“FireHouse Detroit” begins

I recently dropped in on artist Greg Holm at Firehouse Engine Company #4, the decommissioned Corktown firehouse that’s the site of an exciting, ambitious music/sound art event taking place this Friday night. (The performance is the first installment of “FireHouse Detroit,” a five-part art installation that Holm is directing. Read about the other four parts here.)

The place was abuzz. Holm answered a few questions while a composer and singer worked on a piece of striking, beautiful music. Meanwhile, several technicians were carefully preparing the pyrophone, an elegant, gas-powered instrument of Holm’s design that’s mounted to the front of the 1897 firehouse and will turn the massive structure itself into a resonant musical instrument. Though I’d had some sense of the performance’s scale before I arrived, it wasn’t until that moment that it really clicked: this is going to be huge.

Holm, along with his collaborators Jeffrey Williams, Kathy Leisen and Carrie Morris, have been working out ideas for “FireHouse” at the 2:1 Gallery, a pop-up sound art space they opened in Eastern Market a few months ago. (Read Knight Arts reviews of recent 2:1 shows here and here.) They’ve also used that space to work closely with the Detroit Children’s Choir and the Street Poets Society, two local youth organizations whose combined work is a major compositional element of “FireHouse.”

The Street Poets wrote poems on various subjects (including their memories, aspirations and thoughts on life in Detroit), which were turned into lyrics the Children’s Choir will sing. Along with more than twenty of the area’s finest singers and musicians, including members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, they’ll bring to life original music written by five local composers: Joel Peterson, Williams, Frank Pahl, Clem Fortuna and Thollem McDonas.

Did I mention the fire truck? There’s also a fire truck. A 1934 Detroit engine will formally present the participating children, as well as the Detroit Fire Honor Guard (who are also performing), at the beginning of the two-hour event.

Holm is particularly passionate about the community engagement that is an essential part of “FireHouse.” He hopes that people who can’t normally afford to attend large-scale performances in Detroit will come to this free event. And he says the project presents members of the children’s choir with a rare opportunity to learn and perform contemporary classical music, an especially important challenge at a time when many of their school music programs are being cut. The poets, meanwhile, get to hear their words transformed into constituent components of new musical compositions, and heard by new ears.

Friday’s performance, if previous 2:1 events are any indication, will combine this active community involvement with a truly remarkable, bodily experience of sound — sound, in this case, that’s as big as a firehouse and as powerful as the spirit of young Detroit. I think it’s safe to say we’ve never heard anything like it.

Firehouse Engine Company #4 is located at 1027 18th St., in Detroit. The performance starts at 8:55 p.m. this Friday, July 22. Click here to read about the next four installments of “FireHouse Detroit,” including a September 11 screening of a film of Friday’s performance at the Detroit Film Theatre.