Saturday, September 11, 2021

Somerville Composer Reynaliz Herrera : Using Bikes as Percussion Instruments

I caught up with Somerville composer Reynaliz Herrera--who uses very unconventional objects as instruments.

You are originally from Mexico. How has Somerville been for your life
as an artist?

I've lived in Boston for 11 years now, and lived specifically in Somerville on and off for the past years. I love how Somerville is so mindful and supportive of its artists, I feel like there are a lot of opportunities for artists in this area (festivals, events, grants, etc) and I like that the scene here is also very supportive of "quirky art", and art that doesn't necessarily fit a particular genre. We need that!

Your project at the Growing Center in Somerville explores 'music for bikes.'  I can recall that Gershwin used taxi horns for his composition " Rhapsody in Blue." There is a symphony of sounds in the urban environs. Are you going along a similar track?

In a way! I wasn't particularly inspired by Gershwin, but yeah I would say that especially at the beginning of my exploration with bicycles as instruments and when I started writing music for bicycles (9 years ago) I was inspired by the sounds of the city. I also was inspired by John Cage and his philosophies about music.  I was inspired by the idea of using anything as an instrument and exploring that instrument to the max. I want to treat these types of instruments (unconventional percussion and bicycles) as seriously as you would treat a violin.

The Bike will be an actual percussion instrument, right?

Yes!... In my new piece/program "BIKEncerto: a concerto for solo bicycle and orchestra" I feature the bicycle as a percussion instrument. In this new piece I aimed to push myself to explore the bike to even more detailed, nuanced heigths. I feature the bike in different ways: the full bicycle, a "Tires Keyboard" that I created, and melodic spokes where I wrote and play actual melodic music!.

Why do you explore such unconventional instrument possibilities? Do
you think the drum conveys more than a bike?

Because it's fun! Traditional instruments are great, but I like to explore new possibilities. Between the more traditional drum (let's say a snare drum) and the bicycle I would say they just offer different possibilities and opportunities.

Was there a musician or school of music that inspired you?

Yes, especially in my school years I felt really inspired by John Cage and his ideas about music and art, also Evelyn Glennie (percussionist) inspired me to find my own path and my own voice as an artist. My parents (who are also artists) and my former teachers (Ian Bernard, Bob Becker, Noel Savon, Jose Garza, Sam Solomon and Keith Aleo) have also inspired me.

You have a full play that consists of your bike music. It is titled "
Ideas, not Theories". Intriguing title, please explain...

Yes, through "Ideas, Not Theories"  is my theatrical percussion company, I perform several original programs featuring the bicycle as an instrument in different ways, one of them is "Ideas, Not Theories- Full Staged Show" which is the theatrical play. In regards to the title: At the time that I started "Ideas, Not Theories" and wrote my first program, I wanted to convey a sense of playfulness and creative liberty, opposed to tradition and strictness. I was tired of the strictness I felt playing mostly classical percussion, and wanted to feel a sense of liberty and freshness. "Ideas" (in this case) mean "openness to possibility" and "Theories" mean something more fixed and strict.
What other unconventional instruments do you hope to explore in the future?

So far I've explored bicycles, water, sprayers, tap and body percussion, brushes, bridges, a boat, etc. I usually like to get obsessed with one unconventional instrument and explore it to the max (Like the bicycle, which I've already written 4 different programs for this instrument!). I guess after I get tired of the bikes I would like to explore my water music even further. During the COVID lockdown I wrote and recorded an "impromptu" piece for snow that I haven't shown anyone yet, I plan to upload that online sometime soon, and I'm definitely curious about exploring ice/snow more...

For more information:

WHAT: premiere of "BIKEncerto: a concerto for solo bicycle and orchestra" by Reynaliz Herrera.
(For the performances, Reynaliz Herrera will be joined by the "Ideas, Not Theories Orchestra" partly comprised of Somerville-based performers, and conductor Amelia Hollander Ames.)
WHERE: The Somerville Community Growing Center

(22 Vinal Ave, Somerville, MA 02143)
WHEN: September 18th (3pm & 6pm), and September 19th (3pm).

*Rain date: September 26th (2pm & 5pm).

Friday, September 10, 2021

Red Letter Poem 76

I’ll be taking a one-week hiatus to attend a writing retreat and will return with a new Red Letter on September 24th. In the meantime, why not seek out your own clear-eyed passage, composing your own Red Letter day.



The Red Letter Poem Project


The Red Letters 3.0: A New Beginning (Perhaps)   

At the outset of the Covid pandemic, when fear was at its highest, the Red Letter Project was intended to remind us of community: that, even isolated in our separate homes, we could still face this challenge together.  As Arlington’s Poet Laureate, I began sending out a poem of comfort each Friday, featuring the fine talents from our town and its neighbors.  Because I enlisted the partnership of seven local arts and community organizations, distribution of the poems spread quickly – and, with subscribers sharing and re-posting the installments, soon we had readers, not only throughout the Commonwealth, but across the country.  And I delighted in the weekly e-mails I’d receive with praise for the poets; as one reader recently commented: “You give me the gift of a quiet, contemplative break—with something to take away and reflect on.”


Then our circumstance changed dramatically again: following the murder of George Floyd, the massive social and political unrest, and the national economic catastrophe, the distress of the pandemic was magnified.  Red Letter 2.0 announced that I would seek out as diverse a set of voices as I could find – from Massachusetts and beyond – so that their poems might inspire, challenge, deepen the conversation we were, by necessity, engaged in.


Now, with widespread vaccination, an economic rebound, and a shift in the political landscape, I intend to help this forum continue to evolve – Red Letter 3.0.  For the last 15 months, I’ve heard one question again and again: when will we get back our old lives?  It may pain us to admit it, but that is little more than a fantasy.  Our lives have been altered irrevocably – not only our understanding of how thoroughly interdependent we are, both locally and globally, but how fragile and utterly precious is all that we love.  Weren’t you bowled over recently by how good it felt just to hug a friend or family member?  Or to walk unmasked through a grocery, noticing all the faces?  So I think the question we must wrestle with is this: knowing what we know, how will we begin shaping our new life?  Will we quickly forget how grateful we felt that strangers put themselves at risk, every day, so that we might purchase milk and bread, ride the bus to work, or be cared for by a doctor or nurse?  Will we slip back into our old drowse and look away from the pain so many are forced to endure – in this, the wealthiest nation on the planet?  Will we stop noticing those simple beauties all around us?  The poet Mary Oliver said it plainly: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I will continue to offer RLP readers the work of poets who are engaged in these questions, hoping their voices will fortify all of ours.


Two of our partner sites will continue re-posting each Red Letter weekly: the YourArlington news blog (, and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene (  If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:


In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                              – Steven Ratiner



Red Letter Poem #76




Gyre.  Anemone.  Colonnade.  Crevasse.  It’s a little like following footsteps in the sand: reading words.  They lead us back to all the people whose minds once savored their meanings, all those in whose mouths these syllables once rested.  For a moment, mid-sentence, you might have a sense of yourself on the long human caravan where, during the lonely nights, you can take your bearings by all those stellar words spoken before you even existed.  And if you are of the inclination to put words to paper, you may even have an intimation of the linguistic markers you yourself are setting down which some other traveler may come across, sometime in the future.


When words are used especially well, they become imbued with personality, resonance, mystery – not only those rare beauties (what my high school English teacher referred to as “five dollar words”) but even those blunt and serviceable nouns we use to convey apple to waiting hand.  Poets often leave their mark on words in an especially indelible way that survives long after their mortal existence.  Most readers of poetry cannot come across a word like gyre without the uneasy feeling of chaos erupting while the shadow of Yeats’ falcon falls across our path.   Anemone, and I’m standing in Dr. Williams’ white field.   Colonnade, and I’m waking in April, Eliot’s cruelest of months.  And when I hear crevasse, I can’t help but find myself searching along with Lucille Clifton for the garden of delight, “certain only of the syllables.  After reading today’s Red Letter, I suspect Deborah Melone’s psithurism will always have a bit of her voice attached (to say nothing of apricity.)  Her poem is reminding us of that elemental joy when we discover that there are, in fact, words for that desire just taking shape inside us – ones that can make us feel we do, in fact, belong in this world. 


In her earlier Red Letter appearances, I’ve praised Deborah’s collection Farmers’ Market and her lovely chapbook The Wheel of the Year (Every Other Thursday Press) – but today’s installment is a brand new poem that charmed me the moment I heard it, and I hope it will work the same magic on you.  It prompted me to recall a conversation I had many years back with the great poet William Stafford for my interview collection.  Speaking of language, Stafford declared: “The words that occur to me come out of my relation to the language which is developing even as I am using it. . .I am not learning definitions as established in even the latest dictionary.  I'm not a dictionary-maker.  I'm a person a dictionary-maker has to contend with. . .”.  Ms. Melone as well.






Psithurism, the sound of the wind in the trees.

Who would think there’s a word for that?  But there is.

From the ancient Greek, psithuros—whispering, slanderous,

a little like susurrus, a rustling sound.

To me it suggests a murmuring of bees

as they search through leaves for sources of honey.


The words for things we never knew the words for:

apricity—the warmth of the winter sun;

petrichor—the earthy smell after rain.

Blending together, rising into song

Like hakòmè grass, a graceful, cascading mound

of leaves that ripple in the slightest breeze,

cloaking us in odor, texture, savor,

drawing us into the world, where we belong.



                                          — Deborah Melone


Sunday, September 05, 2021

Somerville Artist Alexandra Rozenman: Looks at the world Above-Inside-Outside-Under

Somerville Artist Alexandra Rozenman: Looks at the world Above-Inside-Outside-Under

Article by Doug Holder

I met Somerville artist Alexandria Rozenman, under the thick, tangle of vines, in the courtyard of the Neighborhood Restaurant in Union Square, Somerville. Trying to make small talk, I told her that I was of Russian Jewish heritage--like her. She looked at my bagel, dripping with onions and smoked fish, and said, " Yes, I can smell it."

Rozenman, 50, is a resident of the Brickbottom Galleries in the hinterlands of Union Square. Originally from Moscow in Russia, she is the child of dissident parents and trained with dissident artists, some of whom became prominent in the West, like the noted Grisha Bruskin. She explained that creating art under a totalitarian regime, can be much more vital-- than when the artist is in a comfortable, uncensored environment.

Rozenman had a long journey before she landed at the Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville. She taught and worked in places like Minneapolis, the Lower East Side of New York City, and locally in Allston, MA. She told me she is related to the first wife of the artist Marc Chagall--who often appeared in flight in the master's paintings. And indeed her own work is influenced by Chagall. This is quite a lineage for an artist, me thinks. 

 Rozenman showed me some collages she has been working on. The works are full of enigmatic landscapes, personified animals, mysterious lovers, etc... She told me they were created from scrap paper she gathered from other artists. These will be part of  a series she is working on, that in someways is influenced by her own life story.

I asked Rozenman, " How should I look at art? She took a pepper shaker on the table and said, " Look above it, look inside of it, look outside of it, and look under it." She continued, " I don't want people to think we look just at solitary objects--we have to take it all in." Being a poet, I could certainly agree with this take it all in philosophy. 

And Rozenman teaches all this to her students at her Art School 99 on Joy St. in Somerville. There she has a cadre of loyal students, who helped her secure this space, and pursue her mission.

Like many artists in our city, Rozenman has to deal with the black dogs of gentrification. Fortunately for her she found a space at the Brickbottom, which houses a community of artists and other folks. Rozenman told me she found the residents warm and inviting, and seemed please to have a younger artist living with and working with them.

Rozenman doesn't identify with any particular school of painting, but a description from the Fountain Street Gallery in Boston gives us insight:

"Alexandra Rozenman’s paintings and drawings blend the styles and symbols of folk art, Russian Underground Conceptualism, illustration, and Jewish Art. She embraces and plays with Russian, European and American folk tales and myths, giving them utopian and funny dimensions in her work. She combines a universal story with a personal one, absorbing and expressing the psychology of otherness as a fundamental part of her identity and of the contemporary world in which we live. Her current series of paintings, TRANSPLANTED, touches upon issues of artistic influence and dialogue, emulation and creativity. Her work can be viewed as a metaphor for immigration and the cathartic journey of re-inventing a new personal and artistic identity."

Rozenman will have a showing of her work at the Fountain Street Gallery on Oct. 22. To find out more about her go to: