A minimalist musical tradition makes its return in Louisville
It became known as the NovemberGroup; a gathering of Louisville musicians who came together on Thanksgiving eve to play a seminal minimalist composition.
About 15 to 30 musicians take part in the event each year, performing “In C,” a work by the famous minimalist composer Terry Riley. He wrote it in 1964, and it’s considered to have paved the way for the minimalist musical movement.
Organizers of the event took a break last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But they’re back Wednesday for the eighth edition of NovemberGroup at The Flamingo Lounge in downtown Louisville.
And, as its tradition has been, NovemberGroup is open invite, meaning anyone with an instrument and an appetite for winging it can participate, according to Louisville bassoonist Jackie Royce, who has participated in NovemberGroup.
“If you can read music and feel comfortable reading in a live performance, then anyone is welcome to come and bring their instrument and their stand and participate,” Royce said.
So why “In C”?
“Because of its flexibility in terms of instrumentation, you know, not necessarily being written for any particular group of instruments,” Royce said. “But really being one chart or piece of music, that everyone reads off of the same thing.”
For the first year, NovemberGroup founder JC Denison partnered with fellow musician Oscar Parsons to set up a show on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving “show since everyone we know is always in town,” Denison told WFPL in an email.
Parsons’ band Thomas A. Minor & the Picket Line played, Denison organized an ensemble to perform “In C.”
“We made it a potluck dinner in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and I rounded up a keg of beer,” Denison said of that initial year. “It was very fun!”
Denison, who also co-owns the Louisville bars The Merryweather and Wiggle Room, said he’s been fascinated with “In C” for some time, and continues to be interested in the piece.
“I'm a music school reject, and I never really learned to play anything properly besides drums,” Denison said. “Due to the democratic nature of this piece, you can get a really eclectic group of unrehearsed musicians together. And because I play the 'pulse' (constant double C's on the xylophone), my job is strictly endurance and rhythm, and I have plenty of both.”
This year’s NovemberGroup’s event also features world premieres of works by two Louisville-area composers.
Tyler Taylor and Cambron Little created pieces based off of an “assignment of writing something in the minimalist lane,” Royce said.
And as in years past, Royce hopes to see musicians from all varieties of musical genres: rock, jazz, classical, experimental or avant-garde.
“This is something that means a lot to me and is just something that's really fun… it just is a really special moment for me, seeing folks who I maybe only see when I play Terry Riley's ‘In C',” she said. “So it is sort of a family gathering in that respect.”
For Denison, who credits Royce with taking up the mantle on organizing this year’s event, “it means the world” to have it back up and running.
“It'll be my first time playing music in front of people in a couple years, so I'm very nervous,” he said. “But the energy is always wacky and a little 'here goes nothin'' anyway. It's never the same twice.”
Proof of vaccination is required, and all ticket proceeds go to Girls Rock Louisville.