Tent Talks for music literacy

'We want people to come and feel not intimidated or threatened'

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As chairman of the music department at Trinity University in San Antonio, Dr. Ken Greene is accustomed to working with aspiring musicians.

And every summer for the past 17 years, Greene has come to Steamboat Springs, where he often spends an hour each week working with a different kind of student -- the music fan.

Greene, the concert commentator for Strings in the Mountains, has spent the past decade leading weekly discussions called Tent Talks. The discussions, which are free and held every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. during Strings' concert season, typically focus on a performance scheduled that week.

"They're topical week to week," Greene said Wednesday, shortly after leading a Tent Talk during which he and eight performers explored pieces of the late Romanian composer George Enesco's "String Octet." Those same performers met on stage Saturday night for a complete performance of the "Octet" in front of a full paying audience.

But the scene was quite different Wednesday, when Greene discussed musical textures with a group of about 30 people who stopped by the Strings tent for the informal talk. Using Enesco's "Octet" as the basis for the discussion, Greene spoke of his desire to "unspool" the music to help the audience understand its varied components. The Tent Talk also included biographical information on the famous composer and musician.

Greene used the eight professional musicians to highlight the discussion, and they happily obliged, playing and replaying short sections of the "Octet" to demonstrate musical concepts such as feuds.

"I'm really grateful to them for doing the excerpts," Greene later said.

It wasn't long ago when Strings musicians couldn't take part in the discussions because of facility restrictions. With Tent Talks now taking place in Strings' new concert venue, the quality of the informative discussions has improved considerably, Greene said.

"It's invaluable," he said. "It's so much more engaging than someone speaking with a recording."

An added benefit is that those who attend the free discussions are able to see the musicians in an intimate atmosphere where the performers often wear sandals and shorts and chime in to answer questions or add to Greene's lecture.

Such an atmosphere can attract people previously uncomfortable with attending Strings events, Greene said.

"We want people to come and feel not intimidated or threatened," he said. "The concert stands on its own, but it's always good to have an outreach program that draws people in and engages them."

If audience outreach was one impetus for the creation of Tent Talks, education is the other. One of Greene's goals is to help people become better music listeners and understand the complexities and components of what they listen to.

"We want our audiences to be musically literate," he said.

Tent Talks continues this week at noon at the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park. For more information, call 879-5056.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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