CI Department Concert: Ritual

NEC: Jordan Hall | Directions

290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA
United States

 New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation students, faculty, and special guest, Ukrainian folk musician, improviser, and composer Julian Kytasty, present Ritual, exploring the myriad of ways that ritual manifests in our lives and music. Curated by faculty member Anthony Coleman, the program includes performances centered in Jewish, African, Ukrainian, Korean, and American folk tradition as well as new student works engaging with contemporary rituals of modern life, from the dance hall to the doctor’s office.

This concert will be in-person only and will not be livestreamed. A delayed broadcast of the concert will stream on the NEC website on June 4. Check back for a link to the stream.


A Note from Anthony Coleman

The ancient Chinese sage Xunzi offers three pieces of practical advice for anyone attempting to talk about ritual. He warns against the temptation to reduce this complex phenomenon to simplistic formulas or strict categories. He also suggests that elaborate theories constructed by means of labyrinthine methodological considerations will only lead one away from reality. Finally, he reminds us that we will never understand ritual if we are apt to look down on what other people do and view their actions from a position of intellectual or observational superiority.  – Catherine Bell: Ritual – Perspectives and Dimensions

Yes...What they said. How to avoid any kind of generalizing or reductionism? How to lead away from theory and toward reality? We certainly don't believe that we look down on what other people do, but how to address semi-conscious othering? Never have I needed Library Databases more.

I went to Grove Music Online. And looked up Ritual Music. I shuddered when I saw that there were 49 pages. I shuddered more when I saw what was on Page One: Moldova/Ukraine/Taiwan/Bhutan/Chile/Yunluo/Belarus/Croatia/Guatemala/Russian Federation/Georgia/Ecuador

Ukraine on Page One! It felt like an oracle had spoken. I am no authority on Ukrainian Music, much less Ukrainian Ritual Music, but it seemed clear to me that, if we were going to do a concert based on Musical Rituals, there would have to be an important Ukrainian element. What more atavistic a ritual are we experiencing in our current day-to-day life than that of people killing other people over land?

Meanwhile, there are many things tonight. To quote Catherine Bell again:
The most clear-cut examples of ritual, those depicting various genres of ritual, tend to be a matter of communal ceremonies closely connected to formally institutionalized religions or clearly invoking divine beings. However, the examples of ritual-like activity suggest that what goes on in ritual is not unique to religious institutions or traditions. There are many ways to act ritually and many situations in which people have recourse to these ways, and degrees, of ritualizing.

The job that we had to do was to sift through the responses to the prompt and to try to tease out to what degree the responses were really dealing with this multifaceted concept of Ritual, were they more Religious-Traditional or more coming out of…the other things. As my late teacher, Donald Martino, once said: Every Performance Is An Approximation. It’s probably better not to think of this concert as an answer, but as a series of questions.                                                                                   
– Anthony Coleman


Learn more about Julian Kytasty and Anthony Coleman

Julian Kytasty is one of the world’s premier players of the bandura (Ukrainian lute-harp), and the instrument’s leading North American exponent. A singer, multi-instrumentalist and third-generation bandurist, he has concertized and taught instrumental and choral music throughout the Americas and Europe, and is especially recognized for his expertise in epic songs and early bandura repertoire. Born in Detroit, he has a BFA in Theory and Composition from Concordia University in Montreal. In 1989-1990 Kytasty was one of the first North American-born bandurists to tour Ukraine, performing over one hundred concerts. He has often returned to tour in Ukraine and in the summer of 2014 he traveled to sites associated with Taras Shevchenko’s life and poetry at the invitation of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine’s Shevchenko Bicentennial Project. As a performer, recording artist, composer, and band leader, he has redefined the possibilities of the bandura. Mr. Kytasty is the Musical Director of New York Bandura and founder of Bandura Downtown, an innovative music series based in New York’s East Village that provides a home for creative explorations of traditional and contemporary sounds and themes. He has recorded and performed as a soloist, with the Canadian world music group Paris to Kyiv. He has also worked with musical innovators such as John Zorn and Derek Bailey, as well as cross-culturally with such artists as Wu Man, Klezmer revivalist Michael Alpert, and Mongolian master musician Battuvshin. These experiences have shaped his approach to composition as designing a musical space in which each individual voice and instrument can find room and inspiration to make its unique contribution.

Anthony Coleman has been a key figure in jazz and creative music for decades, making a particular mark on the New York scene along with artists like John Zorn and Elliott Sharp. Known for his creativity, innovation, and virtuosity, his work spans a range of genres including free improvisation, jazz, Jewish music, and contemporary chamber music. Coleman’s musical odyssey has taken him through many cultures and led him to wear many hats as composer, improvising keyboardist, and teacher. Coleman joined the NEC faculty in 2006, returning to a school where he himself studied in the 1970s, during the birth of NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation program (then called Third Stream). Coleman’s work has been commissioned and/or performed by clarinetist David Krakauer, Meet The Composer, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Associazione Alessandro Scarlatti, the Brecht Forum, Merkin Concert Hall, String Orchestra of Brooklyn, and many others. He has presented his work at the Sarajevo Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Saalfelden Festival, and the Krakow and Vienna Jewish Culture Festivals, and been awarded grants from New York Foundation on the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and Meet the Composer. He has recorded 13 CDs under his own name, and has played on more than 100 CDs including The End of Summer (Tzadik), which features his NEC Ensemble Survivors Breakfast.

  1. Traditional: Daggara Tribe, Burkina Faso | Azima Wo

    Solomon Caldwell, double bass
    Yoona Kim, ajaeng

    Program note

    My idea for the performance you will hear tonight comes from storyteller Michael Meade's podcast in which he explains songs as a tool for grounding. The song he uses, and which you will hear tonight, is called Azima Wo; stemming from the Daggara Tribe of Burkina Faso in west Africa. To me, a grounding song points us back to the Earth and is able to center us in times of need. I believe that songs, prayers, incantations and the like are all ritualistic in how universal they are; existing in a liminal space and done regularly.  I hope that our music tonight will center you in a meaningful way.                                                                             
    – Solomon Caldwell

  2. Serena Hollender (arr. Kaia Berman-Peters) | Purim Shpil (Purim Play)

    narrators: Kaitlyn Knudsvig, Hankus Netsky
    DJ: Kaia Berman-Peters

    Jewish Music Ensemble
    Hankus Netsky, director

    Program note

    A Purim Shpil is a kind of Jewish ritual performance that goes back at least to the Middle Ages.  On the holiday of Purim, Jews read the biblical book of Esther which recounts how Mordechai and Esther prevented the massacre of the Jews ordered by Haman, minister of Ahasuerus, king of Persia.  As part of the carnivalesque holiday celebration, Jews put together satirical plays that reference the holiday, biblical characters, and recent events relevant to their communities.
            The Purim Shpil that we'll be performing tonight was written by Serena Hollender when she was a teenager in 1932.  She performed it on Purim that year in Vishny Remety (Upper Remety), a small farming village in the Czech part of Carpato-Ruthenia, along with her brother, Morris Hollender, who saved the manuscript and shared it with Hankus Netsky.  Kaia Berman-Peters created, scored, and staged the abridged version of this shpil.


    A happy Purim my rich men.
    Listen, gentlemen, to my sufferings.

    I get lots of trouble from my wife.
    She wants me to be an unpaid employee.
    I wake up early
    And she orders me to milk the cows
    And to clean out the “stink”
    And give the cows something to drink.
    So, gentlemen, have you heard what I’ve said?
    May I divorce her?


    You’ll rue the day you divorce me. 
    And if you really do divorce me,

    Give me back my dowry!


    So tell me, Deborah, my dear
    How much of a dowry did you give me?

    Before the wedding your father told me he couldn’t afford to support me.
    He ordered me to dance at the wedding
    Meaning that he’d be able to pay me in full.
    So what did he give me?  Herring! 
    I figured that I was destined to starve.
    He would for his own child. 


    Listen, gentlemen,
    Once at night

    He had forgotten to come home and eat.
    I began going all around looking for him
    And I found him in a bar keeled over like a dead horse.
    So, in the end, he’s telling of my indignities and shame. 


    So let’s hear your prayer;

    Maybe I’ll get better. 


    The great honor of the Egyptian Pharaoh ensures
    That my husband will not drink any more.
    The intervention of the holy Nervicher Nezzer, 
    Who was a bear for seven years,
    So that my husband would not drink any more.
    The honor of Haman’s daughter who was very religious;
    She didn’t see everything
    And a nasty story happened to her.
    Her father Haman,
    May his name be blotted out,
    Led Mordechai on a horse
    And she looked down to the ground
    And didn’t want him to go out with a bald head,
    So she covered him, not with a
    Hat, but with a chamber pot.

    And, again, I wish you a good Purim, my dear Jews.
    May you all live to see lots of joy
    And to have the honor to eat from the Leviathan.
    And we’ll sing and dance
    And we’ll finally have the Messiah in his home.

    Translation by Miryem Khaye Seigel


    Jewish Music Ensemble

    Nikita Manin, clarinet
    Daniel Hirsch, Kimberly Sabio, trumpet

    Noah Kelly, Catherine Byrne, violin
    G Korth Rockwell, banjo
    Emily Mitchell, guitar
    Anwei Wang, guzheng
    Henry Wilson, xylophone
    Emmett Mathison, piano
    Maude Bastien-Desilets, drums

  3. Traditional Ukrainian | Vesnianky (Spring Songs)

    Delfina Cheb Terrab, voice
    Julian Kytasty, bandura
    Anthony Coleman, piano

    Program note

    The Vesnianky or Spring Songs are traditional Ukrainian songs sung exclusively by women. They welcome the spring and honor both the land and the people that take care of it and harvest the crops. Although the Vesnianky were suppressed during the Soviet period, today these songs are widely performed by amateur and professional ensembles in Ukraine (including in the band Go_A's song Shum, which represented Ukraine in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest (!))
            Working on the Spring Songs made me think of “preguntitas sobre dios” by Atahualpa Yupanqui, the great Argentinian folklorist and singer-songwriter. This song tells the story of the relationship between land and men, and of the rituals that unite them, while at the same time questioning the presence (or non-presence) of God. Yupanqui's work was censored by the Peron government due to the “revolutionary” tone of his music, and he was exiled to France in 1932.

            This connection brought me closer to the Spring Songs and to hoping in song for flowers to bloom, for us to be capable of acknowledging one another, and for the ability to ask questions about our humanity and our faith.            – Delfina Cheb Terrab

  4. Anthony Coleman | Morosuke

    Solomon Caldwell, Emmett Mathison, Litha Ashforth
    Nikita Manin, Rihards Kolmanis, Stuart Ryerse

    Program note

    Just as theater takes the drama of everyday life, condenses it, formalizes it, and puts it on stage for view, ritual is cobbled together out of ordinary acts and gestures made extraordinary; this cobbling together is the process of ritualization…any behavior can be ritualized; through ritualization mere behavior is transformed into action.
    ­– Barry Stevenson - Ritual, A Very Short Introduction

     Morosuke  takes Stevenson’s description of a tenth-century Japanese aristocrat’s daily ritualized behavior and sets it to music as literally as possible. In making this piece, I realized how ritualistic the work of the ‘60s Art Movement Fluxus really was. Any similarity to a Fluxus piece is/was accidental - and totally intentional.  
    – Anthony Coleman

  5. Litha Ashforth | shadowkick

    Litha Ashforth, voice, electronics

    Program note

    This is a ritual that has been passed down to me, one on which secrecy is part of its sacredness. I explore the parts of me which I am most afraid of, and leave the nether-realms of my spirit with more information. I want to party with my shadow.
    – Litha Ashforth

    I cast a circle
    I call upon my guides

    Air Earth Fire Water
    North South East West
    I call upon my guides

    I tremble, my shadow
    On and on
    Now that you have met your shadow
    Thank her
    Feel the sun, smell the air
    Remember your body

  6. Lyra Montoya | Estradiol Valerate: 100mg/5mL, intra-muscularly, once weekly //

    Lyra Montoya, flute
    Catherine Byrne, Carson McHaney, violin
    Eleanor Pruneau, piano

    Program note

    This day of May 4 2022, is two years, nine months and eighteen days from when I took my first dose of gender affirming hormones on July 16, 2019. About one year into this process I swapped from eating daily tablets of estrogen to an injectable form of estrogen which I deliver intra-muscularly on a weekly basis. I selected the injection process as a significant ritualistic event over the tablet counterparts of the hormone replacement therapy prescriptions as I have had a fear of needles for most of my life, and with my first injection realized the specific mental blocks I have around the act of puncturing my skin when self administering injections. In the process of atomizing and resolving the moving parts of these anxieties I have reduced what once was a two hour ordeal with my first injection, to a routine process that takes around ten minutes. These injections have served both as a direct agent in reshaping my body, and also as a catalyst for reconciling and overcoming my anxieties around needles. My relationship to my body has changed over these last three years since realizing my queerness and transness, and the numerous iterations of consuming and injecting hormones gradually reshaping my body is a central part of my experience as a trans person.
            The different elements involved in the injection process are represented through various musical elements, the most prominent being a leitmotif for the estradiol valerate. Different structures represent the 18 and 25 gauge needles, as well as the 3mL syringe, the vial of estrogen solution, the alcohol wipe, and band-aid which are involved throughout the injection process. These different elements recur in and across the different instruments throughout this piece as they are present and relevant, and the music shifts between through-composed structures and specific
    spaces of improvisation as the we realize the injection process in a musical space.
    – Lyra Montoya

  7. Contemporary Rock Ensemble | A Day

    Text by Bertholt Brecht

    Contemporary Rock Ensemble
    Lautaro Mantilla, director

    Program note

    Ritual: A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
    Routine: A sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.

    “What is the difference between ritual and routine? between life and theater?”

    *These questions and the “daily ritual” used as the text for this piece are taken from Bertolt Brecht’s diary after returning to Germany post WWII.


    Contemporary Rock Ensemble

    Ariel Vera, voice
    Nikita Manin, clarinet

    Noah Kelly, violin
    Kaia Berman-Peters, accordion
    Roman Barten-Sherman, guitar
    Adrian Chabla, piano
    Miguel Landestoy, toy piano, percussion
    Solomon Caldwell, bass
    Alex Yoo, percussion

  8. Alvaro Emiliano López | Echolalia

    Delfina Cheb Terrab, voice
    Alvaro Emiliano López, electronics

    Program note

    Echolalia: Involuntary repetition of another person's spoken words, involuntary repetition of another person’s danced moves, involuntary repetition of another bird’s mating, involuntary repetition of the oldest ritual.

    Etiene: It can be said in the course of a night about the movement of pulse sounds inside in the words that let loose a dance and delineate longings to enter damba provokes an encounter of bodies fed up with the mania for the static and the hidden and they look for meneo, cundeo, querreo...

    Tesca: language breath that gets dirty on the exhale/

    S  o i el     o: pleasure, solitude, or about closeness/
    Aralatá: what was not forbidden in a way the sacred eyes do not see/
    P  lo     n S       l: a beat that crackles when "making an opening in the body or causing it by hurting"/
    Reotata: Do we know about the absence of chain?

    Qulprrá: It can be said of what we tell to show white cloth covers our legs can say of what we think not to show the melting with snow that descends through the skin can say of vibration: ritual when can’t be seen.                                         
    – Alvaro Emiliano López

  9. Traditional Ukrainian | Title

    Julian Kytasty, voice, bandura

    Survivors Breakfast
    Anthony Coleman, director

    Survivors Breakfast

    Lyra Montoya, flute
    Yoona Kim, ajaeng

    Francesca Ter-Berg, cello
    Rihards Kolmanis, electric guitar
    Henry Wilson, percussion
    Ari Chais, piano
    Hannah Dunton, double bass
    James Nadien, drum

  10. Charlotte Elliot (arr. Emily Mitchell) | I Come

    Emily Mitchell, voice, guitar
    Sarah Matsushima, Emmy Yihong Guo, voice
    Solomon Caldwell, double bass
    Jun Hyuk Joseph Seo, drums

    Program note

    This piece presents the innate human longing to be in fellowship with God, a constant “I come.”  The featured Charlotte Elliot hymn, Just As I Am, conveys the moment of seeing the Lord’s kindness through the work of Christ, bringing a person to the cross in repentance and faith.  After receiving Christ, the ritual of communion is done in the fellowship of believers; it is a symbolic gathering at the Lord’s table to remember the sacrifice of Jesus that has given humanity access to God through the forgiveness of sins.                                              
    – Emily Mitchell

  11. Traditional Korean | Beasohn (Weep and Pray)

    Yoona Kim, ajaeng
    Lyra Montoya, saxophone
    Rihards Kolmanis, electric guitar
    Jun Hyuk Joseph Seo, drums

    Program note

    We all have sincere wishes in our hearts for ourselves and others.
            Beasohn 비손  is one of the Korean folk rituals to pray for a wish to come true with the humblest offering: a simple gesture. It is the most personal, the most genuine, and the purest ritual that melts into life.

            The sorrow and the anguish of war is unbearable. Through this performance, we pray earnestly for our truest desire: to end the tragedy of war through sound that reaches the heavens.                                             
    – Yoona Kim