during such artistic moments were always packed with so much more meaning and clarity. Further, I had always wanted to collaborate with my sister, a visual artist. This started me down the path of recalling some of my family's most happy memories, including the Telephone story. In a matter of seconds, the idea for Telephone as a game for artists of any media was there. Instead of a strictly verbal phrase that is passed from person to person, why not use art as the phrase? Artists can respond to any aspect of a work, whether music, poetry, pottery, or any kind of art, and create something that can be passed from one artist to another. It took me about 5 years to work up the courage to pitch my idea, but the result has been the opportunity to collaborate with my sister and with artists connected to Mackinac Island, and the celebration of artistic collaboration as a way to honor the Community Foundation.

The unveiling and sharing of these works was truly a joyful experience as the artists were finally able to see how and where their artistic ideas were translated, mutated, or woven through. In the first several works, it seems that water is the main connective idea, and over time, this gives way to arches and circles. Each observer may have his or her own insight into the threads that meander through these works. And each view is correct! We are all individual participants in this game of life; we learn to communicate our experiences, thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with each other whether by word, sound, picture, or by any means necessary. And when our ideas are not only heard but receive a response, the result is true connection and collaboration.

Tess Miller, DMA, CMP


August 3, 2014, 2:00 p.m.
Ste. Anne Church
Mackinac Island, MI

North Shore at Dusk
North Shore at Dusk with Antiphon Reading

Composition Scott R. Harding

Performed by:
The Great Lakes Art Music Ensemble (GLAM),
Tess Miller, flute
Melissa Straus, double bass
Scott Harding, vibraphone

James J. Bogan Jr.

What Happens Next
Amanda and Joel Wyse

Charting the Boundaries
Kelly Dorman

Pam Finkel

Diminishing Returns
Alex Graham

The Igloo Island
Short Film
Rob Kalmbach
Poem by: Melissa Croghan

Intertwining Visions
Maeve Croghan

Arching Flowers Platter
Julie Porter & Brent Heerspink

Last Call
Composition Whitney Ashe
Performed by: GLAM