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The Fourth Wall Dances To The Music

As a student of music performance at Oberlin Conservatory with eclectic interests, bass trombonist C. Neil Parsons found himself wishing there was a genre that incorporated music, dance, and theater. What he couldn't find, he created; he called it Hybrid Arts. Now, with his group The Fourth Wall, which includes Parsons himself, flutist Hilary Abigana, and percussionist Greg Jukes, are at the forefront of an exciting movement that is blurring artistic boundaries.

A Joint Experience

The group's name is a theater term. "The fourth wall" refers to the imaginary barrier between the audience and the performers on the stage. When performers 'break the fourth wall,' they communicate directly to the audience.

Abigana says one of the group's goals is to perform as though the fourth wall barrier never existed. "We use the room as our playground, and everyone's there with us as we jump from the stage with our music and hybrid arts."

Making Their Own Repertoire

"The decision to work together really came from wanting to work with people, not so much with the instruments in mind," says Parsons. The rather unusual combination of instruments means they have had to re-arrange much of their music, like Bordel 1900 by Astor Piazzola. In that piece, Jukes plays the accordion, an instrument he hadn't played formally since high school.

For the members of The Fourth Wall, adding choreography is just another level of the arranging process. The initial challenge involved with choreographing the Piazzola, Parsons says, was creating a tango for three people. "I'm not sure if I've seen a full on three-way tango before!"

Jukes has the least dance experience of the three members. He has been taking ballet classes for the last couple of years to get in shape for the demands of the hybrid arts. Dance is not entirely foreign to him, however, as percussionists combine movement with performing music all the time. "When we memorize a piece, we're memorizing movements. This is just adding a few more limbs, some bigger muscles groups to what you need to move already!"

New Music Made Accessible

Recently Parsons, Abigana and Jukes have had to do less mining for music on their own. In October of 2010, the group performed the inaugural concert for the Boston Composers' Coalition, during which they performed seven new works written for their combination, with their own original choreography.

The Fourth Wall helps make new music palatable to a wider audience, perhaps because, as Jukes speculates, "they have something more to focus on besides just having their auditory senses bombarded with new sounds or stuff they might not have experienced before."

This wider audience can include real novices to new music, including children. Parsons adds that part of what his group likes about performing for kids is that they don't have preconceived notions of what music is or isn't; they just like what they like. "If we present something because we ourselves love it, hopefully they're going to love it too and respond to our enthusiasm in the same way that we do – whether it's new or not!"

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