“Music is a total constant. That’s why we have such a strong visceral connection to it, you know? Because a song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place, or even a person. No matter what else has changed in your or the world, that one song stays the same, just like that moment.”
Tears streaming down my face, my parents turn and watch as I take in the music spilling into my ears. As the chills creep up my body, Sara Bareilles is singing sans microphone or equipment, her other band members using their bodies as percussion through slaps and snaps with her fingers producing a light strum on her ukelele. Caught in this moment of pure raw performance, the acoustics of a room have never seemed so simply gorgeous to me. Her voice seems to ooze so easily from her body and vibrate through the historic church that has the acoustics of one of the grandest music halls I have ever encountered. I am a mere individual sitting in my pew feeling every emotion that Bareilles allows the audience to see and share with her. Never have I experienced such a raw performance in my entire life nor have I felt more connected to a performance piece.
The Ryman Auditorium has this effect on music and in turn music has this effect on the Ryman. In heading back to the Ryman to photograph the auditorium, I was surprised to be greeted by the tourism clustering the beauty that I immediately recall when thinking about my experiences there. Though downstairs the hall is set up for tours, with historical costumes, posters, and a set stage, once within the auditorium, the glorious nature of this tabernacle turned renowned musical hall is clear. Although the tourism aspect of the Ryman is overbearing at first, in my documentation of the Ryman I attempted to both capture the touristic view of the Ryman as well as the way I view it as a sacred musical haven. In order to contrast the two, I’ve used effects to create the ambiance of the auditorium to shine in both lights. I photographed the images below as if I were a tourist visiting Nashville, manipulating the saturation of color to have the most vivid and clear image of my visit to the auditorium.
During my daytime visit, voices of famous musicians were speaking about the Ryman on video, many commenting repeatedly again and again that this room is their favorite place to perform in the world. The acoustics are absolutely breathtaking, both the audience and these historic individuals agree. Built in the 1880s, acoustics were within the structure and design concept. Thomas G. Ryman, a prominent steamboat captain and businessman, promised Reverend Sam Jones to “build a great tabernacle that would project [his] voice clearly and powerfully for all to hear.” Incredibly enough, with the opening in 1892, the same acoustics in mind then have continued to produce glorious sounds through today. With only one restoration in 1994, the Ryman continues to not only uphold these original intentions of pure acoustics but also keep the structure of Ryman’s tabernacle. The auditorium holds the technology and advances of modern day while keeping the “Mother Church of Country Music” title hold true. A true historic site, at first sold out by a lecture by Hellen Keller and Anna Sullivan Macy, now home to sold out performances by the most respected and renowned musicians.
I’ve always assumed that my strong connection to the Ryman has stemmed from the shows I have seen there. I have strong connections with both the music of Sara Bareilles and that of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, who I’ve seen perform on this stage twice. However, the true passion I hold for the Ryman stems from something more: the distinct memories I hold of these times that are recalled immediately upon listening to their music.
As I focus back into Bareilles’ cover of “Nice Dream” by Radiohead at her concert during the fall my freshmen year, I vividly feel the same emotions and can sense the genuineness of her vocals. I snap back to the moment of catching my parents’ eyes as they watched in amazement how strongly her performance was affecting me. For that entire piece, I swore the room went hushed and her gorgeous voice echoed throughout the entire hall. To my surprise, while watching the video on YouTube, I recognized that this documentation is anything but what I remember. Though I remember the casual nature of her performance, the interaction of the audience, and the cheers, for me my memory consists of a personal moment between myself and the performers and myself and the music.
This has me questioning whether music and performance recordings are accurate representations of memory. As photographs provide evidence for the what-has-been, recordings and videos can have similar effects. The photographs above are a selection of images that I felt tried to embody the essence of the Ryman Auditorium. I attempted to create the Ryman that I hold so close to me in my mind. However an attempt is best at that. I have simply attempted to capture something that goes beyond photography or video footage. Certain memories cannot be simply captured by film. In fact, though photography and recording can be a means to jog our memories of times, nothing can truly bring me back to specific memories as music can. Every time I listen to this particular song I am taken instantly back to this experience in time. This performance is a moment of personal appreciation and reverence for the art displayed in front of me as well as a special time with my parents. Something about live performance holds more of an impact within my memory that can not be salvaged or done justice through the use of photography, literature, or film, but rather can be enhanced and re-experienced through music.
http://www.ryman.com/history/ ____ http://www.ryman.com/about/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJTum-E58nA