Tuesday, March 20, 2018


For the last 6 months or so I've had an unfinished composition sitting on my desk next to my laptop. The piece is a multi-movement fantasia (of sorts) for solo baroque bassoon. The piece is written in a shorthand which, like a number of my own compositions for solo bassoon, allows me the freedom to explore my musical ideas from one performance to another. The composition hasn't been finished because the inspiration for it comes from a rather dark memory which I've been reluctant to dig up. The reason I write about it today, however, has to do with the title.

While I am no expert in the realm of new music, I can imagine that the variety in stylings which their titles take today are only increasing. Most instrumental works in centuries past were not given a name. We know them by the ways we categorize them; their form, key and, if they were published, by their order of in the collection (e.g. Suite in G major, Op. 3 no. 1). Of course, exceptions to the rule existed - take the instrumental repertoire of the French baroque, for example. Free today are we, however, to break from this tradition.

So I took it upon myself to title the work and its movements hinting to the particular memories they were inspired by. While I'm not bothered by the thought of performing a work born out of a personal experience to a public audience, for some reason I'm fighting the urge to explicitly identify what brought about the work. Funny to me is that, though I am plausibly fearful of ridding myself of a comfortable space between me an my audience, I think my apprehension here stems from the fear that I am effectively creating a work of 'low' art.

Think about it, I'm writing a piece about a woman. Elements of it do have some real sophistication which I spent time working out: it incorporates a notational shorthand which I developed after studying early western musical manuscripts, for example.

It's a puzzling fear to have. I suppose it boils down to an adherence to The Poietic Fallacy. A theory of Richard Taruskin, which points to the hegemony within western classical music of valuing the particularities of a work's construction over its reception or ability to move an audience. While a dedication of a work would fit within the canon, betraying that the compositional process was driven by an emotional response somehow seems to me to be too revealing. Even discussing the topic has been hard: a draft of this post has been sitting in my outbox for two months now.

For the moment I don't know if this circle can be squared.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Our Very Own returns to Ottawa this week

For the first time since 2015, Our Very Own will perform in the Ottawa area. Performing a project of German works, Marie Bouchard and I will perform a recital with special guest soprano Marianne Moore.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Funding Received

During the Spring of 2018 I will take on a project to study the reeds of Wilhelm Knochenhauer and Carl Mechler with James R. McKay. McKay is the author of The Bassoon Reed Manual: Lou Skinner’s Theories and Techniques and has a collection of original Knochenhauer and Mechler reeds.

Thanks to support from The Canada Council for The Arts, I will be able to spend a number of days working closely with McKay in Canada during the months of May and June. The overall goal of the project is to measure and experiment in order to develop a process to create replicas usable for bassoons of the late 19th century. With any luck, there will be a process or two which may inspire a new design for baroque and classical instruments. 

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country. 
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tackling a Dangerous Premise

Recently, I was asked the question below in a discussion about early music performance. I've decided to write up my (polished) answer. 

"What do you think about attracting audiences in this century of digital music downloads?"

First, I'd like to tackle the premise of your question. It assumes that a recording is effectively a replacement to a live performance. In fact the two media are fundamentally different works. A recording today is, essentially, a patchwork of hundreds (or even thousands!) of segments that are weaved together to present a musical composition performed to technical perfection and, possibly, with a specific artistic vision. 

A live performance, on the other hand, is a communal activity where an artist or artists engage with a work and the audience around them. A performance is a transfer of energy through a specific medium (whether it be a musical work, theatre piece, etc.), connecting people on an intellectual and/or spiritual level. It's a human activity - it's not a social construction. 

I'm sure you've been to a performance in your life where you felt you were on the "outside" - maybe it was a concert of 15th century Burgundian music, or maybe it was contemporary dance - but even so, there was still a moment during the show where you couldn't help but think "wow, I don't know what I'm watching, but it's incredible!"

The danger with tacitly accepting that a recording is a replacement to a live performance is that it will ultimately lead to the latter's disappearance. Already it's getting harder and harder for artists to find paying audiences, and I worry that we are unconsciously trying to replicate a recording in performances to the detriment of the activity. At every level of artistic training, at least in the classical music world, we are not teaching performance. We might encourage it, but we don't emphasise and train the skills which set performance apart from recordings. We don't even have a vocabulary to discuss and analyse the act of performing. 

So, to answer your question, all I can say is that I will continue to advocate live performance as its own medium; to strive to perform as much as I can, to the best of my ability.
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