Playing is Working (for me)

Every day, I roll out of bed, eager to see what happens.  I am enough of a nerd to particularly like unscheduled days that allow time for both reed-making and scales. Yes, I worry constantly about maintaining my expensive addiction to solo art music, but I find encouragement in many places.  I recently rediscovered the website of the composer-writer-bassoonist, John Steinmetz.  I find him genuinely funny and insightful, and I enjoyed re-reading his articles.  And here is his “generic resumé”  which has always made me smile.

And speaking of thinking about careers, I was pondering the question of “career highlights” today (it is a subject that comes up when composing resumés).  My career has been really long and varied at this point and yet I am always looking to the horizon, thinking of how to get more experiences.  And though I live for being on stage, the moments that I remember are the moments leading up to the concerts… e.g. the night before my first tour with Guy Few in October 2009.  It had taken us all day to fly from Toronto to Kelowna because there was a highway-closing accident in TO on the day we were driving to the airport, so we missed our plane and all other connections.  I had a nasty cold and we were flying in the back of the economy section, sitting in the middle seats at the back.  When we finally made it to our destination, all the restaurants were closed except a neon-flashing Chinese-Canadian buffet.  My nose was raw and my ears were blocked though I could hear the sad country music playing on the static-ridden speakers.  And at that moment, I was overcome with happiness at the prospect of two weeks of touring in beautiful B.C…. the concerts were fantastic and the whole trip unforgettable, but it was that night before it started when I felt the reality, the sure knowledge that our duo’s first recital tour was about to begin.

The new year starts with a month of touring.  First, I will go to the Meg Quigley Competition and Symposium in Stockton, California to judge, teach and perform. I am flying there with one of my top students and we are arriving a day early to go on the cane harvesting expedition and for me to rehearse with the pianist, then it will be three packed days of judging the semi and final rounds of the competition (10 wonderful young bassoonists are performing! and a similar number of fabulous professionals).  I will lead a masterclass on January 7 and play in the concert that night.  I am looking forward to meeting old and new friends and having that incredibly rare experience of hearing many bassoon soloists.  Then we zip back to Toronto, and Guy and I leave on a Western Canadian tour that will take to some really cold places!  Here is a list of some of the solo and duo works that I will play this month… playing is the best work I can imagine!

Jean-Daniel Braun – Solos (#6, 7, 13 & 21)
Mathieu Lussier – Bassango (with piano & also with strings)
Mathieu Lussier – Bacchanale
Ignaz Lachner – Concertino
Marcel Bitsch – Concertino
Paul Jean-Jean – Prelude and Scherzo
St-Saens – Sonate
J-B de Boismortier – Suite in G from Op 37; Sonata in E minor Op 50 #1
Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumble Bee (with piano and with strings)
Piazzolla – Oblivion (with piano and with strings)
Shostakovitch – Waltz and Fast Dance
Schreck – Sonata in E Flat Op 9

Calm Before the Storm

I have two clear days off and my first instinct is to play ALL of my scales in ALL intervals as a tonic… this takes a lot of time and is psychotic, but I am getting fairly far with it!  And it feels so good, as if I have all the time in the world to explore different sounds and approaches.  There are so many things to try!

But very soon, the wheel of life takes over again and I hit the floor running.  So often, our tour schedules look like vacation itineraries (after all, we do play for a living) with airplanes, rental cars, hotels in different cities, new people to meet, new espresso shops to discover.  But everything has to be ready, from passports to concert gowns.

I get the final piece for my 2012 touring frock… a feather shrug that goes with my current, royal blue bassoon superhero outfit (I previewed this gown at the CD release party on Oct 30)… I have new faux high cowboy boots from Fluvog… we have our new arrangements of Flight of the Bumble Bee and Oblivion… I have to pick up my visa from my manager and do a thousand things (including checking in with all of my orphaned students) before getting on the first airplane on January 4.

Listening to Vivaldi concerti edits during long drives

It is amazing how my perception of any of my recordings changes and evolves as I continue to listen.  When I first get the edits, it is a shock.  I listen in trepidation, wondering if I have captured my intentions or if there are glaring errors of taste and timing or if it is fresh, vital….  I begin to map the places that have genuine flaws (i.e. require further editing) and at the same time, I begin to like the overall product more and more.

It takes repeated listening for the idea of the recording to emerge as a performance.  After all, how many times in my life will I get to hear myself present 8 concerti in a row?

I had plenty of opportunities today as I made the three hour drive from the near north (outside of Parry Sound) to Toronto.  I went to the airport 12 hours early to fetch Guy (returning from Saskatoon), which meant I got to return at night, giving me another stretch of car-listening time.

Of course, the real listening is done with head phones and cathedral silence, but there is something familiar and deeply comfortable about listening while tearing down the highway.  So much of our work seems to be about getting to where we want to go… playing the concerts (and recordings) seems to be the reward.

Sideroads and Scales

Today was really the last day of holiday with my old parents.  A peaceful day of re-heating leftovers and practising slow scales.

And I also decided to unpack some of the archival boxes to get both of my parents thinking about their accomplishments and histories.  I have started a rudimentary website to collect the stories and hoping that my gifted mother will write the full story of her life.  She has lived in the shadow my log-building superstar father and I continually remind her that her story is valuable and important.  I piled manuscripts, radio scripts, photos, magazine articles dating back almost 60 years… and my mother began to remember her vital contributions.  Now I just have to figure out how to run the Google-supplied website thingy.

Dad is surrounded by his work, but even he needs to be reminded of all that he has accomplished (here is a recent article from the local Parry Sound magazine, Sideroads) Today, he reviewed the 7-part video series that he created in the 1990’s as a sequel to his books and teachings.  He realized anew that this material is interesting to people, and his gifted caregiver is going to study the videos and start building in the spring (Linda is a long haul trucker, machinist, carpenter, seamstress and many more things).

As I push forward in my life, it is very important to revisit the past.  It is important to me to see my parents remembering the value of their own work.

And it is important for me to play scales!  As silly as it may sound, it is my foundation and security.  Playing slow scales(+ scales in 6th and 3rds) has helped me get rid of some niggling tendonitis that developed from some enthusiastic weight-training.  It is better to actively fix something rather than passively wait for it to go away, but aches and pains aside, it is always always good to review basics. Scales are always the best way to measure distances and build strength.

Cooking for Real

Today, at the home of my parents in the quiet, slightly snowy north, I made my first completely successful festive meal for other people, my first unalloyed triumph.  
It included an apple-cider roasted turkey with leeks and apple, red risotto with shitake & pancetta, haricots verts with caramelized shallots, a lovely dish of thinly sliced sweet potatoes roasted in alternating layers with wine-soaked chopped dates, gravy made with apple cider and herbs and a purée of the roasted apples and leeks that were cooked with the turkey. Hours later, we had mixed berries and whipped cream tinged with almond extract for dessert.  Each dish was complex yet light, deeply flavoured but not heavy.  And miraculously, it was ready at 4:00, the hour that my old mother always wants to have Christmas dinner.
You see, I have always had anxiety about cooking for groups combined with a real desire to share food with others.  I have decided to change that anxiety into an adventure.  And maybe I am totally obsessed, but it reminds me so much of the work I do as a bassoonist.
I think the reason that today’s meal was so successful was the aid of my mother’s caregiver, the astonishingly gifted Linda Harriman.  Her real-life skills are wide-ranging and easily encompass the preparation of dinner, yet she decided to act as my assistant.  Every tool that I put down, she collected and washed, returning to it’s spot. If I ran into a time crunch, she peeled, chopped or fetched.  Though she was not constantly at my side, she still did 6 hours of cleaning.  If she hadn’t done that, I would have fallen behind or had to serve dinner amidst a clutter of dirty dishes.  So, while I am pleased and proud that my dinner was successful, I also know that it would have been far less so without the help of Linda.  
And while the dinner was excellent, I also needed my parents and Linda to be with me to savour it… if I had made it as a solitary exercise, would it have tasted as vividly?
And it all reminds me of the work it takes to be a soloist or any other kind of performer.
The study, decisions and hours of preparation are solitary activities, but the performance requires the presence of other people to combust all of the elements into a finished product that can be judged and enjoyed and repeated.  And for the solo performer to arrive successfully to the stage, huge amounts of support must be given to make it possible… there are so many things that need to do in addition to the practise-practise-practise mantra of the hopeful virtuoso.  The performance is an essential step and there need to be many repeat performances before the skills become refined into instinct.  The performances can be humble events for friends and family along with or leading to the main stage, sequin-gowned extravaganzas.  Each is important, each adds nacreous layers to the glow of the performer.