I feel I should point out, after an eight month blogging hiatus, that I’m nowhere near as bad with my music deadlines as I am with keeping up on my social media and blog stuff. But it’s sure been a musically demanding past couple of months. Partially due to other commitments, partially settling back in to my other reality (aka my day job), and partially from reveling in and reflecting on all the experiences, I’m just now catching up. There’s too much to cram into one post, so let’s start with the farther dates.
The week before Christmas I attended my first Midwest Clinic, the U.S.’ largest congress for wind, big bands and educational ensembles, held annually in Chicago at the end of December. It’s always a treat to be in the Windy City, though for those of us who embrace the Yuletide, the scheduling of this right before the holidays is daunting. It was a great time, but boy howdy you get some workout racing from one seminar or concert to another through the mammoth McCormick Place conference center (four months later I still have a bunion on my left foot from from the endless sprinting).
The band world is one I’ve had limited exposure to, so it was fantastic and eye opening to be immersed in it for three days. What a massive display (17,000 attendees!) of extraordinary talent and enthusiasm, especially from performers mostly still in high school. What a treat to meet, hang out and share ideas with such a panoply of composers and performers. And there can be no better gift to oneself at any time of year than extended time with the glorious, luminous Alex Shapiro and the inimitable duo Frank Oteri and Trudy Chan.
Larger societal issues played through my head during the conference. On one hand, with the long-overdue repercussions from the #metoo movement still very much in the news, I was disappointed that the number of women and POC composers seemed fairly small (I understand anecdotally that it’s improved since previous years). On the other, I was aware that so many of the organization leaders I interacted with – mostly older, Caucasian, heterosexual men from parts of the country I’ve yet to visit – probably held differing social and political views to myself. Yet here we were, interacting perfectly amicably and enthusiastically in the full camaraderie of our shared love of music. A heartening reminder of what a leveling, binding thing the arts can be.
What if anything comes from my visit remains to be seen. The joy of the camaraderie alone was worth it. I’ve got several chats to follow up on, and I would love to try my hand at this unique instrumental soundscape (Off Beat for band, anyone?). Still, it’s such an enormous, wide spread, involved genre requiring much time and dedication in terms of networking and cultivation… but as the last five years have repeatedly proven to me, you never know.
Then after a quick breather for the holidays, it was time to prep for the premiere of my jazz re-write of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore at Edmonton Opera.
It still seems slightly surreal to have blithely taken a one week sabbatical from a demanding corporate office job with no connection whatsoever to the arts – especially music – packed my warmest clothing and gone off to northern Canada to mount a brand new jazz version for a hefty cast and a 40-piece hybrid orchestra written in something of a vacuum of a beloved Gilbert & Sullivan classic. Ironically, the constant flux and turmoil at this current day job over the last seven years may have provided beneficial preparation for this experience. My role has been changed so many times and to such an extent that heading off to tackle the first outing of this two hour 10 minute production, with the inevitable hiccups, rewrites, on the spot changes – including creating an unforeseen auxiliary percussion part in approximately one hour – seemed largely unremarkable.
In hindsight, it was anything but unremarkable, and was certainly a joy to be a part of. Having previously been involved in smaller, less complicated productions, it was something else have an integral role in this lavishly conceived, costumed and cast production, and to have come away proud that I matched the level of the rest of the creative team. I can’t praise them enough: director Rob Herriott, assistant director Farren Timoteo, choreographer Jason Hardwick, costume designer Deanna Finnman, set designer Camellia Koo, lighting designer Geoffrey George, and sound designer Robert Smale.
And what a luxurious cast featuring entirely Canadian talent, a lot of it local: Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, Adrian Kramer, Glenn Nelson, Bridget Ryan, Geoffrey Sirret, Dion Mazerolle, Ryan Parker, and Glynis Price. The Opera’s game chorus dove in to the spirit with high kicking heels and made a glorious noise in both finales. I’m eternally grateful to CEO Tim Yakimec for entrusting me with this assignment, and bow to artistic director Ha Neul Kim, who not only handles all the logistics of the company but stage manages every production and calls every performance. I’m equally grateful to conductor Peter Dala brought my ideas spectacularly to life, and to the Edmonton Symphony for patiently working their way through all the changes and performing it with such panache.
The warmth of the artistic experience undoubtedly helped erase any indication of being in arctic climes at the end of January. Despite temperatures generally below 0० Farenheit, I found the weather delightfully bracing. Edmonton certainly has the most pristine snow of any city I’ve visited: no matter where you went, with the exception of the center the roads, the snow was untouched and breathtaking. Which when you’re used to New York City’s almost instant sullying of its snowfall is remarkable. (Mind you, I didn’t see a single dog during my trip, which might have something to do with it.) And this kind of weather is happily conducive to indulging in the city’s many culinary pleasures. My decision to undertake this project with it’s gelid timing was influenced in no small part by the opportunity to properly explore Edmonton’s food scene, and especially to return to Rge Rd, a trip I happily saved for opening night. Don’t fail to make this eatery a top priority if you’re visiting.
Of the many unforgettable memories I’ll retain from this experience – the thrill of hearing a piece that so challenged my talents come out so right, the backstage giggles, the camaraderie, the decadent culinary pleasures, the gorgeous landscape – one will easily top the rest. Our final dress rehearsal was held in front of an audience of local school children – filling the 2300 seat Jubilee Auditorium’s to capacity. Wrapped up as I was in concentrating on the stage specifics, it wasn’t until Act 2 that I became aware of their growing delight with the performance, which they indicated with almost deafening cheers at curtain. I’ll always regret not getting a picture with the group that recognized me afterwards from the program – none of whom could have been older than nine – and were enthusing about how much they’d loved the experience. Tim had opened the show with a welcome speech hoping that the experience might inspire some of them to pursue artistic or theatrical careers. It’s goose-bumpingly awe inspiring to think, from the glee exhibited as they exited, that in my small way I may have inluenced that.
I contributed some thoughts to the opera’s website on the creative process behind the show. This teaser video by the company gives a nice overview of the show’s look, and you can check out other aspects of the show on the dedicated page on my site.
OK, that’s enough for one post, don’t you agree?