5 Questions to Verdant Vibes (new music collective and concert series)

Over the past few years, Verdant Vibes has been bringing eclectic, innovative concerts to the community in Providence, RI. Verdant Vibes is a new music collective and concert series that programs a wide variety of new music, both electronic and acoustic, and weaves together compelling programs that display a wide degree of diversity and inclusivity. Their upcoming benefit concert on February 12, 2022 at The Music Mansion features works by Anuj Bhutani, Samn Johnson, Li Tao, Kirsten Volness, and Daniel Whitworth. We asked five questions to Verdant Vibes to learn more about their approach to programming and community building.

First of all, congratulations on releasing your 2022 concert season! What considerations do you make when planning concert seasons as a whole?

First off, we look closely at the music, art, and collaboration ideas submitted to our free call for scores. We get hundreds of submissions, so for the first round we divide them up among Verdant Vibes Ensemble members, although everyone gets to comb through as much of the list as they want and select their favorites. We then as an ensemble put together everyone’s schedule for the year and see who is available when, and then cross check that with the pieces and collaborations we want to do, and come up with rough season programming. We are a large ensemble (up to nine performers), so we can program anything from solos to full group pieces, but juggling schedules can be tricky, so we tend to have to separate smaller-ensemble concerts and full-band ones. Along with pre-composed and improvised music, we collaborate with different types of artists — dancers, poets, video artists — to create new work. We also invite local musicians from different, but adjacent musical scenes to play double bills with us.

How do you go about curating individual performances?

Drawing upon a very diverse call for scores has led to a broad variety of programming in terms of style and content. One audience member noted, “I never know what I’m going to see, but it [is] always awesome.” This season, different members of the ensemble volunteered to program their own concerts, combining pieces from the call for scores with curated pieces and collaborations. Giving more control of the programming to specific members of the ensemble has been a great way to feel like more of a collective than a top-down hierarchical organization.

Verdant Vibes performs Carolina Heredia’s Disjointed Fragments

There is such a diversity in content and representation in the composers you have chosen for this season. Can you speak a bit about how you create equitable programming and balance your seasons?

This is such an important issue for the new music community. As racial, ethnic, and gender representation among composers and ensembles has diversified a bit, class, cultural, and stylistic diversity is still much lacking. The new music community rarely talks about class, and about how so many of the people making and presenting the music come from a small number of monied, primarily academic institutions from a very narrow region of this country.

We do our best to confront this issue through our call for scores and our focus on outreach to our audience and collaborators. First off, our call is free. We also advertise it widely to arts groups and individuals that are often not considered part of the new music community. This includes lots of direct email and social media outreach. We can’t expect to receive work and collaboration ideas from a diverse group of artists if they don’t know about us, so we work really hard on this. The “build it and they will come” model does not work. If you want different people to send you their stuff, you have to learn about them, find them, and meet them where they are, and ask them. In this aspect, we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve heard many times from artists we feature that they never considered themselves part of the new music community before. We hope this process will help build and grow that shared community.

How does Verdant Vibes fit into the Providence music community’s landscape, and what do you feel sets your group apart?

When we started Verdant Vibes, we wanted to make sure that we recognized and appreciated the depth and diversity of the local music and arts scene in Providence, and considered ourselves part of it and not separate or isolated. From our first concert on, we’ve invited (and paid) local bands, electronic musicians, poets, dancers, and other artists to take part in our shows, both as collaborators with us and as guest artists that we host. Community within a scrappy, under-resourced, and DIY art/music scene like Providence is built through mutual aid and respect, and we want to be part of that community.

Verdant Vibes performs Scott Lee’s Engine Trouble

Verdant Vibes has certainly been growing the new music community and bringing new people to the concert halls. How have you been doing this, and what do you envision for the future?

It’s a similar process as our outreach work to artists. We advertise as best as we can to diverse groups in Rhode Island and beyond. We make sure our concerts are affordable and have a pay-what-you can option. Developing relationships with the local arts scene (and local businesses and nonprofits) has helped diversify and build our audience. We invite previous collaborators and their fans to our shows and vice versa.

Performance venues are always another issue (as your readers are probably aware of). Even before the pandemic, performance spaces in Providence and greater Rhode Island were closing, and options becoming more scarce. We’ve been lucky to have forged good relationships with venues over the years: again, the key is outreach, communication, and solidarity. One of our goals is to have our shows in accessible venues. By this we mean not just cost-accessible, but accessible for folks with different mobilities, culturally accessible venues, accessible by public transit, etc. It is a lot to balance and we haven’t always done perfectly in this regard, but we’re always trying to improve.

The pandemic shifted accessibility issues from space and physical access to technological access. Providing cross-platform streaming (multiple social media access points) has helped us not cut out our audience. In some ways it broadened our audience, both globally (since people could tune in from anywhere) and even locally, since people who are not comfortable coming in person because of access issues could also watch online.

This season we’re venturing from online performance to hybrid in-person and live-stream. We hope to keep some of those unexpected accessibility gains. We’re excited to be hosting an outdoor concert at Roger Williams Park in Providence, and a season finale at the newly renovated downtown branch of the Providence Public Library, which has excellent accessibility.


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