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June†1, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 14


Junk car parts are music to composer’s ears

By Katherine Federici Greenwood
Published in the June†1, 2011, issue

Sean Friar GS bows a car fender during a rehearsal of his “Clunker Concerto.”
Courtesy American Composers Orchestra
Sean Friar GS bows a car fender during a rehearsal of his “Clunker Concerto.”

A car fender isn’t just a car fender to composer Sean Friar, a graduate student in Princeton’s music department. It can be a musical ≠instrument. †

Friar knows just where to bow a fender to make specific pitches. That fender from a Toyota Corolla that he scavenged in a junkyard is just one of a number of old car parts played by four percussion soloists in his piece, Clunker Concerto, in which Friar sought interesting ways to blend the sounds of ≠hubcaps, a tailpipe, brake rotors, and pipes with those of traditional orchestral instruments. †

“What I tried to do was get into the details of the sounds so that they weren’t just add-on or decoration, but were really an integral part of the music,” he explained. Clunker Concerto premiered at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall in March.

For that work, which he described as a “fun, raucous piece,” he won the Samuel Barber Rome Prize in musical composition for 2011–12. During that year, he plans to revise and expand his Clunker Concerto, while residing at the American Academy in Rome. Friar, who grew up playing rock and blues piano before getting into classical music, usually writes for traditional chamber ensembles. But he hopes to use some of the sounds generated from the car parts — particularly the hubcaps — in other compositions: “They have a unique sound that I think a lot of percussionists would like to use.”  
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CURRENT ISSUE: June†1, 2011
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Video: From junk, sweet music
Old car parts play a key role in the "Clunker Concerto" by composer Sean Friar GS.