Composers in Red Sneakers

History and archive of the Composers in Red Sneakers, founded in 1981.

Original founding members: Robert Aldridge, Roger Bourland, Thomas Oboe Lee, Amy Reich, Gary Philo, Christopher Stowens.

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"The following for contemporary music hereabouts is terribly inbred and much given to traveling in packs, so it was quite a coup for the Composers in Red Sneakers to have lured into the Old Cambridge Baptist Church the audience that they did - one that was predominantly young and non-specialized and had no partisan interests to declare.  ('Hey, this is a funky place,' remarked one young man.) ... "   Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, May 2, 1981.

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"Strikingly absent from the Old Cambridge Baptist Church Thursday night were the usual composer-academics and their students, friends, and significant others.  It seems that Composers in Red Sneakers have actually succeeded in drawing a new and different audience for contemporary music, for the time being at least.  It's a young and uncommitted audience, probably attracted by the CIRS style, which is loose and not particularly high-minded or didactic, as much as by cheap tickets. Indeed, there is a $1 discount if you can demonstrate that you're NOT a student ... " Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, June 19, 1982.

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"Publicity and word-of-mouth about the fun the Composers in Red Sneakers have with the conventions of concert-going might have accounted for the size of the crowd that filled the Old Cambridge Baptist Church to overflowing Thursday evening.  What is more important is what kept the audience there.  Yes they had fun - the taped introduction to the concert found the Red Sneakers musical signature in a Brandenburg Concerto and the finale of the Beethoven Fifth; one group of performers came out in scarlet running shorts.  But the audience also heard music which had style, substance and communicative power ... " Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, July 24, 1982.

"Hundreds of people were turned away from another recent (July 22) concert, too, an even more astonishing piece of news because it was a new-music concert - very new music, some of it actually composed for this performance.  It was Concert VI (like Day 100 in the Iranian crisis?) for the Composers in Red Sneakers, seven young men (one more than Les Six) who have created an enthusiastic (not to say devout) following with a combination of Hasty Pudding irreverence and solid, attractive pieces.  Even the admission price is a joke: two dollars a ticket, three dollars for anyone with a student ID.  Anyone wearing red sneakers, of course, gets in free ... "  Lloyd Schwartz, The Boston Phoenix, August 10, 1982.

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"The audience for Composers in Red Sneakers is young enough to have all its hair and teeth and a certain capacity for enthusiasm: perhaps it expects something out of life, art, etc. - some kind of clue or statement, or a buzz.  Fittingly, Old Cambridge Baptist Church is where it gathers: a venerable shelter for Cambridge-type good causes, variously holistic, left of center, or funky.  But who are these people?  Does anyone in this crowd own an American Express Gold Card, or an asafoetida bag, or habitually quote from 'Perspectives of New Music'?  One doesn't know yet ... "  Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, October 30, 1982.

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"The Composers in Red Sneakers, who always have something up their sleeves and down their socks, tried nothing less than reverse the course of music history Thursday evening.  The usual tomfoolery of the taped introduction to this concert pointed out that composers usually have to wait for centuries before they become 'anonymous'; the Red Sneakers would have their music performed without attribution and hope that one day long in the future their names would become known.  There's  probably some point in this silliness, though none of the Sneakers has yet established himself so completely that audiences automatically make conventional associations with his name; besides young composers change their identities as often as terrorists and narcs.  Nevertheless this listener decided to play along with the game, and will reproduce his brief notes on the pieces before referring to an annotated program handed to him by a Red Sneaker wife as he left the crowded and applauding Old Cambridge Baptist Church ... "  Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, January 29, 1983.

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"Sometimes the state of contemporary music begins to seem meager and depressing, like being washed up on a desert island with nothing to subsist on but trail mix and salad dressing, but then (a thought) there are the Composers in Red Sneakers to think about - and be heartened by.  Though these seven young men have passed through the academy and are well trained in the composer's craft, they have hardly adopted the mores of the academy.  Their concerts are, in fact, astonishingly casual in tone.  The Composers in Red Sneakers do not guarantine musical art within a proscenium or nail it to a museum wall.  Their program notes are endearingly silly and uninformative.  And they have gathered a young, receptive following that certainly isn't the endogamous crowd that usually goes to new-music concerts.  Les Sneakers are, in short, a phenomenon worth celebrating ... "   Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, April 23(?), 1983.

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"There are no concerts quite like those of the Composers in Red Sneakers.  The trappings are endearingly silly.  Typically, there was an unexpected interlude of Tex-Mex singing and guitar playing by a group called the Trio Los Treboles.  One of the conductors was greeted with wolf whistles.  The chorus in the final number sported a bizarre array of footwear, flippers included.  If anyone is asking just what all this has to do with contemporary music, the answer is: it gets people to come and listen.  And more than that, it gets the people to come back ... "   Richard Buell, The Boston Globe, July 23, 1983.

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"Dedicated perusal of reviews of previous programs by the Composers in Red Sneakers left me with very definite expectations for my own first exposure to this nearly 4-year-old institution.  Expect the unexpected, the puerile and irreverent, the peculiar and irrelevant.  Look down, and witness tennis shoes with 'any of a group of colors whose hue resembles that of blood.'  (American Heritage Dictionary). Prepare to hear music not absurdly demanding of the listener, with a healthy sense of whimsy; skilful, serious, and very well performed.  All these things indeed came true ... "  Derrick Henry, The Boston Globe, November 5(?), 1983.

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"That the Composers in Red Sneakers are masters of the hard sell is evident.  Their gimmicks, including everything from free admission for all those sporting red sneakers to an extra dollar tacked on to the price of anyone flashing a student ID are routine now.  That the composers are also gifted musicians, however, is often eclipsed by their off-beat marketing.   This off-beat marketing of contemporary music showed itself in rare form last Thursday as the composers hosted their first concert of 1984.  In an effort to rival their summer extravaganza (concert no. 10), they once again added the multi-media influences, such as dance, mime, prerecorded tape and even puppetry, that were noticeably absent from their last performance.  For the purist all this may appear to be so much tinsel draped on the music in an effort to make it more palatable and 'entertaining.'  But the Composers have little respect for the purist.  Their music, despite its non-commercial nature, is packaged to sell and sell it does.  A diverse capacity crowd quickly filled the pews of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church to attend the concert ... "   Steve LeBlanc, The Heights, January 30, 1984.

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"In principle and in fact the Composers in Red Sneakers are a good thing.  They have successfully demystified the new-music experience, and now regularly attract the largest new-music audience in town and, what is more, send it home feeling it has had a good time ... "   Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, November 19, 1984.

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"It is tempting to regard the buffoonery of the Composers in Red Sneakers as a camouflage for creative inadequacy.  But that would be wholly misleading and grossly unfair.  The members of this entertaining consortium are all individuals of talent, originality, and imagination, even if their humor frequently needs curbing to save it from slipping into slapstick.  Their Louie the Eighteenth Concert made up of what might be considered six fantasias, each composed by one of the group, on the popular rock tune of the '60s, 'Louie Louie,' provided ample room for fun ... "  Arthur Hepner, The Boston Globe, July 30, 1985.