Davis Museum presents tribute to Sylvia Plath

Glass bells installation by Jenny Olivia Johnson.
Jim McLean
Glass bells installation by Jenny Olivia Johnson.

As curator of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Elaine Mehalakes dreamed of commissioning a piece of music to complement a visual installation. And because her museum is on a college campus, Mehalakes knew just the composer who could make this happen: Jenny Olivia Johnson, an assistant professor of music composition and theory at Wellesley.

Johnson brought an unusual asset to the project. Not only is she an acclaimed composer and percussionist, she also has a neurological condition called synesthesia, which she describes as “experiencing sound as a color or a touch or another sensory modality.” So the challenge of creating what she calls a “sound picture” for the museum was irresistible.

Knowing of Johnson’s auditory connection to color, ­Mehalakes suggested they begin by studying Sol LeWitt’s 1991 series of etchings, “All Combinations of Red, Yellow, and Blue, with Scribbles.” The series gave Johnson just the visual inspiration she needed to start thinking about the sound composition to go with it.


“And then I decided to take it a step further and actually build an instrument,” Johnson said. “As a composer, I wanted to create an interactive sound experience that would change based on how someone interacted with the materials. I thought about a lot of different approaches, and then came up with the idea of using glass jars for a bell-like sound.”

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The instrument Johnson eventually created consists of seven glass bell jars fitted with contact microphones and colored LED lights that resemble the veins and arteries intersecting in the human heart.

In the exhibition, a viewer can touch the instrument to trigger a sound and also to cause the lights of the glass hearts to dance. The sounds vary depending on how many jars are touched, how soft or hard the touches are, and how much composite sound is generated in the space.

And because the bell jars evoked for Johnson a favorite poet, the late Sylvia Plath, the composer decided to make the work a tribute to the onetime Wellesley resident.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, the installation, “Glass Heart (bells for Sylvia Plath),” opened Wednesday and will remain on exhibit through June 9.


A concert of Johnson’s original multimedia presentation, called “Glass Heart and Other Stories,” takes place on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Wellesley College’s Houghton Chapel, also on the campus at 106 Central St. in Wellesley.

Additionally, the composer will give a gallery talk March 19 at 3 p.m. All events are free. For more information, call 781-283-2051 or go to www.davismuseum.wellesley.edu.

ONCE UPON A MUSICAL: Students of the Rivers School in Weston perform Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods,” a fractured fairy-tale featuring familiar characters such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood, Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. in the Regis College Fine Arts Center, 235 Wellesley St. in Weston.

Tickets are $5, and can be purchased at the door or by calling 781-235-6840.

A TWISTING TALE: The Sudbury Savoyards troupe presents Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as March 1 and 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday and March 2, in the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Theater, 390 Lincoln Road in Sudbury.


Tickets are $24 adults; $18 seniors and students; $12 children. For tickets or more details, call 978-443-8811 or go to www.sudburysavoyards.org.

JURIED ART SHOW: Members of the Concord Art Association exhibit their work through March 17 in a juried show featuring photography, drawing, crafts, and graphics at the association’s gallery at 37 Lexington Road in Concord.

The show’s hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; admission is free. For more information, call 978-369-2578 or go to www.concordart.org.

THE ART OF CROSSTALK: Jesse Appell, a Newton native studying a Chinese comedic performance-art style called “xiangsheng’’ — sometimes translated as “cross-talks’’— on a Fulbright Fellowship in Beijing, discusses his experiences Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the New Art Center, 61 Washington Park in Newtonville.

During the free presentation, Appell will share what he’s learned about xiangsheng, new media, communicating social messages through the visual arts, and the way intercultural comedy works.

CELEBRATING BERLIN: American Classics, a Greater Boston organization dedicated to celebrating American music by performing forgotten gems and newly discovered musical treasures, presents “Marching Along with Time: Songs of Irving Berlin, 1935-1945,” Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Follen Community Church, 755 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington.

The program will include “Holiday Inn,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” selections from the film “This Is the Army,” and other songs from World War II. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 617-254-1125 or go to www.amclass.org.

ALBUM DEBUT: Despite having been born without the lower half of his right arm, Corey Amaral is a gifted guitarist, vocalist and singer-songwriter. His R&B-influenced band, which performs in a broad spectrum of styles, ranging from modern pop to jazz with some reggae and hip-hop thrown in, celebrates its debut album, “Go!,” with a concert Friday at 8 p.m. at the Amazing Things Arts Center, 160 Hollis St. in Framingham.

Tickets are $16, or $15 for students and seniors, $13 for Amazing Things members, and $8 for children under age 12; they can be purchased at 508-405- 2787 or at www.amazingthings.org.

NEW DATE FOR FESTIVAL: “What’s the Word,” a spoken-word festival at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton that was postponed by the Feb. 9 blizzard, has been rescheduled for March 16.

Tickets are $23, and can be purchased at www.bostonjcc.org/artsevents or through the box office; e-mail boxoffice@jccgb.org, or call 617-965-5226 or 866-811-4111.

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