WATERVILLE — The ninth annual Atlantic Music Festival got underway Saturday with a mostly improvised eclectic piece in which performers were spread across the balconies of Colby College’s Lorimer Chapel, creating sounds like birds singing to one another from the treetops.

It was like free-form jazz meeting soul and classical music.

The piece, “Environmental Dialogue” by Pauline Oliveros, was an installation in which the players used string and woodwind instruments and drums, making sounds coming and going through the air, said Solbong Kim, the program’s artistic director,

There was foot stomping and hand clapping, with other sounds sprinkled with tweets, squeaks and notes for various musical instruments.

Ben Robichaux, who is studying for his doctorate in composition at the University of Georgia, was in the audience for some of the early performances Saturday.

He traveled all the way from Georgia to connect with about 40 other composers who are at about the same stage of studies as he is.

“This festival is amazing,” he said. “You don’t always have premieres at concerts. This is one of the bigger music festivals of this kind in the country. That was an amazing piece by Pauline Oliveros; she recently passed away this past year.”

Robichaux said Oliveros had a “meditative environmental” style. He said the musicians are given “vague instructions” from the composition and then improvise based on what they hear from the other musicians.

After the installation, other musicians performed “Flavor Painting,” a new piece for the Atlantic Music Festival. Kim said he would describe the music as poetry.

“It’s words – like Whitman – it’s a collection of sounds, but within the collection it’s not conventional in a way that it goes somewhere in the way that most of us know,” Kim said. “It’s a sound that continues onto another sound and they form poetry, in essence.”

Kim called the music controlled spontaneity, or controlled improvisation, with the elements of the composer’s ideas of how it should sound, but with each musician’s own personal input.

“This first concert is a lot of new works,” Kim said. “In our other concerts as well, we have many, many of the standard repertoire. These musicians are incredible musicians. Many of these musicians will actually end up in some of the major symphonies all over the world.”

He said the players for the free music festival that runs through July 29 are in their transition period – they don’t have a philharmonic job just yet, but are not amateurs, either.

“I think the real excitement – if you talk about regular concerts where it’s all set musicians and you know who they are – this is very different,” he said.

The festival, which began at Colby in 2009, brings together student musicians and professional instructors to play dozens of concerts around campus, most in Lorimer Chapel but others in venues such as Given Auditorium, the Strider Theater and the Marchese Blue Light Pub.

The concert series is broken up into five divisions: chamber music, full orchestra, composition, conducting and opera.

Over 300 performances have taken place during the festival’s first eight years, and this year about 40 performances are planned.

The festival has many recurring events, such as the AMF Orchestra performing sets of eclectic programs at 7 p.m. on Saturdays and AMF’s Chamber Music Series playing on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. Additional performances also may develop as the festival progresses.

Kim said audiences can expect all kinds of classical music, including traditional pieces by known composers.

Erin Morrison, a stage manager and one of the festival coordinators from Greene, said this year is her first year at the Atlantic Music Festival. She said the anticipation of the festival has been exciting.

“It’s been really cool to see the process of all these music composers coming together and working with artists to make their music come alive,” said Morrison, a middle school music and chorus teacher in Auburn. “And seeing all these composers really happy and excited about their performances and their premieres – most of these performances are premiere performances.”

Morrison said there has been a lot of interest in the festival with phones “ringing off the hook” as opening day approached.

She said composers and musicians participating in the festival are from all over the world.

The students stay in the college’s dormitories and eat on campus, while some of the program’s staff members, made up of professional musicians from around the world, reside off campus.

There is a group from South Korea coming in next week, she said.

Composer Seven Sky Spillios, 18, from southern Oregon, also was a member of the audience during the early performances Saturday.

He said the contrast in styles over the next three weeks should be exciting for the participants as well as for the central Maine community. Spillios, who studies music composition, said his piece “Winter’s Morning” for harp and flute would be performed Saturday.

“This has been a great opportunity to connect with other composers and really get my voice out there, as well as a bunch of other people’s,” he said. “Everyone has a completely different style here.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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