Monday, 21 November 2011

In one week I'll be flying back to Europe again, and I hope very much that I'll be able to partake a little bit in the slower pace of life over there. I have no regrets about coming back to Canada, but the sheer volume of interesting, urgent projects which fill the same mental and chronological spaces here is astounding. The musicologyology class which featured in the last post has had a few ups, in particular an article by Rob Wegman, writing that just because we've identified our own narcissism in music research doesn't mean we should just abandon it altogether. Amen. Most of my margin notes were batmanesque onomatopoiea: "Pow!" and "Wham!" annotations whenever he wrote something that poked a hole in new musicology's self righteousness. The next few presentations involved music that could be heard, too. Which reminds me that I mustn't write too long as I have to prepare a presentation on Schubert's homosexuality. I'm slightly offended by the idea that someone's sexual orientation necessary changes the meaning of someone's music --which is excellent I suppose since I tend to absorb a lot more information once I've begun situating my position in relation to it.

My other work at McGill, on the SIMSSA project, has been more and more interesting as I get more involved. I'm slowly getting used to being called "our resident musicologist" too.

Now I'm preparing editions for Saturday's concert, which is a bit of a shocker as I thought it would take me 10 hours and I think it'll be more like 30. I always forget that being a little myopic and not liking page turns is a recipe for endless tinkering layout perfectionism. I've also made a little page on Facebook for La Rose des Vents to tide us over until I can organize a proper website, which has the interesting effect of making having just founded a band seem much more real.

Among the many headaches involved in getting this concert together has been working out which organ to use and in which tuning. Instead of the ideal 466 organ at meantone, we'll have a 415 organ in Valotti, which sounds out of tune to me (because it is) and means making lot of transposed parts with lots of sharps in them. After losing some hours of sleep to being riled up about this I was reminded by a friend that letting myself be offended was in this case not very productive.

I went to Kitchener a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of admiring my nephew and my newborn niece Audrey, which was lovely. I was very happy to see that the government has finally pumped nearly a billion dollars into improving passenger rail. Still not enough to give us high speed nor, it would appear, to upgrade the luggage carts in Toronto Union station from disused Victorian farm equipment:

At least they've replaced the horses

One thing that I love about being back in Montreal is the sheer quantity of sushi available. There is good sushi in Kitchener too, but with small children it was better and more fun to make it at home.

Liam about to tuck in

I got distracted this afternoon from edition making and started looking up the easter eggs hidden in software and operating systems - beware! If you click, don't get carried away. But if you're on OSX, do hold down ctrl+option+command and press 8...

Now I've practised too and am feeling quite lightheaded. Lots to do in the next week before I go again, so please pardon if this spot continues to be sparsely populated... once I'm in Vienna I hope I'll have a bit more time to write!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hermeneutics, Ontology, Post-Structuralist, Semiotic Tri-Partition, Invagination (!), Commodification, Cultural Hegemony... still there?

It's all just a little bit too much, if I may say. These are all topics we're dealing with in Proseminar in Musicology, or as I like to call it, Musicologyology. After complaining to some colleagues that it's all quite absurd ("in the existential or the dadaist sense?"), I realize now that Musicology is just insecure. It's trying to validate itself by situating itself in the domains of literary theory, sociology, and linguistics, taking all their big words.

I realized yesterday that my problem is that, taking a look at the above domains, I don't have any background in any of them. I presume that at one point this was taught in school, I must have been ill that day. So all the musicologyology articles which explore the transposition of their concepts - each with as many contentious meanings as syllables - onto music, I can understand the mapping going on but I don't understand the original concept. They are slowly being taught (actually very well, from a professor who deals very diplomatically with our ignorance), but I have to admit that I find it depressing to be learning these concepts in a music class. I'd much much rather take a literary theory class first where all these concepts are at home, and then have a few sessions on how concepts like "reification" get mapped onto musical discourse (whatever "discourse" is). By learning all these concepts in a music class, we're learning them with all the baggage of musicologists trying to negotiate the awkwardness of making them fit music. I've been leaving every class and going up to the harpsichord rooms to bang around until I feel like living again.

I don't mind that musicological discourse exists on this level, of course people should get embroiled in clever philosophical discussions. What I don't like is that it so easily slips into being antimusical. There was a presentation this week on three articles pertaining to a short Chopin prelude. The presenter managed to talk for about half an hour about three views on this piece, while never once letting the class listen to it, despite every kind of audio-visual device being present in the room. She did affix a one-page photocopy to the back of the handout, though, cementing an implicit message that in the context of this class, music is like children: to be seen and not heard. But music can't be read off a page like a book, and even if I can imagine a great deal of what notated music sounds like (do I dare admit when I can't?) my physical and intuitive reactions are just as valid as anything I might be able to analyze visually, and I'm upset when they're brushed aside and ignored.

It was early in my university career that I figured out that I wasn't going to make it as a professional musician unless I let go of being cerebral all the time and gave some clout to my intuition too. A scary concept back then, and it still is, because it means not being a control freak about the passage of every moment in time. As David McGuinness once helpfully reminded me, we can't dictate everything that's going to happen in performance, the only thing we can guarantee is that Something will happen. This kind of letting go seems a rather obvious pre-requisite to performing, but I think that for academic study it's just as necessary. And just as scary. After all, you can control the words and notes that someone reads, but once you let people listen to music and intuit a response, you lose control over what is going through their heads. In jargon you'd say you're letting your audience collect its own empirical data, which is necessarily different from yours. (But I do like "you lose control over what is going through their head" better.) It's not necessary to have that level of control, fortunately. A musical analysis is about teaching new ways of listening and understanding, and its success is not dependent at all on whether it's the best possible way (though perhaps it was in Theodor Adorno's time) but on whether it could be convincing to someone, that is to say, if it wins its audience over by presenting an idea in such a way that it rings true with what their intuition tells them. (All a question of hermeneutics - someone make it stop). It means that the presenter should have played a recording of the piece in order to awake my intuition and bring it into the conversation. By not doing that she had no hope of winning me over to any single one of the points of view she was presenting.

Fortunately this quote of Albert Einstein is all over Facebook this week to show me I'm not alone in my desire for intuition to be granted validity:

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

(You can decide for yourself if the fallacy of an authoritative appeal makes any difference for you in the force or validity of the statement.)

I apologize profusely for the degree of jargon that has gone into this blog post. I hope it convinces you at least that I'll be an effective spy, infiltrating academia, learning their language if anything in order to stand up convincingly for music to be both seen AND heard. After all, as Frank Zappa said, Music is the Best.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

This is a post about why I haven't been blogging. That is, by the time I'm done telling you, you'll know all the things that have been going on to prevent me from curling up on my cozy couch and telling you before.

I think I left off in the middle of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra tour. It got better and better even as it was extremely grueling. Our 3-hour bus rides in Romania turned into 6-hour bus rides, but I got to get to know some nice people and got a lot of work done besides so I can't complain too much. Early in the tour, Claire said she found herself less nervous when she stopped looking at the music during the Tuba Mirum solo and just looked at the conductor. I started experimenting with this idea on my own: revelation. The more I looked up from my music, the more fun I had, the more I trusted myself, the more musical I was, the more I reacted to what was going on around me. And most of all, the less room there was for negative self-talk and nerves. Of course it helped a lot that there wasn't a millisecond that Ton Koopman (the most obvious person to look at at the time) wasn't completely engaged in the music, and his enthusiasm for it was extremely contagious. I left the tour in a very good mood indeed.

The last night, the bars of Timisoara had closed, so to continue our post-tour festivities we all brought down the contents of our mini bars and enjoyed a nightcap.

What can I get you?

On the way home, I met up with Ann Allen in Heathrow Terminal 3, and we enjoyed my traditional Heathrow sushi together before boarding a plane to Montreal. Ann was coming for the first concert ever of my new band, La Rose des Vents (who will have a website, um, soon). We played as the invited guests of one of Montreal's professional choirs, VivaVoce, in a programme called "Dinner with the Dukes of Bavaria," in a 16th-century wind band setup much like I Fedeli. In fact, thanks to Ann, we were 1/3 I Fedeli. The concert went rather well, if I may say, and we're looking forward to working with them again.

The next week was a mix of hanging out with Ann, who had become successfully enamoured of Montreal (what's not to like?), and being jolted back into the real world of, oh yeah, doing a Ph.D. While I tend to absorb information if it's taken in at a good time (i.e. mornings), I'm a pretty slow reader, which means that the 150 or so pages of dense musicology per week take me ages to get through. Thank goodness for twitter. Just as things were getting bad (Bourdieu's "structured structures" and "structuring structures, are" as David McGuinness replied, "a crime against language and clarity of thought"), I stumbled across @YourMomAdorno, which takes quotes of musicology's champion of privileged pedantry, Theodor Adorno, and replaces "music" with "your mom." "Your mom has abolished the rubbish of former times by imposing her own perfection, by prohibiting and domesticating dilettantism." That's better.

Just the reading would be ok, I think, now that I have a printer and don't have to read the scanned articles from the screen and go blind in three weeks. But I also have a research assistantship which I must admit to being in denial about. Don't get me wrong, it's a very cool project indeed, teaching computers to read early notation, and we have a very beautiful manuscript to work with, it's just time that would otherwise go into nesting in my lovely new apartment, so I'm in denial. Part of my duties includes blogging about the project, so one of the reasons I haven't been blogging here is that I've been paid to blog there. What a sell-out. It's not nearly as therapeutic if that makes it any better.

Besides reading and getting my feet wet in the music technology lab, there was a little bit of time to explore Montreal with Ann. Among other activities, we went to the Jean-Talon market, and you wouldn't know that it's supposed to be a bad year for pumpkins.


I've been back to my puffball spot a couple of times to find that while my three mycelia (mushroom "plants") are indeed producing, whoever is in charge of mowing the lawn of the baseball field they're on is a bit too keen. Very sad indeed. On a semi-failed attempt (I brought back two wee puffballs), I did see traces of a fairy-ring, which was cheering.

On Thursday, Ann and I boarded a plane back to England, where we and other friends attended the wedding of Gawain Glenton and Kirsty Whatley. Having spent all possible gift money on my plane ticket, I wrote them a 5-part canzona on a very silly theme that Alex Potter had come up with years before and we played it before the party got going.

The day after the wedding I went food shopping with Josué so that we could use the kitchen and big dining table of our lovely Updown Cottage in Shaftesbury and it wasn't until I'd got home with the ingredients for pumpkin pie that I realized it was Thanksgiving. Strategic loveliness followed: after a pub lunch and a ramble through the countryside, we drank real ale, cooked up lamb roast and had ourselves a feast, followed by pumpkin pie and Highland Park in front of an open fire.

Now I'm back in Montreal again, which brings me to the third reason I've not been writing as much: it feels like home here. Starting this blog was something I did when I moved to England last May to keep a sense of stability in my life, and it worked very well. Now I'm finally in a place that feels like home again, which takes over that function even better. I will continue to write of course, but it feels like a luxury now, and not a necessity to keeping me sane the way it did last year.

I've run out of pictures because after dropping in Susie Napper's her last night and having a cup of tea once again in her kitchen, I left my camera on her counter. Which is fine by me - it gives me an excellent excuse to go back again today!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Another travel log, not because I don't have any ideas about music, but because I'm too tired to do anything but post pictures at the moment. Despite hearing Dutch all around me and almost getting hit by myriad bicycles, I remained in denial about being in Holland until breakfast, when I saw this, and suddently it clicked:

Our concerts have gone well so far, it was a pleasure to play in the fine acoustic and happy atmosphere here:


The next morning we headed by bus to Schiphol, plane to Milan, and bus to Bolzano - 11 hours from door to door! We had half an hour at the hotel, where a happy but distinctly untrue message was writ on the walls of each floor. This was mine:

 Just not true 

The theatre had a dry acoustic, but at least a full foliage rendition of Frank Zappa's face outside:

The unmistakable beard of a certain mother

Yesterday, the bus showed up late, drove 90 in the 100 zone, hadn't arranged to pay the toll at the Swiss border, and wandered about Locarno looking for the hotel, turning a 5-hour ride into more than a 6 hour one. As this cut our hotel time to under 90 mins, we were not impressed, but our awesome tour manager called the bus company and gave them an earful while we were lost in Locarno, which was thereapeutic for all within earshot.

That's all for now as the flight to Romania is boarding!

View from Hotel Window, Locarno

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I'm quite disoriented now, probably because I'm still in denial about being in Amsterdam. But I'm here, it's windy and rainy in a "could-only-be-Holland" sort of way, and everyone is speaking Dutch. After a 45 minute wait for my room to be ready for me when I arrived yesterday, I discovered that my cool, black hotel room's suave black curtains can block light completely, so I slept nearly four hours. This post-flight sleep can hinder getting over jet-lag and is therefore dubbed "the nap of death" - but I was not worried. I was up for a mere five hours, during which I practised a bit (very gently), went to the Albert Heijn to get some soups, teas and a salad, ate some of them, got on the Internet, and went back to sleep for another nearly 10.5 hours. 14 hours altogether, that's two nights. I'm officially caught up. Tick.

I forgot to mention that on Thursday I met up with Darren Fung, a friend from my first year composition class at McGill back in 1998. After training to be an avant-garde composer, he decided it wasn't for him and moved to L.A. to become a film composer. He has the same agent as John Williams and is flying all about the world recording his scores for various films. We sat in the McGill cafeteria feeling old, drinking blooming flower tea (they didn't have that in our day), and contemplating how the seven of us in that class turned out. Two are composers (one avant-garde, one film), I'm a musician (at least this week), one's a web designer living a bohemian lifestyle in L.A., one's a nurse in Montreal, one's on the street and one is dead. I thought we were doing well there for a minute.

Anyway, you can visit the demo reel of Darren's Stinky Rice Studios here.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Time to start making posts shorter but more frequent: more fun to write, probably more fun to read too.

Today I'm off to the library, then the computer lab, then the doctoral colloquium, then um, Amsterdam. I've managed to resist somewhat getting over my jet-lag from two weeks ago. I've still been waking up at 7 or before (and I do love mornings), and last night managed to be asleep by 10 or so. Ok, these are normal hours for many folk, but as touring musicians tend to be up from 9 or 10 to midnight or so (also more normal hours for me), it's now only a 3 or 4 hour shift instead of a 6 hour one. Two nights ago I thought I'd fallen off the bandwagon when I couldn't sleep, then when I did I dreamed that I went to the airport without my passport, with an empty instrument case, and with a favourite small swiss-army knife in my carry-on, and I woke up still running for the plane. This morning I woke up much more gently, with this in my head.

My neighbours have been surprisingly tolerant of my tromboning every night, they've turned on the TV a bit louder, or more often started practising something themselves - something plucked - they're rather good. I found myself holding back though, not playing as loud as I really needed to to build up the right breathing and lip muscles (and getting a bit tense), so yesterday I took my trombone into school (we call Universities "schools" in Canada) and found a big rehearsal room to play in far from the 440 pianos. It was great.

Only, I realized part-way through that most of of the annoying markings on the part (which I couldn't erase because it was a photocopy) were in my own handwriting. Fascinating. That would have been from February 2006 then. I'm curious to see if the dynamic markings I wrote in then will be valid at Sunday's rehearsal. I remember back then I was using my baroque trombone with crooks in it as we played at 415, and because crooks make the instrument tune very differently, I had written in quite a few arrows to help me remember in which direction I would have to correct. I'm on a different trombone this time around and most of them now go the wrong way. But it's ok - I don't write much in the score anymore unless it's completely counter-intuitive, and hadn't been using them. I was a bit surprised at the number of markings I wrote back then, but to give my 26-year-old self a bit of credit, my teacher had been sitting beside me in those rehearsals, and I think I'd have written in quite a bit more than usual just to show I was listening. Hopefully they'll have the originals at rehearsal and I'll bring a big eraser.

Of course a lot of practice time I've spent stressing over the sheer quantity of high notes, which sometimes come along relentlessly when one is already quite knackered (like after a mass and a half - why are we doing two? Oh dear, ANOTHER Sanctus!). Most of this practice therefore, while superficially calisthenic, actually mainly involves learning how to mentally prepare for these concerts. This, oddly enough, involves noting when a stressful situation is coming up, taking the ensuing anxiety (which I have a lot of), and consciously replacing it with another intense emotion (which I also have a lot of). Joy seems to work best and with a bit of work is plenty strong enough to compete. I think there is something physical that happens to breathing when one is suddenly joyful, and it seems to work, so practising becomes an exercise in being joyful at the right moments. No shock then, that I always finish these practice sessions in an excellent mood.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Back in Canada.

My last days in Basel were busy, intense and lovely. Saul went well - it was amazing to hear the same orchestra in March sound better in the first rehearsal than in the last concert, thanks to a more engaged conductor. The conductor sang the part of Saul as well, he obviously loves the piece a lot and did a very good job of switching gears between being responsible for an orchestra and for his own singing. I was wondering how things would go for me as I had only brought a mouthpiece to Scotland and had done the minimum amount of tooting to be in shape for the first rehearsal. It was fine, I even stuck in some gratuitous trills. Know your limits, yes, including your minimum so that you can take proper vacations now and again.

On Monday Helen and I had a joint going away party. We couldn't find a big enough room to rent, so we had it by the Rhine, demarcating our little area with some torches and setting up a table with enough baguette and French cheeses for a small army. And a small army came. Helen managed to achieve party-levels of garrulousness, while I was so gobsmacked by seeing so many friends come to wish us well that I started to believe that I was actually going and was short on words. But it was lovely. Parties outside are genius, too, if you can find a good place. You don't have to find a place for people's coats and you can always hear what the person you're talking to is saying.

The rest of the week was a combination of cleaning, packing, staring at the wall wondering what was going on, and playing another concert of Latin-American Baroque music with the Bremgarten people. A bit mad to play a concert on my last night, as it meant that I got back to packing at around 12:30 am, but it was also a nice way to finish off, and to be frank, necessary as this whole transatlantic moving thing is turning out to be expensive.

The plane ride, back in economy class, was fine. I have a little ritual now of eating sushi on my Heathrow layovers, it is a perfect travel food in many ways. On the Basel-Heathrow leg I was thinking about all the people who had helped me set off: When

On the plane, I couldn't deal with watching a film - I was already getting teary at the soundless scenes on other people's screens, so I watched some documentaries on breakthroughs in materials: Plastics with anti-bacterial properties because of a pattern on them that replicates shark-scales, and of course the ever-fascinating carbon nano-tubes, which I'm sure have progressed significantly since I wrote about them last.

As my rotator cuff is still complaining after hauling around very heavy bags around Montreal in May, I've come to accept the fact that no part of me is invincible, and rode the airport bus from the front door of the airport to a taxi stand near me. Wasn't expensive even. Makes me feel even more stupid about May but I'd better get over it I suppose.


A week and a half later....

Well, my rotator cuff is doing much better now. In fact, my whole body is rejoicing that I'm back on a bicycle again, bought at le vélo urbain on Papineau. It had a gear issue on the first afternoon riding it, so I took it back to the shop and they gave me a new gear-shift - very professional. It's still acting up sometimes though, I'll try tightening the cable though before I bring it back again. I bought a used bike because Montreal is a bike theft capital, so fast but ugly is a very good combination if you don't want to be stressed about whether your bike will still be there in the morning. Montreal has become a much friendlier city for bicycles since I left seven years ago, though because of its relatively new congestion problem I find myself taking roads as often as the "protected" paths (which aren't protected when you get to an intersection). I think in Basel I was considered quite an aggressive cyclist; here in Montreal I'm a bit of a wimp.

Obviously it's been a bit full on since I got here, I really have to decide how to fill every moment of my day because there are always things which urgently need doing. I tried to sit down the other day and figure out what are priorities on my todo list, and even that is a bit long. Reconnecting with friends, preparing for classes, organizing my ensemble, keeping my playing up, becoming a legal resident, supporting myself financially and taking care of my physical and mental health all seem to rank as no. 1 on the list at various times of day. Hence not being a very avid blogger, but at the moment it's very good for my mental health.

Starting studying again has been just fine. I was a bit more reluctant than I thought I'd be to jump into the 150 or so pages of reading I have to do each week, but now that I have a sofa and a choice of three teas in my cupboard it's going better. I look forward to learning some new words: epistemology, ontology, hermeneutics, semiotics - they keep coming back in readings and I hope that by the end of the semester I'll sort of have a vague idea of what they are and how they're used. I'm not looking forward to that point just because I want to throw around big words, it's not very cool to do that for its own sake, but some people get all riled up in philosophical discussions about music and I'd like to know what they're excited about.

Taking care of my mental and physical health, before the bike, involved a walk around and in the botanical gardens down the street. Thinking the public Parc Maisonneuve was a bit closer, I wound up skirting the edge of the fee-requiring botanical gardens for about 6 blocks before finding an entrance. I was grumpy about it at the time until I found this puffball:

I had found some others as well, but when I went back a few days ago to see if they'd grown, the lawnmower had been by in one spot - alas - but in another, a new one was ready for consumption. Yesterday the skies opened up multiple times, so today I thought I would test the theory that mushrooms pop up after rain, and sure enough, there was a third, quite as big as the one above. I peeled it on the spot to leave at least some precious spores on the site, the rest will be risotto.

Nesting - another key element to mental health upkeep - has been fairly successful so far: on Sunday I picked up a UHaul van and, thanks to the help of a few very kind people, got a free guest bed, some garden furniture (I have a garden!), the desk I'm writing on (which is absurdly short but keeps my arms at the right angle) and a lovely beige sofa-bed. Lots of beds now, come and visit! - it's hard to imagine we were sleeping on the floor in July. I also have got hold of a clavichord to babysit - I quite miss the feeling of a harpsichord but given much of my free time will be at 2 am a clavichord is quite good. Which reminds me of a discussion at the Schola about the words "avec discretion" at the beginning of a Froberger sonata, and someone defined "avec discretion" perfectly as "the manner in which one walks in late to a clavichord recital." Dad and Jane visited on Sunday and Monday, and much of the time was spent in the backyard practising my spray-paint technique on the lawn furniture - it's starting to look new again.

Organizing concerts here has been a bit hands-off except for the tedious task of finding a name for the band that we can all agree on, which has been dragging on since May. Zefiro, Sirocco, Oltremontano and the other poetic names for winds all being taken, we've settled on "La Rose des Vents," which translates as "The Compass Rose," and shows the directions of all the above. There are a few nice specimens of historical maps with fleurs-de-lis on their compass roses, in the hand of Samuel de Champlain no less, which should solve the problem of a logo fairly quickly (I hope).

Reconnecting with friends has been made easier by Amanda, my nearest neighbour, who invited me 'round for supper twice so far, including a BBQ where I could catch up with some old friends and meet some new ones. Very lovely. Thanks Amanda!

I won't write about the paperwork of moving back, that's boring. Supporting myself financially is only mentionable because attached to my RA-ship, a significant part of the income that comes along with being a professional student, is 480 hours of work, so obviously it will feature here again. I've done two so far and am trying to get my head around how to fit the other 478 in. Part of this work will involve learning and blogging about this project, and probably helping out with it the nitty-gritty bits once a bit of technical competence rubs off.

Lastly, keeping up the playing career. Among all the madness of moving and the rest, you'd think a bit of time away from the trombone might be in order, but I just opened my email to find directions to the Concertgebouw for Monday's concert. Yes, the one in Amsterdam. Right. To be fair, I've managed to set aside my denial about flying away again on Friday for about an hour a day to practise some classical alto, but as next week's six concerts of the Mozart Requiem AND Coronation Masses together are likely to be some of the most physically challenging concerts I've played so far, it's time to do sign off and practise some more.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

On the sixth flight since I wrote last, going back to Basel - again. Through Heathrow - again. I've done the math and it looks like I might just barely fall short of being a frequent flyer with Star Alliance - which could have been avoided if I hadn't flown BA last trip to Canada. Oh well. Truth is, I had no idea how good frequent flyer status might be until I was bumped up to business class two weeks ago on my Montreal-London flight. The comfy chairs which reclined all the way and good food on proper dishes were pleasing - I was so excited about the whole thing that despite being able to lie down on a plane that I didn't sleep a wink. Best of all was being allowed into the airport lounge. Not just a place with free wifi and upholstered chairs, they cooked me a fresh meal before I got on the plane, and had a self-serve bar (which I approached in a disciplined manner, um, more or less). Having experienced the wonders of lounges, I'll regret ever so slightly being shy of the miles and legs needed to have constant access. A few people have asked me how I managed to be upgraded and the truth is that I don't know. But I do have a strategy, which I stuck to on this occasion, which may have worked: I select bulkhead seats with cots when I check in. That way when a mother comes with a baby, they'll bump someone in one of these seats. Of course it's worked out the other way too, and I've volunteered to be stuck in the middle of the middle as well to accommodate another, but in this case I'd say it turned out rather well.

I do love to compare clothing with British people: pants are always good for a laugh, but vests, tank-tops, jumpers and knickers are also good value for the confusion they cause in meaning completely different things. Names like trucks and lorries, tires and tyres, bank machines and cash-points also amuse me, but my ultimate favourite is the British name for bumper cars: dodgems. Aka, the exact opposite of the North American meaning. A few British friends have pointed out that though the name points to a deep cultural sense of propriety, they are also intended to bump into each other. Well, apparently not. I'm chuffed (that's tickled in North America - still not quite left sight of the UK...) to read in the paper beside me that Health and Safety regulations have come into play at Butlins holiday parks, and dodgems are banned from bumping into each other for fear of "whiplash and broken bones". Officials replied to complaints that this made them boring: "The point of our dodgems is to dodge people, not to run into people." Ha.

I had a very brief time in Basel as the weekend after I landed from Canada it was time for Caroline to cash in her 30th birthday present: a trip to the Alps. Thanks to SBB day passes, we went as far as we could, to the Munstair valley in Graubunden - as far east as one can go in Switzerland, and indeed we walked over into Italy just for the sake of it on our last day. The pictures say it all:

Practice Room

Blossom of Snow



View from the peak

Val Mustair

I thought that a time would come when I'd never want to stay in a youth hostel again, but the HI in Santa Maria Val Mustair was very nice. It's an old wooden building in the middle of the little town, the perfect setting-off point for hikes in the National Park. We booked a 3-person room to ourselves - it is nice to be able to lock the door during the day.

I only managed to begin to wind down on that weekend, which was predictable at least. The last nine days I've been in Scotland, far enough from everything that I do begin to feel refreshed. The day after I arrived, Alison and I went to pick up some sea kayaks and headed to a chalet on Loch Fyne. Again, I think I'll let pictures tell you the story.


Loch Fyne by Sunset

Proper Waves

I was properly introduced to mushroom-hunting this past week too, as this pasta sauce of fresh-picked puffball, chanterelle and larch boletus will illustrate.

Mushroom ID time


A Waxcap: Don't eat this one!

I've always been interested in mushrooms - can't get enough umami - but I've been too wary since we always got the same boring, poisonous kind on my lawn when I was growing up, and since my father cut open a puffball that I really wanted to consume, only to see that it was really a deadly amanita. It was very nice, then, to see all the different ways of telling things apart, and to learn about which species are dangerous to confuse and which not.

When we returned, Alison had a gig with Concerto Caledonia in Edinburgh, playing a half-hour set for various promoters in a showcase concert. It's always very nice to hear them live and to get to meet more of the musicians they involve. I got to chat at length with Bill Taylor, a specialist on harps and evangelist for the bray-harp, and in a live setting was able to hear a lot of what he was doing on the wire-strung harp he'd brought along too. Especially interesting was hearing some of the ornaments I'd learned about in my canntaireachd lessons with Barnaby Brown in February - the repertories are closely linked indeed. After listening to their rehearsal in the Glasgow concert hall for a bit, I went home and made this:

Cranachan Cheesecake

Yesterday I spend my last full morning in Scotland by climbing a hill near Glasgow with David McGuinness. Along the path I spotted a handful of puffballs (this time the real thing), which went into the risotto that night.

The next week and a half marks my last days as a resident of Basel. Going away party with Helen on Monday after some I Fedeli rehearsals that I'm looking forward to, and a few more performances of Saul to justify economically not having remained in Montreal over August. Otherwise the packing and flurry of administrative tasks are a bit daunting - many papers to sort out and send to appropriate places.

But I'm going to ramp up slowly, my main goal being to start my Ph.D. with some energy left. A proper holiday was a very good start indeed, but it will take some mental gymnastics not to get wiped out by the next few days as well.

Climb Every Mountain: Nuns on the Path to Italy

Monday, 8 August 2011

I can hardly begin to conceive of catching up all in one blog post here - I've been running a lot since I posted last. I started on the plane to Montreal, but then the chaos of trying to furnish a bare apartment and then heading off into the Internetless woods made posting impossible. Now I'm in Toronto on my first day off with Internet since I wrote last (which wasn't a day off itself), getting ready to head back to Europe tomorrow, so I'd better write something.

In the air on the way to Montreal.

Not just because I'm 12 1/2 hours into this trip do I write that I'm a bit tired of traveling. Last week in Italy was, in the end, a bit much. It was a very strange tour, the second that I've done in Italy where the organizers assumed that because it's a beautiful country and full of excellent food, it could easily be part tour/part holiday. Read 2 days of rehearsal + 8 days away for less money than usual (and far less than when I first wrote this as the Euro plummets to be on par with the Franc and I haven't been paid yet). Hmm. I do like Italy, but I was in Basel so very little this month that I wasn't ready to leave this morning, neither psychologically, nor in moving and packing: I only managed to pack one suitcase, leaving plenty behind to sort out still, and an unplanned week ahead.

To assume that every musician on a tour might be happy to have traveling about playing concerts considered part holiday shows a basic lack of understanding for the life of a musician. Yes, tours can be "fun," but not of the theme-park variety. Music tour fun doesn't depend on seeing the sights, but rather it depends on having enough rest, preparation, and having enough time for yourself that the concerts - ultimately your main reason for being there - are fulfilling to be a part of. Good meals and fine company is excellent too, but much tourism beyond the culinary tends to be draining and counterproductive. While you can see from the pictures, I did get about, but in general the instrumentalists did less tourism time in than the others. Sleeping, catching up on email, and practising took up a large part of our time off - some in the choir couldn't understand why we didn't want to explore more. Having been to Italy already in mid-May and Barcelona, Paris, Heidelberg and a few random other places besides since, hiding away in my hotel room was most of the time all I was up for. When the conductor announced that we'd leave earlier on a travel day to have more time in San Gemigniano and Siena, a few of us explained that this was a concern because we would be left with no practice time. "But why do you need to practise - we've done the concert twice already?" he said. do I begin to explain? But we dropped Siena from the itinerary so it was ok - I spent the evening alone though, my music suffers if I don't have any time for myself. In the end it suffered anyway - we over-rehearsed in each sound check and didn't get any break to get off our feet before each concert except one (by far the best one!), and on the third hour of standing I was tired.

These errors on the part of the organization stemmed from a lack of understanding, not of a lack of respect, so in that sense they were forgivable. But when they organized for me a wake up call at 7:30 one morning, apparently to make sure that I would be on the bus by 8:45, that changed everything. Thinking it was up to me to decide whether a shower and breakfast were more important than sleep or not, I'd set my alarm for 8:00, so you can imagine how patronized I felt that someone else decided I needed an extra half hour. So I'm afraid I have to rank this tour fairly low on the list.

Here's a few pictures though before moving to the Canada bit:

Olive trees on a Tuscan Hillside

Mary breastfeeding in public

Assisi, home to St. Francis and Bovicelli

Castle on a hill, Assisi

Amazing wood inlay, Assisi

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi


 St. Ignazio in Rome 

Roman Skyline

A wee bit of tourism

FAIL. (Click to Enlarge)

The real thing.

 Parthenon in Rome.

St. Peter's

Now onto Canada. The flight was genius because I managed to nap in Heathrow - a real first - and then upon landing I was greeted by my mom with a rental car and a tin of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies from my sister Alexis - thanks both! We went off to Longueuil for a good night's sleep and some of Peter's lovely homebrew before tackling my new and very bare apartment in the morning.

The first day we managed to achieve a fridge - it's enormous as many Canadian fridges are. Canadian home economics is built upon buying large amounts of things all at once and storing them until you do another big shopping trip (bread and vegetables are exceptions). The difference in price between 1kg and 10kg of flour, for instance, is often 1:3 or so, so a lot of storage area makes food shopping a lot cheaper, at least where cupboards and fridges are concerned. So while my fridge is embarrassingly large (though very efficient), it's vast freezer especially will save me lots of dosh.

That evening, quite jet-lagged and daunted by the stresses of the week coming, I didn't have the energy to go out and find an Internet café to find more furniture on the classified ads. Then my mom noticed a little black box with flashing green lights in the front room. The landlord hadn't unplugged the Internet yet! The week was going to be quite a bit easier after all.

Over the rest of the week, I managed to get a used but lovely dining set, pots and pans (thanks mom), dishes, cutlery, a chair, and a very large bed that will make me feel like a royal every night. I had a moment with the dishes, where coming home to eat soup out of a very large new navy and brown bowl I looked into it's deep chasm and felt like I'd made a devastatingly wrong choice. This bowl was far too serious for me. It was not who I am, nor who I wish to become. So mom and I went back and now I have a very jolly green set of dishes.

To end this very stressful week of settling in, I signed up for a kayak rolling course on the Saturday - I know it sounds like more stress but I thought the activity would at least distract me from the intensity of moving across the ocean. But I showed up tired, stressed and stiff as a board, and my body categorically refused to learn anything despite the fact that it was almost a private lesson. Head falling back into the water again and again, I was mortified. I knew what I was doing wrong but my body wouldn't obey: I couldn't move the paddle without pressure, and I couldn't keep my head down. Oh dear. I left in utter dismay and hoped that my brain would digest something of the day. After a few hours at home I went to the Jacques-Cartier bridge and watched the last presentation of the Montreal International Fireworks competition - one of many reasons why Montreal is a cool place to be in summer.

Last week I went with my mom and my younger sister's family to the gorgeous Bruce Peninsula, which separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. Three days after my catastrophic lesson, we rented a pair of kayaks, including this gorgeous, sexy Zephyr 155. After heading out to the beach of Cyprus Lake, I put on goggles and a nose plug (yes, I'm a bit of a wuss when it come to water up my nose) and prepared to practise my roll. I let go of expectation, and got ready to just try to get used to being upside-down underwater, completely ready to let myself fall out and swim to shore. Once I got my bearings underwater, I took a deep breath (kidding), and tried to put my paddle, head and hips in the right place. Seconds later I was sitting above the water again, shocked. And delighted. I tried again, and again I was sitting on top of the water. After about 30 or 40 tries, trying to refine my technique each time, I finally started to be confident that I, too could roll a kayak. I am quite sure that that particular (gorgeous, sexy, sleek, fast) kayak was among the easier ones to roll; I'll give another try when I rent my next one and see how it turns out.

The kayaks weren't always used for extreme sport though: at sunset, my sister and I paddled through the lily-clad narrows joining two lakes, observing a turtle and a deer, and even little Liam had a go (in ankle-deep water and towed by daddy of course!)

Liam getting his first taste of Kayak, age 1

Though my hangups about rolling made me obsessive about getting into kayaks, swimming in the clear water of the Georgian bay will stick as clearly in my mind as riding the rolling waves on top of it.

After the Bruce peninsula I took the Greyhound to Toronto, where I was picked up by my older sister and whisked off to Peller Estates Wineries on the Niagara Peninsula, where she's got unlimited tastings - yum. A bit lightheaded - the Pinot Noir and Gamay were quite nice - we headed off for a whirlwind tour of the Niagara Falls which I'd still never seen - they're very cool indeed. 

Now I'm getting ready to head back to Basel, tomorrow already - Basel still feels like home but I'm starting to yearn for my apartment in Montreal too, with it's lovely dinner table, green dishes, back yard full of ripe berries and ridiculously large Queen bed. All very good indeed.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

My fantasy of taking the ferry from Barcelona to Rome didn't work out as rehearsals for the concert I'm here to play took place in Switzerland. I did, however, have an ultra-diva moment a month ago and buy myself a plane ticket to come down to Rome today. I got out of bed the same time as the bus left from near Zurich, and got a text when I landed that with summer Saturday tourist traffic they'd just barely made it to the Italian border. Gosh. I was feeling rather smug about this yesterday, but now, tucked into a Pizzeria near Vatican city, awaiting my pizza with anchovies and zucchini flowers and enjoying an intermittent stray wifi signal, I have to say I feel a bit guilty too. For the record though, I am completely and utterly knackered, and I'm sure I would be miserable and ill on the bus.

I moved out of my flat in Basel this week - a relatively major operation made much lighter by moving only into my practise room downstairs for the time being. Many thanks to Dorothea for showing up at my door and demanding to help once the kids were at daycare, and to Tobie and Gaby for helping me get the dust out once my stuff had been adequately scattered through other rooms of the building. All work was made lighter by the Bombay Sapphire being very reasonably priced in the Barcelona duty-free and Tonic water having become more readily available in Basel over the years.

I've got some time (though less than I think ) over the rest of the summer to sort out my stuff and some proper down time coming up to help prepare mentally for starting my Ph.D.

Barcelona was an excellent way to prepare. I don't think I'll ever get over finding academic conferences slightly depressing, but I think at least that I wasn't the only one. I think it's quite a lot more about finding the people who are interested in similar things as you and getting to know them a bit - something conference organisers seem to have parsed as social opportunities were given just as much emphasis as the papers themselves. I had a good first experience giving a paper. I didn't feel like a fraud, which is saying more than it seems to. I also didn't feel like I gave something special to the world, but I got into some good conversations afterwards, and that's something too.
Lovely Conference Venue:
The Institut d’Estudis Catalans

I played hooky on Thursday and went to the beach instead of hearing any papers - something I don't regret except that in putting on sunscreen I went light on my shoulders with the hope of getting rid of my farmer's tan. I did, but got quite burned in the process; not having witnessed strong sunshine all last summer in the UK I'd quite forgotten how extreme a midday sun can be.
On Friday the conference left some time in the afternoon, so a small posse headed to Park Guell, designed by the famous architect Antonio Gaudi. It's all on top of a hill, and the entrance from the metro gives a stunning view of the city and the sea.

The restaurant has now closed so I've relocated. I'm not in Rome anymore, but taking shade under one of the pillars at the entrance to Vatican City. When I was here when I was fifteen, Barbara Clark remarked on how it was an independant state, a city within a city. Like Vanier, she said.

Ignoring for the moment the tower of St. Peter's behind me (I get to sing with the choir in the Vespers service tomorrow and will get my fill then), the Gaudi architecture in the park was well worth the walk in the heat. The buildings, with their rounded corners, have something anthroposophic about them, but the fact that they've all been, well, iced, makes me think that Gaudi might have taken himself a bit less seriously than the folk in Arlesheim. Could be wrong though.


On Saturday I went with Julie, Peter and Lori around a little cloister and then to the market, but here pictures are far better than anything I could write.


Not quite ready to tackle moving yet, I fled to Bern on Sunday, where Tobie and Alison and I explored the Paul Klee museum. I was impressed greatly at the amount of intention in all of his works, whether light-hearted or serious. Every line and every colour seemed to have a purpose, and the amount of care that exuded from each painting gave me the feeling that I, the audience, was important somehow.

The Paul Klee museum also has areas where children can go and paint. We were jealous. But then feelings of envy melted away when I spotted a very orange wall and realized I had my very orange raincoat with me:

Having exhausted our brains, it was time to jump in the Aare. Much closer to it's glacier source, it's colder and cleaner than the Rhine, and also quite a bit faster. We could hear the ringing of pebbles being carried along the bottom as we were carried along. Alison thought it looked quite lazy, but staying above water in such a force, not to mention moving to the middle of the stream and back, made it not insignificant exercise. When the weir was approaching we got out and as Tobie was still content to sunbathe a bit, did it again.

Later, ice cream with walnuts and maple syrup accompanied this view:

Besides moving house, I've been in rehearsal this week for this tour in Italy - a programme of Mexican/South American Baroque music. I'm sorry to report that my goal to make it to 10 years of professional sackbut playing without dong a concert involving a rainstick has turned to ashes. But it's a lot of fun, both the funky 17c dance pieces and the sacred polyphony of Zipoli - some excellent fugues in there. Sometimes on days that I don't play, I wonder if I really can play the trombone, and I had the pleasant experience of realizing that I could once these quick and notey pieces were put in front of me to read at full tempo. I had a great time. I didn't feel like a fraud.

If I don't manage to come back for all their projects, then I'll miss playing with the I Fedeli crowd a lot, really a lot. Playing the sixth verse of a processional hymn, I thought it would be grand if my part, the alto line, were played up the octave as a discant. But it would have been too high for me, so I jumped the the soprano part and within a measure of having his part doubled, Josué got the message and did exactly what I'd been thinking.

The breeze coming through the pillars here is lovely, but I think it's time to head to the hotel and see if I can't crash out a bit and/or do some admin I've not been able to get to amidst running around all week. While it seems a pity to hide out inside on such a lovely day in such an amazing city, that's just how it is. I feel very lucky that music brings me around the world, but then there's always a lot of catching up to do when I get home, so that means working at my computer or recovering lost sleep in exotic places. And anyway, there aren't many Italians about, they're still having their Siesta. When in Rome....