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Art Beat composer creates new way to play, listen

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(John Mery, music department chairperson, chats about the challenges of the featured art)

For this kind of artwork, there will be no installation ceremony because you can’t see it and there is nothing to touch because its not made of anything. But students and the community will get a lot out of it by simply listening.

The featured art for the 22nd annual Art Beat Festival is a guitar quartet musical piece titled “Fore!” written by Portland State University music professor Bryan Johanson, this year’s featured artist. The musical piece, conceived over last December’s snow storm, can be played, or listened to, 24 different ways and is 22 minutes long.

“In the past, Art Beat has always commissioned a work of visual art like a painting or a sculpture of some sort but this is the first time we’ve gotten a piece of music,” said PCC music instructor John Mery, who approached Johanson about composing music for PCC’s Art Beat. “I’ve never played a piece of music like this that has so many options. Concert music generally doesn’t do this. There have been other works that have been innovative in form but nothing like this.”

Art Beat will spread across all three PCC campuses and the Southeast Center from May 11-15, offering students, staff, faculty and the community access to local, regional and national artists, as well as an extensive collection of visual art, dance, music, theater and literary events to help expose them to art. It is free and open to the public. Locations include: Sylvania Campus (12000 S.W. 49th Ave.), Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W. Springville Road), Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth St.) and Southeast Center (2305 S.E. 82nd and Division).

For more information, visit the Art Beat Web site at

Johanson’s work will be debuted by The Oregon Guitar Quartet, which features Mery, David Franzen, Ian Luxton and Peter Zisa, during the opening Art Beat reception. This opening gala will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m., Monday, May 11, in the Performing Arts Center, Sylvania Campus. On hand to ceremonially receive the featured art will be PCC District President Preston Pulliams. Following the ceremony Johanson will lead a music discussion from 11 a.m. to noon.

He also will present his work “Fore!” and his thoughts on composing from 1 to 2 p.m., Wednesday, May 13, Room 145, Mt. Tabor Hall, Southeast Center; and 7 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 13, Forum, Building 3, Rock Creek Campus.

“Once we premier the work our students will have access to it and will spend years and years learning the different sections of this work,” Mery said. “The piece has a lot to discover. Bryan has created, for PCC, a very large and substantial work. I’ve never heard anything like it for guitar quartet.”

Art Beat Highlights

Oslund & Company dance performance and workshop (Sylvania Campus, 12000 S.W. 49th Ave.) Thursday, May 14. At 1 p.m. in the HT Building gymnasium, Oslund & Company will present the premiere of “Anatomica,” which is a look at the world through the use of story as dancers reveal it through animated figures and scenes.

Internationally known weaver Isaac Vasquez Garcia from Teotitlan del valle in Oaxaca, Mexico, will present a slide lecture on his weaving and spinning wool skills at 10 a.m., Tuesday, May 12, Event Center, Rock Creek Campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road. He will also present from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 12 in Room 107 of Jackson Hall at Cascade and 4 to 5 p.m.. Thursday, May 14 in Room 130 of Mt. Tabor Hall of Southeast Center.

Artists Joseph Velasquez and Drew Iwaniw, known as the DriveBy Press, will spend a day giving printmaking demonstrations out of their mobile press van. Their printmaking demonstration will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, May 11, East Parking Lot, Southeast Center, 2305 S.E. 82nd and Division. DriveBy Press will also appear from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday, May 12 and Wednesday, May 13, at Rock Creek and 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 14 in Parking Lot 4 at Cascade.

Arvie Smith will present at the Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth St. Smith will show a slide show of his recent body of work, “Chitlin Circuit,” at 5 p.m., Monday, May 11, in Room 221, Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building. As an African-American growing up in South Central Los Angeles, his life experience and studies envelop his work as he narrates through images and composition. He’ll also appear from 1 to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, may 13 in the Little Theare at Sylvania.

For a complete schedule, visit the Art Beat Web site at

Bryan Johanson Biography

Performed, recorded and published nationally and internationally, Johanson studied composition with Charles Jones and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom. His catalogue of more than 80 compositions features three symphonies, concertos for violin, cello and piano, numerous chamber works, song cycles and choral works, as well as compositions for solo instruments. In recent years he has focused a major portion of his creative energy on writing chamber music that includes guitar.

Johanson is a professor of music at Portland State University, where he founded PSU’s guitar studies program and the Guitar Recital Series in 1978. In 1991 he established the popular Portland Guitar Festival, which he organizes annually. The department chair of music has been at PSU for 31 years. Johanson’s compositions even helped the L.A. Guitar Quartet win a Grammy for their album “Guitar Heroes.”

Featured Artist Quotes

On why he came up with “Fore!”:

“I percolated on the type of piece I wanted to write that would be new and different for them (PCC students). I wanted to compose it in multiple parts, creating a formal process where it could be organically performed and have interchangeable pieces. The movements can be played in any order.”

On why it’s different:

“It’s a substantial work. The player has no vested interest in an order. I’ve never written a piece like this. I didn’t want to write in a linear fashion. They won’t know its happening as listeners. The challenge is to make it into an organic single order; a continuous flow of music. I feel like it’s a cool version. Each movement has some real juice to it. Its like a multi-dimensional object where you turn around, it’s the same object but it looks different. That’s the concept here.”

On how hard it is to learn the piece:

“What you do all the time in education, if you like a piece, is don’t be seduced by it, learn it technically. Take a page from the middle and play it, but not from the start. You can’t master the whole until you master the parts. When you master the parts you have no predisposition of where it will come in the whole. You engage in learning the parts to learn the music unframed and then frame it. Classical musicians typically never get this opportunity, ever.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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