Archive for October, 2007

Elusive Quarry

Posted by

ufp-elusive-quarry.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Petit Suite, Glick

Driving south from Montreal, I found myself envelopped by mesmerizing mountains of mid-state Vermont and, on an impulse, followed signs off the interstate to look for some magical acoustics in an abandonned quarry. I hoped it wasn’t too far away – I had miles to go before I would see Boston’s skyline – and with the late afternoon sun slanting in from the west and valuable daylight ebbing, it turned out to be ‘elusive quarry’! I made a couple of wrong turns and comically ended up going in circles, doubling back along otherwise scenic, winding roads. I finally found what I was looking for: this massive man-made hole in the earth, long-since flooded in.

Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has produced an extensive body of work documenting with equisite precision the mines and quarries in many countries: ” ‘quarries…are places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.’ (Burtynsky’s) images of these plundered landscapes are simultaneously beautiful and disquieting.” *

But what to play? I tried noodling on some arpeggios, but was too distracted from having been on the road all day, not to mention that I had brazenly ignored the ‘NO TRESPSSING’ sign at the top of the gravel road! I finally settled on a Canadian composition: somehow the improvistory opening movement of Srul Irving Glick‘s Petit Suite pour Flute suited the place. Written for my teacher, Robert Aitken, it simply seemed like the perfect piece…sometimes it’s hard to explain these things at the time.

And it is only now as I post this that I suddenly realize the connection, as it was John Irving‘s book A Prayer for Owen Meany that effectively had led me to this place! Owen Meany’s DISTINCTIVELY PENETRATING NARRATIVE STYLE made a real impression on me years ago, and I believe it was this book in Irving’s extensive oeuvre in which the whole world of quarries in New England was wonderfully described. As you may already know, Irving spends part of his time living in Toronto, and some wonderful passages can be found in his work describing Toronto’s Ravines and Valleys.

The acoustics here were quick and precise, and admittedly I was initially disappointed; however if you listen carefully, you can hear the dry report off the limestone walls, the sound of the flue travelling swiftly over the smooth expanse of water. Certainly the history and atmosphere of this outdoor amphitheater more than make up for any subtlety of the echo!

* Thanks to photo-eye, excerpted from the publisher’s description of Burtynsky Quarries.

Mono Mills Cave…in Stereo!

Posted by

ufp-mono-cave-w-couple.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Mono Mills Improv

This ancient, naturally-formed cave, just 10 minutes drive along gravel roads outside of the charming hamlet of Mono Mills, is simply stunning!

At the end of a wending country driveway canopied by mature maples on either side, and hidden way in a mature mixed-deciduous forest, one finds an extraordinary Eden on Earth: a series of falls tumbling over long, broad steps of the Niagara Escarpment that you can plainly hear cascading nearby in this recording. Idyllic in late summer, this river likely transforms into a thunderous torrent during spring run-off. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good snowfall this winter, since apparently the river is at its lowest level in 100 years this season.

As a natural shelter for tens of thousands of years for First Nations Communities, this haunted, hallowed space invites exploration…and flute improvisation! For more information and ideas about improvisation, as well as a creative musical approach to practising, check out Chris Foley’s wonderful Collaborative Piano site.

The ‘Stereo’ in the title of this post I really couldn’t resist! In the opening pages of This is Your Brain on Music, author Daniel Levitin advocates the use of headphones for the fullest stereo listening experience…they don’t have to be high-end Sennheisers, and even a $10 pair from an electronics shop on Yonge Street will do the trick!

My thanks to the staff of the Mono Mills Inn for the personal tour: absolutely unforgetable.

Walden Pond, Concord, Mass.

Posted by

ufp-walden-abstract.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Shaker Song
Welcome to Walden Pond, the site Henry David Thoreau‘s visionary retreat from 1845-1847. If you listen carefully, you can hear the fresh breeze coming off the water through the trees, waves on the shore, passersby on the pathway…a plane overhead.

There was a time in the United States when individuals were imprisoned for there beliefs – some would suggest that this hasn’t changed – and this Shaker Song, Stone Prison, written in the area around the same time as Thoreau comtemplated this very pond and its surrounding woods, recalls how Mother Ann was persecuted in both England and the U.S. Turbulent times back then, and, unfortunately, perhaps not so different from the world we live in today!

Arnold’s Drive-In, New Toronto

Posted by

ufp-arnolds-interior.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Fast Food Improv

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Juke Box Saturday Night

With all of this talk of Farmers Markets in previous posts, a nod here to the fast food industry.

Arnold’s, just west of the downtown in New Toronto, represents not only the Golden Age of family eateries, but also, with its recently being closed and subsequently rather poorly boarded up, it also represents the current trend toward ‘condo-ization’ of the the Greater Toronto Area. The ever-inventive slogans on the the condo billboards around town are more likely to make you nauseous than the burgers flipped and served up in a joint like this ever would have.

Sure, I admit I only stopped at Arnold’s twice in 10 years: once to grab a quick burger and shake, and more recently to step inside the burned-out shell of the place.

The more recent of the two back in the summer was a spontaneous pit stop during a mysterious, fog-enshrouded drive back from teaching by Lake Ontario in Port Credit. With several police cars and lights flashing just up on the Lakeshore, and shadowy figures (more…)

Schwanengesang und Bloggenspiel

Posted by

oakville-dusk-1.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Swan, Saint-Saens

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Pavane, Faure

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Gymnopedie, Satie

Years ago in Oakville, I remember walking after dark during that magical time, long after nightfall yet well before break of day. The mild winter weather alone was like a dream, and I made my way instinctively through the quiet, empty streets to where the grey-black expanse of lake and night-sky came into full view. Soft waves murmured against the rocky shoreline, and, just out a ways, barely discernable, white objects hovered; as my eyes adjusted to the half-light, I realized it was a bank of mature swans, gently riding invisible waves. In late summer I returned to Oakville an as dusk settled along the shores of Lake Ontario, the distant lights of Toronto and the Golden Horeshoe began to glint with the gloaming. I played through some familiar repertoire with the sound of the waves for accompaniment until my eyes couldn’t make out the notes on the page.

And then I played one last song, my ‘schwanengesang’ for the evening.

Swan song has become an idiom referring to a final theatrical or dramatic appearance, or any final work or accomplishment. For example, Franz Schubert‘s collection of songs, published in his year of death, 1828, is known as the Schwanengesang (German for “swan song”). It generally carries the connotation that the performer is aware of his or her imminent demise (or retirement) and is expending his or her last breath on one magnificent final effort. Anton Chekhov’s one-act play, The Swan Song (1887), describes an ageing actor who, while sitting alone in a darkened theatre, ruminates on his past.*

*Courtesy of good ol’ Wikipedia!

Trio for Two Flutes…?

Posted by

ufp-duo-with-jonathon.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

2 Flutes and Waves
What can I say? It’s a tough job giving flute students a ‘duet detention’ by the lake, but someone’s got to do it! Thanks, Jonathon, for taking a few extra minutes to record: nice job sight-reading here! This is on location at the RCM’s Cawthra-Adamson Estate in Mississauga, the setting for numerous other UrbanFlute recordings, not to mention the first one nearly a year ago!

My playful detention was caught on film by my sister who was visiting from Nanaimo, British Columbia, where she is active as a radio broadcaster with a variety of media stations including the Rabble Podcast Network. Here is a link to a recent conversation she and I had by phone a few weeks ago about the goings-on of UrbanFlute.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Photo Credit: Lynn Thompson

The Horse Whisperer

Posted by

ufp-horse-stable-movie-set.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Etude, Tulou

The only concern – as I was welcomed onto the movie set during a lunch break – was whether the horses might get unsettled by the sound of the flute. As I set up to play using a pile of hay bales as a music stand, my host kept an eye on them (the horses, that is, not the hay bales!) to make sure they didn’t get spooked.

I had visions of scenes from Black Beauty as I began to play, stalls being broken down, wide-eyed stallions rearing up and escaping to freedom, etc; but one observation that was noted as everyone marvelled at the fine acoustics: “I think the horses were even calmer with the sound of the flute!”

The acoustics were rich and full, offering a wonderful harmonic reverberation to any of the music I selected, from Celtic hunting tunes to lilting (more…)

Flute Steeplechase

Posted by

ufp-horse-stables-1.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Jig, Fox Hunters, Irish

I don’t know about you, but I always loved the whole idea of a steeplechase, yes, with fence and hedge-jumping, water traps: the whole regalia. The concept of cross-country anything mixed in with an obstacle course is compelling on a fundamental level, and has always captured my imagination!

UrbanFlute is my artistic steeplechase, if you will, and features some of the same elements, although there was a long period when off-road rally driving stepped in to fill the craving for extreme adventure. Now it’s hockey, cycling and skateboarding, swimming.
I had my own taste of marathoning with an Ottawa/Gatineau Jackrabbit Johannsen event; and, vicariously I suppose, gathering at the Jet Fuel to watch dramatic stages of Tour de France all fuels the same addiction/adherence to the concept of perserverance and endurance.

Playing a musical instrument – constantly evaluating, practising, learning and improving – is much the same thing: a marathon that can seem simple in the early stages, but fiendishly complicated and challenging when you find yourself part-way through! With my students I espouse a philosophy that I find works for me: an innovative, creative approach, flexibility, and, yes: lots of hard work that includes a positive attitude and lots of self-praise, or at least positive-reinforcement. Always keep in mind what drew you to the instrument in the first place: the sound of the flute, and continually look for and establish your own ‘voice’ – not just in terms of a singing tone, but with regard to practise/playing style, selection of materials & performance opportunities.  Ultimately – and above all else – I promote a life-long love of the instrument…Okay: class dismissed, what was that about endurance events?!
Hopefully this post from the historic and fantastical horse stables at near Spadina House and Castle Loma offer a welcome diversion! What does one play in historic horse stables? Well, in my estimation, anything with a hunting or equestrian theme is fair game!

Spotted Zebra

Posted by

ufp-horse-in-stable-closeup-1.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sarabande, Bach

I spotted what looked like a zebra near Casa Loma.

A day after playing at the wonderful city-owned, Kiwanis Club-operated Horse Stables, it occurs to me that there aren’t usually horses inhabiting the place. This would be too bad for the horses, really, considering the luxurious, historic architectural setting and spacious stalls!

Perhaps the two magnificent creatures who were happily munching their hay (hey, it was a lunch break already!) in the dim, suffused, afternoon light – maybe they were just there for the day like everyone else milling around the place, ‘stand-in’ extras for the movie shoot that was set up on location.

But wait: this can’t be a spotted zebra – zebra’s are striped!

100% Organic Flute

Posted by

ufp-evergreen-pumpkins.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Irish Show Boy – Trad

It was well worth getting up at daybreak on a Saturday, and I was thrilled to be part of  Evergreen Brick Works’ Harvest Family Fun Day!

A variation on their weekly Farmers Market, this kid-friendly event was just wonderful, and far exceeded my expectations! As in my recent post from Rosedale’s Glen Road Bridge – that you don’t have to travel far to enjoy the fall colours – this family-friendly marketplace in the heart of Toronto brings the country into the city, and offers more than just organic produce and haute-cuisine; in fact as I write, I’m wearing a wonderful woolen car blanket to stave off the autumnal (more…)

Trio for Flute, Wrench & Air Gun

Posted by

moonrocks-bay.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Etude, Berbiguier

Speaking of horsepower, I tried recording here in my mechanic’s family-run bay earlier in the summer, but without much success! An industrial fan was on, creating white noise, and my set-up was badly thought out, with the flute sounding too distant and meagre. Besides, there wasn’t any work going on in the garage to speak of, at least not the tinkering, clanging kinds of sounds I had hoped for!

So when I recently visited T & S Auto in Mississauga (I followed them to Dixie & The Queensway when they moved from the Adelaide and Bathurst area: they are that good!) I had a second try while I waited for my shuttle to the TTC. Just as I had suspected, the superb, open, shoebox acoustic was there waiting patiently for some spontaneous music-making!

The mechanic on hand remembered my project and it turns out he took me seriously when I said that there wasn’t enough background sound the first time. He was only too happy to oblige this time around: can this guy wield a wrench or what? Give this a listen and you be the judge!

Shades of Varese and his Air Sirens in – which one is it now? – Ionisation, right, a staggering piece that blew me away in my student days, and one of a handful of pieces by Varese that influenced Frank Zappa.

Thanks to Ensemble InterContemporain for their disciplined performance, although I think they could have loosened their ties a bit!? In the end, who’s going to argue with Boulez in a groundbreaking staple of the French Repertoire? Give this the 6+ minutes it deserves when you have the chance, but I suggest headphones and a careless hand on the volume control.

Farm-Fresh Flute

Posted by

ufp-evergreens-morning-light.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Irish Trad, w kids!

It was about a year ago that the idea of UrbanFlute took shape, and one of the first places that I visited and explored with my flute and new recording device was the historic Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto’s wonderful Don Valley.

So it was especially exciting to be invited to play during the inauguaral season of the Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market.

If the house is thought to represent the soul, then the makeover of these massive and otherwise decaying public spaces represents community renewal on the most fundamental of levels.

Pot-o-Gold in County Clare

Posted by

ufp-micho-russell-of-doolin-co-clare-by-christy-mcnamara.jpg

UrbanFlute is all about information-sharing, and this image from a Guide To The Irish Flute is seemingly one 100,000th of what I have just stumbled upon at David Chu’s sideblown.com site, truly a pot of gold for anyone interested in the flute and flute-playing.

Maybe my colleagues already have this embedded on their favourites page and I’m the last to clue in, but why keep a repository of flute-links like this under wraps? With such a concise wealth of flute-related sites and information, one could spend hours, days, or the proverbial 7 lifetimes scrolling through here: go nuts!

I am not surprised to find my colleague Ron Korb given mention, and judging by his recent world travels, this would explain why we haven’t bumped into each other for a while back here in Toronto!

Photo Courtesy of Christy McNamara; this is a photo of the late Micho Russell from Doolin, County Clare.

Pesticide-Free Flute!

Posted by

ufp-evergreen-maze.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Whim of a Moment
Healthy living starts at Toronto’s historic brickworks in the Don Valley, where Evergreen Brick Works is embarking on a massive makeover of acres of wonderfully decrepit warehouse space. The open-air market that is held on Saturdays, vibrant with eclectic vendors and recently extended through December 1st, features more than just organic produce as described in the previous post.

Admittedly today’s Harvest Family Fun Event placed the theme on all ages, but make no mistake: this is one serious market-place, and bustling with vistors…the word is getting out!

Here’s some period Irish music, played on a Berlin-made, 1920’s Boehme-style ‘modern’ flute; the traditional Irish Jig, ‘The Whim of a Moment’ can be found in Ryan’s Mammoth Collection of 1050 Jigs & Reels, edited by Patrick Sky.

Manitoba Legislative Building, Winnipeg

Posted by

 ufp-wpg-leg-dome.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Meditation, Massenet

The cavernous acoustics of the massive marble interior of the Millenium Centre were surpassed only by what lay in store at the Winnipeg’s Legislative Building, or ‘The Ledge‘ (sp?) as the locals call it! Built under strict and even secretive Masonic architectural guidlelines with stunning craftsmanship and classic proportioning, the resultant acoustics are as focussed and as satisfying to the ear as the visual lines are to the eye. Also particularily evocative was the dim, fading afternoon light, filtering down from latticed windows far above. The suffused early summer light together with the space and its lingering, balanced acoustic, all combined for a transportative experience!

Spiral Stairs on Bankers Row

Posted by

ufp-wpg-millenium-spiral-stairs.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Petite Etude

Architectural splendour and amazing acoustics abound in Winnipeg’s historic downtown core, especially in an area originally referred to as Bankers Row. This fantastic stairwell offers a small glimpse of the numerous converted banks just steps from infamous Portage and Main. By day or by night, this area was exciting to wander and explore; one other totally surreal bank location that I had a chance to visit had been converted into an exotic, cavernous night-club!

Der Fluyten Lust-hof

Posted by

ufp-wpg-millenium-interior-2.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Der Fluyten Lust-hof

While a solitary caterer efficiently arranged place-settings for an upcoming event, I revelled in a few favorite pieces as well as some of the most extraordinary acoustics I have ever encountered. The sheer volume of this interior along with the polished marble surfaces and massive stained-glass skylight overhead made Winnipeg’s Millenium Centre a memorable performance space!

As in the previous post, this is music by the intriguing Dutch composer Jacob van Eyck from Der Fluyten Lust-hof: ‘The Recorder’s Pleasure Garden’.

Millenium Centre, Winnipeg

Posted by

ufp-wpg-millenium-interior-1.jpg

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Jacob van Eyck

I got carried away by a couple of cabooses during a recent swing through the prairies, however there were a number of extraordinary firsts for UrbanFlute on that trip. The Millenium Centre in downtown Winnipeg was absolutely stunning! Perhaps the most awe-inspiring architectural showpiece on Winnipeg’s historic ‘Bankers Row’, one simply has to pass through the massive front doors to understand why Manitoba’s capital came to be known as Canada’s ‘Chicago of the North’.

I need more recorder repertoire on UrbanFlute, so what better composer to begin with than the inspiring Jacob van Eyck and this selection from his singular Der Fluyten Lust-hof?