Skip to main content

Guerilla improv comes to Basilica

  • Empty
    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Trumpeter Tom Arthurs, left, and Alberto Novello on the spaghetti box improvising together.
  • Empty
    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Yuan-Chen Li, on keyboard, and Stephen Cohen, on cigar box guitar, improvise together at Basilica Hudson.
  • Empty
    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Vocalist Silvia Sauer performs during the Guerrilla Basilica Improvisations event in Hudson.
  • Empty
    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Lindsey Abudei, left, Efrain Rozas, center, and Jeffrey Lependorf perform together during the Guerrilla Basilica Improvisations event.
  • Empty
    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Stephen Cohen performs a tune on one of his cigar box guitars.
August 14, 2017 12:15 am Updated: August 14, 2017 01:56 pm


HUDSON — The sky was the limit for a group of musicians who participated in the Guerilla Basilica Improvisations event at Basilica Hudson on Sunday.

A group of musicians from such countries as Nigeria and Australia, who are part of the OMI International Arts Center’s music residency program, performed improvised pieces of music together in different small groups after their names were randomly chosen out of a hat, OMI Music Residency Program Director Jeffrey Lependorf said. This is the third year of the event, but it is the first time it was held at Basilica.

“It could be a pretty weird ensemble,” Lependorf said of the musical improvisations. “I didn’t tell the musicians about it until yesterday night.”

The musicians, some of whom have never been to the United States before, have been at OMI in Ghent for the past two days and have gotten together in small rotating groups to perform with each other, Lependorf said.

“They’re all professionals — so no problem jumping in,” Lependorf said.

In Lependorf’s 18th year of doing the OMI music residency he has seen many of the participants go on to form ensembles of their own, tour and record music. Lependorf knows the program is successful if people enjoy the music and if musicians form bands following the residency.

“I know it’s successful if three years from now they write to me and they’re still playing with the group they created and they have a new recording coming out,” Lependorf said. “I can only assume this new cohort of OMI musicians will form ensembles they would have never thought they would form.”

The musicians performed with unique instruments such as an Iranian kamancheh, a type of fiddle, a Native American flute, as well as standard instruments that were played in offbeat ways. When people attend the event they expect to hear music they have never heard before, with combinations of instruments that normally are not heard in the same piece.

“That’s fun no matter what, and when people actually make great music, it’s even better,” Lependorf said. “You’re never going to get to hear exactly these ensembles again probably.”

Stephen Cohen, of Portland, Oregon, was one of the musicians who performed and talked about his love of cigar box guitars, which is seeing a resurgence in popularity with a website called Cigar Box Nation and festivals dedicated to the instrument, he said.

“I like it because every instrument has a different feeling, different tone, so every cigar box is different, too,” Cohen said. “I just tune them until they sound good to me.”

Over 150 years ago in the South, blues musicians would make guitars out of cigar boxes because they could not afford to purchase regular guitars, Cohen said before performing a little ditty on his guitar called “I Had a Dog Named Fred.”

“They’re cheap to make,” Cohen said. “This cigar box cost $6.”

Silvia Sauer, a vocalist from Germany, enjoyed jamming at the event and said one of the most important parts of improvising is to listen to what the other musicians are doing.

“You start with nothing,” Sauer said of improvising. “I think most of us are used to improvising, maybe some not, but it works very well for me.”

Sauer does not have any special techniques when she makes noises and listens to different vocalists to see if their voices come from their nose or the larynx, she said.

“I try to make these noises — I listen and I try to rebuild them and it’s a long experience to make it like this,” Sauer said. “I hear a lot of things — overtones, singing, world music.”

This is Sauer’s first residency and she has enjoyed meeting with the other musicians so far because they all bring their own experiences and backgrounds into the program, she said. Sauer is looking forward to getting to network with other people from around the world.

“It’s a good first step,” she said.

The residency program is free to apply to and attend for musicians from around the world, but very competitive, Lependorf said. The program is held once a year in August and in two weeks the musicians will perform pieces they wrote together during the residency.

“Part of our mission at OMI is international cultural exchange,” Lependorf said.

Victoria Kallen, of Hudson, enjoyed hearing the different types of musical instruments and genres that blended together for the performance.

“They did a good job, considering that they had no time to prepare,” Kallen said of the improvisations.

Jacqueline Monroe, of Sugar Loaf, follows OMI’s activities and wanted to come to the event and see what it had to offer. For Monroe, it did not disappoint, and she appreciated how one musician took the lead and the rest followed.

“Improv is something that’s threatening and fearful,” Monroe said.

Danny Rutigliano, also of Sugar Loaf, enjoyed what he heard and liked how vastly different instruments were used to create a piece of music.

“I find the combination of instruments you don’t normally hear, fascinating,” Rutigliano said.

Rutigliano, an actor, said this kind of musical improvisation is different from the type for actors because they are always given a character and situation to work with.

“This is a great performance space,” Rutigliano said of Basilica. “I’m thinking they should do theater here.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.