Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Musicians Helping Musicians

There is something I want to say and I don’t know how to say it succinctly.  So I will ramble.
The recent Vivaldi recording went more easily for me than any other previous project.  And I don’t mean the playing was easy (though there were a few blessed moments);  I mean that the burden of much of the work surrounding the project was lifted from my shoulders, hands and mind.
This was because this time, I had a full, honest-to-god support team in addition to my trusted longtime engineer and musical crew of players.  I also had my cherished repairmen, faithful copyist plus all the people who helped at the sessions, including tuners, instrument builders, photographers, videographer and caterer.
At the heart of the support crew were three of my students who all stepped into new roles... they went from being my attentive students to being meticulous librarians, reliable drivers and schedule enforcers, equipment movers, food deliverers, helpful production assistants who discovered wrong notes in the scores,  notated all of the corrections, figured out how to print complicated files, troubleshooters who solved problems without bothering me.  I   And my superstar recital partner definitely took on a new role.  He put down his instruments and took over all of the extra work involved in helping to move harpsichords, driving our conductor, feeding the musicians, planning the last minute party.  He was extremely annoyed with me when I cut my hand washing a wine glass the night before the recordings started; he said that was his job!
And though I was the one who had done months of preparatory work in arranging the recording sessions, sending contracts and schedules, booking venues and musicians, ordering the facsimiles and all of the other technical work, it still made a world of difference to have everyone helping me at the actual event.  It made it possible for me to grasp at most of my musical ideas, to have enough reeds to get through the demands and to be able to be present in the moment (whatever that really means).  In all of my past projects, I have had to do much more heavy lifting, including setting up the chairs & stands for the orchestras, preparing all of the music, delivering instruments and driving conductors... it was strengthening to do it, but at the same time, I was always in a lot of pain afterwards.
These recording sessions (6 hours of rehearsals, 16 hours of recording) made me briefly tired, but then I bounced back.
So now I have experienced the true pleasure of being assisted in achieving my goals.  The fact that I paid almost everyone is important, but they all deserved to be paid much more.  Without their help, I could not come close to doing this.
And it makes me realize that if musicians wanted to help each other more, there are endless possibilities for people to use their different specific talents to support others in their goals.  It take such a complex array of skills and insights to make projects come to life... it would be really amazing if we could think of more ways to facilitate one another’s visions.  We rarely have enough money, but we have oceans of talent.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Am I Crazy or Should I Make This Recording?"

"Am I crazy or should I make this recording?"

This was the question that I posed two months ago to my oldest bassoon friend in the world.  I told her that the expense was enormous and that the scheduling was very tight.

Leslie listened to it all, then calmly replied:

"Do I have to pick just one answer?"

Then, with equal calmness and certitude, she said that of course I have to make this recording because of fact that I was really passionate about making it and because she wanted to hear a new Vivaldi disc.

Today, my videographer forwarded a rough cut from the 16 hours of tape that he took (very quietly!)
during our recording sessions last week.

From my parents northern home, this video is loading super slowly, but enough has come up for Leslie (who is visiting my folks too) to hear, and her first comment is that it makes so much sense to play this music with single strings... she remarked on how swift and responsive the players are.

Now I can think ahead to the next 4 discs in this series and begin building the techniques that I wished were stronger and more flexible for this one.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vivaldi Recording Day #2

The second day of recording (August 23, 2011) at Glenn Gould Studio.   We recorded #14 C Minor RV 480, #2 A Minor RV 498; #12 A minor RV499 & #6 E minor RV 484 plus the third movement of #27 E flat Major RV 483.
Only 36 hours ago but already a blur
Awakened at dawn after the first day  --- killer headache caused by lack of espresso and not by eight hours of recording Vivaldi concerti.  Once I figured out that the ghastly noise was my alarm and managed to bury the offending device under the duvet (easier than turning it off), I required a trip to local espresso shop to suck on two high-test cappuccinos.  A bright beautiful day and a free morning but not quite enough time to make a new reed.  I really prefer new reeds!  Embouchure feeling a bit swollen after the previous day of recording but not bad.
I picked up David Bowles (engineer/producer) from the hotel and we arrived an hour before the start of the sessions.  I listened to some of the previous day’s takes and we decided to have another go at the last movement of #23 as my first solo jumps weren’t clear --- strange how a passage can suddenly become difficult after being very easy.
This put the sessions a bit behind and we had to record the last movement of the A minor #2 RV498 after the break. My managers, Andrew Kwan and Erin Sparks, showed up for a visit and stayed until we finished the first movement of the E minor #6 RV484.   
Reeds a bit challenged by the 14 hours of playing... I juggled and muttered and kept going.
Our percussionist arrived after the dinner break.  It was my idea to have handbells in the first movement of A minor #12 RV 499 but after 20 bars, both our producer and conductor vetoed my idea.  A tense moment but we all recovered.  I still plan to take him on tour!
We kept going and finished our last concerto two minutes before the overtime button was going to be pushed at the Glenn Gould Studio.
What a team I had!  We recorded all of these pieces with less than one rehearsal apiece, making decisions as fast as we could, trusting each other to invent on the fly.  My support team of three super smart students (Bianca Chambul - note checker; Neil Bishop - librarian and my assistant; Megan Morris - driver and total production assistant) and my recital partner/roommate Guy Few made sure that almost all worry was lifted from my shoulders.  This is the first recording session that I have finished without feeling like I have been in a street brawl.  Everybody else did the heavy lifting.
My producer David Bowles is like a panther, intensely focussed, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice and quick as lightning.  He snarled more than once but also purred a reassuring number of times.. I know he will make something good out of all the takes that we captured.  Our conductor Nic McGegan was generating ideas by the fistful and everyone in the group had input.  We took liberties with the scores but I think that Vivaldi’s improvisatory soul can withstand this kind of interpretation.
Guy whipped up a beautiful wrap party.  At dawn, I grabbed Nicholas and David from the hotel, drove Nic to the Toronto airport for his flight to Cleveland for his concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra  Then David and I continued on to Buffalo to ship all of his gear and fly back to San Francisco.
I celebrated by stopping at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery then driving home.  I am a bit tired today, left hand a bit swollen, embouchure a bit trashed, but I will be playing again tomorrow.  I feel so great even though I am not entirely sure if I nailed it all or not.
OK, this is probably all garble, but I wanted to report before the mists of time close around the memory of the sessions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vivaldi Recording Day #1

I feel so lucky I am almost afraid to breathe.  This week I am doing the thing that I love love love to do, have long wanted to do and want to keep doing.  Recording 8 of the 39 Vivaldi concerti for bassoon and strings, surrounded by some of the most talented musicians I have ever met, including the support teams.  Three of my students are on the support staff and are helping enormously.  Megan Morris is driving artists from the hall to the hotel, wrangling the food, taking care of all the behind scenes stuff.  Neil Bishop is two steps ahead of me all the way, fixing parts, collecting all of the score revisions and corrections, getting music stands, making sure that the sessions do not go overtime, cleaning up the food.  Bianca Chambul, the youngest, earned her keep tonight by following from the manuscript and finding several mistakes in our printed parts.  And finding a couple of errors that I had learned in my solos!  I am surrounded by some of the finest ears in the world for these few days and feel so lucky.  And my beloved roommate Guy Few has abandoned his own practise schedule for these last few days and is overseeing the whole operation, making sure that things are running smoothly, that we have food and a party to look forward to, putting out any small fires that break out along the way.  He was also the one to help Nic turn on the organ... god, I hope someone remembered to turn it off!!
First day of recording and we have finished 4 concerti (F Major #25 RV491; C Major # 26 RV 479; E Flat Major #23 RV 483 and G Minor #495).  Nicholas plays from the score and constantly checking with the manuscript, finding wonderful corrections (things I have always wondered about like the last two b’s in the solo voice in the andante of
E Minor #6 RV 484 --- these notes don’t exist and have always bugged me in the Riccordi edition, and it turns out they don’t exist!)  Our engineer, David Bowles is in a state of constant alertness.  He never minces words but responds very clearly and keep the sessions very focussed.
I will tell you more about the musicians tomorrow... we recorded for 8 hours today and will do the same tomorrow.   The upper strings and I all play standing.  There are enough breaks to make it possible to keep going.   
I hope some of that made sense.  My feet ache a bit so I am going to pitch headfirst into bed and make reeds in the morning before the first sessions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Lot of Help From My Friends

Rehearsal yesterday was good! Playing Vivaldi all day with the most glorious players has to the most fun imaginable.
The support team is making this project possible for me.

The very first person to begin working very hard was Mitchell Clarke, our copyist.  We got the facsimiles on DVD from Italy and he did the hard work of transcribing 7 of the concerti onto the computer (the C Major had already been done by David Bowles for the Meg Quigley competition).  Mitch also took our last minute corrections and generated new scores and parts in time for the session and the work will continue afterwards to prepare our new edition for publication.
Yesterday, the people and work started coming together.   Instruments were loaded into the house and tuned by their makers  (chamber organ made by Thom Linken, harpsichord built by Borys Medicky) and leave today to the Glenn Gould Studio.  I forgot to turn off the organ last night. I won’t forget the look on Thom’s face this morning when he came to get it.  Will remember today... don’t want smoke pouring out of it during the slow movements!   
Our librarian Neil Bishop stayed up all night adding final corrections in parts and arranging all parts with good page turns.  Then he stayed for the 6 hours of rehearsal to notate dozens more corrections, many of them decisions that Nic is making on behalf of Vivaldi (has to be done in some cases!)
Guy Few made the most beautiful snack table in the world and kept us going all day.  And helped move the harpsichord out this morning.  And fetched Nic Mcgegan from the airport.
Megan Morris drove to Buffalo on Saturday to fetch our engineer and equipment, then yesterday picked up our Quebec-based cellist from the airport and she helped all day with moving equipment.
With all of this help I had time to do my video interview for WholeNote magazine in the morning, make enough reeds to get me through the session and have a cappuccino.
Today the sessions start.  John Edwards (lutenist, organ mover) shouted as he left the house this morning with Thom in the organ-delivery pickup truck:  “Good luck!  And remember that nothing in this world is perfect” --- somehow exactly the right thing to say.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recording is a Mirror

Recording is a mirror
There are all kinds of reasons to record.  Often, it is to give myself the chance to hear something that I have always wanted to hear but couldn’t.  If the music was too hard, then recording it gave me a chance to edit it and hear it (really hear it, even if I still wanted to play it better and that was the last take).  This process helps me produce the live shows.  The last part is not something I do on purpose.  It just happens.
And I am not alone in this.  Still immersed in Keith Richard’s biography (Life).
He talks about laying down a dub track for “Satisfaction” while the Stones were on tour, and then, without his knowledge, their manager released it and it became a radio “Hit of the Week”.  He was mortified yet intrigued by the commercial process.  Despite the acclaim the band was not comfortable playing this tune until they heard cover recordings by both Otis Redding and  Aretha Franklin.  This recordings inspired (I guess that is the right word) the Stones to perform it themselves... here is what he said:
“A peculiarity of “Satisfaction” is that it’s a hell of a song to play on stage.  For years and years we never played it, or very rarely, until maybe the past ten or fifteen years.  Couldn’t get the sound right, it didn’t feel right, it just sounded weedy.  It took the band a long time to figure out how to play “Satisfaction” on stage.  What made us like it was when Otis Redding covered it.  With that and Aretha Franklin’s version, which Jerry Wexler produced, we heard what we’d tried to write in the first place.  We liked it and started playing it because the very best of soul music was singing our song.
That is very cool.  
Vivaldi update:
Thom Linken delivered his beautiful mod style chamber organ to the house for rehearsals tomorrow... everything ready... lists everywhere... parts corrected, musicians ready to travel, reed desk waiting.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life: "I'll do anything to make a record"

I am loving Keith Richard's book, "Life" (Back Bay Books, 2010)

It is a great story of real musical debut of both a band, a genre and clothing choices.  Despite his recklessness, he is a focussed and musically driven person... I love the account of his early days with the band, living together and listening/working constantly (“...pounding through the night, learning their crap, trying to find a gig” There wasn’t time for sex though the air vibrates with it.  Later, when they make their first recording and become enormously popular, they played over a thousand gigs in a three year period with ten days off.  That is how you learn to play together!
He talks about music in straightforward commentary and there is something for everyone.  On p. 126 he says "I'll do anything to make a record" and explains it in a way that makes complete sense.
 He also says things like “You never stop learning an instrument, but at that time it was still very much searching about” and it seems like a revelation even though we knew that before.
He also swears really well, even in print.  You’ll have to read it for yourself to catch the musical flow.
I first noticed him on a Chuck Berry film where he swore, laughed, and spoke eloquently about bass lines.  And played in the direct, present-yet-ectstatic way that I love so much.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Recording Update - thoughts, plans, realities

Thoughts on recording:

I take on recording projects with the blind faith that the process will unlock and liberate something in my playing and understanding of the music.  And while it does happen, it is not ever a final resting place... the work continues.  The act of recording is always a surge of effort that translates into change.
I remember that fact when I hit the inevitable moment of freeze-up before the recording sessions, that moment of what-was-I-thinking-I’ll-never-find-the-right-reed-etc kind of petty worry that assails everyone who faces a big project (and plays a reed instrument, but really, just substitute any tool of any trade).
That moment happened yesterday so I frittered the day and began one of my late-day practise sessions.  Nothing was easy, the reed I made was deeply unattractive.  I kept going and refused to worry.  My dear roommate endured some hardcore repetition that led to glacial improvement. Today was better.  Roommate still talking to me.
If you keep going, you will be able to do something that you couldn’t before.  And a door will open to new possibilities that make you realize that there is yet some other higher plane of existence that is just out of reach.
Update on Vivaldi recording project:
I will be interviewed this coming Sunday by WholeNote magazine for their “Vlog” series (video blog --- here is the link to current entries:  WholeNote Vlog

Thanks to Nic McGegan (leader) and Mitch Clarke (valiant copyist) we have done a third edit of our new edition of the 8 concerti that I am recording (#2 in A Minor RV 498 ; #6 in E Minor RV 484; #12 in A Minor RV499; #14 in C Minor RV480; #23 in G Minor RV 495; #25 in F Major RV 491; #26 in C Major RV 479; #27 in E Flat Major RV483 --- my edition will be available for as part of the library for the Council of Canadian Bassoonists which will be launched sometime this year with the help of my incredible students.
And we have begun the planning for the 2012/13 tour of the new CD --- the show has the working title of Vivaldi’s Lost Girls and the programming will include the bassoon concerti plus feature the incredible solo string players in my group.  We will be playing universities in different sections of the country and connecting with elementary and secondary schools on the way.  Stay tuned as we focus this project.
OK, there is more stuff but I really have to go and work out the final schedules and run the concerti once more (today is two runthroughs of all concerti).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Musicians who changed my life: Bobby McFerrin

Yesterday, I went to get my bassoon looked at as part of the pre-recording preparation.
Once the sessions start, we will have two back-to-back 8 hour recording days with no time for emergency bassoon repairs.  Nothing was wrong with my horn, so Shane Wieler
took a couple of hours to clean it up and grease all the keys, making it much quieter.
Then we went to hear Bobby McFerrin  who was performing at the Rose Theatre as part of the Brampton Global Jazz Festival.

I was so inspired and motivated after that concert that I practised the moment I got home to Toronto.  But I gave up sometime just before 1 a.m.... I just couldn’t achieve anything like the multi-voiced lightness that he produces so deftly.
Today was another practise day, and as usual, I first made a reed.  I took my time and didn't bother trying it until it was completely finished.  I kept thinking about the kind of quick response I wanted to get, depth and warmth throughout my range without any blurs or burrs on the tone.  And for whatever reason, the resultant reed was different than any other that had gone before it.  #52XI8 was the best reed I have made this year.  And I think it was because of hearing Bobby sing, speak and improvise last night.  I left the theatre with a very palpable sense of the physical relationship to sound... he created such a light-handed yet extremely architectural shower of tones, each one resonating with what went before and came afterwards, even when things took an unplanned turn.  
In the days before a big recording project, I always guard my time very jealously.  Yet, because I took the time to hear Bobby McFerrin  perform last night(at the suggestion of my wonderful repairman), I am sure that I am able to play better today. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to Make a Recording - Make a List Part 2 (performers)

Making lists are my first step to creating any reality.  After that, I look for really gifted people to help launch my balloon.  I mentioned my basic list in an earlier post (How to Make A Recording - Make a List) ---  my first list is ALWAYS the performers.
I chose the players long before I had decided on exactly which Vivaldi Concerti I wanted to record.
In fact, I made a list of performers 10 years ago.  With some slight alterations in the interim, it's now happening.  If I can weave a web of ongoing connections, we will tour this idea and music in 2012/13.
All of these musicians have brought me incredible pleasure from their solo performances... there is an enormous range of age and some of them I see only once per year  --- I have known some of them as students, all of them as leaders.  Spirit is everything.
A quick google search reveals interesting stuff and I just grabbed what came up first... if you don’t know these people (but you probably do), they are really worth hearing.

Nic McGegan - leader & keyboards
Aisslinn Nosky - violin
Julia Wedman - violin
David Rose - viola
Ed Reifel - percussion
David Bowles - engineer

Friday, August 12, 2011

I Love Real Artists!!!

Today I saw a website of a violinist who is doing what I want to do!  Violinist Tasmin Little seems to really be living in today's world of possibilities... I especially admire her initiative in The Naked Violin project...check her out and try some of these ideas.  I know that I will.

And I bought a beautiful painting today by Aminda Wood.  I thought it was called "Cold Flowers" but here it is called "Flower Fancy".  Anyway, it is lovely and inspiring and Aminda happened to be buying an espresso at the same time as me so I gave her a cheque on the spot.

And another wonderful artist, Rob Farmer, has a show opening tomorrow in Toronto.  Where the Wild Things Are at 10 Wolseley Ave, main floor, one block north of Queen St West at Denison Ave...  I bought a post-apocalyptic dolly painting from him last fall (Diamonds and Rust).  You have to see them in person to get a feel for the dark side hidden in the pink bunny exteriors.

And I have now spent 2 hours on two bars of first movement Vivaldi #14 in C minor.  It's been a great summer.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crazy Ideas?

Opportunity Bank 
A few years ago, I had an idea.... a vague, unformed idea... I did try to think it through a number of times and I have never codified it, nor have I forgotten the basic principle.   
My idea was to create an opportunity bank.
Each time a musician helped another (website advice, name of a good coffee shop on tour, links to possible venues and presenters) and it paid off, the musician would acknowledge her benefactor with a credit of some kind. As you can see, the idea spiraled into cumbersomeness and irrelevance when I attempted to assign a value to the original gift.  But the basic premise was that it is more valuable to provide another musician with an opportunity to do something that they wanted... money is not always the most important part of that equation.
And my other idea was to have mutual or shared leadership... I think that this is different from simple equality in that the expectation is verbalization of ideas and the courage to speak up.
When I was principal bassoon of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, I had a fantasy of sharing my salary with the second bassoonist.  Having been a second bassoonist in the first decade of my career, I knew how much hard work was involved and considered it an absolutely equal position.  I also wanted to share authority within our tiny domain.  It simply didn’t happen; the orchestral ecology was powerful.  She insisted on calling me “chief” or “boss” and I never had the courage to offer to divide my tiny overscale payment with her. 
I still feel that articulating our ideas and presenting them is more important than fitting in and being submissive.  It takes continual work to develop these skills yet the value of speaking out and finding kindred spirits in the music world is essential.  
Subscription to Greatness
And other idea was to set up a network of musicians interested in supporting great living composers, particularly unknown ones.  The musicians would contribute a basic fee and
listen to excerpts on the data base from the different composers.  The contributing musicians would vote both on each composer and specify their preferred genre.  Once any composer achieved a sufficient number of votes in any given genre, the commission would automatically be generated and dedicated to the musicians who had voted for him.
In the meantime, now the world has caught up with me... these ideas exist all around us on the internet now in different guises... it is an amazing time for artists of all kinds!! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What I Want To Do With My Vivaldi Recording Project - #1

It will take several blog entries to fully describe to you everything that I want to do with the Vivaldi Project.
First, let’s step back and think about Vivaldi writing incredible music for incredible orphan students. We don’t know for sure if there was an incredible baby bassoonist, but there were incredible girls on other instruments so chances are that there was a little Gaga Bassoonista in the band.  There must have been... these concertos are harder than just about anything written in the hundred years following (just my bias)... that is, if we play them to the same virtuosic standards as the violin concerti.
Anyway, the best laboratory for a genius to try new ideas has to be a group of eager students, full of talent and with enough time to try seemingly impossible things!   Students are never cynical unless they have been studying with the wrong people.
Can we get this culture of intense experimental virtuosity and curiousity at a young age?  A comeback of high culture maybe without the orphan, women-of-fallen-virtue thing?  Rather than the “will this be on the test/audition” mentality that currently diminishes our students?
Can I play this music for enough young people that dozens of them (boys and girls) will say to themselves and their parents, “I can do that!”  or better yet, “I can do that BETTER!”
Because that is what I want.
And even better, some of them will be so young and pure hearted that they will just feel and know how it goes... last year at the Ottawa Chamber Festival, when Guy and I performed our kids show for the first time (Buzz and Crow), a tiny girl asked if she could play my bassoon at the end.  She was five years old and her head reached my elbow.  I did the fingering and she blew and she played a perfectly in-tune G Major scale followed by some excerpts from the Hummel Concerto.  She knew how to play from listening to me for the half hour show and her small body vibrated with confidence and tone, not with strain.  Amazing to all of us who heard it.  And I had no qualms at all about letting her play my best reed... I told her what to do and she did it.
My rehearsals with strings for the Vivaldi Project start in 12 days, followed by 2 days of recording.  With all of the preparations and the huge effort and the prospect of the glorious music, it feels like preparing a big party.

Once it is recorded, I want to take this music to as many universities and schools as possible, to play for as many people young and old as possible, to have it live vividly.  I want people to know it well enough to have opinions on the interpretations!!  I want them to notice what we are wearing and to have opinions about that too.  I want to live with this music for a long time.  
Thoughts about practising the Vivaldi concerti:

Last week, a very fine student asked if he could listen to me practise some day.  He became alarmed at my long silence and withdrew his request, but really, I was just considering the novel idea.  Mostly wondering how the circuitous logic of my mind would ever reveal itself to a listening ear... I told him that maybe someday he could make reeds somewhere in the house while I worked and that maybe some of my work would make sense to him.  But really, every day is different despite the existence of an underlying discipline.
His question motivated me to offer some of my attempts to capture my process in words as of today (again, each day IS different).
Sometimes practise ideas emerge as I play --- often many wishes about much longer-term prep!  
My main “if-only-I-had-done-more-of-these” wish for long-term preparation is to have developed fast(er) scales in all intervals (both chromatic and major scales... minors in the next lifetime)
New long-term tech idea - fast scales with repeated pedal (both lower and upper).
I do these things anyway, even as I wish I could do them more fluently and certainly wish that I could play all of them at the speed of the concerti.
Other points of current practise --- 
-always practise standing (goes without saying in my world) 
-allowing response to certain repeated gestures --- movement is relevant/interesting if it doesn’t build tension ---- I have spent a lot of time developing serenity of movement and now think it is overrated.
-walk off tension between drills (something I only remember to do if I set timer or if  I get a FaceBook alert)
-practise releasing specific tension (easy, just do it between repeats of drill) drill - release - drill
-hard to explain without examples, but in the intricate passage sequences, emphasize the non-lyrical notes to gain control (often the repeated pedals on weak sixteenth beats) - so often I practise my highest intent in terms of voicing and phrasing, only to realize that if I practise with emphasized the awkward beats, then and only then will I gain the control to release them in rapid-fire voicings.

-once the difficult phrases have been shaped into understand (prior to perfection), then take them to the slowest plausible tempo and increase speed one click at a time... find the breaking point in terms of technical command... repeat the process until goal is achieved 
-goes without saying, practise hardest parts without music (look if needed, but always aim to play without page)

-eventually cognition/relaxation/repetition combine in a way that captures both mental and physical control.  simple (just kidding).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Musicians Who Changed My World

There are some musicians who changed my world from the moment I saw them, and then followed this up with changing my world the moment I heard them.
I always tell the story about seeing Guy Few on an airplane several months before I met him... the memory is printed on my mind’s eye like the shadow on the wall in a nuclear blast.  And the moment I heard him remains with me... I know I was wearing my purple sweater (before I accidentally washed it and it turned into a purple tea cozy).  Following that moment, I was on the phone to my composer, asking for a double concerto for trumpet and bassoon (the rest is history).
Likewise, I passed the folksinger Valdy in a hotel corridor and we grinned at each other like two monkey morons, then talked about something, then I heard him that night as he provided the entertainment for the International Log Builders’ Association (my parents founded that organization when it was the Canadian Log Builders’ Association).  Anyway, Valdy’s unforgettable musicianship caused me to get him to sing on our Caliban Does Christmas CD, and I have always wanted to play with him more.  Such a true-hearted musician.
Now, he has asked me and Guy to appear on one track of his newest album AND he has agreed to do a star turn when I am touring the Vivaldi CD in 2012/13 ---- we’ll combine Vivaldi with Va-Valdy.
Other musicians whose images and sounds are seared into my memory are violinists, cellists, bass players, sopranos, conductors, brass players... people who play their hearts out no matter what, people who sometimes growl in frustration yet spread light and glory with their playing.  I would list them but I am afraid of forgetting someone.
And then there are the musicians who make things possible, like the recording engineers ...always listening, always paying attention --- our recording engineer is a saint with a temper and absolutely precious.

I notice the musicians who are laughing even when they are alone... and I often find out that they are the most serious-souled people imaginable.  But they make me laugh and make me want to play and take chances doing stuff I never dreamed of before I met them.  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Working Holiday

Now in the final two weeks of preparing for the Vivaldi Concerto project.  I am taking the unusual step of concentrating fully on my own preparation... family and students are all willing to wait a couple more weeks before I turn my attention to them again.  The cat, however, is a different matter.  She demands food more frequently then ever!
This is a mini-sabbatical, an opportunity to train and revisit that time in my life when I could pursue sound through the music, reeds and my own physical/mental connections.  I think that time may never have really existed, but it kind of existed in my early symphonic days... somehow the important thing is to combine intense private work with the opportunity to bring it to the sonic stage.
Of course I could continue with my daily life and juggle everything, because that is a skill that I have honed for years now.  But instead, this is what some people would call a holiday --- time spent working on Vivaldi bassoon concerti.  This is hard work that is infinitely worthwhile... a goldmine of possibility exists in this music and will reveal treasures to any player who spends time with it.
I continue to face all of my musical and mechanical decisions and push to have the concertos memorized in time for the sessions.  I am more than halfway there, and will need to spend much more time with the scores, but I continue to work towards that goal.
Last month, I concentrated on getting a grasp of the whole project.  Now I am visiting the short sections of each concerto that require a major, life-changing leap in technical command.  I am using all of the techniques that I have ever given my students when it comes to untangling and drilling a persistent technical challenge, and above all, I am practising the hardest passages by memory.  Sometimes I focus on seeing all of the notes in my imagination, planning in advance the inflections that I will want along with releasing tension from the gestures.  Sometimes (and this is both strange to admit and very difficult to do) I will attempt to hold my own gaze in the mirror as I navigate a passage.  In any event, Vivaldi has transcribed many incredible sonic effects from the violin to bassoon, the most notable being string crossings in the very large scalar leaps.  All technical work is always followed by another interpretive run ... I always want to see if the polishing has led to any increase in expressive clarity.
I am adding basic technique again.  Vivaldi’s music really benefits from doing as many intervallic scales as possible... today I played chromatic major sevenths.  Any interval will help because he uses them all!!
Anyway, every day is a fresh start... a chance to put aside insecurity, doubt, to choose to do the work and make the reeds that allow me to navigate the music, every day gives me another chance to rededicate myself to the music and to flip on my high beams and enjoy every second of this experience.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

why does it hurt to smile?

Whenever I perform a concert with Guy Few or solo with orchestra or in the recording projects that involve orchestra or just me and Guy, my face hurts from smiling and it is always a surprise.   I am not aware until after the show/session that my muscles are more tired from smiling (higher on my cheeks) than from playing.
Does this mean I am happiest when playing?  Or that I am a grim bastard the rest of the time?? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

End is always a Beginning

Today, as I packed the CD boxes and made the inventory lists for our recital next week, I realized that I am sold out of my first solo recording, the 12 Fantasias by Georg Philipp Telemann.  One copy remains, and somebody has just requested it through FaceBook, so I will have to pluck it out of the inventory.  Of course, it will always be available for download on CD Baby, but that just isn't the same.
As I rummaged through other boxes, looking for any stray copies (there have to be some!), I found my absolutely first copy of this project... it is a dub of the master that I made with a mock-up of all the art work and I remember that my ex made the disc cover.  So simple!  I included thank-you’s and an auto-caricature of myself and some conversational liner notes printed on nasty yellow paper and I made a laser print of the art work.  I glued everything together and promptly sent it to my mother... she kept it and I found it when I moved her belongings recently.  It is innocent and hopeful and crude and optimistic... it is my first step into the world of making solo recordings.  And one thing is for sure... my hair is really different now!
At the same time that I realize this first project has disappeared into the world, I am working on the marketing plans for the Canadian Concerti Project and thinking of ways to get the means to pay our orchestra to record five concerti written for me and Guy in the last 3 years.  One thing leads to another in the music world... 10 solo discs later, I can say that the new projects lie on the same path that was started with the lovely, solitary solos of Telemann, written and self-published at a time in his career when he was interested in being more independent.  The invention of the young Canadian composers is linked with Telemann by the voice of the bassoon... or maybe it is more accurate to say that I discovered all of these artists for myself through the prism of the bassoon.  Or maybe I should just stop talking now.