I had recently written a string quartet and was gasping at how easy the process of getting it played was when a wind playing colleague rolled her eyes and let me in on a little secret: getting a group of winds to play together is not easy.
There are actual articulate reasons why it’s easier to put together a string quartet rather than a wind quintet but not all are equal. After all, the paroxysm that oboists are assholes is only true in some mumbledy-mum of mumbledy-mum cases.
Flute players are the best when you sit right next them. They are only second to clarinet players who practice and bassoons who exist. Speaking of which, they are nigh impossible to find. You’d have better luck finding a percussionist with lung capacity and training them from the ground up. The only downside to that approach is that as soon as they strike that sweet golden vein of competence they are whisked away to second chair in someone’s orchestra and are never heard from again.
French Horn is like a unicorn of unicorns. You know they exist because they leave little puddles of moisture everywhere but to actually see one – let alone harpoon one and get it to sit next to you – is about as easy as dividing seventeen by Thursday.
It feels good to be informed!
This is really great – almost too great – maybe it’s as though Alexander The Great had an unfortunately determined fling with Peter The Great and their lovechild went on to found a chain of unremarkable bed and breakfasts.
We – and by that I mean four people who aren’t myself but still somehow get through the day – just wrapped up a weekend of gnarly tango music with a side of my own string quartet, Patrick Stewart Bakes A Cake. If you’ve bothered to read this far, you probably didn’t realize that you skipped on past the recording at the top of the page.
It’s up there. Go have a listen and don’t come back!
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!
Where The Moon Goes is a piece written for choir, cello, and harp and was premiered this past spring by the Laudate Singers, Rebecca Wenham (cello), and Heidi Krutzen (harp). The music was written by myself and the text is based off of a poem by Genevieve MacKay entitled, A Childish Fear.
Genevieve’s poem appealed to me because I felt that it really captured something that I hunger to have in my composed music. For that, I am very grateful she consented to this collaboration. In her own words:
One of the things I remember most distinctly about being a child is the sense I had of wonder and possibility. When you’re constantly finding out new things about the world and how it works, it’s no stretch to believe, on waking in the middle of the night, that the giant glowing object on your bedroom floor is the moon, coming for an unexpected visit.
My favourite concert experiences are the ones where I felt like the sky was the limit and the roof of the hall was going to blow open at any moment to accommodate. I think this may be the reason for my attraction to setting nursery rhymes and comedic texts to music. The sense of wonder that Genevieve alludes to is something that stands in direct opposition to jadedness and that’s something I’d like to have not just in my music, but in my life in general.
A Childish Fear, by Genevieve MacKay
Last night, the moon
fell through my window.
I don’t know why. It’s not
supposed to do that.
It glowed so bright,
there at the end of my
bed. I was afraid until
I fell asleep.
I thought it meant
something bad, but
when I woke up this
morning the moon
had left me
a big, white
This Friday, the Laudate Singers might very well be premiering a piece of own (Don’t worry – they are). However, I’m at least wise enough to know when I’m in the presence of something magical and I feel obliged to hold up a big sign to let you all know that this concert is going to be all about Jocelyn Morlock’s Exaudi.
Exaudi was commissioned by Vancouver’s musica intima vocal ensemble in 2004 and it has gone on to be performed very widely and even been nominated for a Juno award in 2011. Scored for vocal ensemble and cello, it’s an extremely powerful statement of rising tension and catharsis. The composer says, “I wrote it after my grandmother had died so I wanted it to be in memory of her. In a weird way it’s a little bit about her life. Her husband died very young – young enough that she didn’t know what to do – so she tried to throw herself into the grave with him. It’s one of those stories your family tells you and you remember it forever”.
The first section of the piece begins with ritualized incantations from the choir that are soon joined by the cello. The opening figure from the cello seems to mimic what occurs in the choral parts but quickly fancies itself another foil. Once the opening elegy peters out, taking the cello with it, the women’s voices add a new urgency to the mix. The piece throttles up until the air is sundered with our largest sonority yet – completely unlike any other thing until now – and it’s at this point that the cello rejoins us by scraping the sky above the choir before tipping into the bedlam below.
The closing section draws us back from the earlier horror and more to a place of acceptance and peace. “She was stuck where she was but gradually became better” says Jocelyn about her grandmother. “As she became much older, the idea of death became very peaceful to her – very calming”. In these closing measures, the sopranos are invisibly roused by sweet melodic turns from the cello; an unmistakable mini tone-poem painting a choir of angels; and the piece closes on a prayer for eternal rest.
In the photo below, please note the proximity of the viola to the fire: an emergency countermeasure to an unforeseen cold snap.
Vancouver was treated to an exceptional gift this evening. Roomful Of Teeth performed a set of a cappella music almost completely unlike anything else you’ve ever heard before.
Billed as a project, “dedicated to mining the expressive potential of the human voice”, a major part of their mandate is to study non-western singing traditions and explore the possibilities therein through an ongoing commissioning process. An annual sequestration in an illegal choral music laboratory finds the group receiving instruction in a variety of vocal tradition from Tuvan throat singing, to Korean P’ansori, to Persian classical singing, to straight up yodeling. Commissioned composers then have access to an exceptionally wild palette of colors for their maniacal schemes.
This might quite possibly perhaps be the most gorgeous space to sing in North Vancouver. Laudate performed the setting of twinkle, twinkle, twinkle little star that I penned last spring. I almost choked on my folder during the opening measures the reverberation in this room was so lush.
You really can’t help but love how the world’s most amazing wind quintet, Carion incorporates movement and choreography into this performance of the master Ligeti’s famous Six Bagatelles.
Watching it, you realize that it’s not just a novelty but a brilliant guide through the form and structure of the piece. The ensemble uses movement and drama, not JUST as a tinge of something fun, but as a way of highlighting what’s happening in the piece. It’s stunning!