Education Blog

Open Studio: Andrew Cyrille
May 23, 2016

Children playing percussion

Trying some percussion with Andrew Cyrille, April 2016. Photograph by Andrew Kist

Andrew Cyrille is among the greatest free jazz drummers of his generation and a longtime collaborator with legendary musician Cecil Taylor. Cyrille was one of the featured performers during the exhibition, Open Plan: Cecil Taylor. He says that “doing a drum solo is like making a speech in sound” and he draws inspiration from “all kinds of things, poetry, the mood I’m in at that moment, a painting.” For Open Studio on April 16, Cyrille invited families to make a percussion speech about artworks in the Whitney’s collection.

Cyrille brought a variety of instruments with him that participants could explore, including drums, cymbals, xylophones, gongs, bells, and rattles. During the program, Cyrille played his drums in response to artworks in the Whitney’s collection which were projected on a screen. First he explained to families how he was going to interpret the compositions as he “played” the paintings.

Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939. Oil on canvas, overall: 70 1/4 × 42 3/16 in. (178.4 × 107.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase 42.15

For Joseph Stella’s The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939, he began and ended with a series of drum beats that represented the lights at the top and the bottom of the painting. One girl anticipated these beats and joined in with Cyrille at the end of his performance.

Cyrille noted that “Musicians often make do with what they have, use whatever is around to make sound.” In this spirit, participants could also use everyday objects like paper cups that served as percussion instruments or strikers such as wooden sticks and metal spoons.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille working with kids and parents for a family project

Andrew Cyrille and families in the Laurie M. Tisch Education Center, Hearst Artspace, April 2016. Photograph by Andrew Kist

Kids and families were asked to choose an artwork that interested them and think of the sounds it might make—fast, slow, loud, soft, or sharp. They were encouraged to think about rhythm, repetition, beats, and whether an artwork would make just a few or many sounds. Families performed their speech by playing the percussion instruments.

A child plays the drums with the help of drummer Andrew Cyrille

A young participant plays the drums, April 2016. Photograph by Andrew Kist

Billie Rae Vinson, Coordinator of Family Programs remarked: “It was wonderful to see families communicating ideas about color, composition, and emotion through sound, and to see them learning from such an inspirational musician.”

Learn more about Family Programs here.

Dina Helal, Manager of Education Resources

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