Texarkana venue hosts first public performance in 45 years

Arkansas Municipal Auditorium in Texarkana
Arkansas Municipal Auditorium in Texarkana

Texarkana native and composer John Tennison is returning to his hometown to premiere a symphony at the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium. The symphony, which is called Texarkanon, is being premiered in the auditorium to increase awareness of it's history and to showcase the viability of it as a music and art venue.

The Texarkanon symphony will be the first public performance to occur in the auditorium in 45 years. The format is a bit different in that all 17 hours of the 36-movement Texarkanon (Symphony for a Single Unprepared Piano) will take place in one go on Saturday, March 2, starting at midnight. The concert is free and open to the public, who may come and go as they please over the 17-hour time-span of the performance.  The venue is located at E. 3rd and Walnut Street.

Although the concert will start at midnight and will continue for the next 17 hours those with conventional sleeping hours need not miss out. They will still be able to get a good sense of the huge and other-worldly sound that can come from a single piano when played at speeds approaching 4500 notes per second.  A 30-minute pre-concert talk, “What is Texarkanon?” will also be given by Tennison at 11 pm (one hour before the concert begins) at the venue. 

Built in the 1920s, the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium was the primary stop along the Louisiana Hayride Circuit, which had heavy influence on the formation of modern day rock & roll and country music. Musicians who have played there include Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The auditorium is now one of the most historical buildings in Texarkana and is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Arkansas Municipal Auditorium

According to Tennison, Texarkanon was inspired by and is intended to call attention to Conlon Nancarrow, a Texarkana native and one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. Nancarrow was born in 1912 in Texarkana and his father was mayor of Texarkana when the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium was first constructed and dedicated in 1928.  After leaving town, Conlon Nancarrow went on to write music so complex that the only available technology at the time that could perform his music were player pianos, which is a type of mechanical piano. 

Tennison said Nancarrow wrote music in the canon form, which featured up to 12 different tempos at the same time, referred to as a "12-part tempo canon."  Tennison's Texarkanon symphony is also in the canon form and takes Nancarrow's compositional methodology to further extremes, in that it is an 88-part tempo canon. Like much of Nancarrow's music, Texarkanon is too rhythmically complex and fast to be performable by a human. So Tennison relies on a computer playing a digital piano for his creation. 

During the performance of Texarkanon, audience members are invited to walk down onto the stage and experience surround sound by standing in the middle of a 30-foot-diameter circle of 8 inwardly-facing speakers, each of which will be producing 11 unique notes of the piano, collectively contributing to all 88 notes of the piano.  Various forms of LED and projection visualizers will light up in synchrony with the performed notes of Texarkanon.

Donations of any amount will be accepted during the Texarkanon concert,  all of which will go to the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium Commission, the non-profit organization responsible for the continuing restoration of the venue.