To sonify Cheap Thrills, the Duke New Music Ensemble’s student-composers—Ben Crawford, D. Edward Davis, Timothy Hambourger, Jamie Keesecker, Dan Ruccia, and Vladimir Smirnov—have approached these historical cabaret tunes to reflect their individual styles and interpretations. While some have deconstructed these pieces, leaving only remnants of the original scores, others have offered an arrangement after the period’s performance traditions.
Historically, cabaret orchestration depended on the venue and the night as the roster of performers would rotate without notice. Still, there were standard differences between the orchestration at different venues. Whereas the Moulin Rouge tended to boast a full orchestra, cramped venues like Le Mirliton were limited to a piano or harmonium. The instrumentalists and famous chanteuses highlighted throughout this exhibit often doubled as composers; even those who did not compose the musical scores or write the lyrics tended to adapt or improvise and so place their own stamp on the piece.
In their adaptations of these historical cabaret pieces, the Duke New Music Ensemble’s student-composers—most of whom also performed for the exhibit’s recordings—have further updated the historical music through an expanded repertoire of musical instruments. Listen for the buzz and drone of kazoos, clink of coins randomly dropped on a glockenspiel, and bombast of brass and woodwind instruments.
Directed by Jamie Keesecker, a doctoral candidate in music composition, the Ensemble, composed primarily of undergraduate and graduate students, performs music from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. With this exhibit, the Ensemble continues its commitment to collaborative, interdisciplinary art. It has previously explored and adapted music in relation to the visual arts in its 2010 concert series to coincide with the Nasher’s The Record exhibit, and in its 2011 “Old Film, New Music” concert that used archival film footage from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.