It’s a gut reaction thing. When confronted by a musical composition called “Burning Piano” that involves, yes, playing a piano as it burns, you’re probably going to be curious or dismissive: It sounds either brilliantly subversive or like a horrible waste. Here at Utne Reader, we were so taken by composer Annea Lockwood’s description of “Burning Piano” from an interview in the New Zealand arts mag White Fungus that we’re reprinting an excerpt in our July-August issue. (Look for it soon on Utne.com.)
“It’s very magnetizing,” she said in describing her first performance of the piece decades ago. “It turned into an event of itself, almost a funny little ritual, something in its own right.”
Too bad we didn’t know that “Burning Piano” was about to be performed in our backyard as we read those words. Some lucky students at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, got to partake in the ritual April 30 in a “Burning Piano” concert attended—and ignited—by the composer herself. The student who instigated the project, Carleton senior Caitlin Schmid, confirmed our impression of the polarizing effects of torching a piano.
“Watching Lockwood’s performance really generated a lot of discussion among the students,” Schmid told the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. “Some of us were really moved by the piece, while others were deeply offended. They couldn’t get past the idea of destroying a piano and calling it ‘art.’ ”
The ensuing reaction in the newspaper’s “Comments” sections turned—as it too often does, unfortunately—into a partisan battle, with one commenter even speculating that “this flaming idiot ‘performance artist’ also likely voted for Obama.”
Perhaps. But sometimes maybe a burning piano is simply a burning piano.
Images by Nate Ryan, courtesy of Nate Ryan.