Day after day, Tucson Symphony Orchestra musicians care for their musical instruments. They oil them, polish them and lug them around until their shoulders ache.

So they could be forgiven if, occasionally, they entertained thoughts of transforming their artistic outlets into objects less demanding — perhaps still-lifes.

The Art of Music gala offers that chance. With auction items such as a man-eating sousaphone with legs sticking out of its bell, the orchestra’s biennial event gives new meaning to the notion that art is instrumental.

Past galas have featured everything from a race car made from a real cello case to a tree growing from a real clarinet. Stores and clubs donate the musical instruments — all in sub-par playing condition — and local artists turn them into sculptures.

This year, Latin’s the theme, and guitars are the medium.

Northwest artist Charlotte Bender painted Japanese koi on her donated art piece.

“Fish are dreamlike and tranquil,” said Bender, whose artwork hangs in the Tucson Mayor’s office, the Tucson Museum of Art and Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley. “They’re almost a meditation in movement and color, and music becomes that too.”

The guitar theme is new for the orchestra’s 2009 Art of Music gala. The first two years, artists painted violins, and later events featured a variety of music makers.

“Lots of our supporters buy the instruments, and how many violins can you own?” said gala organizer Cookie Pashkow.

This year’s gala will feature the Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School and a Tucson Guitar Society. It also will feature Latin dance, a selection of Latin music performed by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, a Latin menu and a proliferation of mojitos.

So guitar art for auction just seemed right.

But don’t expect the artwork itself to scream “Latin,” Pashkow said. Rather, it will reflect whatever possibilities the artists saw in the guitars.

One looks like a Picasso. One looks something like a Christmas tree. When you plug it in, it lights up.

One — a steel guitar — makes a worthy outdoor sculpture and incorporates plants.

As for Bender’s instrument, it sat in her studio for months before she decided what it would become.

“To me, a musical instrument is almost a sacred thing,” she said. “To alter it felt a bit like desecration.”

The artist thought about wrapping it. Several large paintings in her studio show large objects in tissue paper that you wouldn’t normally expect to find gift wrapped — such as houses.

But somehow that didn’t seem quite right.

“I wanted something more vigorous,” she said.

Eventually, she thought of Japanese koi. She thought of the peaceful koi ponds she’d seen in Washington, D.C.’s, botanical gardens and in a Tucson friend’s backyard. She thought of how watching them reminded her of music.

“They have inherent motion,” she said.

Bender’s art piece, titled “Sound Wave,” will be up for auction Saturday, March 7, at the Art of Music gala.


WHAT: Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Art of Music gala

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7

WHERE: JW Marriott Resort and Spa, 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.

COST: $175


PHONE: 792-9155

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