Composer Jennifer Bellor is commanding a small audience under the sun in the Neon Museum’s north gallery, where she’s the artist-in-residence working among the giant and famously historic signs. With a Ph.D. in music composition from Eastman School of Music and a master’s in composition from Syracuse University, she’s reverting to the basics—rhythm and voice—to engage the group in creating music on the spot.
“Circus Circus Wet ‘N’ Wild,” she enunciates, clapping out the coordinating eighth notes. The audience claps and enunciates in return. When rhythms and phrases are taught and learned, she sections the audience into thirds and has those groups perform assigned parts simultaneously. It’s a beautifully unrehearsed symphony of enthusiasm, Vegas-related lyrics and assorted rhythms, a fugue of sorts with a 3-year-old improvising on triangle.
Bellor, a visiting lecturer at UNLV, is the fourth artist-in-residence at the Neon Museum to engage others in their disciplines while incorporating the museum itself. Now that she has completed the first task with her guests, she breaks them into groups again and sends them to the signs lining the boneyard for inspiration. With provided drums, maracas, tambourines and other percussive instruments, they create their own works. The result isn’t bad: “Golden Nugget best in town/Gordie Brown our showroom clown/Pretty girls, coldest beer/We’ll be here all year.”
After three more presentations, including two instrumentals, Bellor introduces a piece she wrote about nostalgia and cherished moments that is performed by the pianist, clarinetist and percussionist who’d been collaborating in the performances. The song, “Moments Shared, Moments Lost,” is sentimental and jazz-like. With a slow, free-flowing beat on a tubano drum, it echoes the stories of the once-fantastic, worn and retired signs enveloping us.