Philly classical ensemble Murmuration turns news into libretto — on the spot

 Members of the music ensemble Murmuration perform improvised classical music outside of the Kimmel Center as part of the citywide Make Music Philly event June 21. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Members of the music ensemble Murmuration perform improvised classical music outside of the Kimmel Center as part of the citywide Make Music Philly event June 21. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

If radio is “theater of the mind,” somebody needs to compose the soundtrack.

Murmuration is a classical improvisation ensemble,  its members playing off one another other to make melodies on the spot, with a vocalist taking text from anywhere — the pages of newspapers, paperbacks opened randomly, even notes scribbled by audience members — and makes the words swoop and dive on wings of the string quartet.

“It’s fun for me to take — even from a really mundane source — lines that out of context become kind of poetic,” said vocalist Andrew Marsh.

WHYY reporter Peter Crimmins asked Murmuration to do their thing with Friday’s “Morning Edition.” The show featured national and local news stories, including: interest rates in China plummeting for bank-to-bank loans (“This is a deliberate decision by the Central Bank of China to cause this pain,” said strategist Andy Rothman of the brokerage firm CLSA); President Barack Obama’s planned meeting with his privacy and civil liberties oversight board (“The board quickly fell apart over White House interference. In 2007 Congress recreated the board as an independent agency, then it languished without a leader,” reported Ari Shapiro); the new NBA champions the Miami Heat (“This is what it’s all about. I came here to win championships,” said Lebron James); and Philadelphia City Council completing this year’s tax bills (“In past years we’ve had reductions in our budget across all departments, not being in a place to put significant investment in growth opportunities”).

“In classical music, from my perspective, there’s not enough modern text that describes the current moment,” said Marsh. “So this is really exciting source material.”

Murmuration performed an improvised libretto of the day’s news in front of the Kimmel Center at Friday morning as part of the citywide music event Make Music Philly.

A final note: Because Marsh grabs particularly evocative phrases and runs them together, they sometimes compose sentences that — while lyrical — are not factual.

For example, his line, “People should depend on the fact that Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez backed off her proposal to raise fear,” is not accurate.

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