Last year, TBA kicked off with a performance by David Eckard; last night, the ball got rolling with Rinde Eckert. Coincidence? Only Mark Russell knows for sure…
When I arrived at Pioneer Square for Migration of Excellent Birds at 6:35 pm, “Portland’s living room” was paradoxically packed, unusually quiet, and in full swing. Amidst a swell of audience members, Eckert’s chorus of Portland voices was well into their debut (and final) performance: a choral piece about our winged friends. As we jockeyed for a better view (behind the chorus overlooking the crowd? standing on a table at Starbucks?), Migration felt extremely disappointing. You couldn’t hear the singers well; they were dressed in normal street clothes; the chorus was smaller than anticipated; and I couldn’t help but wish I was witnessing this in a beautiful forest rather than as my “main event” for Thursday night.
I eventually commandeered a proper seat in the amphitheater, and at that point, the piece began to take form and reveal itself. A small orchestra of accordions faced the scrappy choir, who sang (really) beautiful chorale songs about birds. At times, it sounded almost like unused material from a Sufjan Stevens session. As if to punctuate their songs, the chorus would intermittently whistle and chirp like birds; when 100 people do this simultaneously, it creates a really beautiful effect. When they flap their sheet music like so many wings at the same time, it feels like you’re in the middle of a joyous flock. They punctuated the songs with bird-like hand gestures, and by the end, the crowd—myself included—was totally into it, and it created one of those very real moments of beauty and community, as the audience made the “bird head” hand symbol from the production back at the chorus as a respectful applause and show of fraternity.
One gripe—it was pretty great, yes, but it was hardly festive. After the piece concluded around 7:30, there was little to do but head home, and everybody seemed a little confused that there was nothing else going on. No Works show to attend, no afterparty, no surprise March Fourth Marching Band session. I’ve got the rest of the year to be home with my shoes off by 8 pm. When it’s TBA time, I’m ready to go on all cylinders, and tonight was an unusually mellow way to kick things off.