An argument helped spark the creation of the Unruly Sounds Music Festival to be held Saturday, September 29, at Hinds Plaza adjacent to the Princeton Public Library.
Curated by percussionist and educator Mika Godbole, the festival is sponsored by the experimental music arm of Princeton University, along with Princeton Sound Kitchen, Princeton Public Library, Princeton Record Exchange, and Small World Coffee. The free fest, now in its fourth year, runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and all ages are invited to hang out and listen.
Explaining the origins of the music festival a little further, Godbole says “I got into a verbal fight with a musician friend talking about new music, and he (focused on) all these composers he doesn’t like, so I raged at him. I realized that, instead of getting into a fight I could help introduce folks to where music is today.”
Godbole hopes the audience will enjoy an atmosphere specifically planned for the music and sounds to be enjoyed without the formalities of most traditional concert settings.
“Families, wanderers, dancers, children, and folks out for a stroll are free to stop by Hinds Plaza,” she says. “The atmosphere is casually festive with room to breathe and catch up with friends.”
“It’s not just, ‘lights down, clap when it’s over,’” she adds. “Since it’s at Hinds Plaza you can bring your kids, your dog, you can take a break, walk up the street for a cup of coffee or some food, even a beer.”
The goal of the Unruly Sounds Music Festival is to introduce the general public to the latest creative projects from the Princeton graduate composition program, Godbole says.
“Luckily, Princeton is extra strong, with so many great composers,” she says. “That’s the background: we put on this daylong music marathon, some of which is kooky, not what you would hear on the radio, some of it just seems like a really different sound world.”
Strangely, some musicians, composers, critics, and educators still describe “new music” as something created 50 or even 60 years ago, by composers we love, but who died decades ago. Godbole is most adamant about presenting fresh sounds by emerging composers instead.
“There’s so much new, compelling music being created by living people, composers at Princeton right now, getting their graduate degrees, as well as other up-and-coming composers. The festival is a way to give them a platform,” Godbole says. “I also hope they’ll connect with other creative folks here, try to build a bridge.”
Audience members at the Unruly Sounds festival can ask the composers questions, talk to them, and see where the music comes from.
“It becomes humanized,” she says, adding “When you take this new music to schools, kids can see that composers might look like their cool older brother or cousin, a friend, or an aunt.”
Godbole, who is a founding member of the Princeton-based Mobius Percussion ensemble, talks about some of the individuals and groups appearing at the Unruly Sounds festival.
Owen Lake (the musical persona of Jeff Snyder) and the Tragic Loves call themselves “electro-acoustic country,” a combination of country-style, heartfelt lyrics and synthesizer licks.
Matt Trowbridge, a songwriter and teacher at the Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, writes and performs in the styles of Harry Nilsson and Neil Young.
Beth Meyers and Monica Mugan have previously performed alongside their husbands, Jason Treuting and Dan Trueman, in the avant garde group QQQ. As the duo Damsel, they combine their classical chamber music skills with folk affinities, and the result is a mix of intricate instrumentals and tight vocal harmonies.
Returning to the Unruly Sounds festival will be the Arx (percussion) Duo, Chris Douthitt and the Anaglyphs, the soulful Bora Yoon, and many more.
Godbole says a highlight of this year’s Unruly Sounds will be a special performance of Arone Dyer’s “Dronechoir,” putting together performers from a multitude of backgrounds.
“There’s a sense of hopefulness from being around other women, and (the piece) is for women of all backgrounds,” Godbole says. “It’s been done all over, in New York City, Berlin, etc. There are no rehearsals, you really don’t need anything (except your voice), and it creates an experience for both the audience and performers.”
Godbole, now a resident of Skillman, was born in Pune, India (about two hours east of Mumbai), but moved with her family to the United States when she was eight, settling in Wallingford in suburban Philadelphia.
Her father was employed by NJ Transit as an environmental engineer but now operates his own business called VG Tech.
Godbole’s mother was a developmental pediatrician who recently retired from the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. She adds that her mother was very musical and continues to sing with the women’s barbershop group, the Sweet Adelines.
In India, young Mika spent about eight months studying the tabla (a traditional Indian percussion instrument), but realized that it would take a lifetime to truly learn.
“I didn’t feel connected enough to it, and I enjoyed western classical music so much more,” Godbole says. She recalls being in her school choir in elementary school, and confesses that her introduction to Western pop music was ’80s icon George Michael in his Wham! days.
It was a middle school crush that sparked her interest in drums and percussion. “When I was in seventh grade, I had this huge crush on a guy in the eighth grade who was a percussionist,” she says. “I thought, ‘I want to do what he’s doing,’ although I didn’t take lessons until much later. So the guy dropped out of the picture, but the drums stayed.”
Godbole played glockenspiel in the concert and marching bands at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford. “I met so many friends and found my clan there,” she says. “The marching band and overall music program were wonderful. Later in life I realized that I really did have good teachers, and that it was a very versatile music program.”
Times have changed since an older generation of girls was told that “drums are too masculine and noisy for young ladies” and steered toward the flute or clarinet instead. In contrast to this antiquated notion, Godbole’s parents were supportive with her choice of instrument, just a little surprised.
“My parents were taken aback when I said I wanted to play drums and percussion,” she says. “They weren’t expecting this: they thought I might do something else, and that I might change my mind about music. Much later, though, they realized I was serious.”
“They were pragmatic saying, ‘you might want to get a degree in education or computer science to back up (your music)’ but they never discouraged me,” Godbole continues. “It was very progressive of them, especially as an Indian family.”
Godbole did undergraduate studies in music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, got her master’s degree at Rowan University, and her doctor of musical arts from Rutgers in 2013.
She launched herself into freelance activities, performing on percussion with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Richmond Symphony, Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Annapolis Symphony, and Lancaster Symphony Orchestra.
Godbole’s recent activities include collaborations with So Percussion for a performance of Steve Reich’s “Drumming” at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, the Rutgers University premiere of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” the world premiere of Jason Treuting’s new percussion quartet “paper melodies (my music box music),” Xenakis’ “Pleiades,” and Gerard Grisey’s “Le Noir de L’etoile.”
She also took part in a duo recital with organist Rob Ridgell for a webcast performance at Trinity Wall Street Church in Manhattan.
In addition, she has been involved in summer music programs such as the Aspen Music Festival, So Percussion Summer Institute, Artosphere Festival, and the China International Summer Music Academy.
Godbole is also a member of the Crossing, a professional chamber choir based in Philadelphia, conducted by Donald Nally, and dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new music.
The group has collaborated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as the International Contemporary Ensemble, Bang on a Can, and the American Composers Orchestra, among many others.
Under Nally’s leadership, the Crossing has commissioned and premiered more than 50 works for chorus. The ensemble’s discography includes six critically praised recordings, one of which won a Grammy award.
“I had the privilege of playing with them, and in fact (The Crossing) led to a further collaboration,” Godbole says. “Mobius Percussion is an offshoot of the ensemble.”
Godbole maintains an active teaching schedule, working at Rowan University as an adjunct professor and at Westminster Conservatory. She also works at Labyrinth Books in Princeton.
Regarding the Mobius Quartet, Godbole says she and the other members met at a So Percussion seminar and have recently regrouped. “We just spent some time in New Hampshire and we were exhausted, but afterwards felt so energized and hopeful,” she says. “Something about the new configuration feels right, knock on wood.”
She adds that Mobius Percussion is working on a long-term project, a collaboration with New York-based Australian composer Wally Gunn titled “Captain Moonlite,” based on the true story of 19th-century Australian outlaw Andrew George Scott.
“It’s a full oratorio and won’t be complete for years, but we’re putting it together in bits and pieces,” she says.
Taking the So Percussion seminar at Princeton University and being befriended by composition students there took Godbole’s playing and overall career in a new direction. The experience also laid the groundwork for the Unruly Sounds festival. “I didn’t know the composition program at Princeton was so strong, but one class came along, and they sort of adopted me, as a friend and collaborator,” she says. “They became my mentors and got me away from purely classical music, changed the way I saw things.”
“I thought, ‘If I can see new music and enjoy it, others can see it too.’ It doesn’t have to be a high brow experience. It’s music for everyone,” she adds. “I wanted to create a space where all could enjoy it, and that’s how the Unruly Sounds festival came about. Some of the composers are incredible, their talent is real, and the more the community gets to know them, the more beautiful things can come out of it.”
Unruly Sounds Music Festival, Hinds Plaza, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Saturday, September 29, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rain location: Library Community Room. Free. 609-924-9529 or www.princetonlibrary.org.
Unruly Sounds Music Festival on Facebook: www.facebook.com/unrulysounds