Some words, conversations, musings, stories

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:

 

Adieu...


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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4esGXmuz4Qg. 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:

 

Farewell...


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 that 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 emotionally. 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 to also 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 program....twice....to 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 of 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 decision 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 - jonathan@jonathanstuchbery.com 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 players....is 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 https://www.sylvain-bergeron.com/

Backstage Vol. 3: Walk in the Park  Podcast

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. ....it 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 https://www.sylvain-bergeron.com/ 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 https://soundcloud.com/arievandeven). 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, and..do 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 @yacht.club.music 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 https://soundcloud.com/arievandeven, 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 info@gallery345.com 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!

Backstage Vol. 1: A Musician's Life 

Dropping the statement, 'I am a professional musician' at a social gathering, or at the dinner table with the extended family is almost always met with these two responses: *surprised, smiling face* "It's great to hear that you are doing something you love with you life", and then "What do you do then?" That second statement (the question) often gets this response: blank stare, half open mouth, thinking what the simplest way to describe my life is. I can't simply bombard them with, "well I played for this ensemble's' concert last week, and I am playing a reception next week, and I am collecting research data, and then I have this accompaniment gig, etc etc etc etc" on and on for ever. And that is maybe not even the best description of what it IS that I do. If were to explain what it is I am always striving to do I would say "spread joy, through music, performance experience and education" I would have the follow up question "Great, but what's your job?" as if to imply that I can't earn a living that way! I know....if you are a musician reading this I'm sure you've had similar experiences. 

Well folks, I'm going to try and answer the question "What do musicians do?" through a series of blog posts including interviews with guests specializing in different areas of the music world. This series' purpose is to give some insight, not simply into how a musician earns a living, but how our craft interacts with our lives, how the experience of working in this field effects us and those around us, and most importantly to demonstrate the great variety of things we do and how we all become interconnected through our areas of expertise.

Many people who know me, know that I am an outgoing person, and I love to host, but when attending another's social gatherings I turn out to be quite shy to speak and find it frustratingly difficult to hold a conversation, let alone begin one! In these situations, sometimes I just want to hide in the corner, take my instrument out, please myself by playing music and ignore the fact that I can't seem to connect with anyone around me. Well I did just this the other day at a holiday party, and what happened but a elderly man who hadn't been speaking much either came up to me and told me he had brought his harmonica and asked if I'd like to play with him. Of course I said yes and we played half a dozen or so old tunes which I was able to improvise accompaniments to. Suddenly I'd made a connection with someone. Both of us were smiling, enjoying ourselves, along with the others in the room. After that we put the instruments down; I learned that he often played and danced at some of the local dance events and I shared a bit about my experience at community dances. The ability to improvise and be spontaneous that I work on and value so much with my musician colleagues in 'performance land' became the means to make meaningful connections in the big scary and intimidating area of  *real world human interaction*. What I'm trying to demonstrate here is that in my life, even if I pursue it as a career, music is not merely something to be shared through performance and concertizing, it is an art, activity, whatever you like to call it, that brings people together. And thank god for that! It means that I can step out of the performance spotlight and play with anyone in any situation and continue to create something of real value.  

 

Next week I will be in conversation with composer Arie van de Ven about his life as a music creator. Arie is a good friend of mine and a wonderful composer. Currently I am working with the Cygnus Trio towards a February world premiere of his piece Algoma Miniatures for flute, violin and guitar; an image rich four movement piece depicting towns in the Algoma region of Ontario. Keep posted, we will be updating our performance schedule very soon to include the date and venue of this performance in Toronto.

As always you can keep up do date on my performances and recordings via my website www.jonathanstuchbery.com but do consider joining my mailing list and you will have all the most recent information sent directly to your inbox and which will soon feature exclusive links to recordings. 

You can also follow the Cygnus Trio at www.thecygnustrio.com

THANKS FOR READING

Repost from The Cygnus Trio 'Music to Play, Music to Enjoy, Music for all' 

Here is a blog I wrote last month on the Cygnus Trio website that talks about our continuing journey finding and playing new repertoire for flute, violin and guitar.

The original post can be found here https://thecygnustrio.com/2017/07/07/music-to-play-music-to-enjoy-music-for-all-2/ on the Cygnus Trio website.

I'm currently at work on a new blog series project with a focus on deciphering the world of a professional musician, with some super guest contributions!

Music to Play, Music to Enjoy, Music for All

Two things. 

“Hey isn’t this great, we have an unusual instrumentation people are going to love it, we are so trendy and new!” GREAT! But. “Hey come to think of it, I’ve never heard of this ensemble before either…and I’m part of it….what are we going to play? Is there anything for us to play!!!?” 

It’s time to pick repertoire, it’s time perform, what are we going to do? As an ensemble this it the issue we’ve had to work with over the years. We’ve learned to love our abnormal instrumentation and how it ties in very well with our vision to bring composed music to relatively unknown spaces and audiences. I’d like this blog to encourage any of you to follow through on something that isn’t necessarily easy to put together, because in our process of finding and creating new repertoire we have learned a lot about ourselves, and about the people in our community. 

So! 

Step one. Find out what is already out there. For this I had the advantage of a former guitar teacher, Selwyn Redivo, who has lots of experience with chamber groups and was able to recommend some repertoire. Our first piece was Joseph Kreutzer’s Trio in D Major (yes for flute, violin and guitar! YAY!), a classical trio. We also found Paul Angerer’s 1961 trio for recorder, violin and guitar. These two pieces are important parts of our repertoire, but two pieces is not enough for a concert program! What else is there? Trios for treble instruments and guitar? We’ve done our fair share swapping instrumentations for pieces for two recorders and guitar, or two violins and guitar to fit our trio. We have found some beautiful music this way and have been able to bring a new sound pieces by Cesar Bresgen, Folk songs from different cultures and more. Certainly when we play music from the 19th century and earlier the possibilities of interchanging treble instruments are greater. Many pieces in the repertoire were published for flute (or violin) and guitar of vice-versa, so we have found a delightful choice of repertoire from the baroque period of music for treble instruments and continuo. Music by Telemann and Rosenmuller for example. The keyword for our initial search is certainly diversity, it would have been practically impossible for us to have started a concertizing ensemble with this instrumentation trying to specialize in one area of music, there simply was not enough repertoire in a certain area. This taught us to enjoy playing music of many styles and solidified the unusual trajectory of this abnormal ensemble! Pairing folk songs with 19th century music wasn’t only a matter of taste, it was even a necessity! 

Step two. Arrangements! This was a really fun step for me because it challenged me to engage myself more in the creation of scores and to think more seriously about the roles of each of our instruments. It has also been liberating because it engages more of the composer side of me, which has been otherwise relatively dormant in the past few years. I enjoyed arranging several folk tunes (allowing myself to be quite liberal harmonically and structurally) for the ensemble, and Erica also worked on rearranging a part for violin in a trio version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango”. Arrangements are an opportunity to provide a fresh perspective on existing tunes, a way that we can relate personally with the piece, especially if it is being expanded from a single melody line to an ensemble. Questions like, “which instrument does this line belong to?” I think about timbre and variety, or “what harmony belongs here?” I love this work, and it allows the ensemble to be a new part of this wider, ever-changing and shifting world of music. 

Step three. New music. I think I can easily say that this has been at once the most exciting, challenging and rewarding part of the process. We believe that it is our duty to expand the repertoire, to collaborate with amazing artists, and to inspire artistic creation. Our first experience of this type was in 2013, before Erica had joined our group. My teacher Selwyn had commissioned music with his trio “Wind in the Woods” a few years earlier for the Meadowlark Festival, a weekend nature festival in the Okanagan Valley. One of those pieces was by Okanagan composer Anita Perry titled “Trio for two recorders and guitar”. With movements “Through the Valley Soaring”, “Desert Plains Shimmering” and “Of Rivers, Streams and Waterways” it is a beautiful musical portrait of the landscape of the Okanagan Valley. Selwyn recommended we try it with our instrumentation, and Anita was happy to tweak the score to accommodate this. The effect was magical, we were hooked on creating new music. We continue to perform this piece now, which was renamed “Okanagan Vignettes” last summer. Now when the three of us were planning our 2016 concert series, Erica proposed we engage composer Charles Zoll to write us a piece. Eagerly we agreed, and in May we had fresh parts and a score. There is nothing quite like getting brand new music in your inbox and printing it off to read through it the first time. The piece pushed us as an ensemble and getting to work with Charles was such a privilege. We premiered AMALGAM by Charles Zoll on August 13th 2016 in Montreal and continued to give four more performances last year. Having Charles with us for three of the concerts to introduce his piece and take questions from an interested audience made the whole experience a huge success. We learned that though this new music didn’t have the advantage of being well known and loved like music by Beethoven or Bach, what it did was expose audiences to something they’ve never experienced before and were maybe uncomfortable with, so when we had time for questions, there were lots, and it is still something we hear back about, very positively, from the communities we have played for. New music has this wonderful ability to arouse curiosity in people, you feel a direct connection to the time at which it was written, which can be a very powerful tool when programming a concert. Since then we have worked with three other composers. We participated in the 2017 Fresh Inc festival, whose emphasis on collaboration between composers and performers (not to mention collaboration IN general) really appealed to us when we were applying. We were paired with Patrick Walker who wrote “Trio for four Instruments” (flute/recorder, violin, and guitar), which was an elegant and clever way of using the instruments available to us. We also worked with Karalyn Schubring on her quintet for flute, oboe, guitar, cello, and violin entitled “Music for a Particularly Sparkly Afternoon”. With both of these composers we benefitted from many opportunities to rehearse together and learn about their pieces and personalities. It was an amazing experience! Currently we are working on a brand new piece “Algoma Miniatures” by Arie Van de Ven, a close friend of mine whose music I admire. We will be premiering this in our 2017 season. Something that is truly inspiring about all the composers that we’ve been able to work is they are all the pieces are so different from each other, yet each one is beautifully composed. We have the delightful pleasure of being able to perform these pieces and create an incredibly diverse program that is yet unified by honesty of the composers’ creations. We are certainly not done collaborating, and are always on the hunt for new music! 

So as you can see, we have built a repertoire for ourselves. At times it has been challenging to program. How do we find a way to put so much variety in a cohesive program? But this challenge has developed our ideas about music and performing, and we have certainly become a much better ensemble by exploring so many possibilities. I also think, that because we are not a group that people are used to seeing, we are given more freedom from the audience to show them something new. So if we play a baroque trio sonata, we can follow it with a brand new composition, and then maybe some folk music, and the public will be enjoying themselves. It’s been great for us, since each of us have very diverse tastes in music, and would really love to play all the music ever! 

Who knows what we will discover next? There is so much out there if you are willing to look. 

We’d love to hear what you think about these subjects. Do you have experience creating something new? Have ever been worried how that might be received? Are you a musician with a similar ensemble and have ideas to share?

Fresh inc 2017 

The past two weeks at the Fresh inc festival have been incredibly fulfilling for me as an artist. I am currently with the Cygnus trio along with approximately 50 other performers and composers and members of the Fifth House Ensemble, at the beautiful University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus. Here we have been enriching our lives as musicians not only through performing and rehearsing but also through taking part in workshops that cover aspects of life as a musician ranging from rehearsal techniques to business models to film and video game scoring. At the crux of the festival is the repetition and performances of sixteen brand new pieces written by composers attending the festival. I have the priviledge to be playing two excellent pieces: Patrick Walker's Trio for four Instruments (flute doubling recorder, violin, guitar) and Karalyn Schubring's Music for a Particularly Sparkly Afternoom for flute, oboe, guitar, violin, and cello. Getting to know Patrick and Karalyn has been a lot of fun! Both are very skilled composers and have some extraordinary musical talents. Patrick in addition to being an organist plays the bagpipes, and we had the opportunity to perform some traditional celtic music together with him on the penny whistle. Karalyn composes exciting music, including some very flashy latin jazz inspired tunes which she performed for us this last week.

In addition the rewarding musical experiences, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous, and with a long system of forest trails just across the street I can very easily say this trip has been idyllic.

 

The festival has also had us perform in a wide array of venues, including the Milwaukee art Museum, the Golden Rondelle Theater, the HobNob restaurant and bar, and the Kenosha Public library. The Cygnus trio also presented a music and story telling workshop to 3rd to 6th graders at the Sealed Air YMCA. At all of these different venues we've been able to forge personal and meaningful connections with all sorts of audience members. It is really rewarding to see an engaged public, where there becomes a mutual sharing of ideas and interest between us on the stage and everyone in the crowd.

The premiere performances for Fresh Inc take place Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18; detailed information is provided on my events tab.

 

There's nothing quite like collaborating with other inspiring individuals to create something beautiful. I'd be delighted and curious to know about any collaborations you've done in your life that have been really meaningful, be it an artistic one, or any other. How have other people helped you do something meaningful?

 

 

End of May 

It's been a busy winter for me this year in Montreal, and the summer is shaping up to be very active as well. Finally I am sitting down to share a bit of what's going on with you! Where do I start? 

I've continued my work performing early music, playing baroque guitar and archlute as a solo and continuo player. You can check out some recordings made in March and April on the music page of this website. The solo baroque guitar and archlute tracks were recorded by the inimitable Phillip Tock, and the Ciaccona performed by myself, Magdalena How, Mikayla Jensen-Large (Sopranos), and Tristan Best (viola da gamba) was recorded by Jon Kaspy. I had the pleasure of performing in two concerts "The Stag, the Pilgrim and the King" and "Monstres & Héros" of Les Méandres first season. This is an ensemble founded by recorder player Jérémie de Pierre and keyboardist Justin Luchinski which focuses primarily on the french baroque repertoire. Life and work as a historic plucked string player is just starting and is growing at an exciting rate!

Highlights for the modern guitar have included performing the Villa Lobos guitar concerto in the final round of the McGill concerto competition in February and performing April 1st for the live at CIRMMT series on classical and electric guitar. I was part of a sectet who premiered Brice Gatinet`s "Conversons" and performed the incredible piece "Quid sit musicus?" by Philippe Leroux. Both pieces were written for ensemble (SATB, guitar, cello) and spacialized electronics which required a huge amount of set up. It was the third piece of Brice's that I have premiered and I understand and feel his musical style very well now, it's a pleasure to work on his music. 

And what's next? June 1st I travel to Wisconsin for the Fresh Inc Festival run by Chicago based contemporary music group the Fifth House Ensemble. There, with the Cygnus Trio and other musicians and composers in attendance I will be part of a number of performances premiering new works for ensembles and receiving training from some of the best musicians in this area. I am also very much looking forward simply to travelling a little bit.

Remember to check out my recently updated music page which now includes two pieces played on baroque guitar: Toccata por la X by Giovanni Battista Granata, and Chaconne by Henry Grenerin, one piece on archlute: Toccata septima from Girolamo Kapsberger's first book of lute music, an anonymous piece Ciaccona di Paradiso e dell'inferno performed with two singers, gamba and archlute, and of course AMALGAM by Charles Zoll written for and performed by the Cygnus Trio