Interplay 2019: Alouette Meets Her Maker

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The Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Interplay workshops are something you should be attending if you’re into choral music and you’re a Vancouver local. They provide the option for people to audit them but the choir really doesn’t do good enough of a job at advertising what a tremendous learning opportunity it can be as an observer.

The premise of the workshops is that participating composers have a piece read by one of the best and most experienced choirs in Canada (And led by one of the best and most experienced choir directors in our hemisphere). During the 30 or so minutes each piece is allocated, composers can ask questions and make suggestions to see how their writing matches up to reality without the pressure of a real world performance.

They are short workshops – but you see a LOT. If you’re a composer you should be doubly ashamed of yourself for not attending as they are treasure troves of new ideas and teachings of good choral writing.

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A photo of Alouette I in orbit

I submitted a new piece I had just completed, Alouette Meets Her Maker which is a sort of story-piece for SATB choir. The premise is based on the first Canadian satellite, Alouette I, waking up from her derelict orbit around earth. She first becomes aware of a miscellanea of radio signals bombarding her from earth before she focuses in on a singular mysterious signal coming from deep space. The signal coos to her lovingly before it’s intent is revealed to be malicious. Alouette is sent spinning into a panic and careens towards the planet surface where she explodes in a fiery heap. The piece closes with the last breath of life from her circuits before they are silenced forever.

The piece may seem like a big departure for me in a lot of ways. I ask the singers to employ a wide variety of techniques that challenge their comfort zone: singing nasally, singing in morse code, glissandi that cover their entire singing range, spoken parts, shouting rhythmic plosives, and singing random clusters. In other words, compared to my recent writing, these elements all together might seem like I’ve finally succumbed to lunacy. But you can find all these elements kicking around in my recent music – I’ve been putting little touches here and there to explore what you can do with the sonic palette of a choir. Alouette is simply my first attempt at making it happen throughout the whole piece.

I was surprised that the piece read so well. There are a lot of extra instructions to wade through. Both the choir and Jon gave me some helpful suggestions to sharpen up the piece before it winds up in folders. The experience was invaluable.

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Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake Wins Best Music Video

…and “Festival Favourite” to boot!

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Our video’s appearance at the second annual Director’s Cut International Film Festival seems to have been a resounding success!

 

Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake Hits The Festival Circuit

I’m quite pleased to announce that my collaborative project with The Vandelé Quartet and Kale Beaudry will be screened at 2pm on October 28th at the Director’s Cut International Film Festival. Go Team!

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“A vile and corrupt banquet spills out like a drift of soggy pigs, threatening the etiquette and decorum of a luncheon that was almost nice enough for you to be invited to. As dinner guests Percy and Penny VonKrapp make mayhem into the table cloth, those on the sidelines can no longer stand idly by and are called to act.

Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake tells the tale of good and evil colliding in a surreal skirmish around the dinner table — the armies warring with cutlery instead of swords, and over fine linen instead of land.

At stake? Dinner as we know it”.

All About A New Piece – Fierce Green

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My newest creation is a commission for the Vancouver Peace Choir, my choral alma mater. Writing for the Peace Choir was both my first writing opportunity and singing gig outside a university environment. It was a pretty big deal for me. When you leave school, the first thing that greets you is an immense gaping maw of, “WHAT DO I DO NOW?!”. Having the opportunity to write for a willing group was immeasurably valuable for my craft and creative momentum. For that, I owe them a great debt of gratitude so when they ask me to jump, I hold my breath and launch myself into orbit.

With this piece, I really wanted to honour the choir’s legacy of championing social justice causes while also making something the group would enjoy singing (Easy, right?). Past concerts have highlighted a litany of causes such as the plight of First Nations people, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the “It Gets Better” campaign.

Fierce Green is a sort of desperate response to human caused climate change. While I’m mostly buoyed by the incremental steps many of us take to reduce our ecological footprints I’m also incredibly frustrated, and sometimes embittered, by resistance to the most innocuous positive developments and jaw-dropping denial of a massive body of scientific evidence. I was especially hit hard by the recent American election; here we have one of the world’s largest industrial power houses now talking about bringing back coal, dismantling the EPA, and rolling back limits on vehicle emissions. It’s painful to watch.

Setting the scene is a poem by a relatively obscure Victorian poet (The place – not the time period!) named Denise Cammiade called, Vegetative Seasons:

Plants chisel skyward
lean shoots weave through soil, grasp air
Vein this new drug, sun.

Corn dreams tall. Orchard
scents baste the leafy noon.
Grass shears marimba.

Asters sprawl mauvely.
The cabbage crouch like broody
hens. Rain staples down.

Brittle stalks rehearse
a subtle sky. Whistle tunes
sieve the sucked year.

While I don’t necessarily think Denise had climate change in mind when she wrote this poem, there’s a two-faced quality to it that’s somehow embedded with echoes of it. It’s as lush and pastoral as a Beethoven pastoral scene, but it’s also parched and desperate in a way that makes the piece feel more part of my era than the old master’s.

Come listen!

Friday, May 26th – 8pm @ Peace Mennonite Church, Richmond

Saturday, May 27th – 8pm @ St James Anglican Church, Vancouver

New Places To Find My Music – The CMC

When I first heard of the Canadian Music Centre I was probably too young to be anything more than dubiously impressed. The CMC offers a litany of services which include the archival, copying, and lending to consumers and creators of written-down-music (They call it concert music but I still have vocabulary issues with that term – a subject for a longer and more confusing post). Myself being part of one of the first generations to think of the internet as a physical appendage, I was skeptical of what the CMC could do for me that I couldn’t do with a laser printer and a domain name. Surely the most able person to steward my catalogue music was myself, I thought. How could I expect another human to absorb this thankless task?

I was in attendance at the VSO’s second annual New Music Festival when my thinking was flipped on its tuckus. Maestro Bramwell Tovey was describing his experience of coming to Canada for the first time and trying to act on a desire to program Canadian music in his concerts. As a new migrant, there was a knowledge deficit to fill. Where to go? The Gap? Stephen Harper’s record collection? The answer was his local chapter of the CMC.

For a composer hungry to promote his music, there’s a vociferous forehead slapping directness to the Maestro’s tale. If there is an organization out there willing to work for and with me then it’s my own obliqueness that prevents me with accepting the favour. So with that, I’ve recently joined the ranks of CMC’s Associate Composers. Soon you’ll be able to browse, borrow, and bogart my scores from various locations across Canada. Fly my pretties!

In other news…

On Saturday, September 3rd at 2pm, the Vandelay Quartet will be performing my string quartet, Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake at the Carnegie Community Center here in Vancouver (401 Main Street). It is being presented as part of a concert series, “Musically Yours”; a three-concert series that gives the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood the opportunity to experience and connect with live music in an intimate setting in their own neighbourhood – for free. I’ve become immensely proud of this piece of music. It’s like a perfect butterfly net that caught all the colours I hoped to catch and instead of imprisoning them, did the exact opposite.

On September 9th, 10th, and 11th at 7:30pm Vox Humana Chamber Choir will be performing my setting of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the Dominion Astrophysical observatory in Victoria. It promises to be a stunning event as the choir will be performing a celestial themed program under the stars of the observatory.

Hope to see you there somewhere!

 

 

What’s in a title? Also, what’s in my new string quartet “Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake”?

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Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake. Cake not pictured.

Over a YEAR ago I started working on this piece – only to be sidetracked by school and my Composer-in-Residence position with Laudate – and I finally managed to finish it! The other reason it took so long may be because it’s fairly up-tempo. In the case of composition, more ink on the page just means more work. But I digress…

The first thing you’re likely to notice about something that hasn’t been heard before is the title. Yes, this piece has a quirky title but it’s more than just a quirk for a smirk. I used to hate hate hate having to write a title on a piece. I longingly wished for the privilege of churning out “SYMPHONIES” and “SONATAS” and “SOFAS”. But if I were to take that philosophy to its logical extreme then why would I put a title on anything at all? I admit that the time savings would be generous but in a world where people insist on going to concerts titles are a powerful thing. Especially in classical music.

A title is, quite literally, the first thing a listener will encounter on their way to your music. While it can say a lot about the character and structure of the music it can also put the listener into the best possible emotional state for your music. Resist the urge to poo-poo that sentence if you can. The way in which we frame our music is a big deal and as proof I would cite an incident wherein Joshua Bell – arguably the grandest violinist in the world at the moment – played in a New York subway station for an audience of commuters that ignored him completely. It’s almost as if we could say we as a species can’t see the art when we lack the frame. A title is, in the best possible sense, a flare of the frame that can accentuate your work and help an audience connect with it.

In the case of, “Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake” I was going for something that captures a bit of the character of the music but also an emotional primer that gets a listener into the right state of mind. The humour element is a sort of an olive branch I outstretch from behind the manuscript paper that I’m starting to realize I’m good at wielding. I’m fairly self conscious about how classical music is perceived by the wider community and this is a way of defending classical music against this perceived elitism. Though if I’m being entirely honest I think some – or a lot – of that perception is accurate. And that’s a whole lot of blog post for another day.

Now to hunt a premiere…. I’m sure I can find one around here somewhere….

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Belated, yet elated, Thank-Yooze!

I’m sitting at my living room table with the door open with some coffee on the stove and my primary concern is if I have Carolan’s in my cupboard to make this mid day moment extra memorable.

A lot of stuff happened since September, and while some of it isn’t topically relevant to this blog, it is sufficient to mention that it is essential to the continuing conquest of music making that is my life. As for the best of the rest: OperaFeHk, The Vancouver Peace Choir, and The Laudate Singers. I am forever indebted to them as their efforts are the bedrock upon which I get to lay my path onwards and (hopefully) upwards. Thank-yooze seem to me to be insufficient so I hope there is something for them in seeing my excited fists pump my own drum roll when something amazing happens.

What an awesome season of music…. can’t wait for the next one!