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 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

 

So, like Dufay and his contemporaries, and just about everyone who's ever existed, this week I reminisce, I feel a little sad, I feel happy too, and ultimately I will be feeling all these things with you. This is part of our way of breaking down the barrier between us, the performers, and you, the audience. We are no different, and although we come to the concert venue to do different things, we come for the same reason.

****

Thanks for reading this weeks blog. I hope you didn't miss me too much last week while I was making music away from home! If you'll be in Toronto on Thursday February 22nd, consider attending the Cygnus Trio's Lost Islands concert. It is taking place 8pm February 22nd at Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren ave #3. Admission is $25/$10 for students and is cash only at the door. You can reserve your tickets by emailing info@gallery345.com

And again, if you have any thoughts to share I love getting your comments and messages.

Until next week!

 

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