Strathmore to feature 'Emergence: The Cicada Serenade'
May 12, 2004
Chris Williams
Staff Writer

Olivier Douliery/The Gazette

Composer David Kane, at home with his 2-year-old daughter Celeste is working on a classical piece to "serenade" the 17-year cicadas as part of the Strathmore summer outdoor concert series. "Emergence: The Cicada Serenade" will premier July 29 at Strathmore.

David Kane has written weird stuff before.

As a composer for National Geographic's "Taboo," which he describes as "a highfalutin 'Fear Factor,'" Kane has scored episodes featuring people around the world who do unique things with their bodies. The June 14 episode, for example, introduces audiences to the Lizardman, "who has green skin, tattooed scales, horny eyebrow implants and a forked tongue."

"I think I'm getting a reputation of being the guy you go to when you have a bizarre music commission," Kane said. "Recently I did a piece for bassoon, piano and didgeridoo."

But his next project is something new: Mood music for the cicadas.

"I've had commissions before," Kane said, "but not one to incorporate the sound of bugs."

The Strathmore Hall Arts Center commissioned Kane to compose a new work, tentatively titled "Emergence: The Cicada Serenade," as part of Strathmore's free outdoor summer concert series. Kane's five to eight-minute piece will debut at the July 29 concert along with two other insect-inspired works, including Benjamin Britten's "Two Insect Pieces" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."

"So it's kind of a little joke," Kane said. "We're playing music to serenade the cicadas, so they can find a mate and have a nice romantic evening."

Kane, 49, is currently at work on the piece in his backyard studio at his home in Silver Spring, where he lives with his wife, Cynthia, and 23-month-old daughter Celeste. The trees just outside his door should be crawling with inspiration any day now. The challenge in writing the piece, he said, is to not do anything too imitative of the bugs.

"I downloaded a bunch of their songs," Kane said. "To be honest, they don't really lend themselves to a musical treatment. You're talking about this mass aggregate of sound created by thousands of insects. I mean, how do you reproduce that with a couple of instruments?"

The performance will feature a small chamber group, including violin, cello, French horn, clarinet, piano and synthesizer.

College Park percussionist Tom Jones will also play a major role, Kane said.

"He collects weird objects like VW brake drums, anything that makes an odd sound," Kane said. "He's got a whole basement full of this weird stuff I'll be able to incorporate into the piece."

The inclusion of synthesizers also adds to the unusual nature of the work, as it's an instrument normally shunned in classical music. Without the benefit of an entire orchestra, Kane said, synthesizers can help fill in the gaps serving as a kind of "poor man's orchestra." He's even created a sound on it reminiscent of the cicadas.

Though he has yet to put a single note on paper, much of Kane's writing goes on in his head.

"The longer it swirls around in my brain, the better it's going to be," he said. "I'm thinking about it constantly. By the time I actually get around to writing the score down, it'll be in an almost-finished state."

Kane attended his first classical symphony concert at the age of 6. After that, he started "hearing stuff," imagining orchestras in his head. He wrote his first song on the piano at age 8, a moody little tune called "Flight of the Russian Eagles."

"I was already into the pretentious titles back then," he said.

A tower of videotapes containing a season's worth of episodes Kane has scored for "Taboo" sits on a desk in his studio. He's written film music for National Geographic since 1981. With recent trends in television, where everything needs to be bigger, louder, more "extreme," Kane welcomes the chance to work on a classical piece. Strathmore commissioned the cicada piece for a couple thousand dollars, Kane said, though a sizeable portion of that will go to copying the music, an expensive and labor-intensive task.

The anticipation of the cicada's imminent arrival, the media buzz for which is likely to compete with the bugs themselves, has also had the unlikely effect of drawing attention to the world of classical music.

"It's nice to see classical music getting some sort of attention," Kane said, "even if it's for a bizarre reason such as the emergence of the cicada."

Now all he has to do is write the song. Fortunately for Kane he works well under pressure, but the Strathmore may bring in a tougher crowd than he expects.

"Apparently a busload of entomologists are going to come to this concert," Kane said. "I feel the most pressure from those guys, because what do I know about bugs?"