November 30, 2023

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Beats Of Music

80-foot-long musical instrument star at EMPAC

5 min read

Composer/performer Ellen Fullman has spent the last 40 years developing, adapting and performing on the Long String Instrument, an extraordinary musical apparatus of her own invention. Live performances are rare and always a special event because of the instrument’s grand size and complexity. For “Elemental View,” Fullman’s latest and largest project, there are 134 strings, some of which measure up to 80 feet long.  It’s the kind of undertaking ideal for EMPAC, where technical challenges and big ideas are welcomed. The concert presentation takes place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in the EMPAC Concert Hall.

As a listening experience, expect to hear layers of sustained tones with subtle shifts in the timber or character of sound and slow progressions of harmony. In order to create the music, Fullman applies resin to her fingers and uses a gentle touch as she walks the length of the strings. The sound has been compared to that of a Middle Eastern sitar and described as like being on the inside of a grand piano. 

Fullman will be joined in the hourlong piece by Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson, the duo known as Living Earth Show. They will participate on the Long String Instrument primarily to add rhythmic elements using the “box bow” and “shoveler,” handheld wooden tools designed and built by Fullman (think giant guitar picks). Later in the piece as Fullman continues on the LSI, they will introduce the slide guitar and santur, an Iraqi dulcimer.

The composition and its realization have been in the works for about four years.  “COVID slowed it down, but it gave me an enormous project to focus on when I couldn’t go anywhere. I just always wanted a large-scale installation,” says Fullman. “We came up with funding and I already had the inventory of parts and pieces plus great performers. The whole thing is so impractical I thought I’ll never get a gig so we decided to make a film.” Shooting took place in March of last year at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, Calif., just north of the Bay Area, where all of the artists reside, and the 40-minute film is available online (follow links from  

“Elemental View” made its debut before a live audience in April at the Rewire Festival in the Netherlands. This will be the first performance since then. Should other venues be interested, Fullman provides a thorough list of technical requirements, plus photos and diagrams and a timeline, which starts with a day for unloading and installation followed by six more days of “stringing, tensioning, and tuning.” Tickets are $15-$20 and available at:

Kaleidescape in the Troy Music Hall

A warm embrace of community and creativity was palpable during Kaleidescape, on Saturday evening, Oct. 14 at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.  More than two dozen musicians performed in the musical variety show that paid grateful and loving homage to the resplendent venue. The 90-minute program drew a respectable crowd of about 250 folks who gave a hearty reception to each of the widely varied acts that came onstage. For those of us who normally focus on a single genre, it felt like an adventure, as artists from the bluegrass, R&B, folk, classical and experimental realms introduced new pieces written for the occasion.  

The imaginative programming and smooth production were the work of pianist and teacher Sophia Subbayya Vastek and saxophonist and composer Sam Torres. They’re an industrious couple and a lot to keep up with. I’ve already written about theme-settling in Troy four years ago, launching the Organ Colossal collective, and putting together the Lift Series, which returns to the Music Hall in the spring. But there’s still a bit more. The couple recently bought a former church in South Troy to serve as their home, and they’ve repurposed the former worship space as The Troy Listening Room. So far events are infrequent and on a modest scale.  Find out more by going to Vastek’s Instagram @sophiavastek. By the way, she’s also blogging on Substack. I told you there’s a lot to keep up with.

Some Post-COVID updates

In my reporting on music and theater, I keep coming upon new pieces and new productions that have been in the works (or on the back burner) for three or four years, which means that the endeavors were conceived in the before times. The ongoing effects of the COVID shutdown can also be seen on the administrative level. Here’s news on three smaller organizations:

The de Blasiis Music Series is coming back to life with a concert by the Lyons Chamber Ensemble playing trios by Grieg, Brahms and Ewazen at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls. The series started almost 90 years ago and was most recently led by William Martin, a retired musician and critic, who took over in 2018 and expanded the offerings beyond classical.  Robert Rosoff, retired executive director of the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra, is now serving as acting chairman, and promises another concert in the spring. More info at:

The Bach Cello Suites Workshops have come to an end. Co-founders Marc Violette and Margaret Lanoue conceived the program as an opportunity for nonprofessional cellists like themselves to learn the beloved repertoire in a retreat-like environment. Starting in 2015, the summer workshops drew participants from around the country and the faculty was led by Zuill Bailey. The short announcement said: “We were not able to rise out of the ruins of COVID to make it sustainable.”

Reports that COVID had gotten the better of Capital Pride Singers were premature! My column from February 2022 on local choruses dealing with the lingering pandemic quoted a CPS board member stating that they’d begun the process of shutting down. But an infusion of new leadership and singers appears to have brought the group back as strong as ever. 

I’d been hearing talk of a revival and kept looking for a concert announcement on the group’s website. Well, I guess websites are going out of fashion and all the action is happening on Facebook. That’s where I learned that the group has been performing at special events in the LGBTQ community and has two concerts planned for the upcoming holiday season. The theme is “Patchwork Quilt: The Fabric of Our Lives” and the dates are Dec. 3 and 8, but the venues are still TBD.  Updates can only be found on Facebook. 


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