Playing Music Is Easy

Tonight was our first concert with Jonathan Cohen, playing Handel, Bach, Mozart & Haydn with Violons du Roy.
It is now late I am too tired to write a lot, but I have to say something about this experience.
It is always a revelation of some kind to play with Violons du Roy.  They are so serious, so loving, so fun.  Since Bernard has been ill and now recovering, there have been many guest conductors and I have met a few when I come as guest principal bassoonist.
I love playing with VdeR, but whenever I return to any orchestra after an extended run of solo playing (just finished a Maritime tour with my chamber group THREE), I always worry about the transition from speaking in a solo voice to singing in the chorus. 
And sometimes, as my friend Valdy, says, playing classical orchestral music makes me feel like I’m being shot at. 
But not this week.
Tonight, as we all left the stage, I was surrounded by musicians talking, laughing, walking with buoyant steps.  More than one musician said they would like to play the concert again, i.e. tonight!  And then our excellent second horn, Louis-Pierre Bergeron, said something like, “ wow, it’s easy to play music!” and we laughed, because, despite the very high standards and the striving, it WAS easy tonight. 
Jonathan Cohen sat at the keyboard, supplying continuo and gesturing fluidly and alertly and transmitting, listening, floating and guiding the musicians in a way that I am at a loss to describe yet which each and every musician recognizes as the real thing, immediate, and absolutely natural.  The kind of natural that is born of an alert mind and exquisite craft, honing of skills and thoughts.
I could say more but I really have to go to sleep as we are going to play the same concert in Montreal tomorrow at the Salle Bourgie (October 16, 2015).  If you can come, you will be very happy that you did.  I know that I am.

Solitary Refinement – Hotel Room Practising

All traveling musicians have to practice in hotel rooms.

Mid-June, 2015, I was just returning from Ottawa where I had premiered my newest concerto commission with 13 Strings & Kevin Mallon (Silver Angel by Constantine Caravassilis) and played Vivaldi G Minor RV 495.  I was between houses, so I booked into the Holiday Inn near the Royal Conservatory and near my son’s school.  On June 16, I said good-bye to my son and then practiced for an hour before driving to Waterloo for another rehearsal.
I was in the midst of my current chromatic interval routine, my Major Third Chromatic Up-Down Fill-Ins and Up-Down intervals and in the fastest and highest phase of the slurred intervals.
When I paused to draw breath, I heard a quiet knock at my door.  Sighing, I thought it was someone who would be complaining, even though it was 10 a.m. and therefore not early.
I put my bassoon carefully in the corner and answered the door. There was a white-haired, fit man standing there with a ball cap on, looking intently at me… he said that I sounded amazing and then exclaimed when he saw the bassoon… he said that he played sax and was in Toronto for a conference.  He exclaimed again at my staggering fluency and left.
I returned happily to practicing, moving on now to the very fast tonguing portion of the Major Third Chromatic Up-Down Fill-Ins.
Moments later, another tap at the door.  This time, I bounced confidently to the door with my bassoon in my hands, fearless, awaiting my next round of accolades…
The small cleaning lady stood there and she was very startled when I opened the door.  “OH!” she said, “I thought maintenance was in your room!”
One person thought I had transcendent abilities, and another thought I was operating a pneumatic drill.  Each person’s comments had the effect of lifting my spirits and grounding me.  In a life of solitary refinement, we most certainly need both.
Happy hotel practicing and concert trails to all,

Back to the Blog

I have never stopped thinking, albeit a tiny thread of a thought, about my blog…. my life has been so, well…. life-y!  in the past year… tours with classical and folk musicians, first art show in 5 years, selling house, moving to apartment, waiting for rezoning a church, couch surfing, touring, looking after elderly father and family, teaching, moving into my church, premiering new concerti…

I’ve been in my new place for 6 weeks and I am happy.  My church is the place I’ve always wanted… it’s like I am living in a concert hall with a really good backstage…and my bed is in the same room as the grand piano.  This must be why I live alone, who else could tolerate such weirdness!?  I am still doing all the things I’ve ever done, including playing concerts, helping my fantastic, iconic, frail-former-superhero father, touring, recording (today, finishing my THREE disc with Lesllie Newman and Guy Few at Maureen Forrester Recital Hall in Waterloo).  Yet it’s better now…I have a studio home smack in the downtown core of a small town, steps from the postoffice, surrounded by kindly neighbours and the wafting fragrances of different types of farms.   I’m on the highway a lot to be in different big cities, which is exactly how I like it.

And between unpacking boxes and practising, I am grabbing some time to learn about the phenomenal tools available to musicians and artists these days, following a 9 week free course by the incredibly experienced and dedicated Ariel Hyatt of Cyper PR and learning something mind-glowingly relevant every day, sometimes twice per day.

So life is still very life-y, but I am enjoying all of it… here is the back of my former church/new studio.

Family Day 2015

I visited my Dad on Family Day.

I left Toronto with a truck full of groceries from the Korean supermarket next to my Toronto apartment and drove north in record cold temperatures (not really that cold) and the blazing sun that slowly morphed into a magenta and golden sunset as I neared Parry Sound.

After getting a few more supplies, I arrived at Dad’s house after dark, a gazillion stars vibrating in the northern sky, snow crunching loud under my four wheel drive tires.

Packed the groceries into the house and hugged my Dad and Janice, then headed to the basement to practise.  I know that Dad never minds hearing me play, and I blast unreservedly through scales and music, still feeling the rush of the happiness that I had from playing the Colgrass house concert the previous night.

Family Day dawned even brighter and colder.  Dad now struggles with daily tasks because of Parkinson’s, but he NEVER gives up, even though it exhausts him.  Janice said that he is always alive, always interested, always wanting to work even though he is 89 years old and tired as hell.

I get to wake up in the last house that Dad will build with his own strong hands.  I put my stuff onto tables that he has built for me though maybe now he doesn’t quite remember doing the work. I get to see him continue to deal with life on his own terms.  It is not easy, but the house is real and beautiful, just like my Dad.  I always say I am sorry that I have to go back to the city, sometimes just for one rehearsal or one student, but Dad always says, “it’s all important” and he means it.

Thanks, Dad.  For all that you have done and continue to do.  You inspire me.

One of two folding reed tables that Dad built for me in 2006 when I was teaching at four universities in three cities and two countries plus starting my serious solo touring career…
all I had to do was remove the two small wooden wedges in the cross bar and I could fold the legs and carry the table under one arm, fling in the back of my truck and drive to the next school.
Now, I am based at U of T and there are 3 custom reed desks built by my Dad, so I can keep the tables in the northern house.


Here’s the view to the northern metropolis of trees, birds and creatures.
Gets noisy sometimes.

Who Do You Think You Are? (Programming and Presenting Classical Concerts in Many Settings) – small thoughts

For classical musicians (and everyone else), this is a question that comes up, but never in those exact words.
For example, when someone asks you to present a concert for them, they both want to know the answer to this question and then, either support or challenge your response.
The important thing is to have a response.  And to like your own response at a fundamental level.  If people are then willing to pay you for your response, even better!  But the order of thought is really bloody important.

Normally, when presenting my response to that existential question (what are you going to play aka who do you think you are?), I am dressed to the hilt and paid a lot of money.   And on very rare occasions, I am asked to give a command performance for someone I respect with all my heart.  Both types of concert and experience are essential in creating the best answer.
Last night, I played a house concert in the home of composer Michael Colgrass and his fiery, activist wife, Ulla surrounded by a fiercely supportive audience.  I invited Dr Cecilia Lee to join me and she instantly said yes even though she has an insanely busy existence (in addition to playing for an endless stream of university students, she insists on attending many concerts to feed her imagination and then stays up ’til dawn helping friends move and then goes running 4 miles…).
Michael and Ulla’s house concerts are legendary and always involve a large group of richly interesting people who have responded with lightning quickness to the Colgrass invitation to gather in their living room, followed by eating Ulla’s delicious meatballs, salads, cheeses and array of things added by talented guests.  The old Steinway is always tuned, the living room rings despite the capacity crowd, and Sonny the cat stretches his long blond frame across the doorway, ever hopeful that a shrimp or meatball will drop his way, completely unfazed by the din of lively conversation amongst 34 people.
Michael introduces us, skipping over the usual blahblahblah of our dazzling accomplishments, and focusing on the things that make us human, e.g. my boast that I have commissioned and recorded more new works for bassoon and orchestra than any other Canadian bassoonist (pretty sure it’s true) and Cecilia’s delightful tag in her bio (all true for sure) “In addition to performing, Dr. Lee is an active recording engineer/producer, working with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and various freelance projects in the city.  Her hobbies include mid-distance running, surprise-last minute trips to faraway lands and curious wandering in the city, looking for images, mishaps and interesting arts events.”
Michael also takes a minute to reveal truths that the quiet crowd soaks in… here is my clumsy remembrance of one —- he said that that music is often defined as an aural experience, yet it is a profoundly physical one and that there is a tremendous benefit to being close to the vibrations of live musicians.  When he made that analogy that the pleasure drawn from this experience is the healthful version of  the junky’s rush, the crowd laughed, yet he was serenely serious.  He went on to say that he advises orchestras to maintain a “Citizen’s Chair” so that a member of the audience can sit on stage to feel that indescribable rush of combined vibrations from all the different live instruments.   He said more, but really, you have to come to one of the concerts to gain the full benefit of his particular luminous insight.

Then Cecilia and I played our response… a small program of ice and fire.

Thank you, Ulla and Michael, for giving us this gift of life and music combined.  Thank you for wanting to know who I think I am and reflecting my response back to me.  And Cecilia’s.   And honestly, thank you for buying my CD.

Colgrass Christmas on Valentine’s Day
Cecilia Lee, piano
Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon
Edvard Grieg
Sonata in F Major, Opus 8
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano
Claude Debussy:
des pas sur le neige
clair de lune
solo piano
Henri Dutilleux
Sarabande et Cortège
bassoon & piano
Joan Tower
“or like a…an engine” (1994)
solo piano
Arnold Schoenberg op. 16
no. 1
no. 2
no. 3
no. 4
no. 5
no. 6
solo piano
Domenico Scarlatti
3 Sonatas
Allegretto K 506
Andante, K 213
Prestissimo K 545
solo bassoon
Arvo Pärt:
für alina
solo piano
Sergei Prokofiev
Sonata in D Major, Op 94
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano


Michael Colgrass Introducing Dr Cecilia Lee
photo by Laura


Nadina playing with Cecilia for incredibly attentive audience in the art-filled living room of Michael and Ulla Colgrass
photo by Laura
One of my favourite photos ever of the brilliant Cecilia… note the statue in centre-photo
photo by Scott R.