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How to Crowd-Source a Symphony

By David C. Barnett

Many hip hop artists borrow sounds from classic pop recordings to create new songs, but now,  a Northeast Ohio composer is using a different sort of sampling to fashion a symphonic piece about the city of Akron.

The rumble of a Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad engine is due to be part of a musical work called " Sounds of Akron".  

The Akron Symphony Orchestra has commissioned Baldwin Wallace University composer Clint Needham to weave sounds that come from the region into a symphony.

"I'm really engaging the community to offer me, not only my inspiration," he says,  "but also to literally offer me the content of the piece."

A Knight Foundation grant is sponsoring the project which includes a smart phone app that allows area residents to upload sounds from their neighborhoods.  Plus, the Cuyahoga Valley Railroad has agreed to sponsor a "Sounds of Akron Day" to get those train noises, and the city's minor league team is dedicating a game night to get baseball sounds.  Akron Symphony Musical Director Christopher Wilkins adds: "We're collecting organizations and groups of people who are really quite intrigued and enthused by the idea."

Composer Needham says some of these sounds will be incorporated into the final work, while he might use horns and violins to emulate other sounds. The final piece gets its world premiere next April. 

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.