Archive for August, 2009

A Little Bridge Music, Poughkeepsie, NY

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Bridge Music, Bertolozzi

I first heard about Joseph Bertolozzi’s Bridge Music project from a friend at Toronto’s Jet Fuel Coffee a couple of years ago, and immediately my imagination was seized with curiosity. So much of what I heard described about turning a bridge into a massive, musical instrument for the general public to enjoy – not to mention the audacity of such an undertaking – resonated with for me with my fledgling Urban Flute Project, and I simply had to go. During a lull in the Tanglewood festivities and after driving 4 hours west from Boston, nothing could prepare me for the real experience of walking out on the Mid-Hudson Bridge and exploring this amazing musical creation.

Having finally arriving in the Poughkeepsie area, there was no problem locating this massive suspension bridge that spans the Hudson River. The real challenge, as it turned out, was to find the musical installation! Like Torontonians perhaps taking the CN Towerfor granted, most locals I spoke with had no idea what I was talking about, or only a vague idea as to how to get ‘there’ and listen to  the bridge! Finally, after an hour of crossing the bridge a couple of times, I ended up in the right little parkette tucked in the shadow of the bridge on the west side of the Hudson, just north of the tollbooth – $1 US to drive across: ouch!

After a bridge traffic prelude, here is a colourful sampler of Bertolozzi’s captivating musical creations assembled from the sounds that he sampled from the bridge – the range of textures and musical styles is simply astonishing! Alternatively, if you have a fancy shortwave radio or find yourself in the Poughkeepsie area, this bridge music plays 24/7 at 95.3 on your FM dial. Or better yet? Walk out on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge  (The Mid-Hudson Bridge) and experience this unique music for yourself!

For directions t0 the Poughkeepsie Bridge click here.

Tangled Wood!

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Bach, Adagio

Check out this incredible tree that I discovered in a quiet corner of the resplendent grounds of Tanglewood. Talk about getting tangled up in Tanglewood, which is exactly what I proceeded to do. The quiet glade called out to me to play my flute and check out the acoustics of this natural space.

Admittedly the calibre of my playing falls a tad short compared to Sir James Galway, whose performances celebrating his 70th birthday had brought me to Lenox, Massachusetts in the first place. Considering that I was recording while dealing with challenging playing conditions (see below) I figure it’s still certainly worth posting and sharing with you.

Sure, I have soundfiles galore from my first visit to the summer home of the Boston Symphony, but some may be a little too hot to handle. Just to give you an idea what I’m talking about, I learned recently from a friend who had just returned from New York that they have introduced a policy of imposing fines of up to $6,000 for recording live performances. Mind you, that hefty fine exists on Broadway, and fair enough: where any kind of union gig is concerned, this is a part of my recording sleuth-work that I treat with utmost care and respect, naturally. Aware of some potential legal ‘entanglements’ where any Tanglewood concert-sampling might be concerned, how could I pass up the opportunity to discreetly record a little at Tanglewood – a little musical souvenir – especially with the discovery of this secluded spot during a break between concerts?

As the sun was setting over the Berkshires, I pulled out what I thought were some familiar Bach Sonatas, but in the deep shadows of my little pantheistic performance salon, I suddenly realized that I had in fact grabbed a different book as I was leaving Toronto – these turned out to be Bach’s violin sonatas transcribed for flute: brand new material, so sight-reading it would be I gamely decided. I have had distractions when I’ve played in various locations, to be sure, but little did I realize just what was about to unfold. And it turned out I was soon to have some company.

As I set up and began to play – sotto voce so as not to disturb the patrons at the fancy restaurant up the hill – a father and his two sons wandered through, chatting amicably and began climbing the lower branches of the tree. As long as my flute-playing wasn’t disturbing them that was just fine by me – the more the merrier – and in fact it was delightful to see this storied tree get some added attention and this kind of playful interaction.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the family I was worried about. As I played, friendly (read voracious) mosquitoes descended upon me en masse with a kind of ferocity that suggested to me that they must have direct genetic links to their Winnipeg brethren! If my thirty-second notes aren’t bang-on, or the ends of some of my phrases chop off a little abruptly, just imagine me taking advantage of any short rests in the music to swat away at this pesky cloud of Bach-loving bloodsuckers!! They were all over me: on my arms, biting through my denim, even on my face as I valiantly played on, the kids playing in the tree all but forgotten!

After this hasty read-through, I decided I wouldn’t hazard another take, packed up quickly and hustled off to hear the Boston Symphony perform some Beethoven, Debussy’s La Mer and Copland’s Appalachian Spring!

Simple Gifts, Essex NY

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J. Brackett, Simple Gifts

We now go from The Big Apple (see previous post) to one of my favourite areas within a day’s driving radius of Toronto: Lake Champlain, the historic trading route and once the scene of many international battles that runs north-south between Vermont and the state of New York.

A generous offer to hang out for a couple of days at a friend’s family cottage in Essex on the New York side of the lake came through just before leaving Toronto, and I didn’t fully realize what a welcome resting spot this would be after driving hither and yon throughout New England. (In a way this is like jumping to the last page of my story about visiting Tanglewood for the first time, but rest assued that I won’t give away too much of the plot!)

Situated on a verdant promentory on the New York side of the lake, this charmingly understated and historic cottage offered views of the Green Mountains of Vermont across the glistening waters, as well as glimpses of the local ferry plying back and forth every half hour. What better way to catch my breath after ten days of recording adventures and exploring the open road?

During my stint at cottage-sitting – as if exploring local shops, admiring the incredible pre-Revolutionary War architecture of Essex’ historic downtown, cycling on my Brodie through the countryside and even hitting the links at a nearby century-old golf course weren’t enough – the icing on the cake came early on when I discovered a wonderful collection of books on a shelf in living room of the cottage. The book I randomly pulled off the shelf was Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

On that first morning of my return to the shores to Lake Champlain, transported to some childhood place by the comforting, faintly musty smell of the cottage and the gentle sound of the waves, I dove into Nabokov’s four incredible Cantos.

During intermittent breaks in my reading, I assembled one of the flutes I had taken with me on my travels, a wonderful antique wooden flute made of lustrous rosewood replete with glowing patina, and worked up a few tunes. This slightly undersized, single-keyed flute of indeterminate age and origin appears to be at least 150 years old and seemed the perfect instrument for this rendition of Simple Gifts. This is arguably the most popular of the hundreds of Shaker hymns, melodies written in the area I had found myself travelling through.

If you listen carefully, you can imagine my moving out onto the open-air verandah where the muted sound of the waves lapping on the shoreline can be heard, a ‘canvas’ to paint sound upon. The short song of a nearby bird signals the end of the piece as the distant ringing of bells announce high noon.

Note: You can thank Canada’s own Leonard Cohen for the inspiration to assemble this post…speaking of fantastic literature, I have taken a break from Pale Fire, a copy of which I secured immediately upon my return to Toronto, to read Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. An amazing read, it can be somewhat gruelling at times, although just now an amazing chapter presented itself like an oasis in the midst of depravity:

Chapter 32 (insert text here, describing early encounters of European explorers with Native culture and individuals, including Kateri Tekakwitha, the visionary daughter of a Mohawk chief.)


In The Big Apple

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Mendelssohn, Herbstlied

You might almost think that 9/11 had never ocurred the way we were able to just waltz right into The Big Apple and do our thing!? Entering the giant spherical structure on the south side of the 401 a couple hours east of Toronto was a refreshingly low-keyed affair, and wonderfully without the scrutinizing gaze of any overt security.

Keeping to an apple theme after some Rossini (see previous post), I dug out this trio of Mendelssohn’s Autumn Song arranged by Louis Moyse which alludes to peak harvest season in Ontario’s thriving apple-belt.

Our rendition here should give you the basic sense of this wonderful, evocative melody. Road-weary as we found ourselves, headed to the Kingston area for a wedding gig, we hummed and hawed about a strategy for repeats and a da capo for our spontaneous read-through! I like to think that our playing captures the flavour of this unique acoustic space. The positive reaction of those walking through the spherical space as they took in our renegade music-making was gratifying, and made me wonder if we might pitch the idea of an alternative style of concert series!

Thanks to Charlie for taking a few pics, including this one:


Especially compared to this random Youtube version of Herbstlied, I stand by our basic approach. Admittedly under tempo, I like to think our approach and resulting sound is more ‘autumnal’ in effect!

Which do you prefer?


Checking out The Big Apple

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Rossini, William Tell Overture

With a lot of my colleagues rolling into NYC this week for the National Flute Association’s annual convention, I feel a bit like Cinderella staying back from the ball to attend to summer teaching and some blog-style housekeeping.

So here is my unique musical rendition of visiting The Big Apple. A couple of weeks ago I was headed to the Kingston area with a couple of musician friends to provide background music for what proved to be a wonderful wedding in Odessa. The guys in the trio were game to take a short break from driving and to check out the acoustics of the ginormous (sp?) apple that can be seen on the south side of the 401 a couple hours east of Toronto.

Joking around about what music might be good to play, Max, the violinist, gamely launched into this rendition of Rossini’s The William Tell Overture…you know, speaking of apples!

Here’s to a great NFA flute convention – believe me, I’m there in spirit!

Sharing the Stage with Johnny Winter

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Donjon, Salon Etude #?

I’ve been enjoying numerous collaborations with folk-rock musicians in recent months, including recording sessions and impromptu performances and CD launches at clubs along Dundas Street and Queen West. As a classically trained musician, I like being challenged, pushing the envelope in terms of the musical genres that I embrace and dive into, as humbling as that may seem at times!

In speaking with staff at the Latchis, I learned that one of the many great musicians and artists to have graced the stage as part of a recent fundraiser in the incredible art deco, Greek-themed theater, was none other than one of he original bluesmen himself, than the ineffable Johnny Winter.

How could I resist venturing forth onto that same stage and rocking out on some Johannes Donjon? In retrospect, I s’pose I should’ve been playing The Blues, but there you go…next time I bring the band!

One obscure link I stumbled upon suggests that the flute virtuoso and composer Donjon was succeeded by Paul Taffanel at the Paris Conservatoire, who in turn was succeeded by my teacher’s teacher Marcel Moyse. For flute players, the name Moyse and Brattleboro are inseparable. More by accident than by design, I ended up playing music relalting to this great family of flute players in the name of Donjon! I’m not sure what either Louis or Marcel Moyse might have had to say about the Winter Brothers, but I like to think I did them – all of them – proud on the Latchis Theater stage.

In terms of acoustics, I was thinking of this as somewhat of a comparative study as opposed to any kind of definitive performance. But then I realized that I pushed myself, and, not wanting to bore you, chose another of Donjon’s Salon Etudes. Notice how the acoustics – as fine as they are from the stage here – are markedly different from when I read through the same etude in the resonant lobby. I make no apology for this truncated of the original study: first thing the next morning after 14 hours of driving the previous day, I stand by my spontaneous rendition here!

Since this might be the last post regarding the historic Latchis (at least for the time being!) here are a couple of other glimpses of the magnificent theater:



…and speaking of the Winter Brothers, this Youtube of The Edgar Winter Band’s Frankenstein has got to be one of the great vids of all time! The multi-instrumentalist musicianship demonstrated here is masterful as they jam and laugh their way through this original classic of the rock genre…apparently in one take. This video makes me laugh every time I see it: these guys are the real dope and remind us lame-ass Classical Musicians that music can be fun!

And I’m not even talking about dress-code or alt hair styles.

Back from Tanglewood

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Thunder, Rain & Flute

Just back from attending concerts at Tanglewood, and stories to tell!

It seems that I took the rain and thunderstorms with me everywhere I went…what’s with that? Here’s an impression of  Toronto’s Casa Loma from my back deck, along with the sounds of yet another storm as it subsided and settled into a steady rain on the day of my return.

The breathy sound of my Polynesian Flute seems to magically invoke the distant rumble of  thunder, creating a meditative, conversational soundscape.

Tales from New England forthcoming, now that I am back on-line!


An Art Deco Music Stand!

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Volubile, J. Donjon

After getting a second coffee on that first morning back in Brattleboro, I lingered and played discreetly in the lobby of the Latchis Hotel and Theater. The Latchis is currently undergoing an exemplary, multi-year revitalization…learn more about the Brattleboro Arts Initiative here. This is a real success story that other communities and arts organizations might do well to emulate!

When I record in different spaces, I’ve been known to prop my music up in dusty window-wells or on the gritty floors of construction or demolition sites, but this is the first Art Deco music stand that I’ve ever used. It was very civilized, I have to admit, and an auspicious way to start my whirlwind road trip through New England!

The arpeggiated arabesque phrases of Johannes Donjon’s Volubile – the opening piece in his 8 Etudes de Salon -seemed well suited for the generous, live acoustic.


Here is a detail from the lobby’s interior, just around the corner from the fabulous Latchis theater, “…a Monument to the Moderne” circa 1930.