Not many people think of music as being an enigma, but Gregory Nissen does. And, as the first presenter in what is planned as an ongoing series of lectures and workshops designed to enhance the theater-going experience for its audiences, Queens Theatre has initiated a behind-the-scenes look into the performing arts.
Nissen, at the series opener “Language and Meaning of Music” on May 31, opened and closed with brief samplings of Beethoven, pausing in between to ask about music, “What does it mean?”
Describing music as not only an enigma but “a controversial issue,”he proceeded to demonstrate what he calls the “inner language that makes musical meaning possible.”
Taking a humanistic approach to music theory, he spoke of music as having “its own vocabulary, its own grammar.”
Noting that language and culture affect music, he discussed and offered examples of the relation between music and nature.
The second part of the program touched upon the history of rhythm. Snippets of “West Side Story” and the pop classic “Downtown” were among the offerings used to demonstrate his points.
Nissen drew an audience of about 50 — many were the theater’s volunteer workers.
In fact, it was the volunteers who came up with the idea for the series several months ago and brought it to the attention of their coordinator, Fernando Blanco. He, in turn, approached the theater’s executive director, Ray Cullom.
“It took me 12 seconds to say, ‘God, yes.’ It needed to move forward,” said Cullom. “We’re more than a theater. We’re a community center. We should try to engage our audience on many levels.”
Future topics include “What’s All That Jazz?” on June 12, “The Art and Technique of Filmmaking,” on June 26, and “Step into an Actor’s Shoes,” on July 10. All programs begin at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.
“We need to learn more about theater, music, set design,” Blanco said. “These workshops are being done to show how theater is put together.”
Blanco encouraged those in attendance to suggest ideas for possible future lectures, which already include topics ranging from theater history, to playwriting, direction, set design and makeup.
“It helps us to have an audience that is more engaged and more knowledgeable about what they’re seeing,” Cullom said. “We’re depending on our audiences to take leaps of faith with us. We’re hoping it gains traction and can eventually attract its own funding.”
He anticipates the program will be ongoing, but admits “we’re in the experimentation mode.”
The audience response was positive.
“I thought it was interesting, a new way of looking at music. It was very informative,” said Lillian, one of the volunteers.
Ray Paintner, another volunteer said, “His knowledge is wonderful. I loved whatever he played.”
One volunteer suggested that future presentations might be made earlier in the day, the better to accommodate interested seniors.
Proudest of all, perhaps, was Carlo Mignano, another volunteer who helped put the program together.
“We’ve been working very hard,” he said. “We’re seeing it come to life. We’re dedicated to educating people in the performing arts.”
And Cullom was equally pleased. “Something should be going on here every night,” he said, surveying the large, recently renovated lobby where the lecture took place. “It isn’t always a show. Sometimes it’s people getting together to talk about the arts.”
Queens Theatre lectures
When: June 12, 26 and July 10 at 7 p.m.
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Avenue South, Flushing Meadows Park
Tickets: By donation, (718) 760-0064