Building Sound: Making Instruments with Douglas R. Ewart, May 1, 2016
–Reflection by Ellen Ringler–
Spending the afternoon with IICSI and Musagetes 2015/2016 Improviser in Residence Douglas R. Ewart, making musical shakers and rain makers was a calming and mindful exercise. The care and caution Douglas took to explain his method was appreciated by a keen group of listeners and participants. Douglas teaches with an authenticity and generosity to all learners, explaining his gifts to every person with enthusiasm and congeniality as if he were teaching very young people. This approach seemed to create a comfortable space for participants and allow for the youthful pleasure in making collages and instruments, at a pace and communication level each preferred. Douglas R. Ewart shows transparency both in his art and through his pedagogical attitude. Douglas makes no assumptions about his learners or their art and dedicates his whole heart to the creative process. Without assumption or expectation, I think participants felt free and able to create their pieces without hesitation or self-consciousness. With care and ease this artist explains the value of re-claiming materials that have been discarded in order to create beauty in musical instruments.
Creating a musical shaker was meditative experience for me. This was something I appreciated in crafting my instrument, and I felt that my silence and the quiet of the others supported a focused environment where I was free to unwind as I created my piece. This quiet energy encouraged a mindful approach to instrument making where calm and peace were observed. Douglas explains and intervenes only make sure the practice is safe and accessible. I did not hear Douglas offer too many words of encouragement but it seemed they were not necessary. His attitude allowed for creative expression without the pushing his own style on the participants. In other words, Douglas provides a methodology and context but also allows his students to create as an expression of their individuality.
During this exercise the participants were rather quiet. The group was small and though every person listened intently, each seemed to be very focused on their task. Perhaps this endeavor was a meditative experience for the other participants as well? Perhaps they were subdued by the rain and coolness of the day? In any case people seemed to be quietly absorbed in their own work and at times Douglas offered guidance but did not interfere with the silence of this practice. This silence was not awkward, nor was it something to be broken. It was comfortable and the quietness of expression in collaboration while working on individual projects was even a welcome calm. Douglas offered his thoughts and kind gestures throughout but also seemed quite content to be and let others be.
Whenever I have had the pleasure of listening and speaking with Douglas R. Ewart, he has always emphasized recycling/re-claiming materials as significant practices for his art. When he speaks of childhood he describes finding joy in things people have thrown away, turning them into something new and fun. This youthful passion is unwavering and it is always exciting to listen and learn about how we can make beauty using things that have been discarded. Much of the quiet fun of this project was keeping these reclamations in mind. We used a dated and vast collection of National Geographic magazines and reclaimed tubes to make instruments that will bring joy and music into the future.
Building instruments and ultimately sound through a more meditative and quiet process was unexpected. The hush of the room was peaceful, was calm and collaborative. Energy was placed on the careful development of art. The rainmakers and shakers created by each participant will bring sounding joy to those who hear it. Maybe this time the beauty was in the quiet creation of the instruments and the reflection of their impact, rather than sounding voices.