The Jasper County Concert Association brought a wonderful artist to Newton on Oct. 9. By “artist” I mean musician, composer and visual artist Scott Kirby. Kirby weaves together his original piano music and paintings with spoken narrative and video footage. The first half of Kirby’s show, Main Street Souvenirs, evokes images and music from America’s past. We watched images of John Philip Sousa and his band as Kirby played an intricate arrangement of “El Capitan,” followed by wonderful renditions of Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake rags — reminding us of the roots of our great American music in ragtime and blues. Kirby ended the first half of his performance with his own “Boogie in C,” leaving no doubt about his years spent in New Orleans as a street performer.
The second half focused on Kirby’s original compositions, paintings, photography and a narrative exploring historical and visionary dimensions of the American Great Plains and Prairies. His paintings make one think of Grant Wood and Andrew Wyeth and have buildings that appear to curve with the earth and skies that go on forever. The piano compositions have lush harmonies that veer this way or that with the wind and have an impressionistic quality that fits nicely with his paintings. Often the music had a continuous train-like movement to it, as in his “Pine Ridge Toccata”. My favorite was “Echoes from the Schoolyard,” which shifted back and forth between minor and major tonalities with a wistful, desolate feel and featured quite a bit of left-hand melody, while we viewed old photographs of schoolhouses and children seemingly all alone on the prairie. Kirby’s music was haunting and poignant and his narrative was heartfelt and full of depth of understanding and feeling. Thank you, Jasper County Concert Association for bringing this original artist to our town.