Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Murphy’

vt-made music

January 12, 2011

Last week I learned that Vermont musician Dennis Murphy had passed away in late November. (Here’s the obit from the Times-Argus.) He was born in Plainfield, NJ and he passed away in his longtime home of Plainfield, VT. I never met him but you don’t have to be involved in music here for very long to learn about the his contributions to the local cultural community. Last summer I went to the Blinking Light Gallery’s opening of an exhibition dedicated to his Murphy’s art work, an event that led to my later conversations with several of his former students and close acquaintances.  Through them I got insights into Murphy’s teaching at Goddard College, and about his involvement with groups like the Fyre and Lightning Consort and the Plainfield Village Gamelan Ensemble. He is remembered as a creatively curious and fearless innovator, and a gentle mentor to many.

In other local news, the Vermont Youth Orchestra board of directors met again last night and approved the hiring of a new conductor to replace Ronald Braunstein, who was named the group’s new permanent director six months ago. What happened? Anyone’s guess. Throughout the strange interlude of the last two months since the decision was apparently first made (though not publicly announced), the VYO Board has claimed muteness on the grounds of its legal inability to discuss personnel matters. Fair enough – but no public statement? At all? No cursory blog post on the VYO website, no carefully crafted facebook message, no polite (if uninformative) press release…nothing? The details of the situation are less the issue than the atypically stone-faced way the situation has been handled publically by the Board. How odd. Keep an eye out here for news on the new director, who may be named as early as later this week.

Finally tonight I wanted to leave with a mention of Margaret Whiting, whose sweet voice made “Moonlight in Vermont” a huge hit in 1943. For never having actually been to Vermont she had a good imagination and breathed believable life into the song’s sycamores, meadow larks, and…moonlight-washed hillsides. Whiting passed away on Monday at age 86. There was a nice remembrance of her this evening on Vermont Public Radio.




less is enough

July 11, 2010

When I arrived at the Blinking Light Gallery in Plainfield this afternoon I immediately knew something was up. There was music leaking out into the street from the riverside storefront, but not the kind of music I had been led to believe would accompany today’s artist reception. I heard harp and recorder where I was expecting the metallic, alternatively-tuned aesthetic of traditional gamelan music.

I soon learned that today’s guest of honor, artist/musician Dennis Murphy, had been hospitalized earlier in the week and was unable to attend today’s event. Without him, there was also to be no gamelan music since his role in the Plainfield Village Gamelan ensemble is pivotal. Murphy was represented instead by a very nice harp/recorder duet and a whole wall of his recent art: pastels, ink drawings, watercolors and photographs.

It’s something of an understatement to call Murphy an American original. It also doesn’ t take into consideration the breadth of his influence, many aspects of which have nothing to do with American culture or traditions at all. Murphy’s very long career has included making his own gamelan instruments, an endeavor which led Lou Harrison to describe Murphy as one of the founders of American gamelan music. Murphy also led a student ensemble in a performance of traditional Javanese music as early as 1967, during his first year teaching at Goddard College. He made shadow puppets (also a Javanese tradition) to accompany the musical performances of what later evolved from the original student group to become the Plainfield Village Gamelan ensemble. And he has developed his own written language described as a “simple alphabetical cypher”, a style that’s visually akin to Japanese brushstroke lettering and was created for the sole purpose of inclusion in his artworks.

The collection of Murphy’s visual art consists of a series of around 40 pieces. It’s been curated under the title of “Less is Enough”, a reference to the stroke Murphy suffered three years ago which significantly diminished his physical ability to produce art, though not his desire and drive to do so. Since that medical setback, Murphy has been concentrating on adjusting to his new limitations and rediscovering what IS now possible with his art.  The subject matters range from intimate nude photographs (including a couple of pinhole photography self-portraits, I was happy to note) to colorful rural landscapes and whimsically captioned random objects like Adirondack chairs, coffee (“coughie”) cups, and perennial gardens. The notation beneath a painting of green fencing dryly states: “To their surprise the lattice was made of lettuce.” This is a highly personal and assemblage of works; the product of a profoundly creative mind and means of expression.

I would have enjoyed hearing the gamelan ensemble today, and having a chance to meet Dennis Murphy. But I felt like I got to know him a little anyway despite his absence from the day’s events, through his drawings, pastels, and photos. Best wishes to him for a complete recovery and continued exploration in art.  Here’s a video from the Ensemble:

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