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From gallery to stage: Handmade instruments at center of Wherligig concert at Carroll Arts Center

From gallery to stage: Handmade instruments at center of Wherligig concert at Carroll Arts Center
Wherligig will perform a live concert with instruments from “The Art of the Musical Instrument,” on display now in the Tevis Gallery of the Carroll Arts Center.

In most instances, lifting art pieces out of their cases and taking them for a spin would be considered a crime.

But that’s exactly the premise behind Wherligig’s upcoming show at the Carroll Arts Center, where they will play in concert using some of the instruments included in “The Art of the Musical Instrument” on display in the Tevis Gallery until Aug. 9.

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To be fair, the guest curator for the exhibit — ethnomusicologist Ryan Koons — is in the band, alongside his father Ken Koons, who is the luthier that created several of the pieces.

For the unfamiliar, a luthier makes stringed instruments such as violins or guitars. And ethomusicology, Ryan Koons said, “is the academic study of music as it relates to culture, music as a cultural phenomenon.”

Wherligig takes the stage of the Arts Center, at 91 W. Main St. in Westminster, at 8 p.m. Saturday to play a repertoire of traditional Celtic and Nordic acoustic music.

Tickets are $16 for adults; or $14 for ages 25 and younger, or 60 and older. Arts Council members get an additional 10% off. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or at carrollcountyartscouncil.org.

To build the set list for a performance, “We select the instruments out of the menagerie that we play that best fit that tune,” Ken Koons said.

For example, they might take a Swedish instrument and play tunes from other parts of the world on it.

Historically, he said, music creation happened in more isolated communities because groups of people were separated by mountains, weather and water.

“It used to be that if you'd listened to a fiddler in Ireland, you know where he lived, because he would have that style in his fiddle. But now people can get that information and they can listen to that music online, the snap of a finger. And so now all these siloed styles are combining and other influences are coming in from other parts of the world.”

“Which is not a bad thing. But it is a difference,” Ryan Koons added. “So what we tend to do is find tunes that are more obscure that folks tend not to know as much.”

They find joy in learning new things and growing musically by seeking out new material. Anyone familiar with their performances know that the band takes time to explain “what the instruments are, where they came from, and stories behind the people who wrote the music that we're performing,” he said.

Some of the instruments in the gallery and performance are forms of the instruments that have nearly evolved out of use. Koons is crafting them based on drawings that are hundreds of years old.

When Ken Koons retired as a longtime photojournalist with the Carroll County Times late last year, he poured more time into his work crafting instruments, though he has been in the craft since he was a teenager. His work is on display at www.koonsinstruments.com. And these days, his son-in-law is apprenticing with him and also learning to craft the instruments that he has been playing and collecting.

Wherligig is truly a family band. Ryan Koons started playing music with his parents Ken and Stephanie as early as he was able to carry a tune, and his husband Niccolo Seligmann joined the band as well as the family. All members play multiple instruments, most of them handcrafted.

Koons said, “The fact that the four of us, you know, two generations in one family are able to do that — it's actually been a great joy for me, and very formative for me. I would not be the same person I am professionally personally, artistically if I hadn't had this growing up.”

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For the gallery show, Ken Koons said it was no trouble to let his son curate his work and choose the 13 instruments that appear in the gallery show alongside work by Robert Caswell, Carol Siegel of Coyote Graphics Catonsville​ and Pamela Zappardino​.

His son describes the show as part art gallery and part museum exhibit. Interpretive text addresses the cultural and historical background of the instruments, and a workbench and tools contributed by Caswell highlight the process and the refined woodwork that goes into creating the instruments.

Part of the goal is to center instruments as works of art.

“My co-curator Susan Williamson and I wanted to look at musical instruments because … most of the time, we're focusing on the sounds that instruments make as the art, music as art. And the instruments themselves don't get much playtime, so to speak, pun intended completely” he said.

For the live performance, they hope to continue the themes of looking to traditions and history that are often overlooked.

“Traditionally, if you wanted music, you either had to learn to play an instrument where you had to go listen to someone who lived nearby to play an instrument,” Ken Koons said. “Today, most of our entertainment is done professionally. Turn on the radio, or you pop in the CD … it's all put together and sent to you — all you have to do is be a spectator. What we're doing comes from a time when you made your own, and people created their own.”

More information about Wherligig can be found at www.wherligig.com/.

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