Experience “the gift of song” at the UMFA

April 16 2024
“Sonic Blossom” Performance view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Lee Studio, Photo by Anita Kan “Sonic Blossom” Performance view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Lee Studio, Photo by Anita Kan

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) invites museum-goers to experience the gift of song through a new participatory performance installation called, “Sonic Blossom,” by artist Lee Mingwei. 

While wandering the UMFA’s modern and contemporary galleries, visitors may be approached by a performer asking them if they’d like a “gift of song.” If they say yes, they will be guided to sit and listen to a short operatic solo sung just for them. The event runs now through 5/5 during select museum hours.

“Sonic Blossom” was originally created for the inaugural exhibition of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 2013 by Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei. It has since toured internationally to notable places including Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Paris, Washington D.C., Singapore, Jakarta, Berlin, and more.

Sonic Blossom came into existence while I was caring for my mother as she recuperated from surgery. We found great comfort in listening to Franz Schubert's Lieder. These songs came as an unexpected gift to us, one that soothed us both and clearly helped with her healing. 
– Lee Mingwei, “Sonic Blossom” Creator & Artist

“Sonic Blossom’s” most recent iteration at the UMFA involves students and alumni from the University of Utah’s School of Music, as well as, classically trained singers from other universities and experienced professional vocalists.

Sam Plumb, a tenor who is currently working towards completion of a M.M. in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy in the U School of Music, believes “the chance to sing a song directly to a single person is a unique privilege.” The emotional connection between the viewer and the artist is what makes “Sonic Blossom” so engaging and special. 

McKenzie Mulberry, a coloratura soprano and senior at BYU in vocal performance said what caught her eye about “Sonic Blossom” was “how interactive” and “how unique” the project was. Mulberry reflected, “it combines what a lot of people consider [to be] high culture music with a very open and personal [interaction].” And what a pleasure it will be for museum visitors to be able to experience fine art and performance art under one roof.

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Sonic Blossom” singer Sam Plumb dressed in the project’s kimono costume

“I've worn some interesting costumes before, but this one [the 1930s kimono sash garment] is my favorite because I am wearing a piece of priceless art. How many people go to the art museum and become the art itself? It's awesome.”

– Sam Plumb, tenor

While each performance only lasts about four minutes, the preparation required is not for the faint of heart. The singers were notified of their audition results in December and Mingwei directed his singers to each memorize three Lieders by Franz Schubert. The singers then met with Dr. Mitchell Giambalvo, the project pianist, to individually record backing tracks that were suited to their preferred dynamics and tempos. Afterwards, everyone observed a run-through by Beibei Guan, the Soprano who premiered “Sonic Blossom” with Mingwei in 2014, to become familiar with the performance cadence. The singers then practiced themselves one by one.

Carolyn Talboys-Klassen, a soprano who has made past solo appearances with the Utah Symphony, OPUS Chamber Orchestra, and Utah Valley Choral Society, said of the rehearsal process, “It's very important to get intimate with the words and the language and repeating that over and over was a large part of my process. The songs are each strophic, which means it's the same music, but different words. and so the music is not particularly difficult, but it's so beautiful in its simplicity.”

Much time is spent reviewing musical details and intricacies to ensure each soloist feels comfortable during the performance. The unpredictable timing and location of each performance is challenging, but despite the uncertainty, each interaction presents a welcome moment to connect with museum guests through the joy of music.

“This project is needed,” Plumb reflects. “There are so many people that are struggling to find peace and purpose amidst the precarious world events weighing us down. As a performer, giving this individual gift of song allows me to reconnect with the most rewarding aspects of my art form. It goes beyond aesthetics and entertainment and taps into the spirituality of human interaction.”

For more information about Lee Mingwei, including project details and photos, visit www.leemingwei.com.

“Sonic Blossom” runs now through May 5, 2024 in the modern contemporary galleries during Tues, Thurs-Sun from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Marcia and John Price Museum Building
410 Campus Center Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0350

Closed Mondays
Tues, Thurs-Sun 10a–5p
Weds 10a–8p