Kevin Harris Explores the Music of 'Doorways' for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Berklee pianist is the focus of a new documentary produced in partnership with the museum.

December 10, 2021

What do you experience when you walk through a door?

It may sound like an odd or even small question at first, but in the context of Boston's lavish Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the idea of walking from room to room is something that sparked inspiration for pianist and composer Kevin Harris, associate professor in the Piano Department. Harris is a Neighborhood Salon Luminary through the museum, and he recently composed the piece "Doorways" for their Luminary Lens series, which brings locals artists into the Gardner for multidisciplinary immersive experiences.

How much is there to learn just as human beings when we sit still, as opposed to always [being] on the go?

— Kevin Harris

The idea for the piece came to Harris as he was observing patrons of the Gardner move from room to room at different speeds. Some would move swiftly, others would linger, lost in reflective reverie for long stretches of time. “How much is there to learn just as human beings when we sit still, as opposed to always [being] on the go?” Harris says in a short documentary the Gardner commissioned for the song.

His observations made him think about transitions, both literal and figurative, and he set out to write a short piece for solo piano inspired by the idea of "through composition"—a way of writing music that puts emphasis on forward melodic movement rather than repetition. The form is very much a musical meander, a sonic version of what it's like to experience the novel grandeur of a museum such as the Gardner, which is curated down to the smallest physical detail.

“Architecture is art that you can inhabit,” says Diane Seave Greenwald, assistant curator for the museum. Part of Gardner’s original vision for her namesake museum was that every aspect would be part of the collection, not just the framed paintings on the wall—the archways, the tile work, all of it would be an immersive experience. In many ways, Harris riffs on that original intention and furthers it into the realm of sound, giving melody to the experience of walking room to room.

“When you walk through one room, you haven’t completely forgotten where you come from—metaphorically speaking or whether you’re just walking from one room to another," Harris says, reflecting on not just how we receive art, but how we move through life. "Somehow your new experience is being influenced by the one you just experienced.”

Watch the documentary Luminary Lens: Kevin Harris, "Doorways," which features the song at the end of the film: