Jonathan Stuchbery is a performing artist dedicated to reaching audiences on a personal level and to pursuing joy through artistic expression.

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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:

 

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

 

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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

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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…

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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…

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Aug22

Jonathan Stuchbery

Christ Church Anglican, 30 Church st, Gananoque, ON

Lost Islands The last performance on the Cygnus Trio's summer 2018 tour. A reflection on personal geography and memory

Sound, music, images, geography: all these concepts influence our memory. Think of a place from your childhood. What do you hear, what do you see? How can you describe this feeling of remembering the past? In a sense, the places we have made our homes and have now left are lost to us; we may be able to physically return, but our memories preserve it in a different way. Stories of islands which disappear after a first discovery or even after being inhabited for a time permeate Canadian folklore, from the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence to more isolated islands in the Great Lakes and beyond. The prevalence of these stories suggests a deep collective sorrow for remembered times and places which, once gone, are gone forever.

The Cygnus Trio, in collaboration with composers with deep geographical ties, offers a program of music and poetry reflecting on this loss and the relationship between memory and location. The program features works by four Canadian composers, folk tunes and poetry. Anita Perry and Selwyn Redivo offer musical meditations upon the landscape of the Okanagan Valley, past home of brothers Ben (flute) and Jonathan (guitar), and the trio will premiere Ontario native Arie Van de ven’s Algoma Miniatures. The musical components of the program are tied together with poetry by W. B. Yeats, and Nancy Holmes, tying a deep sense of place to the remembrance of the past.

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