Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Back in Montreal after a trip to the airport. I'm not sure if it was the European weather chaos or simple Christmas overselling, but I've been bumped from my flight. If Lufthansa is true to their word, I'm supposed to fly tomorrow, with a little Christmas bonus for my trouble.

The past few days have been mostly finally visiting and a bit of taking it easy, though I can't ignore my Christmas services - still have to play trombone every day to stay in shape. Last night there was another music reading session in a local church - we were 5: cornetto, violin, and three trombones.

I've been staying chez Douglas Kirk, and my mornings have been spent living out my long-harboured fantasy of waking up, making some coffee, and sitting at a keyboard to muck about. The gentlest way I can think of of getting neurons firing in the morning. In fact, since putting in those Ph.D. applications, I've been seeking out the feeling of neurons blasting inside my head, and playing imitative counterpoint (especially since I'm not really a keyboard player) makes them work hard in a very good way. I should find a way to make a habit of it, but it's got to be a nice instrument. In this case, it's Douglas' lovely little table-top organ, and I've been doing a combination of improvising counterpoint and playing from early Spanish sources while sipping a very fine roast. Bliss.

Having not had any proper visiting time in Ottawa, I returned there on Sunday and wandered about, savoured Jane's fantastic Paella and then went off to see Ottawa's normally luxuriant Christmas lights. There wasn't as much to see as in other years, but the parliament buildings warranted a photo:

I was feeling retrospective about this trip to Canada on my way to the airport, but now that I'm back, the feeling is gone again. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Monster post ahead! Jump to the pictures if you don't want to read the frustrating story of trying to play a concert legally in the U.S. of A.

I promised a rant a while back, so I'll do my best to tell this story as infuriatingly as I can. It has to do with getting a visa to go and play with Concerto Palatino in Seattle two weeks ago. Now, Canada has a reciprocal exchange with the USA which lets citizens of one country work in the other. This means that the Americans can come to Canada and work without any hassle or cost, while for the Canadians to go work in the USA, it costs only 2-4 months of paperwork and up to $2000 in fees. Reciprocal, you say? To which the Americans respond: We are bigger than you. At least, that's what they said when they levied five billion dollars in tarifs on softwood lumber exports from British Columbia, despite the "North American Free Trade Agreement." Parliament celebrated a huge victory when they finally convinced the US that it was unfair and guess how much they got back? 1 billion. The other four is a write-off and there isn't a lot we can do.

I don't think Canada should start asking for visas to come and play concerts. In broadcasting, we have Canadian-content laws to make sure that around 1/3 of what we call Canadian radio and tv actually comes from Canadian artists, but we like the idea of having an international cultural scene. We're proud of what we do here, but not so hoity-toity to think that Canadians should only be exposed to what's home-grown. Besides, if an arts organization wants to present someone in the world who is doing something really interesting, they can, while in the US (and the UK for that matter) the hassle and cost of getting someone in from abroad is so great that a lot of them won't bother. A most excellent violinist in Montreal wanted to audition for the extras list of a Boston Orchestra - it's one of the closest cities - only to be told not to bother, they wouldn't pay the $400 every time they wanted her to come down for a concert. Meanwhile, the top sackbut spots in Canada are taken up by Americans, who are often closer to Toronto or Vancouver than their Canadian counterparts.

Who exactly is this law serving? American presenters suffer, the audiences too, and while a mediocre musician might as well, the best ones lose the opportunity to make contacts outside of their country by inviting people to come and play concerts, not to mention the opportunity to grow from other people's experience in this very small field of early music.

Anyway, so I had to apply for a visa. It was complicated because after having paid my union dues for four years, I decided that $200 per concert was a bit steep - I'd rather leave the union and pay the external per concert fee of $50. The union does apply for visas on musicians' behalf (for the low low price of $400), but it IS possible to get one without. Being between the UK, Switzerland and Montreal, I couldn't set up an interview for "sometime in the next 60 days" anywhere, so I had to apply for an 0-1 visa, which avoids that but is only for highly specialized people with an international career. Actually, Maxine in Seattle had to. As one of the Palitini had just gotten one with no problem, it seemed like a good idea.

Maxine put in the application, which included CVs, reviews, concert programmes, contracts, letters of recommendation etc. - it was all quite a narcissistic procedure, collecting the stuff. She sent it off and we waited. And waited. And....waited....

It was 10 days late and only a week before I was to fly, when we found out they'd sent the letter to the wrong address - it ended up at Maxine's neighbour's house in Seattle. But she didn't know this and couldn't ask until she paid the $1500 "premium processing" fee which allowed her to talk to a real person. Yep, $1500 to be told that, yes it had been sent, no not that address, but one number off. So she went and got the letter from next door.

It said this (you can click on it to make it bigger):

Incidentally, not even Bruce could recall who HAD received the last Nobel Prize in Sackbuttery - I'll have to try harder next year. As to the fact that I was coming to play as a member of one of the most famous sackbut and cornetto bands in the world, with a discography of over 25 CDs and a concert history all over Europe, the Americas, Japan:

And who are these national or international experts, then?

Now things were serious. Finding an American replacement at the last minute would be tricky, by which I don't want to imply that I'm particularly special, but I am particularly specialized. The concert was at A-466 meantone for one, which is the appropriate historical pitch but requires a player who can play with historical slide positions. These positions are not just up a semitone from 440, they are up a major semitone for some notes, and up a minor semitone for others. And it was also on both alto and tenor trombone, as I was playing the third cornetto parts. Beyond these technical considerations, any group worth playing with has a way of doing things, and Concerto Palatino definitely does, permeating all articulation, tuning, timing, even the sound of the instruments...

Maxine appealed the application, which involved sending more contracts (thanks to Bruce for digging through my box in Basel for the juicy ones, and to Alex for scanning them in) and more letters (I think I'll frame one of them, people really stepped up to bat here ), and faxing a maximum of 15 pages to the Immigration office. This they did the Friday between American Thanksgiving and the weekend. Maxine called straightaway to make sure that all 15 pages had been received - yes, they had, and they would go off to Officer Tony on Monday for review. So we waited.

And waited.

Maxine was allowed to call once, so it was risky to call too early, in case the review hadn't gone in. Monday went by and Tuesday came - my flight was on Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon she finally called. "Fax? What fax? We received no fax."

Eventually they admitted that they had received the fax, but they'd lost it. She'd have to send it again, ma'am. They reminded her that they had the right to take 15 days to consider the appeal, and that Officer Tony was on holiday. So she sent the fax again and another sackbut player was found in Boston asked to jump on the plane if the whole thing didn't get cleared up in time.

That evening I played Monteverdi Vespers in Montreal, with the team of new sackbut players I'd been having a great time coaching as well as my old McGill teacher, Dominique Lortie. Beginning the concert already with a lot of tension, I almost started to cry in the Laudate Pueri when the altos started their "ad solus ortuus" cantus firmus and it hit me just how important playing my trombone is to me and just how gutted I would be if I missed playing it again with one-per-part singers and Palatino. Fortunately I had a few tacets yet to recover.

The next morning I woke up early and packed my suitcase to go to the airport on the off-chance that the visa came through, completely convinced that I would be coming straight back again. A few minutes before check-in closed, I got a message from Bruce on Skype (yay for free airport WiFi): "it's approved."

So I checked in, and went off to the airport hotel so that I could print off the approval notice when it was forwarded. Instead I got an email from Stephen Stubbs: "it's not approved yet, don't get on the plane." I tried to call Seattle to ask but couldn't get through, so I went through security and tried again at the gate. Thanks to "Officer Dan" jumping in, it had been through the first round, but not the second, where it could potentially be rejected again. The first flight was to Vancouver though, so there was still 5 hours before I had to go through US customs. I got on the plane and crossed my fingers. According to the email that I got on landing, the approval came when I was over Regina.

But of course, not having the original, I couldn't get through customs - at least not until being sent for questioning. I waited for an hour (meanwhile my connecting flight left) and then a very pleasant immigration officer looked on my computerized file, which hadn't been completely updated. The immigration office had faxed my approval notice to Seattle, but not to my point of entry, so all we had was the scanned version. Next to me, a man was being turned away, told that he was obviously leaving Canada to come to the USA for "a better life." Oh dear. They questioned me on their own about just how specialized I was and finally let me through, half an hour after my plane took of.

Kudos, then, to Air Canada took responsibility since my first flight was late and my luggage had been untraceable between flights, and paid for my dinner and breakfast and put me up in a nice hotel.

I arrived in Seattle at 10 am the next morning, ecstatic after a very sunrise beautiful flight over the rockies. The fog was so thick that we had to circle for 40 minutes, but I made it and they'd shifted the rehearsal around to wait for me before playing the Sonata. The vespers that ensued was easily one of the most fulfilling that I've ever been a part of, and I am still very touched and grateful for all the work that it took to get me there.

And here we are:

Seatlle is a lovely place - very kind and hospitable people, at least judging by the couple who put us up. I also had the luck to be put up with Kiri and Yulia. Kiri played on my very first vespers ever in 2001, and we had some catching up todo! Seattle is also very beautiful: we spent some time wandering through the Arboretum as well as gazing up at Mount Rainier:

Mount Rainier, Looming

Mount Rainier in a better mood

Hugh and Sue in the Arboretum

Both concerts went well. After the first, there was a very positive review which called our instruments "exotic." That's the second time I've seen a North American review that calls cornetts and sackbuts "exotic" - a euphemism for "they don't have a lot of work around here" as far as I can see...

The flight home, in the company of the amazing Laura Pudwell, was spectacular:

The Rockies at Dawn

I never tire of views like this

Or this

The CN tower from over Lake Ontario

Life started to turn Christmassy after that. I'm always a bit amused by the North American need to make sure you aren't liable for other people's injuries - I suppose you have to be, when suing so often parades as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Good thing I saw the sign!

After that there was a lot of hanging out with my mom, sisters, brothers-in-law, and nephews. This story needs no caption...

After a few days in Kitchener it was back to:

This visit was difficult in that I had a Ph.D. application to submit on Friday. I was working on a paper about changing organ continuo at the turn of the 17th century, but it looks like it really changed about 20 years later than I thought it did, meaning that I was reading a lot of the wrong sources and not getting anywhere. So at the last second I decided to improve a paper I'd written in 2002. It was very interesting indeed to see how much I've learned since then - I wound up editing for well over 12 hours....

When I finally handed it in, we took my oldest nephew (Dominic - he's 4) skating for the first time. It was the first time for me in a very long time too - for how dear to my heart skating is, see the last post. I also enjoyed that Dom has learned to speak - something he couldn't really do the last time I saw him. He looked down at his supper the other night and said: "This pizza is very wrong."

On the weekend my mom, both sisters and all three nephews came together and we went to the zoo:

A Rhinoceros!

A very large fish

Spot the Orchid Mantis

Fascinating Nephews

Mum and Baby Gorilla, chillin'

You'd almost think I was in the North
except for the trees

Now I'm back in Montreal, having submitted another Ph.D. application (for which I wrote an analytical paper), with a few days to visit people before I fly out on Tuesday. So I'm going to go do that!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

I have blog deficiency and will write a little something. Indeed, I already have the photos edited and uploaded for the next long post, to tell of visa woes related to my last concerts in Seattle, of family visits, polar bears in the zoo, and the extensive reading and writing for my upcoming Ph.D. applications, to which I assign full responsibility for preventing me from writing here. (The good news is, I am able to sit sufficiently still that the papers are coming along; my interest is still piqued (Or is it peaked? I hope not.); and yet I'm still sufficiently distracted to have stumbled upon a (hopefully) unique perspective on Scotch Education. I'm sure the part about the debt at least is correct.

The last paper is due tomorrow, and having started today before six, I have a planned distraction in the afternoon which I hope will bear some fruits. Despite this, it's hard to move ahead now at full steam at 8:30 in the morning, knowing that no matter what I do, I'll be tinkering with more or less advanced stages of bibliography-formatting well into the night.

A short word about the snow: my present workspace looks out onto a riverside park here in Ottawa - we launch the canoe just 150 meters away in summer. It's covered in snow (both the park and the canoe, that is) - the powdery kind that's not much good for snowballs. I get the same nostalgic feeling looking at this fresh snow that I did at the smell of the leaves on the street shortly after I landed in Montreal in October. There is no mystery to this snow, it's an old friend. Looking out, I know and look forward to how it will feel to breathe in the cool but gentle air when I leave the house, and also the kind of texture that my feet will step into. This is the kind of snow that used to fall onto the ice rink at the end of the street. In the evening the kids played hockey (I joined in sometimes but was never much good with the stick), and as night came a designated dad from the neighbourhood (often mine) would go to maintain the ice, which they did so well that it was hard to skate on the knobbly Rideau Canal afterward. Every night they would come out with the hose and spray a new layer of water to smooth out the cracks left from games. (Some skaters carved worse marks in the ice than others, and for the benefit of the low-impact types - that is to say, who were still learning to brake - there were snowbanks framing the ice on all sides.)

Some mornings in high school, when the snow was falling just like this, I would leave the house too early and with my skates over my shoulder so that when I passed the rink I could be the first and only one to cut patterns in the new snow, still under the light of the streetlamps or in some lucky cases, the moon. I went ice skating for the first time in a few years last week, but I still miss the feeling you get when you have a whole rink to yourself and can build up such speed that you can coast from one end to the other.

Canoe and Windsor Park, Ottawa

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn't use it for ranting. Rants, after all, are usually much more satisfying to write than to read. So I haven't posted the last few days because I didn't think I could hold I'm going to try, but I guarantee that there will be a serious rantstravaganza in the next post or two - I'll at least try to make it funny and informative. Oh, the suspense.

Meanwhile, it's funny proposing programmes of Early Brass to conductors - a task crucial to this trip which I'm finally tackling these days - because even though in the 16th Century it was much more common to hear brass in the church and in the streets than strings, yet it's something of a specialty item in modern concerts. Oh, we did a brass programme last year, mustn't repeat ourselves. Our violin colleagues don't have this problem; no one says - oh, the last programme had violins, so let's do something different this time. No, no, violins every concert and it goes unquestioned, while we brass players have to wait around a year and a half between gigs from the same group. And they wonder why we try to charge more?

Last weekend, a visit to family in Kitchener and Toronto provided many delightful moments of all-engaging cuteness. My nephews are 1, 2 and 4 and I remember now how important it can be to have kids around in order to keep perspective on the world.

Now back to Diruta's 1593 treatise on organ playing. I'm writing a paper as part of Ph.D. applications and I decided, remembering back to the recording sessions 6 weeks ago, to investigate how using big loud metal organs as the usual accompaniment instrument in Italy in the 16th Century affects singing and playing. Remember that? I see that Il Transilvano is written in a dialogue style, like the Morely and many other treatises. Why don't we do this for academic papers anymore?

Oh, and Happy St. Andrew's Day to all Scots out're probably asleep by now!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I was walking down the street in Verdun on Sunday (I'd left the computer adapter in the café - oops!) when I saw some sweaters on a rack outside a shop for $2.99. Slave-labour, I thought, and checked the tags: "Made in Canada" - and discounted from $40... so I bought two. It was only when I got home and threw all my sweaters in a pile that I looked at them together and realized, to my utter shock and horror that: Ladies and Gentlemen, the TGV collection is now complete!

The TGV Collection

Alas, how many times have I complained about the hideous purple and orange which accost the traveler? Of course, one can pay an extra few euros and upgrade to first class, which doesn't constitute an improvement in service or space allowance but the seats are lime green instead. Could've been worse: Could've been Thalys...!

Sunday afternoon I tried Bubble Tea for the first time - interesting, even tasty, but altogether I can only rate it not bad as I can't say I got excited about little goopy black balls coming up my straw, supposedly the best part. The seaweed salad and tofu that it came with was amazing though.

Yesterday another Montreal Early Brass reading session with lots of Rore and Andrea Gabrieli. Renaissance music is more and more exciting to play - I hope you find the same after you've read the book that's second on the list here. (Don't know why there's a picture of "The Economist's Oath!") Regarding the book first on this list, it's brought me much pleasure and made for excellent conversation with fellow musicians. As a little thank you, this afternoon I made a Tiramisù for Bruce Haynes and will eat it with him tomorrow.

In case you needed reminding....

Saturday, 20 November 2010

I'm pretty well set up here at Le Victoria, a café crêperie chocolatier on Wellington St. in Verdun:

The past few days have been a good balance between visiting, Ph.D. stuff, concert admin, getting exercise, playing sackbut, and listening to others play. Normally these things don't balance out very well at all, so that's quite refreshing!

Coming back from Ottawa on Wednesday night, I met someone who had been on the bus for three days - come from Calgary. 20 or so, he didn't know any French but was heading to Mont Tremblant to learn some and find some work for the winter, traveling with a few bags of clothes, a bus ticket (that's "coach" to UK folk) and some hope. Quite sleep-deprived by the time we started chatting in line for the bus, he was starting to doubt the whole thing though - a state of mind not helped by another 20-year old telling him she thought he was pretty crazy. I, on the other hand, was reminded how tired and terrified I was, sitting underground in the Zurich airport train station on Sept. 29th, 2004, with two suitcases full of myriad odds and ends, all my family and friends an ocean and the entire country of France away. I remember sitting there waiting for the Basel train, suddenly remembering that I had a chocolate chip cookie that mom had bought me at the airport. Never was a cookie so comforting as that one, I savoured every bite. Now, when we got off the bus in Montreal, where this traveler would have to wait all night for the next bus to Tremblant, I told him that I admired his courage and gave him one of the chocolate bars I'd brought from Switzerland before saying goodbye.

Thursday: more singing from original notation and more sackbuttery, and then nothing at all. I went to bed extra extra early, which might account for why yesterday was so good. I had some time at the library, then met a friend for coffee, went to a harpsichord recital, then picked up a bicycle from a friend in Westmount and biked the 13 km back home, almost all of which was along bike paths protected from the road with concrete dividers - a nice addition to the Montreal infrastructure! Being back on a bicycle was great - I'd forgotten about that level of endorphins, which I re-acheived this morning biking to the Metro station with a very strong headwind. It's a north-west wind again, bringing arctic air: a proper crisp Canadian winterness which doesn't mess with the blue sky. Thank goodness though for the little headband I bought the other day: my ears are still on.

This morning a bit of hard-core practising to get in shape for the upcoming Vespers. It's been good to have some time off, but after a gentle warm-up I threw myself into some Bartolomeo de Selma dulcian music for a challenge. I find often that my face will figure out what it needs to do better if I concentrate on making music than if I am thinking directly about technical things. Do other instrumentalists feel the same?

After the bike to the Metro, I was frustrated to find a 5-place bike rack with 10 bikes in it and no-bike signs on all the poles. So I brought my bike with me on the train. Oh well. I had sort of decided by then that today was a good day, but this note stuck to the inside window of the metro train cemented it for me:

Random Cheer on a Saturday Morning
(...would this be considered litter in Basel?)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Gone Fishin'.

The last two days were mini Indian Summer, so what luck to have planned yesterday to be out in the canoe with my Dad. We chose as our lake Big Rideau, the lake we went to almost every summer when I was growing up, where we'd caught lots of fish, where I'd learned to fillet them, and where I would spend afternoons catching frogs and whiddling sticks and all those things kids do when brought to some place without television. It was a good choice too, because as we got closer, the clear day became misty. When we got to the water we couldn't see more than 10 meters or so...we might have hesitated to launch into another lake in a whiteout, but on this stretch of Big Rideau we knew well enough that the shoreline would always tell us where we were.

Mist and Glasswater, Hogg Bay

We drove into an access road and saw a white-tailed deer almost right away, then a muskrat. We launched at the Lally Homestead, the ruins of an 1860's farm situated in Murphy's Point Provincial Park. It also lies on the Rideau Trail, which runs from Ottawa to Kingston (as does the lake and canal system), and we had to park the car at the trailhead and portage in. Here's me carrying the canoe, which is made of Kevlar and very light at around 23 kg.

Portaging the Canoe

We headed onto the lake in the mist, only to be surrounded by the calls of all the dozens of Canada geese who were shocked at our presence.

Canada Geese in the Mist

We cast a few lines near the beach, where we've caught many a largemouth Bass, but there was nothing at all, so we headed down the bay to the narrows which open up onto the main part of Big Rideau:

The mist was starting to clear to reveal a gorgeous blue sky, so we headed to one of the canoe-in camping sites for lunch. Again, a walk down memory lane as I've spent weeks of my life at a favourite site, where now we set up the stove and made pea soup and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.

On the beach at the canoe-in site

When we left, we noted that the water was incredibly clear, and the rocks on the bottom were covered in zebra mussels - a recent addition to the Rideau ecosystem. These sharp little beasts eat by filtering food out of water and each mussel can filter up to a liter a day. In these quantities, entire lakes are being filtered every day, which explains why the water was so clear.

Zebra Mussel Infestation

The canoe out to the old boathouse, where the pike normally live hasn't changed at all, except that it seems shorter every time. The coastline is covered in wind-swept pines, birches, and the big granite rocks which characterize the Canadian Shield.

Coastline on the Canadian Shield

It's hardly wilderness though. Cottage country rather. Once we left the boundaries of the provincial park, there were cottages spaced out along the lakeshore. This one had an Inukshuk to greet the paddlers-by.


Even by the old boathouse, there was not only a distinct lack of nibbling going on on the part of the fish, but no signs of life beneath the water at all. There were even a few flies sunbathing o the surface. We did see a few loons though, and on the way back to the homestead, came across this muskrat lodge (which we'd passed in the morning but hadn't seen in the mist).

Muskrat Lodge

With still no sign of fish, we went to the beach again to see if at least there were minnows, shiners or perch. Nothing. Today I read that all fish will seek out deeper water once the weather cools, so our assumption that coolness by the shores would bring the trout out of their depths was simply false. Oh well. The paddle was lovely, and we weren't the only sign of disappointed fishing expeditions on the lake:

Red and White Bobber in a Tree

On the way home, we passed many a tumbledown grey barn and some silos and I thought to myself that, actually, North American architecture is really interesting. It was Gawain who pointed out a few weeks ago that front porches are not common elsewhere, and it's in North America that timber frame houses have undergone a revival since the 1970's, mixing the old German tradition with new techniques and new materials, allowing for large insulated windows and such. We really have our own style now - so why don't we celebrate it?

Today it is rainy and blustery and I'm sitting inside drinking tea. I did get out earlier on, with amusing results: as a countermeasure to the grey and cold ennui, I made an impulse purchase and am now the proud owner of a small purple ukulele. I bought it because I think it's important to keep music-making on an amateur level in my life, just do it for fun and not for money. Having harpsichords in every practice room at the Schola served that purpose - 10 minutes of random preluding in a sackbut break would leave me full of gumption again. I've already been in touch with a Basel fidel player who will give me some leftover gut I just need to find a gamba or theorbo player, cook them supper, and learn how to tie frets so that I can play in tune.

A Grey Barn and Farmhouse

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped off on the fourteenth of November.

This little history lesson was recorded in 1956 in Campbeltown, and given to me by David McGuinness.

I finished the grant application and triumphantly mailed it off on Wednesday. If I don't get any money, I still feel a sense of triumph for handing it in in the first place, it was a lot of work and a lot of waking up of old brain cells. Now onto some papers to form part of my McGill Ph.D. application - at least I'm quite excited about some topics and have a bit of momentum.

On Thursday I went to the weekly singing off of facsimile session first thing in the morning. Almost everyone had a coffee but me and I must remember to bring one of my own next time - it was rather tortuous to watch! The singing was great fun though: I can't find an interesting-looking motet right now, but here's a very good song printed by the same printer, Ottaviano Petrucci to give you an idea what it looks like. Not that different from modern notation actually.

Then I did my first hour and a half of my life teaching a group lesson on sackbut, which was very fun and I'm pleased I get to do it twice more in preparation for McGill's performance of the Monteverdi vespers. I've been working on explaining meantone temperament to melody instrument players - I'll post a link when I come up with a web page (there are others if you look around, but geared to keyboardists).

I needed to stay in downtown Montreal for a talk that Iain Fenlon was giving later that evening, so in the meantime I did what I've been meaning to do in a long time: I climbed the mountain. Sitting in a café, I noticed the sun was already going down (it was just gone four!) so I left at a quick pace. The first step was to locate the hole in the fence behind the residences that leads to the mountain path. Sounds exciting, but it's become much more of an official way into the park since my days...

Not really a secret path anymore

I marched up the path and the many steps, seeing the sky behind me grow purple through the trees, and reached the top in time to miss the sun but still catch its glorious colours in the west. The moon was out too.

Piazza at the top of Mount Royal

I stood on top of the mountain, taking in the view through dusk and into twilight, pondering this city and the hills and the ("mighty") St. Lawrence in the distance. I was pleased when after 10 minutes or so I ran across the bronze book that tells about Jacques Cartier standing in the same place, doing the exact same thing whilst looking out over the village of Hochelaga in 1535.

Sunset over Hochelaga.

Twilight falls over Montreal

Peel Street and the Mighty St. Lawrence

As often happens, I got distracted by having my camera in my hands and took silhouette pictures on the way down.

You can almost see the other side of the moon.

Iain Fenlon's talk was fascinating, painting a picture of Venice in the 1570's by describing the visit of Henry III of France followed by the Plague outbreak which devastated the city. He spoke again the next day on music printing in Spain, the study of historical margin notes and of trade routes. He was quite a good story-teller and managed to make both talks lively and informative and give me hope that a Ph.D. really is a good idea. Where is still up in the air though.

Now, unchained from my computer for a brief time, I'm off to go have second breakfast near McGill, and then will make my way to Ottawa to do some visiting. If the weather holds up tomorrow or Tuesday, I might even head out onto Big Rideau Lake in the canoe and do some fishing with my Dad.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I've been in Canada almost two weeks now and I still wake up every morning at 5 or 6 (or 4 right after the time change) - what's up with that? I lay in bed this morning feeling grumpy about that and the fact that I'm still struggling to complete my grant application due tomorrow when I had a wonderful realization: I've been writing for days about rhetoric and the expressive powers of music but seem to have forgotten its practical applications...

There aren't a lot of tracks which can reverse the feeling of having gotten (UK: when in Canada...) up on the wrong side of the bed, but the Martyrs/O Lusty May set on Concerto Caledonia's album Spring Any Day Now does the trick. Every time. I think it's because it starts out quite grumpy, and then quite protestant, and then it secretly changes (can you find the spot?) to one of the most joyful things you'll ever hear. And, sometimes only meantone will do. Trust me on this one.

I took a Greyhound to Ottawa on Saturday and here's what I saw at the bus station diner. I thought it was a menu, but then realized that it was a shopping list.

I'll have the Frozen Chicken Breasts and Moutarde, Please.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Just finishing off a toasted St. Viateur Bagel while my coffee brews. I need to write a grant application today, but first I need to do something restful to divide this crazy life into bite-sized chunks. A walk up the mountain would be an option, but given the cold and cloud, updating my blog is most appealing.

After painstakingly explaining to my European friends that Canadian October is pretty normal and one can't expect snow until a few weeks yet, I woke up on Sunday morning to this view out the window:

Snowy Rooftops in Longueuil

Oh well. Sunday's concert was lots of fun - I've always wanted to do an all Biber and Schmelzer programme and this one was really well-balanced. I got to play top trombone on the instrumental stuff and bottom trumpet of 4 on a Motet and Magnificat. I love playing bass parts generally because you can give direction to the whole ensemble and , and while I had only 4 notes to choose from, it was never boring because I had to figure out which notes were more important than others - a decision which would boom moments later through St. Léon de Westmount! I'd like to do more of that...

After catching up with friends post-concert and celebrating Shannon Mercer's awesome recital with La Nef two nights before, we sang in Shannon's birthday as off-key as only musicians can: no two pitch levels the same, please!

Monday morning I went down to a car-rental place only to find that even though my Swiss License - which has no expiry date - says "Permis de Conduire," no one will accept it here as the rest is in German. Boo. But the car rental company transferred the reservation to a branch near where Gawain was staying and we hit the road in an hour. We didn't go to St-Georges or St-Nicolas or St-Redempteur.

It was hard not to drive straight on towards the
mountains and find a casse-croute in Tadoussac

How very odd that when a European comes to Canada, I want to show them the most European part of our country. But Québec City is very beautiful even from the first view through the city gates.

Toque knitted by my mom and main street

Lunch consisted of Pea Soup, Poutine, Tourtière and Maple Syrup pie with local beer, one of the many gastronomical successes of the week. After last week in Germany, where it's considered a bit cheeky to order tap water and not something expensive from a bottle, it was astonishing to both Gawain and I how Canadian restaurants keep coming around and topping up our glasses of tap water, which came often unordered. But it's maybe more necessary here too - the air is so dry and the forced-air heating so ubiquitous that it's very hard to stay hydrated at the best of times. I suppose with such a thirsty population and excellent microbreweries all over, this probably helps to keep public drunkenness down too.


Lots of calories to burn off, let the wandering begin! Our first stop was an Inuit Art Gallery where we got explanations of Inukshuk and other stone and bone sculpture from very far North of here. In a little alleyway, we came across this bronze figure of a Log Driver, reminiscent of the NFB short, Log Driver's Waltz, which Gawain and Kirsty saw for the first time as a prelude to a film about Morris dancing in their village hall in East Knoyle. I'm quite pleased that if I hum a few measures, Peter gets it stuck in his head, and that Dawn was able to sing along the other night in the pub. Methinks I'm home!

I'm not sure that it's business of yours
but I DO like to Waltz with the Log-Driver!

We then headed up to the plains of Abraham, where the English scaled the cliffs in the dead of night and took Canada from the French. Sort of.

Château Frontenac and The Mighty St. Lawrence

We thought we'd seen it all at dusk and were about to head back when we looked over a little lookout and, what's that? There was a whole Basse Ville under us. So we wandered down to the most charming part of Québec city.

What's that?

The Old Old City, with snow on a rooftop

Bemoaning our lack of hunger whilst surrounded by lovely cafes and bistros, we wandered in here for a coffee and got instead enticed by the fish soup and salad with rabbit livers. And coffee.

At the sign of the prancing rabbit

Then it was time to go back to Montreal.

Montreal has been lovely too, there's been a lot of going places by foot and making pilgrimages to sample local cuisine. Here is a complete meal from Schwartz's Charcuterie Hébraïque:

And some typical multi-coloured façades:

Winter backed away eventually too. I was a bit late for the fiery reds, but the yellows in the park were still there and still impressive. In Switzerland they don't tend to let the leaves stay on the ground long enough to give off their distinctive scent or be kicked around by pedestrians.

Tuesday afternoon I was looking around the plateau for a place to have a coffee when someone on the street said "You must go to Club Social, it's the best." And indeed, it was the best coffee I've had in the past few months. May I say? While I have had some really mediocre roadside filter coffee since arriving here, every time I've gone for a cappuccino the quality has been at least as good as in Switzerland. Yey!

Yesterday the early brass of Montreal got together and we did a reading session a7 (Matt Jennejohn was there too but had to dash off before we could take a photo). Reading sessions both vocal and instrumental are a common occurrence around these parts.

Montreal Early Brass and Gawain