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Kansas City Musicians Mark Autumnal Equinox With 'Sleeping-Bag Concert'

Courtesy of Charlotte Street
Shawn Edward Hansen and Sam Jones at the vernal equinox sleeping-bag concert.

This Tuesday might be a school night, but it’s also a special occasion, one that, if we're truly in touch with our existential status in the natural world, deserves a ritual. It’s the autumnal equinox, when the sun shines directly on the equator and the lengths of the day and the night are essentially equal.

Two Kansas City musicians want to help celebrate, so they’re putting on a sleeping-bag concert. They did the same thing for thespring equinox six months ago.

Credit Paul Andrews
Shawn Edward Hansen

“We’re trying to establish a tradition of doing this kind of performance,” says Shawn Edward Hansen, whose partner in the effort is Sam Jones.

The two were inspired by legendary all-night concerts created in the 1960s by Terry Riley. Working in the vein of Riley and other minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich, they played all night on March 20 at Charlotte Street’s La Esquina Gallery.

Hansen says 20 or 30 people spent the night there. But that was over a Friday night into Saturday morning.

“The spring equinox happened to land on a weekend night, so I’m curious to see what kind of turnout this has,” he says of this Tuesday’s performance.

Starting new traditions can be difficult, he realizes. But Hansen says it’s worth it.

“This sort of transition into another season is important,” he says. People tend to think of re-setting their lives when seasons change, he notes.

“Making a ritual out of it, they can come and re-set, but re-set with a group.”

What most interested Hansen and Jones about their performance, he says, is that they aren’t putting on a concert so much as they’re accompanying a cosmic event.

“The music isn’t supposed to be a spectacle of any kind. Us being there is as interesting as the audience members being there. We’re sort of folding an everyday thing into something that can be shared,” says Hansen.

Credit Courtesy of Sam Jones
Sam Jones

Though he plays many instruments to create a musical style described as “Great Plains hermetic art,” Hansen will play organ to celebrate the equinox. Jones, who describes himself as an experimental ambient composer whose work addresses “the spectrum of sensory isolation, lucid dreaming, reality in the Internet age, and the Cybergenetic fugue state,” will play organ as well.

Joining them will be the Twilight Choir: three saxophone players – Patrick Alonzo Smith Conway, Russell Thorpe and Sam Hughes – and upright bass players Neal Wilson and Rev. William Ellis Bradley.

Audience members can expect distinct musical movements throughout the night, starting with the full ensemble for the first two or three hours.

“That will have more volume to it, designed to welcome the people coming in and give them something to listen to. That piece gets you prepared to then settle down if you want to stay,” Hansen says.

Following that is a set of chorales, which Hansen describes as having “no pulse, no beat.”

“They’re sort of like drifting harmonic structures, which will take you into the middle of the night.”

Credit Courtesy of Charlotte Street
The scene at Hansen and Jones' vernal equinox concert in March 2015.

Then they’ll do variations of single notes, using oscillators to change a note’s pitch every few minutes.

“That’s the lull, the deepest part of the night when the sun is on the opposite side of us.”

Then they’ll start introducing more harmonic structure back into the notes and the Twilight Choir will return, Hansen says, “ramping up to get you ready for the sunrise.”

As he watched the audience last spring, Hansen was fascinated by how sleeping became a group activity. When someone would finally lie down and fall asleep, so did the person next to him. It was as if the whole audience basically gave itself permission, and fell asleep almost at the same time.

“Same with people rising,” he says, “sitting up in their sleeping bags, starting to listen at a certain point when the light came through the skylights – the sort of blue pre-dawn kind of light.”

One thing he learned: “Everyone snores. Everyone does.”

People who are inclined to help Hansen and Jones celebrate the equinox but aren’t prepared to sleep and snore in a group can still participate.

“You can come any time,” Hansen says. “You don’t have to be there right when it starts, and you don’t have to stay.”

Breakfast and coffee at sunrise.

Charlotte Street Presents: Autumnal Equinox Sleeping Bag Concert, Shawn E Hansen & Sam Jones and the Twilight Choir, Sept. 22, La Esquina Gallery, 1000 W. 25th Street, Kansas City, Mo., 64108. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., performance begins at sundown. Anyone staying should bring sleeping mats, sleeping bags and or blankets and rugs. Free admission.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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