Utopia: A state in which everything is perfect; no one is hurting, hungry or needing help.
As presidential candidates grace stages promising a better America, the Liberation Music Collective will present “21st Century Reflections on the Pursuit of Perfection,” a jazz concert and dramatic narrative including stories of Hoosiers who pursued such a concept.
It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Brown County Playhouse by 14 students or alumni of IU’s Jacobs School of Music. Their original compositions are about contemporary social issues.
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The show will also include readings from Brown County Writers, Readers and Poets Society members’ work to illustrate different concepts of utopia.
During the early part of the 19th century, New Harmony, Indiana, was the site of two attempts to establish Utopian communities.
The first attempt was Harmonie starting in 1814. It was founded by the Harmonie Society, Separatists from the German Lutheran Church led by Johann Georg Rapp.
They achieved “unheard of” economic success, but after about 10 years, they sold the town and surrounding lands to Robert Owen, a philosopher, for a “communitarian experiment,” New Harmony’s website says.
Owen wanted to create “a perfect society through free education and the abolition of social classes and personal wealth.” But in 1828, that experiment failed due to Owen’s lack of continuous guidance, according to the Robert Owen Museum’s website.
Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple also began in Indianapolis.
Jones would eventually move to an agricultural project in Guyana he called Jonestown, and in 1978, 909 Temple members took cyanide mixed with Kool-Aid in the largest mass suicide in modern history.
“In part of the research we did, we came across people who were survivors of Jonestown who said, ‘You know, even though Jim turned the Peoples Temple into something really, really bitter and terrible, the principles it was founded on, that’s universal brotherhood,’” said Liberation Music Collective co-founder Matthew Riggen.
Riggen and Hannah Fidler, both IU students, formed the Liberation Music Collective in response to the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and Staten Island, New York, Fidler said.
In the past, jazz musicians like Duke Ellington would write about the anger Americans were feeling over certain social issues, Riggen said.
“There’s nobody really leading an ensemble dedicated to being mad about things that aren’t going right,” he said.
The Liberation Music Collective has written a musical narrative that follows a man and woman participating in a Utopian community.The leader is a demigod — outwardly charming, but inwardly unable to maintain his own peace, Riggen said.“As a group that tries to provide commentary and some kind of hope for making the world better, it’s always interesting for us to reflect on the boundaries of pragmatism and idealism and utopia. It’s something that deals a lot with those themes,” Fidler said.
“During the time of trying to envision a leader for the future of our country it’s something to be thinking about,” she said.
Between the scenes, Yaël Ksander, from radio station WFIU, will narrate the history of utopia in Indiana, which will be woven into the characters’ story lines.
Ksander will also read pieces of work from the Brown County Writers, Readers and Poets Society.
Brown County resident Pam Raider, a member of WRAPS for 16 years, is excited about this partnership on the Playhouse stage.
“I think it’s a great collaboration — which, maybe IU music school will do again — to come over and challenge the local people,” she said.
“Rural people have a different way of maybe viewing life — more practical, more down-to-Earth. I hope it’s a big success and a lot of people go.”
WRAPS members challenged themselves to write about Utopia in a little over a month. “None of us are necessarily musical, but we saw it as a good example to kind of stretch ourselves to do something very unusual,” Raider said.
Raider’s poem will be read in two parts during the production.
The concept of utopia is one she’s thought about for years.“When I was younger I kind of believed that it was possible to change the world for the better. As I’ve gotten older — and maybe this is just the way it happens with human beings — I’ve come to believe whenever utopia is involved, we’re dealing with human ambition and egos. We’re dealing with a flawed commodity, I’d say,” Raider said.“As a young person I totally worked for all kinds of causes. As an elder, I have kind of soured, because every movement has unintended consequences.”
Fidler and Riggen hope the production prompts reflection on working toward a “perfect” world.
“I am hoping the audience learns about some of the history in Indiana and feels more connected with some of the things that have happened in our history. Then, just reflect on the modern day and how we’re all trying to work together to create a better future, and some of the pitfalls that are involved in that, and leave with a sense of hope,” Fidler said.
What: “21st Century Reflections on the Pursuit of Perfection UTOPIA”
Where: Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St., Nashville
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20
Cost: $15 general, $5 students
Also sold: Brown County beer, wine and mixed drinks at all shows and movies.