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Tang to feature "sound pieces" of David Greenberger

February 7, 2014

Tang features "sound pieces" of David Greenberger

Feb. 7, 2014

Greenwich, N.Y., artist David Greenberger is bringing the fruits of some 30 years of work combining music and conversations with the elderly to the Tang Museum for two powerful listening experiences.

David Greenberger: One Upon opens Feb. 15 and runs through April 13. His companion piece, Elevator Music—David Greenberger: one updown, also runs through April 13. 

As an artist, musician, writer, NPR contributor, storyteller, and performer, Greenberger has become well known for sharing conversations with the elderly that explore and reveal their individuality, integrity, and humanity. At community centers, nursing homes, assisted-living residences, and private homes, he has talked with older people in a way that focuses on who they are now rather than what they have lost. Working with talented and sensitive musicians, he has combined fragments of those conversations with music into short sound pieces that give listeners a window into the minds of older people.

Greenberger’s One Upon transforms the Tang’s mezzanine into an intimate theater space where one audience member at a time can listen to a two-minute live performance by the group A Strong Dog. The group features Kevin Maul on lap steel, dobro, and guitar; Mitch Throop on guitar, bass, and drums; and Greenberger doing monologues full of warmth and respect for older people.

David Greenberger
David Greenberger

Greenberger’s monologues have attracted attention and accolades far and wide. Rolling Stone has called Greenberger a “stand-up sociologist”; the New York Times applauds him for stories that “resonate with a wry humor and a startling insight”; illusionist, author, and musician Penn Jillette notes that Greenberger is “never condescending, never mean, never ironic, and sometimes really funny.” Many reviewers have noted that Greenberger’s humor is never at the expense of his subjects, who he is known to disarm with such questions as “How do you get close to a penguin?” or “Which is better, coffee or meat?”

Greenberger completed graduate school at the end of the 70s with a BFA in painting and started to work as an activities director at a nursing home in Boston called the Duplex. “He realized almost immediately that there was something really important going on there in the conversations he was having,” says Tang Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs Rachel Seligman, who curated both Greenberger exhibitions. “His whole career has been thinking about questions of aging and identity and relationships, and the way that as people get older we tend to set them aside, and we tend to mourn the loss of who they were instead of celebrating and engaging with who they are now.” Responding to his often-quirky questions, they become fully present in the moment. “If you listen very carefully,” says Seligman, “they really are telling us about ourselves and what it means to be human.”

Museum visitors are invited to enjoy Two-Minute Performances in a One-Seat Theater during the following live performance times:

February 15, 3–6 p.m.
Wednesday February 19, 4–7 p.m.
Sunday March 9, 2–5 p.m.
Tuesday, March 18, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Thursday April 3, 6–9 p.m.

The companion exhibition, Elevator Music 26—David Greenberger: one updown, takes place in the Tang Museum’s elevator and features more than 100 short recorded pieces, ranging from the funny to the practical to the profound, by Greenberger and a variety of celebrated musical collaborators, such as Terry Adams of NRBQ, Paul Cebar, and the Shaking Ray Levis.

The two experiences are designed to complement each other, contrasting the chance hearing of recorded snippets in the elevator with purposeful listening at a live theater performance.

At a TED talk in Albany in 2011, Greenberger estimated he had had some quarter-million conversations. “I’m an artist and I’m also in the second half of my life,” he noted, adding  “I think I’ve learned as a human being and grown as an artist by continuing to meet people who are living the last years of their lives. The differences between us are obvious, but it’s the things that we have in common that are the most fulfilling to me. That’s where you find the surprise and the mystery and the truth.”

The public is invited to the Tang’s Opening Reception for Winter/Spring Exhibitions on Saturday, Feb. 15, 6–7:30 p.m.

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