Drew Music Professor’s Work Featured in Smithsonian

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By Hannah Bouchard

After 40 years of being a professor of music at Drew, Norman Lowrey has composed a video installation that will be featured in the Freer | Sackler Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art.

Professor Lowrey earned his Ph.D. in composition from the Eastman School of Music, and was asked to bring this skill to use, as he composed music using 2,500 year-old Chinese bells for a new exhibit entitled “Resound: Ancient Bells of Asia.” After recent renovations to the museum at large, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will soon reopen on October 14 where the exhibit will be premiered and remain on display for three years. The museum describes the exhibit as “Focusing on bronze bells, the planned exhibition will share with the scholarly community and the general public a new understanding of ancient Chinese music based on objects discovered in controlled excavations in China and acoustical studies conducted by physicists.” Resound will feature over 60 Chinese bells that represent the Bronze Age of China. The bells throughout the Smithsonian exhibit are known for having distinctly different sounds depending on acoustics and where the bells are struck.

The interactive nature of the exhibition allows for visitors to “play” 12 of the featured bells on a virtual screen. Each bell representing a different note, Lowrey and two other composers were commissioned to create songs with the notes to bring the ancient sounds of China to 2017. According to the press room of the Freer | Sackler gallery on June 12th, 2017, these songs will be played along with videos featuring “moving-image projections that interpret the sounds into a visual experience.”

With a background in composition and mask-making, Lowrey has experience working with various instruments, including those he’s created himself. He was the first to craft “Singing Masks,” which are ceramic and carved-wood masks that contain instrumental qualities that allow them to be “sung” through. Each piece has a different sound depending on what instrumental pieces it uses and the shape of the mask itself. In an essay regarding his masks, Lowrey used the word “paradox” to describe his Singing Masks. “I put on a mask to better reveal myself.”

From October 20 – November 18, 2016, Lowrey had an exhibit entitled “Soundings” in the Korn Gallery in the Dorothy Young Arts Center right here at Drew! Each piece on display had the ability to “sing,” and were all sculpted and crafted by Lowrey himself.

Before retiring from Drew, Lowrey taught classes in music composition, music theory, electronic music, and improvisation. In addition to being featured in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, he has had his masks featured in the New Jersey State Museum and has performed using the masks in a number of cities across the country.

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