Some words, conversations, musings, stories

Backstage Vol. 11: Break a Stick 

Today I spent some good time playing a great game called "break-a-stick". I named it myself actually. What do you think? It's a very enjoyable game really, especially for my 9 year old golden lab retriever Barley. It might be one of his favourite games in fact, maybe even as good as straight-forward fetch.

Here's how to play. You (the human) go around looking for small twigs - not *too* small, they should be anywhere between a forearm's length and a full arms' length and not be so thick as to make breaking any real trouble - and once you've collected half a dozen or so, find a good spot to sit down. The sitting spot is key. It should have some kind of platform nice enough for you to sit, not so high as a chair, since you want to be on dog level to optimize the playing experience. Also you will need to find a spot with a good amount of relatively flat turf around so the dog can lie down in ideally two different spots during gameplay. I found several good spots here by my current summer home on the St Lawrence river. One is a nice rough lichen dusted rock that sits beside a few beds of dry moss and a sprinkling of now late-summer browning-to-browned grass. The other is the bottom step of some rock stairs leading up to a small brown cottage, below which is an open space of green grass, with the edge of a dockside garden on the right shaded by a handsome black spruce, and to the right, a tall maple standing with it's root snaking in and out of the small bank of the hill. This second spot is good if you are looking to be near to other people, whereas the first is a more secluded - knowing what kind of atmosphere you would like is also a critical choice. Finally, once you have found this spot, you must find a way to shield the twiggy treasures from a very excited dog as you proceed to sit down. Once seated, with a nice pile of twigs behind you, or sheltered between you and a rock perhaps, you can, one at a time pull out a crackling little twig and place it in the mouth of your doggy companion. The dog will proceed to turn away from you so as to walk and lie down to better break the stick (the action begins!). Depending on the stick, it could take a second, or several, or it even took a minute with a freshly fallen stick, still quite flexible and unwilling to snap. After the first stick is snapped, proceed to hand the next stick, and so on, until you are out of unbroken sticks. The game concludes with a satisfying survey of an array of new *smaller* twigs scattered around the playing field. What a delight!!

Of course I described a play-through with an eager lab, but the simplicity of the game gives it an impressive adaptability, you could even make this a single-player game if you wish.

Why is this such a great game? Why do I keep playing it? It doesn't have complicated rules, or strategies to engage in, it isn't the result of rigorous play-testing and quality checks.

Partly, and mostly, it gives me joy to see the glee my companion takes from the game. Seeing the expectant eyes, and eager anticipation in Barley's face as I hand him a stick, and the calm satisfied stick breaking manoeuvre is somewhat like getting a warm hug inside. Barley's satisfaction becomes mine, and of course his actions amuse me, as I'm sure mine do his in his own dog way of understanding it. I might pause to think and wonder how doing such a simple repetitive action over again and again could be so enjoyable for him, and then I realize that I am currently enjoying exactly that - simplicity, repetition. I feed him the stick, he feeds my heart. 


It's been some time.

It's not only quite a long time since I posted a blog, it has also been some time now since I've given a performance, played music with colleagues and friends, had any clear idea what the next gig will be.

We all know why the latter part of that sentence is true. It's very clearly not only artists who are suffering uncertainty during these days of global pandemic, and we are familiar with the personal ways it has been playing out in our own minds, with our families, with friends, co-workers, and communities. For me the initial shock of cancellations, essential travel, and disappointments has come and gone, but there are still constant questions, and worries floating in my head. Summer performance dates have come and gone, and none have happened; we are at home keeping each other safe. This is important, and so I have found myself needing to think about what to me is important in what I do, and how can I make that communicable when I'm able to share it more in public again, and how to communicate that still even now.

Break a Stick.

This period of no performances, no rehearsals, no jam sessions, this is hard. What do I desire from a performance? When I'm giving it, I am sharing all those sticks that I have happily, and carefully selected in expectation of sharing them soon; I can't wait to give them away, *these* sticks are not going to Barley, and they're not sticks per se, they are the music, the art, and they are for you, whoever you are and wherever you are when you experience the performance. When I watch a performance I want to see that satisfaction in the performer, that excitement, and self-assurance about the excellent sticks they have picked. This attitude is perceptible. Watching the performance I want something to nourish me, something that I can savour and take apart. It may be savoured and remembered only for a moment, however long it takes to perceive the music, it may be remembered and considered long afterwards. The same energy goes between two performers, or not even performers, rather two taking part in the music together, a constant flow of nourishing energy. At the core there is Love. There is love expressed in sharing, careful preparation, and there is love expressed in acceptance and gratitude, and there is Love (capital L) that connects the two. I feed him the stick, he feeds my heart. This has been largely missing these days. Of course I can share things online, and true sometimes a comment or two, or a message comes in afterwards, but there are more barriers to perceiving this flow of energy. So there, I am missing this, and that is what is hard right now.

So how do I make sure that this is the attitude I bring to what I do going forward? I have not approached every performance with this love in the past, and if one side isn't giving, then the simple, repetitive task really does become dull.

Well, one gift this silent time of COVID has given me, is time to think, to plan, dream, and create, grounded in this excitement. It hasn't really been that silent for me at all actually. I've been rather voraciously studying, trying things out, and learning new skills, partly because it's how my personality plays out in times of restriction.

Along with this blog (I've been wanting to write again here for some time now), I am going to be sharing more with you in the ways I can from a distance, eagerly creating, and assembling sticks to share for when we meet again. I am continually touched by the support and interest you openly share with me, and it feeds me with the desire to give.


Now it is late as I am writing this, Barley is lying on the floor, already deep in sleep, getting ready for a new day and another round of Break-a-Stick. He's breathing deeply, and steadily. How do I wrap my head around this complex simplicity? Stop. Listen.









Thanks for taking the time to read this blog today. If you want to share any thoughts please feel free to leave a comment on this post, or contact me at

You can also subscribe to my mailing list on my home page if you want to know what's happening next in my artistic life.

Backstage Vol. 10: Transitions 

The first thing I thought after I wrote the title of this blog were eye-glasses. Yea, you know 'transition lenses', the kind of prescription lenses that darken when they are in the sunlight and lighten in the dark so you can have both sunglasses and regular glasses at the same time. (Yay UV protection!)

I should really wear sunglasses sometimes, I have those light-sensitive blue eyes. Oh well. I've only ever briefly had a pair of my own, and I'm not counting the ones bought for me as a young boy which I enjoyed wearing much more indoors when I was pretending to be a 007 style super-spy. You know. As it is.

Anyways. Transitions. This is a music blog, perhaps you expect me to talk about some music theory details in the transition section of a sonata form piece that I am currently working on.

Well, yes I have played pieces in sonata form, but I am not working on any at the moment. They are sitting in the vault, awaiting their comeback. And that will come, I like to think that everything I've decided to put a lot of work into will serve me more than once, or for more than just a short period of time.

No. What am I going to talk about?

This has been a hard and constant question over the last number of weeks. I'm sure you've noticed I haven't posted since the end of March. And yes I have been busy. Busy finishing my Bachelor's degree, performing concerts. Traveling. But I'd like to think I will always have time to write something.

I have been doing a lot of things; there are many things to share! New adventures, endings of old ones. So much that I'm not sure what is worth taking the time *today* to share. My mind is a whirl, and I am having a hard time settling it down.

I shared this with my grandmother. We were having a drink before dinner, and what she said was important. We talked about transition.

I had a pretty smooth transition out of my student world into the professional in May. I played my final recital at school in Montreal, and two days later I was in Kingston rehearsing with Melos Choir and Period Instruments as their guest lutenist for their 'Sound Grounds' concert. That was nice. It's not like I haven't been working as a professional musician all this time, it's just this time, I wasn't also a student. I had done the work, I had a degree, I had experience and I felt like I had something of my own to offer.

That being said I'm heading right back to school in October to do a Master's program in Barcelona.


Today I saw a black bear lantern for sale on a buy and sell page on Facebook. It was carved out of a log. The bear was dark black when you lit the lantern because of the shadows, but since it was carved from light wood it was rather white in regular light. $200.

Sometimes I have this hope that life works somewhat like Sonata form. There's the main theme, then the transition and then wow, you get the subordinate theme, lovely contrasting commentary on what just happened, and you know that towards the end of the piece the main theme and the subordinate theme are going to make up their differences and be in the same key and we won't need the transition for so much anymore.

Also I'm not so sure what a transitionary period is. As far as I can tell-even though I seem to be living some kind of transition; one stage of adult life to another-I am still me, and I am still playing music, theorbo, guitar, you name it.

Here's a transition I really didn't think about. Now that I'm no longer a student, I don't have access to the school's facilities for practicing. I am more or less required to practice at home. And that means considering not disturbing roommates; rather difficult for someone who likes to start practicing at 7:00 in the morning. So far I have been sleeping later.


I rode quite a few trains in the last two months. That was fun. I like trains. I like trains that take you on longer journeys.

When I arrived in Paris a month ago, I took the RER train from Aeroport Charles de Gaulle to downtown (of course not without needing to switch trains because of workers strikes). This train was in rather bad shape. Lop-sided. It looked like it was half floating, with one side weighed down and dragging on the riverbed, the other angled awkwardly in the air. It was purple and yellow. If you touched anything it would take a moment as you move for your hand to peel itself off the thick coat of accumulated neglect. I felt like I was walking into an old toy from a set of action figures; one that even when you were 6 years old you could tell was out-dated and damaged. Sometimes the train would be underground and it would be dark. Sometimes it would be above ground. I saw La Stade France, or at least the parking lot. I got off above ground and switched into another train below where we had stopped. This one had lights, and it was white and green. Underground again.

These aren't my favourite trains. If I really had to pick a favourite it would be big freight trains that shoot past you at a terrifying velocity, so that when you stand close by it jolts your heart into keeping pace with its spinning wheels and screaming metal cars. I like that feeling. I also like taking the train between Montreal and Kingston. There is space and you can get on a train that leaves the station and doesn't stop until you arrive at your destination. 


Another thought I had recently. Actually not just a thought, but a memory. We were talking about dense contrapuntal music, and whether some of it is too academic, mathematical to be beautiful music (my stance is no), and I was brought back in my mind to the first time I heard music for the classical guitar. I was used to rock, folk, metal, style playing which is either strumming or mostly one voice melodic lines. When I heard a recording of a classical guitarist playing music, music with many voices plucked with the fingers of the right hand, I was blown away. I was sure that there were at least two guitarists playing, but the CD cover only mentioned one artist! As I began to study the classical guitar of course I learned that polyphony and independence of voices is possible and standard to the style, and consequently I forgot about this experience I had. I lost that amazement, shock even, that I was hearing so many things at the same time. It doesn't impede me from appreciating the music, but my 'informed' perception of it is very different now. Complex counterpoint then can be satisfying to the trained ear that enjoys trying to pick out all the tricks and tools the composer has used, and how the interpreter exposes them, but my memory from the beginning of my journey with "classical" music was a sensory experience of a whole different kind. Yet, now that I have been reunited with this memory, my mind is open to hearing music in a new way. Maybe not entirely new, but somewhat changed from the way I have been perceiving it for the last little while.


The number of ways to experience one phenomenon is so vast that I am finding I discover things anew every single day. This is in a way both delightful, thrilling, and scary, sickening. It's hard to just sit comfortably on a rock that you are sure is not going anywhere, and be undisturbed by the constantly changing shapes and sounds around you, when you yourself know that you are equally as inconstant and also maybe not as stable as that rock you are sitting on. 

I really need to get new eye-glasses. They are in disrepair and the prescription is too light for me, and I'd rather not squint to read signs. It will be nice to see clearly again for a little bit, with the comfort of knowing that I am only at the very beginning of the next stage, and the disorientation and squinting is still a long ways off. And who knows whether when I do get this new pair of glasses if I will say, 'Yes, this is better, but it wasn't so terrible before.' or 'What is wrong with you that you didn't do this sooner!?'


In the meantime, I still practice every day, and that makes me happy.




Thanks for giving this a read today! I've been in and out of the online world a lot recently and I am very happy to be sharing with you again.


If you're wondering when the next time you can see me perform is, or what project I'm working on next, check out my events page, as well as my Facebook and the Cygnus Trio .

If you feel like leaving a comment or starting a conversation, don't hesitate to share or message me directly at

Until next time!

Backstage Vol. 9: A chipped nail 

10:15pm. Sherbrooke west, NDG. "Do you know the way to the metro?"

5 minutes later. "I'm learning to listen, and to be heard, it's important to have real connections with people in life."

"So what do you do?, what is something you enjoy doing? That's a better question."

35 minutes later, Plateau du Mont-Royal. "It's not unusual for me to talk with strangers, but this has been different."

"Thank you so much for this, this was special."


Sunday morning. 8:33am. St Laurent Boulevard. Plastic cups clopping like horses' hooves on the pavement. "Saucisses chaudes" written in the snow on the sidewalk.


Early March. Parc Jeanne Mance. A three day warm spell hovering between -2 and +3 degrees celsius. Just enough snow has melted to expose about 20 feet of gravel path. A dozen friends are out taking advantage of the conditions to play Pétanque


August. Lachine canal. 5:40pm. Ice cream cones bouncing up and down in the hands of children dancing to the music.

I've been thinking lately how I'm going to miss this city - Montreal - when I move away this summer. What does it mean to miss something?


All of these images that I opened this blog with I could say are things that, immediately after experiencing them, I missed. The thought, "This was special", so often makes me also think "but why is it over? I want to experience it again!" Maybe I will, maybe I won't, it sure was good though and is good to think about.

The hardest things to have disappear are people. "I'm learning to listen." I'm learning to appreciate. "I'm learning to be heard" I'm learning to take part. Even if hundreds or even thousands of people pass by you everyday, if  just one of them is someone you can look at and say something to, and then if that person says something back and you listen, it suddenly makes up for any missed experiences of that day. And when that interaction is over...well, it's over. Right?


Saturday night, the big night out, the big party. Sometimes when I'm walking home on Saturday evening I intentionally avoid walking down St Laurent boulevard because it's crowded and noisy and smelly. Then again, sometimes I don't avoid, sometimes I want to experience it. At some point later on though, before the sun rises, everyone disappears. They go back home, the parties are all over.

Sunday morning. It's quiet. Correction: almost quiet. Last's nights' revellers didn't leave with out a trace. clop, clop, clop. My first thought, "Wow where's the horse?" second thought "Have I travelled back in time?" third thought "No, silly, but that nice noise is that plastic cup rolling around down the street." Trash it may be, and yes don't get me wrong, you should put your trash in the bin! (Take care of our planet please.) Trash it is. It is also an impression of last night, part of the who, the what. It's the aftermath, the St Laurent hangover, call it what you will, it's many things.


Montreal. It has this vibrant tenacity. "Yes it may not be warm by summer's standards, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to go outside and play." Let's have an all-night festival in February! Weather doesn't stop the flow of energy here. Even though there are extreme seasons. Winter is fine, it's cold, whatever, but then there are these two seasons that somewhat encircle it of brown slush, gravel and grey snow. You'd think everyone would just give up. But one of the days in these seasons is going to be beautiful and cloudless, and everyone seems to know that it will be the moment to act and to enjoy themselves, and well if it that day takes too long to arrive, there seems to be this collective decision to "just go out anyways". If enough people have walked the same path through the park eventually the footprints in the snow will make a path that is easy to walk. I experience this in my daily commute through the park in the winter time. In the beginning the going is tough, but amazingly it gets easier. And then another big snowfall comes and we start again.

Summer really does come along eventually (along with the terrasses), and it's a big, crazy, colourful, childish, enthusiastic dance.


So about that thought. "why is it over? I want to experience it again!" Sometimes I can do something again. I could cook a meal for myself, enjoy it, and make it again tomorrow if I like. What if that's not an option: I met this person once in the evening, on the street, at a party, and an hour or so later we parted ways: I practiced outdoors in the park and met some musicians passing by who joined me for a while.

In a way I experience these things over and over again. Not in their entirety, although sometimes in a similar way. These moments leave their mark on me, a little cup rolling down my boulevard. These moments are so pure because they can be nothing but themselves, since I can never possibly hope to recreate them exactly as they were, I won't, and I will always wonder at them.

I chipped my middle finger nail last week.

If you are, know, have talked to, or are interested in a classical guitarist, you're most certainly aware of the importance of finger nails.

I like to think that my finger nails are the most perfect part of my body. Carefully shaped, maintained and used for the purpose of creating the ideal sound from my instrument. Years have been dedicated to discovering the right shape, finding the right materials to care for them and learning how to go about daily life without breaking them. And then. Somehow. As always. One of them gets chipped. What a pain!! I used fake nails full time for quite a while as a solution to this problem, but I have come to appreciate the sound of real nails more (even if the difference is subtle). Of course if I'm in a pinch I will put on a fake, but I have just under two weeks til my next performance. Is it enough time for it to grow long enough that I can cut out the chip? What's more, can I bear to hear myself practice and play with a less than perfect sound? Does this inhibit me?? Oh, the torment!


I know, I know. You're wondering, "what on earth does this have to do with what he was talking about before?" Experiences sure can give you good memories, and make you happy, but they certainly can't magically repair a broken nail. ....What a shame hey?

Here's what I've been pondering though. I miss having a beautiful conversation with a stranger. I miss my childhood home. I will miss the city of Montreal. I miss having an unbroken nail. Are these all the same? What does it mean to miss something?

In the case of my nail, I am upset and I want the good nail back, and I will have that given time. But these other things. Are they things that I can really have back? I've actually talked about this before in my Lost Islands Blog

Maybe I need to stop stressing about the state of my nail, but it is driving me crazy, every time I look at my hand I see this imperfection! There is no room for broken nails on my hand!

There might be room however, when it comes to what I experience in life. If I chose one of those little things that touched me and decided to dedicate all my energy to keeping it that way and to reliving it, I could very well become oblivious to everything else that is waiting to leave an impression on me, or for me to leave a mark on it. 

I have to learn how to listen, and how to be heard.

So Montreal, I will continue living in you for the next four months, then I leave and maybe one day I will return, but for me you will always be a beautiful chipped fingernail. The impossible maybe, certainly I think that is fitting. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I love your chipped-ness.

What are some things you love about where you live? Or are there moments that you wish you could relive? When was the last time you broke a fingernail? 

Let me know in a comment or a email me at

Until next week!

Backstage Vol. 8: Here and there  

It's been about a month since my last post. And I know, I know, the first thing I learned about being a blogger is.... 'Be consistent!' And here we are with a rather delayed 8th backstage blog. Please accept this blog my dear readers.

There are a lot of things I have to share. We'll see what fits with today. This blog may twist and turn. In my head I feel somewhat like a charging rhinoceros who really likes the colour red. And yellow. Oh! And anything sparkly. And purple wigs. And the Maia nebula. And...well you get the point.


I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100,00


What happens in the space of a month?

One thing for sure. 

I spent a lot of time getting from one place to another. In fact, I think I spent most of my time getting from one place to another. Let's see. 6:30 in the morning the 1st of March, I lifted myself up, transported my entire physical body from my bed to the kitchen..somehow hitched up my mind and dragged it along with me to get my day started. And then there were all sorts of little journeys during the day-to the water fountain, to the window to get a closer look at the squirrel sitting in the tree outside-and there was the 35 minute walk to to campus, and the 35 minute walk home, complemented by any extra travel needed on any given day.

And I'd like to say that at this point in my life I have become pretty efficient about getting myself from one place to another. But have I become good at it?

Let's delay the answer to that question for a moment.

Another good chunk of my time is spent practicing my instrument(s), thinking about music, repeating motions in order to perfect passages and improve technically. Actually when I sit down to practice I'm still working on getting from one place to another. My fingers take many miniscule journeys up and down the strings of my instrument, all directed by the master traffic manager sitting in my brain. And these motions are supposed to create music, but how? It's so easy especially when working directly on technical exercises to neutralize the brain's perceptive capabilities and to just let the muscles repeat their motions over and over again.


Here's what I like about walking. I'm relatively good at controlling my legs to propel me forward. I can pay attention to what's happening around me as I pass through city frame after city frame. My commute is interesting because I often walk the same path twice a day, but even if the backdrop is the same,  each time there are different people, animals, noises, empty pizza boxes, flowers, clouds, name it... Each time I accomplish the same task; that is to get somewhere (usually the same place as the day before). I also enjoy a sense of mental relaxation when I walk. The walk becomes a time of day where I don't dedicate myself to work, but instead I am this thing that is in between places, between my work and between my home, it's freeing, and I get to do this everyday.


Each time I play a scale I accomplish the same task I did maybe just seconds before. Each time I perform a piece, I make the same physical movements I did the last time. There's something to a single movement though. I may press my third finger down on the fret board to play the same note as I have countless other times, but this time it lands slightly different, this time I am thinking about something slightly different and it ends up sounding one way or another.

I have to be aware in the way that finger would be aware of its surroundings if it could see and hear and think. This is how I am able to practice the way I do. There are certainly days were I have a hard time opening my mind to perceive these small events, and on those days working on technical exercises are a real hard chore. But the more I work on perception and the more aware I can be in these working moments I find these tasks that may on the surface sound and look mundane to be full of inspiration.


Sometimes though, I'm not the best at getting myself to a destination. Sometimes it's too far to walk and I need help. Not too long ago I was in one of these situations. Actually it's not so unusual is it, I don't know anyone who can get themselves *anywhere*. Over the past month I've been doing a lot of long distance traveling, from being in Toronto for the Cygnus Trio's last performance, to Kingston to perform there, and I'll be heading back to Ontario in April, again in May, and then to France, and well a lot of places that my two legs would take me a long time to reach. So I rely on other people. I often find taking a cab to be interesting...well either interesting or somewhat awkward...but when you get into the cab you hope for the best. Recently I was heading to the north end of Montreal with my archlute, which as I've hinted at before is often somewhat of a conversation starter. Anyways, the cab driver was enthusiastic to talk about music, and shared with me some information about music from his home country of Nigeria. What stood out to me was the Talking Drum. This is an hour-glass shaped drum with chords tied along it lengthwise and can mimic tones of human speech. He told me that historically it would be used by royalty to address the people, and I even learned that some drummers have names that can be played on this instrument. The idea of mimicking the human voice is not foreign to other musical traditions, but this particular instrument seems to have integrated with language in a unique way. 

What does this have to with walking and practicing and performing? Well perhaps this is just a particularly sparkly rock that distracted me this afternoon, but on the other hand it's an example of a means of communication. Communication is not just something that I'm trying to improve between my mind and my movements, but I'm also trying to improve my communication as a performer, with you, a listener. I don't have an instrument that mimics human speech, nor am I usually speaking while playing a piece of music, but I do experience new things everyday, and I'm always learning about what makes me notice, remember and relate to them. My goal then is really to be you. No, I don't mean I'm going to try and steal one of your hairs or something and brew up a potion, don't worry. I mean I want to become part of my own audience, to react to what I hear, to be able to anticipate, to be surprised, to perceive in real time.

So did you guess the number?


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Backstage Vol. 7: Lost Islands 

Adieu ces bon vins de Lannoys,

Adieu dames, adieu borgois,

Adieu celle que tant amoye, Adieu toute playssante joye,

Adieu tout compaignons galois.


De moy serés par plusieurs fois

Regretés par dedans les bois

Ou il n'y a sentier ne voye;

Puis ne scaray que faire doye,

Se je ne crie a haute vois:



Some of the lyrics of a famous chanson by 15th century composer Guillaume Dufay. This tune Adieu ces bons vins de lannoys is a sad farewell to pleasant times, and a rather bleak description of the speaker's life in the present. You can listen to a good (although frustratingly incomplete) recording of this piece on youtube here In english this excerpt reads

Farewell, you fine wines of Laon,

Farewell ladies, farewell townsfolk,

Farewell she whom I loved so much,

Farewell all pleasing joy,

Farewell all bawdy companions.


You will frequently by me

Be missed, in the woods

Where there is no track or way;

Then I shall not know what to do,

Unless to cry out in a loud voice:



There is another verse that talks of not finding beans and peas, and being frequently bored. If you don't already know this song, you may still find the text to sound familiar. A bitter departure, longing and nostalgia are all things that I've experienced, and will certainly experience again. Actually these are all things I am reminded of and feel when I listen to this music. 

Why am I starting my blog with this sad song?

I am filled with these feelings right now; feelings that are particularly relevant to the Cygnus Trio concert coming up this Thursday. Memory, place, loss, nostalgia. What wonderful ideas to make music about. As you can see in the text of Dufay's chanson people have been singing sad songs far longer than you or I have. And why not? The emotional intensity is captivating.

The Lost Islands program that we will be performing came about when Ben, Erica and I were brainstorming and suddenly hit upon a subject that moved us emotionally. This is what I want to share today; I want to explain the genesis of this project, and how we have put it together.

Programming is at once extremely enjoyable, like coming up with an exciting dream to realize, and difficult. I don't want to simply create a list of pieces to be played in public, I want to craft a program that is emotionally, and intellectually engaging, something that is structurally cohesive so as to create a path the audience member can follow through the concert experience. That being said, I also don't want to prescribe a specific way of experiencing the concert for everyone. How is this done? There are obviously many ways: it can centre around a specific piece of set of pieces, or a particular style of music. This wouldn't be an interesting read at all though if I just listed a bunch of ways to design a program, which is why I will focus on Lost Islands.

Here's where it started. We had Arie van de Ven's 'Algoma Miniatures' which were looking for an opportunity to premiere, and needed to fit this piece into a program. We spent some time looking through our existing ensemble repertoire and thought Anita Perry's 'Okanagan Vignettes' complemented 'Algoma' nicely, it being another piece inspired by a specific region of Canada. Next step, can we incorporate more Canadian elements into the program? We searched for folk stories and here we found something inspiring. Lost Island stories. Islands discovered and even inhabited for a time which disappear. This got us thinking about the 'Islands' in our lives. Ben and I, having spent formative years growing up in Okanagan Valley reflected on our returns to this former home after our move away, and how in a sense the 'Island' is lost to us. Think about a meaningful place from your past. It could be a childhood home, or a schoolyard, a town, a forest trail. In my mind, memory collects the experience of these places, so that when I go back later in life (on a new set of strings shall I say) the experience is of course, different. It could be wonderful, I could think it is better, it could think it's worse, or it could be neither, but it is different. My memories could be beautiful, I could be longing to go back to them (De moy serés par plusieurs fois / Regretés par dedans les bois / Ou il n'y a sentier ne voye;) they could be painful, but regardless the emotions of a certain part of my life become attached to a place, or the memory of a place.

These thoughts made the three of us emotional. My eyes were tearing up. We were on to something.

This idea of memory and loss was particularly poignant to us at the time. Some of the key components of our upbringing were changing. For Ben and me, our parents were moving from British Columbia (where we both spent the first 18 years of our lives) to Toronto, a connection to our long time home was disappearing. At the same time Erica's grandmother moved out of the home she built with her husband decades ago. The home that was the focal point for family gatherings all through her life. In addition to this it was a couple weeks before Ben and Erica's wedding! Not a minor life event for them to say the least. In the midst of all this change we had found a folk story tradition that spoke directly to us.

The trick for us at this point was to create a concert program that can share all of these emotions and be general enough to be able to invite the public to experience these feelings with us. We don't want to stand up in front of crowd and say "This is how I'm feeling because this happened to me...blah blah blah..look at my specific experience...relate!!!" No, we want to invite people to have their own experiences. So how do we do this? In order to make this work, we thought that we couldn't lay it out like a traditional concert where we play a piece, audience applauds, we bow, play another piece, more applause, we bow... etc.. etc.. To create an immersive experience, more akin to a theatrical performance we decided to string our musical selections together with poetry to be read by a professional actor to create a mixed media presentation, allowing the program to flow and with the added effect of not exhausting an audience with a long sit through of one kind of material.

We had a solid concept, and we had two pieces of music. With these ideas floating around it suddenly became quite easy to recall a piece that would fit nicely into the program. I remembered a solo guitar piece written by my first classical guitar instructor Selwyn Redivo called 'Okanagan Landscapes", Erica proposed Missy Mazzoli's 'Dissolve O my Heart', another piece imbued with references to past experience, and we rediscovered some of my folk song arrangements.

Also integral to our program are our collaborators: composer Arie van de Ven, actor Paul Hopkins, and poet Nancy Holmes who's work, skill, and gifts will make this experience possible!

Here's what our final program looks like.

Lost Islands

Okanagan Landscapes - Selwyn Redivo

Grassland Equations - Nancy Holmes

Okanagan Vignettes - Anita Perry

The Lake Isle of Innisfree - William Butler Yeats

Dissolve O my heart - Missy Mazzoli

Off the Path, in the Dark Woods - Nancy Holmes

Simple Gifts - Traditional arr. Jonathan Stuchbery 

I Saw Three Ships - Traditional arr. Jonathan Stuchbery

Ferries - Jane Urquhart

Algoma Miniatures - Arie Van de ven

Black Bear - Nancy Holmes

Teardrop Waltz - Reg Bouvette


Read more

Backstage Vol. 6: To Fold or not to Fold? (The program) 

Here's a question. One that comes to my mind at least as frequently as I attend a concert.

Do I fold the program at the end so that I can fit it into my pocket when I go home, or do I preserve it and risk dropping it, or getting cold fingers outside, or do I just leave it?

Most recently I folded the fit it into the pocket inside my jacket. Will this influence my decision later on to look at the program in the future? Would I ever look at it again anyway? Does it make my box full of concert programs messy and unorganized? Does any of this matter?

Before being able to answer any of these questions, I must say that I have taken all three options, as I'm sure you probably have too. And yes, the performance itself has an influence on whether we want to keep the program in the first place. There are many reasons I might want to keep the program. Here are a few examples: 1. I have a personal connection to one or many of the performers or to the subject matter, 2. I discovered something new and I want to learn and hear more of it later, 3. I performed in this concert. But when it actually comes to the end of the performance I'm still faced with this problem. What. Do. I. Do. With. The. Program. Sometimes just the question itself is enough to make me decide to leave it where it is and go home without it. Why is it such a big deal you may ask. Well, it's not, it really isn't a big deal, but it is some kind of deal, I don't know what size, but it is a deal.

It turns out that this is the kind of decision I make everyday in my practice and performance time. You might be saying, well of course me too, I have to decide whether to alphabetize my bookshelf, or keep the extra sauce and pasta in separate containers or mix them together before storing them, and you would be absolutely right, it's not too out of the ordinary. But with regards to practicing, this is a really important decision, it is slightly more nuanced, and it will ultimately influence (whether you understand it intellectually or intuitively) how you experience the music I perform. This question for me is one of research. The 'program' is an historical artifact and I am a scholar. As I've been working on a set of pieces from Gaspar Sanz's Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española,1674, as an example, I have been reading his preface and other articles on the baroque guitar to gather information on how Sanz may have intended this music to played, how he proposed the guitar should be tuned, how to execute certain ornaments among other things.

Now, do I do exactly what I read and keep this crisp, well designed, program in pristine condition? I like looking at old programs that I've kept in tact; it looks very neat.

Do I fold this program? I have done terrible things to programs before, folded them this way and that so that when I look at them again months down the line I just toss them with the scrap.

There may be other factors (in fact there usually are) that influence my decision. A very simplistic example: Sanz says that ideally the fourth and fifth strings on the guitar should be tuned without basses, making the third string the lowest; but I also want to play a suite by Robert de Visée in the same performance who would have had a bass on the fourth course. Seeing how I have the technical ability to isolate either the bass or the octave of each string in most cases, today I would opt for the French tuning proposed by de Visée. But I could have decided simply not to play de Visée and stick to Sanz and music with this tuning. This is a rather minor fold in the program, but they can get much more complicated.

This kind of research is important, it allows me to make decisions instead of simply romping aimlessly through a piece of music; discovering information about playing technique, and interpretive suggestions gives me the tools to make informed decisions of my own about my performance. Any information that I have decided to add, keep, or omit from a piece of music directly reflects my experience of the piece to the rest of the world, because you know I've thought about it.

I haven't answered my initial question though have I? What do I do with that program? What is the answer? The answer is, well, you know, not really sure. The thing about trying to keep it perfectly in tact is that I've certainly made little creases on the paper from the grip of my hand while I was holding, and if I fold it for ease of transportation I might accidentally tear it and lose a piece of information. Both ways I've actually had an effect on it's appearance. What if I try to keep it in tact, but I go outside and it is pouring rain, forcing me to either fold it or let it get wet? Also, some programs may not be worth keeping. There are so many decisions to be made, but the more decisions there are, the more reasons I have for doing any particular thing. Isn't this exciting? Having this abundance of choices makes the process of preparation more difficult, yes, and likely makes this a life-long process, but by virtue of its complexity it allows you to show always more and more of yourself through your (inconstant) "final" product.

You'll have to tell me next time what you think I've done to my latest program, or tell me what you are doing. Or maybe you could teach me how to fold a paper crane. That sounds fun. I never learned how to do that.

The next concert I attend, I still know that at the end of the performance I will be stuck with this question. To fold or not to fold? And it will occupy me for just a few seconds, and I will struggle with it, and then I will get on with my life.


Thanks for reading this weeks blog. Feel free to leave a comment or drop a message in my inbox - I'd love to keep the conversation.


Backstage Vol. 5: Changing Strings 

The other day I had a bit of a disappointing experience. I had restrung my guitar the day before, played them, settled them in, and when I went to practice the next morning... well, I didn't like how they sounded. Okay. Fine. No big deal right? I'll put on different strings next time. The thing is though, I've been using this same brand and type of string almost uniquely for the past three years and I have had nothing but positive comments about them. So what changed?

I carefully checked the intonation, inspected the surface of the strings, and they certainly weren't flawed; in fact they sounded pretty much exactly like any other set of these strings (I won't mention the name, I don't want to discourage anyone from trying them out on their instrument). There was nothing wrong with them, they were good strings. But I had an expectation for how I wanted a new set of strings to sound which was totally disappointed. It *is* possible that the composition of the strings was different, despite not being marked or advertised. But on the contrary I think that perhaps my ear wants to hear my instrument differently now.

Musicians inevitably get to know their instruments very well, we spend hours everyday touching it, hearing it, even...tasting it? to some extent..I suppose..if you play a wind instrument (although I don't think this is important............question wind there such thing as a flavoured mouthpiece??.... I digress). I certainly also smell the fragrance of the wood that makes up my guitar.

For those of us with string instruments, this very temporary, aging, wildly variable, essential material, the string is what, in the end, makes our instrument functional. There is something like this for all musicians, reeds, mouthpieces, mallets, vocal chords, etc.

Now, this presents a huge contrast of, the instrument: the wood, the shape, the bridge etc, vs. the string: nylon, gut, metal, carbon fibre, you name it there are countless materials one can use to make a string these days. The former is constant, it's what we know and (hopefully) love and that we hold in our hands every day, the latter is in a strange place; by that I mean, yes we touch strings on our instrument every day as well, but they are always changing, for me a set of strings last no longer than (shock and awe) two weeks. If we go back a few hundred years, the highest string on a lute might only have had a lifespan of two days before it would break! If you're interested in learning a bit more about lute strings in history I would recommend watching this video Tuning the Heart Strings [me:mo] made by lutenist Lukas Henning. It's worth noting in his video the references to strings that appear in everyday metaphors and also that the material which made your string was of utmost importance to the sound you wished to create as a musician.

The at once constant and temporary nature of our instruments is really no different than the nature of ourselves as individuals. And this is maybe where I find the answer to my earlier question: what changed? Maybe that question isn't even specific enough. Maybe I should ask, what was changing, that changed this, that changed that, that caused me to think that, that changed this etc..... since each change modified a very small detail. If I change strings every two weeks, I'm sure I change my mind about things much more frequently. The answer though, is also more complex than simply "I changed my mind" even if that IS the truth. There is a constant in me; that I am alive and I am have this fleshy boney stuff I call a body. There is a temporary part of me too. Like strings it is developing, aging, wildly variable, always essential. There is one difference though, and that is that after two weeks I don't extract this thing (call it my heart) from my body, throw it in the rubbish bin, and replace it, but instead it is more like I cover it with a new layer; the difference between the instrument and me is that for me each set of strings is cumulative. Picture an instrument that was built to be this way, it would have to be massive, infinitely large actually. The first set of strings are strung, they live their life and it's time for new set, but instead of removing them, the new set is added below, while what is left of the old strings continues to resonate sympathetically to with the new strings as part of the instrument. If we repeat this process forever we'd end up with an instrument of impossible complexity, with infinite strings ringing with the very small number of strings that are being touched by the musician. The closest I've ever been to hearing something like this was a couple years ago in a guitar shop in Toronto. I set up in a small room not bigger than a walk in closet, but with very high walls on all sides from which a few dozen guitars were hanging. Playing a guitar in that room set all the others into ringing, and since they were not all tuned the same way, more notes resonated than you'd typically expect from a six-string guitar.

In short, I have to start a new process of discovery. I will be trying many sets of strings and listening to hear what sounds right not only on my guitar, but what sounds right to my sensibility as a musician. The strings are what bring the magic of the instrument to life, we musicians have to think tirelessly to discern a sound that's appropriate to our instrument, to the music we are playing, and most importantly to find a sound that we love. This takes time, and as I've noticed it also changes with time, so when next you listen to a musician think about their sound, it has a lot to do with their technique yes, but it has even more to do with the materials they've chosen and their musical intention, which is, shall I say a huge part of what makes the 'heart and soul' of their music.

Now I have to decide what do with this box full of strings at home that I don't really want anymore, perhaps I'll make some trades!

Thanks for reading this week's blog. As always I enjoy hearing your thoughts. And as a side question today, what do you think would be the best flavoured mouth-piece? Spearmint? Salmon tartare?

Remember you can always subscribe to my mailing list on the home page of my website to keep up to date on my projects and performances, and if you enjoyed this or any of my other blogs feel free to share!

Until next week

Backstage Vol. 4: Performance - Interview with Sylvain Bergeron 

The past few weeks I've talked about music off the performance stage, but today, with my guest Sylvain Bergeron we're going to delve into this critical aspect of our lives - the show itself.

Sylvain Bergeron is an outstanding lutenist living in Montreal, and my instructor at McGill on lutes and baroque guitar. For those of you who are not performing artists, this can shed some light on what it's like on stage, and what this career is like, and for those of you who do perform Sylvain has a lot of experience and a great approach to being on stage.


Can you tell us a bit about your career as a performing artist? 

Well, it all started when I was around 22, I was in Quebec city just starting on the classical guitar, coming from the folk guitar tradition. Through my older brother’s collection of albums, I fell in love with a Troubadour disc by Studio der Fruneh Musik on Telefunken; the sound of the instruments, the freedom in the preludes, it all pleased me a lot and I decided to switch to the lute. I joined a group called Ensemble Anonymus which became very successful, and I toured with that group for about 10 years. I later moved to Montreal, learned baroque music and instruments, and have played with many groups for many years. 

You’ve had a long performance career that has taken you all over the world, are there any performances that have stood out to you? 

I remember memorable tours in South America, beautiful concert halls in Paris, Berlin and Tokyo, excellent audiences, food and wine in Europe, turista in Mexico,  awesome people and beaches in Brazil... but my best memory was waking up on the Pacific Coast on Vancouver Island, having a morning walk near Tofino... So beautiful! Unfortunately, there was a school show at 9:00 in Ucluelet, so we could not stay long! 

When I see you perform I am always struck by how poised you are on stage, is there a way you developed this calmness? 

There's 3 things; first I  don’t get nervous easily and when I am, know how to handle it (breathing). Second, I consider that people come to hear you play, not to see you suffer from anxiety, so I do my best to reflect a serene mood. Third, for playing the lute you need to be relaxed, a bit like the harp. That is different for trumpet, violin or piano I suppose. 

Do you have any backstage rituals? 

I'm a bit obsessed with tuning, so do a lot of backstage tuning (never on stage). I also do a bit of massage/warming on both hands (specially the left). If I feel a bit of nervousness coming, I chase it with slow and deep breaths and concentration. 

How can an audience effect performance? 

A lot! A receptive and attentive audience (in a good acoustic) is ideal and really helps the performer. Otherwise, it takes a lot of effort from the artist to get through. Still, it is important to avoid showing any form of impatience. You never know who's in the hall, you should always make as if it were your last performance (ouch!). 

Here is a question I know many learning musicians and performers have. How do you approach practicing for a performance? It’s one thing to practice alone and prepare a part, but to play what you have prepared in front of an audience can be a very different experience. Do you have any thought on this? 

First, you have to be extremely well prepared. Not just repeating each pieces over and over but carefully working every detail, slowly, until it's sounds as you want. Then, you go to organizing the program, grouping pieces, tempo, timing, etc. You need to organize all this in your mind until it's crystal clear before trying to share it with public. The rest is a matter of self-conditioning; you tell yourself how much the audience wants to hear you play, love the instrument, the music, etc. All positive, no negative! Of course, it helps to talk a bit to the audience. 

You have performed a lot as both a soloist and as an ensemble musician, how have you found these experiences differ? 

I'm primarily an ensemble musician who happens to like playing solo as well, which happens now more and more often. I really think my ensemble experience helps me to play solo; shaping phrases and nuances as if an ensemble were playing, considering each part I play, individual instruments, etc. On the other hand, sound and technique is different; obviously, when you play solo, you're more exposed. The good news is that, when something's wrong, you're the only one to blame! 

You are one of the founding members and artistic directors of La compagnie Musicale la Nef. What role does planning programming and performances for this group play in your career? 

La Nef is 25 years now and is able to live by itself. I'm very proud of that. In the last 8 years or so, I've been slowly retiring, keeping only some touring programs and specific projects. This is a normal situation; the time and energy you put in when you start a group changes through the years. I've been away quite often in the last 10 years,and my teaching is taking more of my time (which I like). 

What is it about performing that makes you keep doing it? How is it fulfilling to you? 

Mastering an instrument like the lute (or the lutes, I should say) takes forever. The more I play, the more I get closer to what I want, but it's not quite there yet, so I should continue! 

Are there any projects that you are working on now which we can see soon? 

In solo, I'm working on a new CD project of Late Renaissance Fantasias. As an ensemble musician, I'm looking forward to some awesome programs coming soon: Dido and Aeneas, Ode to Saint-Cecilia, The Return of Ulysses, etc 

Bonus question. What music that you would take with you to a desert island? 

4 Bach Orchestral Suites, Jethro Tull, The Doors and Genesis.


My hope is that from hearing Sylvain's perspective you might be inspired to perform and be authentic about *yourself*. This is something critical that I draw from his understanding; that as an individual your audiences are coming to see *you* because you are capable of communicatoing something that no one else can. Along the same vain, to understand that you are fully responsible for your own performance allows us to take ownership of every moment on stage. I think this is important to being genuine on stage. When we prepare, we go through the composers markings or discuss ideas with a group, or as historical performers we practice historically informed techniques, but when we get on stage it's important to take whatever we have assimilated into ourselves and just be ourselves; that's what the audience is there for afterall.

But what if you're not why they're there? What if you are playing for a public or school event where in some way your audience is obligated to see your program, whether they know and like you or not? In this case having a grasp of yourself, and what that means when you're onstage is even more important! People are often skeptical, especially of something they are unfamiliar with or claim not to like, so if you don't appear to be all there, able to direct yourself, your intentions then there's a good chance you'll lose your audience.

Of course we performers are always learning from our experiences, shaping our personal expression on stage and learning practical things to help us succeed. 

What are some of your thoughts about performance? From the audience perspective, from the artists perspective? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

You can learn more about Sylvain on his website

Backstage Vol. 3: Walk in the Park  

The majestic metre and a half long span of the archlute's extended neck instantaneously transforms into an awkward and ridiculous burden when it's put in its case to be carted around town. In particular, the lute I am frequently using (property of McGill) is equipped with what is perhaps the most dreadful, large and unappealing case possible. It's as if I were dutifully taking up the yoke of obscurity, and being punished for my interest in something that hardly anyone else knows to even care about. 

Well, at least this is what I thought as I limped home from a rehearsal in the Plateau du Mont-Royal-thrusting this mighty case forward, letting my body swing after it with the forward momentum. But that evening something funny happened. Really it was quite bizarre, and I don't know if I will ever experience something like it ever again. I had crossed Ave du Mont-Royal, heading south on Garnier, eagerly rushing forward knowing that I only had a few blocks to go before I could open the front door to my apartment, set my burden down on the floor, and collapse in my armchair, when a man came running up behind me, shouting (politely) at me to stop.

"Is that an archlute?" he panted.

I didn't understand him at first. I was utterly unprepared for that question.

"Sorry?" I said.

So again he asked me "Is that an archlute?"

Understanding his question, I chuckled a little bit and said "YES! This is an archlute." 

"WOW, archlute is my absolute favourite instrument, I have never seen one in real life before!"

Now this *really* got my head spinning in circles. He knew what this obscure instrument from the 17th century was called, he loved it, yet he had never actually seen one in person. This must be someone who has explored a lot of music and was passionate about it. It being a mild summer evening, I offered to show him the instrument, opened the case and gave my lute spiel. He was delighted. He told me how he discovered this instrument through a recording a friend of his owned and had been fascinated with the sound of the archlute ever since. We talked for maybe five minutes, it was brief, and then we went our opposite ways. I was altogether in a better mood after the encounter, and I imagine he was happy to have finally seen this instrument. reminds of the time I saw a unicorn running around town........but that's another story.

What struck me, and still strikes me about this experience, was the enthusiasm this man had, and his excitement at the experience. As someone who has made music a profession, and spends so much time being critical about small details, it seems easier to lose it's sense of wonder and enjoyment. But in realizing that simply walking around town can created this meaningful moment in my life, I can understand how everything I do is thrilling. It *is* possible to feel the way I did when on my childhood visit to Canada's Atlantic Coast I truly believed that by squinted hard enough at the ocean, I would be able to see England. Every moment is full of possibility, and you can bet that next time I'm on the coast I will be looking expectantly into the horizon. This is the feeling I want to share when I perform; it's a sense that what you are experiencing somehow is something you've been unconsciously desiring and unknowingly expecting all along. A perfect mix of novelty and familiarity.

So to my friend I met on the street, if you are out there, thanks for helping me rediscover this perspective.

Next week I'm going to be talking more specifically about the "performance" part of performance artist, with my guest Sylvain Bergeron. Sylvain is a renowned Canadian lutenist, and also happens to be my lute instructor at McGill University. He has many years of experience performing that have taken him around the globe and continues to maintain a busy performing career. You can visit his website to learn about him and listen some of his music.

For any of you reading this story and thinking, "nice story, but I really don't know about this archlute thing is." You can listen to my recording of Toccata septima from Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger's first book of lute tablature, which is attached to this blog.

Please feel free to comment or contact me if you want to continue the conversation.


Backstage Vol. 2: Interview with composer Arie van de Ven 

Arie and I met during the 'five minutes' he spent at McGill (his words!) three and a half years ago. Since he moved back to Ontario from Montreal we have kept in touch and are now thrilled to be collaborating to premiere his piece 'Algoma Miniatures' for the Cygnus Trio. Just this past week the trio was able to meet with Arie in Toronto to rehearse the piece together.

Something I admire about Arie and his work is his ability to create excellent and serious music, without losing a sense of humour, and enjoyment (check out his 'Concerto for Viola and Dollarama' on soundcloud It's a refreshing attitude in an artist's universe that can so often be weighed down by stress, perfectionist-fueled criticism, and unhealthy competitive attitudes. Sure there is stress, everyone gets stressed! Sure we all have a desire to present the best work we possibly can, but we often forget that what we do is to be enjoyed by others, and so starting by enjoying it ourselves is a sure-fire way to success. I've learned that not taking oneself tooooo seriously and always being able to share a laugh doesn't take away from the sincerity of your art. One of my favourite writers, Douglas Adams (a master himself of humour), says it nicely when he writes of P.G. Wodehouse. "He doesn't need to be serious. He's better than that. He's up in the stratosphere of what the human mind can do, above tragedy and strenuous thought... in the realms of pure, creative playfulness." 

Of course there's a a very practical everyday, business-like side to being an artist, as nice as it would be for me to think up something delightful (a delicious fish stew-inspired improvisation on theorbo and bass recorder maybe?) and immediately present that to you in the audience and have you feel the same way I do about it, is nearly impossible. There are the hours practicing, the hours writing, and the emails, and phone calls, and meetings, I really need to take a break and eat dinner??? I suppose yes... Just so long as it doesn't all siphen my creativity.

So in this interview I talk with Arie about music and composing in his life.


I’ve known you for a few years now, we met when we were at McGill together, but for those reading who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself? What has been your path as a composer and instrumentalist? 

I started playing violin when I was very young because my parents made me, I eventually learned how to like it and went to an arts-focused high school. I started writing music there to score films that I and my friend worked on, and eventually started writing concert music as well. I briefly studied at McGill before I went on to Laurier Where I’ve been since. 

Many of us don’t know what it is like to dedicate time to composing music, as a performer I spend so much of my  time working on small technical details in a practice room. What is the work like for you as you compose? 

One of the things that I try to do is to constantly vary my process, even just in simple ways. I might have one piece that I’m writing directly into notation software, one that I’m writing at the piano with pen and paper, and another that I’m working on by recording improvisations and mucking with the audio. Writing music can sometimes feel very isolating, even collaborative projects involve a lot of sitting in a room by yourself with very little outside feedback. Working on keeping things interesting keeps your brain active and helps avoid days where you just spend hours staring at a blank page (although I would argue these days are just as important as the more ‘productive’ ones!). I also do a lot of listening, maybe too much to be honest. I’d say about 70% of the time I spend writing involves listening to what I’ve already worked on. It helps me keep continuity, and allows me to hear where I feel where a piece wants to go. 

Being a performer I have a particular experience of being on stage and playing a new piece; the nerves and excitement and the sweaty brow! What is it like for you as a composer to hear one of your pieces performed for the first time? 

It’s thrilling! I love writing for other people and seeing where they take things. Sitting in an audience and hearing something completely new come out of something I spent months meticulously working out is one of my favourite things. 

When someone, like me perhaps, asks you to write a piece, what are some of the thoughts that go into preparing a new piece of music? 

It really depends on the piece. Oftentimes when someone is asking me to write something for them, it’s for a project that is already underway (sometimes finished), so I usually already have a handful of concepts and themes to work with. When I work on film I often have form set up for me as well. With the Algoma Miniatures I wouldn’t necessarily say I set out to write something programmatic specifically about the communities along the trans-canada highway (many of which I’ve only ever driven through) but it was a very useful organization tactic when committing ideas to paper. 

Do you have any influences who have inspired you to write music? 

My dad is a composer and clarinettist (and math teacher!) his work is really inspiring to me. I think it’s our job as arts workers to uplift communities around us, the teachers who I’ve had who show true compassion to their students are have been hugely influential. I also am a big fan of Jacob Collier and Esperanza Spalding. Love what they are doing. 

What are some of things that inspire you when working on a new piece of music? 

I try to listen to as much as I can. Chris Thile talks about ‘a little song sized hole’ that shows up when you listen to enough music, and that really resonates with me. My favourite things that I’ve written felt like a synthesis of everything I had heard up to that point 

Do you think your personality is easy to spot in your music? 

This is a tough question! I feel like someone else might be able to answer this better than me… 

I do notice patterns in the choices I make, and I feel like I could make connections between that and my own ways of thinking, but with where I am right now I feel like that would a bit a little counterintuitive. I’d rather just keep writing music! 

You have experience writing for short films, how is this unlike or similar to writing concert music?

It really depends on the project, and how much the director wants to be involved in the music making process. Often my workflow is different, since deadlines are usually a lot sooner than they should be in film, I tend to record my ideas directly into my DAW instead of write them out beforehand. Many of my film scores consist of series’ of short improvisation sessions to the movie itself that I record and edit. 

You play not just classical music but folk and other styles, does this influence your writing? Do you think it is important to have diverse interests? 

Absolutely! One of the things I’m trying to learn to embrace about myself is that I’m interested in pretty much everything. It can be overwhelming but there’s so much to music and art that I can’t imagine just sticking within one style or community for my entire career. 

The piece you have written for the Cygnus Trio called the Algoma Miniatures has different movements representing places in the Algoma region of Ontario, what kind of connection do you have with this area? 

In the years leading up to the fall of 2016 when I wrote the piece, I had done a lot of learning in Algoma region and spent a great deal of time travelling along that section of the trans-canada highway. There is a yearly traditional music camp on St. Josephs Island called AlgomaTrad where I had spent time and worked as well. Guitar, flute, and violin are a fairly uncommon combination in the classical world, but is a standard combination in a lot of celtic roots music. 

What projects can we see your name on next? 

Currently I’m working on music for my composers collective The Yacht Club. We have our third show in Waterloo coming up in April titled Song Recycle all about the death and rebirth of art song. The first  piece on the program is a song cycle collectively written by all members of the group, each one of us wrote text for another to set music to, and it’s already becoming something very interesting! We don’t have solid dates yet but they will be up on our facebook page and our instagram account as soon as they are finalized. 

My other big project is Cookstown the Musical, a short musical comedy about a town where the only sport is competition cooking. It’s a project that’s been in the works with my friend writer/director Adam Bovoletis for a few years now. The music is all set and recorded, and the cast and crew are in the midst of shooting now. It’s kind of exciting to get to have all the music finished before a film is shot and edited, since normally it goes the opposite way. Cookstown is going to be premiering at the Ryerson Film Festival on May 4th, I’ll likely be seeing it for the first time then as well so I am very excited!

Aside from music, do you have any other interests or hobbies that make up an important part of your life? 

I love games and learning about how they are designed (both electronic and physical ones!) I’m learning a little bit of programming on the side and I’m hoping to try my hand at designing a game in the future. 

Finally, what does it mean to you to be composing music in the 21st century? 

Honestly I’m just very excited. There’s so much incredible music and art coming from every direction and because of how connected we all are it’s so easy to access. 

Bonus fun desert island question! If you could only write for two instruments for the rest of your life, what would you choose? 

Does viola and laptop count? Maybe guitar and bassoon, I think I could do a lot there.


Be sure to check some of Arie's music on, and Yacht Club Music on Facebook and Instagram, and if you'll be in the Toronto area in February the Cygnus Trio will be presenting "Lost Islands", a program reflecting on the connection between memory and personal geography. Arie's piece 'Algoma Miniatures' will be premiered at this concet,which takes place 8pm February 22nd at Gallery 345. Tickets can be reserved through and more information on the event is available here on my website /concerts and on facebook at Lost Islands: The Cygnus Trio.

To keep up to date on my performances and collaboration, feel free to join my mailing list, and if you have any thoughts of your own to share about humour, composing music, anything covered in this blog and interview, or even if you want to share what you ate for breakfast, leave a comment below!