Favourite Restaurants from my recent travels

Excellent affordable restaurants during my travels…

superb Indian menu at Windjammer Restaurant in Clarion Hotel in Dunkirk, New York (limited hours but worth adjusting your schedule to go); in Prince George, B.C., Spicy Greens (I loved the lamb palak dosa),  the homey Madras Maple Cafe along with Wasabi Sushi & Wonton and great coffee at Ristretto  …heaven)

Also really enjoyed Burns Lake’s Dragon Palace restaurant  / for comforting Chinese food and the Boer Mountain Coffee house for excellent coffee etc. And in the formerly sleepy tiny mill town of Houston, BC, near our former ranch, there is another fine expresso joint, The Pallisades Cafe.

And while in Portland, Oregon, I really enjoyed the Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Division Street (and am still enjoying a bag of “El Puente” Honduras coffee beans) and when I visited nearby Mount Hood, the Mount Hood Roasters time stopped for me with a finely-textured latte and a childhood-memory-inducing huckleberry cheesecake “pillow”, a gluten-free pastry (I think).

Madras Maple Cafe

Butter Chicken from Madras Maple Cafe

Play Every Day! – practising on the road (or anywhere that they will let you)

Practising on the Road (or anywhere that they will let you)

3 concerts this week with Violons du Roy (accompanying superstar Alexandre Tharaud)
and recitals coming up February 17 in Gananoque and February 28 in Richmond Hill.

Once you have a life as a professional musician, practising on the road is a constant reality, along with making reeds and paying bills and trying to be a complete human being.  In the last two weeks, I have practised in 7 different locations in 4 different cities in 3 provinces.

I constantly battle to improve the repertoire and fragile abilities that I already possess and to expand into unconquered territory.  OK, put another way, I try to yank myself off FaceBook and practise/make reeds every day.

I accept almost any bassoon-related challenge that is sent my way under the guise of making a living but really, I am going it to see if I can quickly rally the delicate skills to jump between playing second bassoon in a demanding, precise, exquisitely expressive and refined orchestra (Violons du Roy) scheduled between major solo recitals with my full-out demanding, athletic and expansively expressive trumpeter/pianist stage partner, Guy Few.  Two very different situations with nonetheless common values that make me a better player.

And I schedule my teaching around this so that the students learn to be involved in the planning of their careers from the get-go, making them see the necessity for advance planning.

All of them have responded this year to my insistence on creating a time-line that outlines their important concerts, auditions, deadlines and planning their lessons to support these goals.  And they all know my tour dates.  Some of them are even taking the time to look at my website and FaceBook to get an idea of where I will be in the coming months!  During the weeks that I am away, they book lessons with any of the four incredible bassoonists in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra… not a bad back up plan!

Students have always asked about how to practise more efficiently.  We always talk about this and yet it only takes hold as reality when they take charge of their own organization.  Some of my keenest inquisitors become my most organized students… another reminder that self-doubt often indicates higher standards and, eventually, an ability to develop skills (see chart below).

It begins with identifying goals, making a list, then some kind of timeline (calendar, chart, whatever works for you) and then making specific charts.  The timeline includes all of the info about the important events of the year (concerts/auditions/juries/competitions) and beyond (orchestras you want to play with/concertos and recitals that you want to create/ recordings etc)  These charts can be as fancy as you want (computer generated spread sheets) or as simple as you need (backs of envelopes or napkins) or a combination of both.  I show them my  basic practise chart that identifies my current priorities (date/location/time/repertoire/techniques including circular breathing/memorization/reed #).  I like to record everything in narrative detail, partly because it amuses me to count the number of locations where I have practised in the past weeks and partly because it makes me more conscious to write about my work.  Often I realize that I am doing more than I thought, or that there are glaring gaps in my process.   And when students (and self) stares at timeline, gradually the details emerge of the foundation of extra work that is required to make things happen, e.g. getting recommendation letters from me BEFORE I leave on tour (grumble)!!

The process is basic:  advance planning (including deciding your schedule the night before); writing down goals and doing something concrete towards these goals every day; recording the actual practising.

I can’t say it enough:  write down your goals in some form and they will happen.  Organize your process by whatever means. If you are anything like me, you probably will never feel organized but believe me, structure will take place in your musician mind. Be stubborn, be brave and above all, play every day!

(Here is a fantastic chart developed by Alicia Bots, one of my students at the Glenn Gould School to help her plan for her second excerpt exam of the school year  – used with permission)…


Kevin Hearn concert and best birthday ever

Yesterday was the best birthday ever…

Got up, got in the truck with my son with cappuccino and croissants, and drove out to the Elora-based studios of engineer Ed Marshall to edit for another few hours on the new project.  Then Jake and I went for outstanding sushi in Fergus then ran across the street to I Love Chocolate to buy out the display case of homemade chocolate… this is the best stuff I’ve had ever (I’m sure of it).  We got in the truck and bolted for London, hoping to make the 7:00 start time for the Kevin Hearn concert at the really beautiful London Music Club  I want to play at the London Music Club!  Turned out we weren’t late at all as the evening opened with a fine young singer, Liz Coyles singing charming yet somehow too familiar songs of youth (yawn).  The room seems friendly to acoustic instruments but it was fantastic for the rock-out plus soft-spoken surprising fantastic poetic virtuosic musicianship of Kevin Hearn and his excellent band Thin Buckle (Chris and Bob, last names coming later), singing stuff from all their albums including the new release Cloud Maintenance.  My friends came and my kid liked the music. Drove back to Toronto listening to the half dozen CDs I bought of Kevin’s music… he sold them for $5 which made it really necessary to buy all.

Jake said I shouldn’t eat so much of the chocolate but he understood why I bought the CDs.


Hot Stuff

Words that you do not want to see on the day of a recording project in a heritage church that does not have air-conditioning:

Extreme heat alert
Humidex advisory
Severe thunderstorm watch

Planning a recording takes a huge amount of advance work.  Emails fly back and forth as I collect dates and data from the other soloist, the conductor, the composers, the orchestra, and the venue.  And after all of that sometimes, the things beyond our control add a completely unexpected level of challenge.  Weather and family always come first in this situation.

Monday, July 17 dawned bright and hot. I had time to make a new reed and then Guy and I went early to the St Anne’s church on Gladstone Avenue (near Little Italy in Toronto and across from the Cadbury factory).  We stopped to buy snacks for our orchestra.  Our engineer, Ed Marshall, arrived early to check his gear which was already in place.   We had already moved the pews and set up the orchestra during the previous day’s rehearsal.  Our extra drummer arrived early (he hadn’t been available for the previous day’s rehearsal) and we moved the viola section over to make room for him in the centre of the group.  Our composer/guitarist arrived and we found a spot for him and his monitors behind the bass section.
Our spectacular conductor (Eric Paetkau) string players arrived and everyone commented on the heavy humidity and the heat.

We got into position with two drummers, electric guitar, and chamber strings (including our jazz bassist friend Daniel Fortin) and Guy and me as solo trumpet and bassoon.

The session went hard and fast and we played flat out for about three hours of the four-hour session (with two 20 min breaks).  Everyone was hot but it went really well. Our composer (Michael Occhipinti) gave very good comments and our conductor was amazingly quick at coordinating the jazz style with the classical players.  There was just enough time at the end to record a short piece by Glenn Buhr for corno da caccia, bassoon and strings and we thought it would be a nice way to end before lunch and heading into the late afternoon session for the solo bassoon piece (Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie by Mathieu Lussier).

My instrument was hot and gluey with sweat, but I had complete confidence that it would work.  And that is when something strange began to happen.  I could play for about 30 seconds, then keys would begin to gently stick.  I really couldn’t tell which ones were doing it and the panic clouded my mind.  We opted to break early so that I could talk to my repairman and take the horn into an air-conditioned space.  Shane Wieler, my repairman, pointed out that this was the hottest day on record to date and it might be out of our control.  But we both were puzzled because my 15,000 series Heckel is an extremely stable instrument.

During that time, my elderly father called me in a panic from his northern home (a three-hour drive from Toronto)… he really needed company and needed to get to Toronto to be with me.  It has been a very hard year in terms of health for him.  In the 45 minutes before I had to be recording again, I called 3 friends and found someone who could drive him part way so that I could then plan to drive an hour north and collect him after the recording session.

When we returned for the late afternoon session, I hoped against hope that it would work… we got about 4 minutes into the piece when the humidity took over again. I could not see any springs out of place on the bassoon and I used paper to clear the humidity from the pads, but it instantly took over again the minute I began to play.

Just when I realized that I was in trouble again, my cell phone began flashing my son’s name. My boy never uses the phone, so I thought it must be important. I answered, and he had forgotten his house key and his Dad was not home and not answering any calls. So I quickly tried to find a solution to that problem before trying a few more times to get through the session.

In the end, I had to cancel the session and will rebook for September, which will cost me thousands of extra dollars.  The conductor asked if I could borrow a bassoon… I said no.  These projects are so expensive and require such a level of preparation that I must be playing on the best bassoon available, which of course is my own!  Not to mention that there would be no way to find a pro instrument in time to finish the sessions. I am now seriously considering buying a backup instrument.

We packed up for the night.  The next day was scheduled for Guy’s recording of the trumpet concerto (Impressions d’Alameda) and we hoped that we might be able to slot in the short piece at the end of that session.  Guy and I went for a coffee, then I drove up north to pick up my dear old Dad.

We are now in the process of finding dates that will work for the same orchestra members in September, which is a big challenge.  And I will have a backup bassoon with me this time!  And I will make sure that people are watching over my son and Dad before the sessions start, just so that fate will have to get inventive.

Life is complex and I think that I actually like it this way.  The good news is that our engineer did the first edit on the following day, so we will have the luxury of hearing two of the pieces before we go in to record the last four pieces.  This is an unprecedented gift.

I have a lot more to tell you about the rest of the sessions, but now have to get ready to go to Hamilton to speak to the young members of the National Academy Orchestra about a multifaceted life in music… I think that I know what to tell them!