Posted on March 25, 2023 by Jason
This article was written in preparation for our Spring 2023 concert, Complementary Colors.
It was on a spontaneous visit in early 2020 to the Glen Arbor Arts Center that I happened upon a work by Lauren Everett Finn. Her piece was displayed along with many other artists that day as part of a juried exhibit. I remember what leapt out at me immediately was her daring use of both color and texture. Whether it’s in one of her many dazzling floral paintings or her action-packed abstract works, it’s that adventuresome juxtaposition of color and texture that often takes front and center in her art.
Lauren’s work — filled with such evocative use of color and contrast — seemed a natural fit for our upcoming program (Complementary Colors). The staff at GAAC helped me get in touch with her in March of 2020, and she was kind enough to invite us to her studio. We chatted at length about her processes, her studio atmosphere, a few specific pieces from her vast catalog, and we even selected a beautiful painting for use on the concert poster.
We couldn’t have predicted that less than two weeks later we’d all be sent into lock-down. Our spring program which was just getting on its feet was abruptly cancelled indefinitely. Though it meant shelving the collaboration, I vowed to keep in touch with Lauren and promised that we’d one day pick things back up.
Since that introductory visit, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more of Lauren’s work at local galleries and in exhibits and even online. Although she admits to having a love-hate relationship with social media, Lauren’s Facebook and Instagram pages provide a stunning glimpse into her process and growing catalog.
Scrolling through her feed, you can watch as pieces take shape, change, and virtually come to life. In the realm of social media where it seems literally everything is shared these days (albeit selectively curated), there’s something so inherently vulnerable and intimate in her allowing this window into her studio. It’s inspiring!
Lauren’s work is arguably about the creative process itself. “It’s the ‘what ifs.’ I wonder what would happen if — this on top of that, and that is on top of that. Some results you can predict from your experience, but sometimes you get something unexpected,” she says. “It’s the actual process. The paint. The feel of it. The opacity. The transparency. Color mixing. It’s so versatile — that’s the reason I like painting.”
Likewise, a composer summons colors and textures in the form of voices and timbres. These combine to form both a palette and an image (sometimes even a story) for the listener’s imagination. As a musician, I enjoy pondering a composer’s intentions while probing the music for more context. Sometimes there are clues in the title, style instructions over key passages, or perhaps we know from history that the piece was written during a specific event in the composer’s life. I also enjoy when there are no clues and we’re free to bring something more of ourselves to the interpretation. Some of us do that no matter what!
Much of Lauren’s recent work has been focused on two themes: florals and abstracts. This might be surprising to some who encounter the breadth her work in a solo exhibit. Somehow we expect an artist to choose one or more related themes rather than two drastically different ones. Lauren says she loves the contrast between the two themes: florals come to her fairly easily while abstracts tend to present a challenge both for her and her audience.
When was the last time you allowed a piece of artwork (be it visual or performance) to ask something of you rather than expecting it to merely entertain or distract you?– J.T. McKinney
“With florals, you know what your subject is going to look like; abstract, you don’t. You have to create your subject,” she says. “Floral paintings are easy to live with. I find more people prefer to look at flowers than abstracts because they’re not intimidated by a floral. Somebody looks at an abstract, and you’re asking something of them.”
When was the last time you allowed a piece of artwork (be it visual or performance) to ask something of you rather than expecting it to merely entertain or distract you? Have you ever stopped scrolling to look carefully at a piece of artwork that popped up in your newsfeed? In an uncertain world, is there room to allow artwork evoke to ambiguity? Can we allow art to make us as vulnerable as the artist, and — perhaps, for a moment — become the artist ourselves?
Lauren knows this vulnerability well. “Painting is not risky in the physical sense, but in a personal sense, it can be very risky,” she says. “Every time I create a painting and show it— It. Is. Judged. It’s judged by everyone that views it, with all different levels of expertise. There is one thing you can count on; everyone won’t love it. You have to get comfortable with this.”
Creatives can make connections where there previously were none, and bring a richness and depth to an experience.– Lauren Everett Finn
Composers and musicians confront that same risk in creating music and curating programs to present to audiences. It is tempting to present only the old favorites — those pieces that are guaranteed to get toes tapping and heads bobbing. But, as artists we long to dig deeper in order to challenge ourselves. We also want to challenge our audience — taking them with us through unfamiliar territory, asking questions while providing no quick answers, presenting colors and motifs that might take time to digest fully. (Not just head bobbing, but head tilting!)
“Creatives can make connections where there previously were none, and bring a richness and depth to an experience. We can illustrate a problem that may bring a person to a new understanding or perspective,” Lauren says. “I also think we encourage non-artists to try their hand at creating.”
We hope you’ll join us for Complementary Colors on Saturday, May 6, 2023. Together we’ll embark on a journey of color and texture in a dynamic program of chamber music, spoken word, and visual art. Surrounded by Lauren’s artwork and the voices of modern composers, we’ll explore how artists in many disciplines use color as a language of expression. Together we’ll combine divergent voices to create new colors and inspire broader perspectives.
Portions of this article were taken from an interview with Lauren
by Sarah Bearup-Neal of the Glen Arbor Arts Center.
Posted on September 9, 2022 by Jason
Here is my bouquet, here is a singfrom “Colors Passing Through Us”, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003) — Marge Piercy (b. 1936)
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.
When Manitou Winds takes the stage again on Saturday, October 15, 2022, at Central United Methodist Church, Traverse City, it will be the first seasonal concert our ensemble has been able to perform since September 2019. We’re excited to share music with you again, and our upcoming concert program is one you won’t want to miss!
Our program title, taken from a poem by Marge Piercy, alludes to the broadest brushstrokes of color we can encounter: color in nature, color in emotion, color in music… is there a limit? You’re invited to explore with us!
The program opens with Avian Suite by composer (and oboist) Stacey J. Berk (b. 1970). Composed in 2011 for the Polaris Wind Quintet, the work presents five movements, each depicting a different bird in its natural habitat. The soaring eagle, the owl on her eerie nocturnal hunt, the plucky territorial chickadee, the elegant swan, and the tiny hummingbird powered by nectar — you’ll hear them all take flight! This quintet has been dog-eared in our library for a while. We’ve read it and discussed it in rehearsals, and we’re eager to finally have an opportunity to share it with you.
Next we’ll be joined by special guest Thomas Bara, Instructor of Organ at Interlochen Center for the Arts and organist at Central United Methodist Church, Traverse City. Together we’ll perform Traveling Mercies by J.T. McKinney, a work for wind quintet and organ. Jason describes the work as, “a tone poem about wanderlust in which the central character seeks excitement and wisdom from faraway places, eventually returning home to find peace among familiar surroundings through the lens of his new perspective.” The limitless palette of the organ melds with the striking colors of our wind quintet to create a cinematic soundtrack.
Continuing in the theme of travel, we’ll perform Travel Notes 2 by Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012). An Academy Award-nominated composer of TV and film music known for his eclectic compositional interests from classical to jazz to modernist avant-garde, Bennett’s woodwind quartet presents four short musical essays depicting scenes from an adventurous vacation. Soaring high above in a hot air balloon, zipping around in a thrilling helicopter ride, relaxing poolside in an easy chair, and speeding through crowded streets in a car chase — this piece certainly keeps our fingers busy!
And we’ll end our journey with Swansea Town by Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) which is based on a Hampshire folk tune of the same name. Our fellow band musicians will immediately recognize the tune since it was featured in the opening movement of Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F. But, unlike Holst’s treatment, Jacob’s rendition takes the listener through a series of eight variations where we can imagine the tune traveling on the wind to visit the various town folk busily going about their day.
We hope you’ll join us for a delightful autumn evening of evocative music and thoughtfully curated poetry and prose. Admission is free! Your goodwill donations will benefit our ensemble’s efforts to spread music and creativity throughout our region and beyond.
Posted on September 9, 2022 by Jason
The organ studio at Interlochen Arts Academy is thoroughly alive and continues to thrive thanks to the support and devoted service of instructor Thomas Bara.
It’s true that organs are large, costly, and rarely found in the average home, but the reason organ students are a rare commodity is multifaceted. “For better or for worse, the organ is historically linked to the music of the church,” says Thomas. “Before the prevalence of amplified music, organ played a pivotal role in most congregational worship, so the pool of people exposed to the instrument was larger than it is today.”
With fewer people counting themselves as regular churchgoers, and some churches removing their organs or letting them fall into disrepair, the organ faces a shrinking opportunity to make an impression on budding musicians. Still, Thomas insists this is not an insurmountable challenge.
Thanks to the Internet and various forms of social media, it’s actually easier than ever for organists, composers, and would-be organ students to find one another. “Many of the young people attracted to organ, today, are drawn in by the dynamic body of work now posted online. They have instant access to the most dramatic organs and charismatic performers,” says Thomas. “I would say that finding dedicated students is still a challenge; I wouldn’t say the challenge is growing, but my students are coming from a different place than when I began teaching.”
Organists can sprout up almost anywhere, and Thomas is living proof of that! Although he came from a musical family where everyone loved singing, he grew up on a pick-your-own strawberry farm far away from his classically trained relatives. Life on the farm fostered a love of mechanical things and fed his penchant for problem-solving, as there was always something needing to be fixed. “Embarrassingly, my entry point into music was all of the organ’s gizmos and thing-a-ma-gigs,” admits Thomas. “I loved all of the keyboards and buttons… the ultimate mechanical marvel that also sounds cool!”
“The organ in the church I grew up in was in clear view of the congregation,” he remembers. “I always picked my seat so I could watch the organist during the service.” Not surprisingly, it was a church organist (John O’Brien) who eventually became Thomas’ first music teacher. Though he wanted to hop right on the organ bench, he was first required to learn piano.
He went on to study at Interlochen Arts Academy and then earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the Eastman School of Music, where he received the prestigious Performance Certificate and the first Harold Gleason Emerging Artist Award. Having performed as both an acclaimed soloist and accompanist in New York, Copenhagen, Cambridge, and London, Thomas has returned to Interlochen where he masterfully trains students, most of whom go on to attain impressive accolades and performance positions.
Asked if teaching organ might be different than teaching other instruments, Thomas says he believes all instruments require basically the same core values in both teachers and students. “The traits I work to model and champion for my students are passion and individuality,” he explains. “Passion drives us to work hard, to strive to learn as much as we can, and to do the dirty work even when we don’t feel like it. Passion motivates us to leave our comfort zones and to try again after we fail. Passion goes hand-in-hand with individuality, so I do not believe in doling out the ‘definitive’ interpretation of pieces. I want my students to invest themselves in the music and commit to their ideas.”
While the organ may not be as familiar to concert audiences (especially chamber music audiences) as it once was, organists know firsthand it is surprisingly versatile, adding color and richness no other instrument can provide. Thomas admits there are cringe-inducing misconceptions about the organ and what it’s like to play it. “Any guesses how many times I get asked to play ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Come on Baby, Light My Fire’?” he laughs. “People often identify the organ with loud, spooky chords full of clamorous harmonics — that, or the Hammond B-3. Truth is, the organ is extremely versatile. It can cover everything from super-soft pianissimos to towering fortes. I love surprising people with how great the organ can be as a collaborative instrument.”
Great musicians can often discover new insights even within familiar repertoire as they return to those pieces over the years. When Thomas joins Manitou Winds in concert, however, he’ll premiere a brand-new work for organ and wind quintet written by Manitou Winds founder, Jason McKinney. There will be more on this collaboration in a future article.
Interpreting a piece of music with absolutely no performance history demands a creative spirit and an adventurous musicality. “More and more, I want to feel like I’m presenting a piece as a fellow composer — someone who understands intimately how a piece is put together,” he says. “With any music, new or old, I want to find the inherent genius in it and find a way to move the audience to experience it as I do.”
Posted on May 18, 2022 by Jason
This post was originally published in preparation for our May 2016 performance. We’re sharing it again in anticipation of the world premiere of Jason’s first two works for symphony orchestra! We hope you’ll join us Saturday, July 9, as Manitou Winds joins with the Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra to premiere Ransom Lake and Platte Plains!
I have always been hesitant to call myself a composer. Looking through scraps of manuscripts saved from my college years and my high school journals, it’s obvious I’ve always aspired to be one. Thankfully, it wasn’t some misguided pursuit of fame or fortune driving me to compose. It was a spark of inspiration that often seemed to come out of nowhere — a brisk fall breeze, a bumpy bus ride home from school, being afraid of the dark — all of these stories and sensations transcribed themselves in my head as tunes needing to be written down.
As a kid, I composed tiny pieces on my tiny Casio keyboard; I never wrote them down, I only kept them in my mental repertory. In early high school, I created my own staff paper — one line at a time — using a ruler, a pencil, and some typing paper. It would be an embarrassingly long time before I discovered or had opportunity to buy manuscript books (where the staves are already printed for you!). Between my slow, uneducated process and my unending obsession with perfectly parallel lines, it’s a wonder I ever committed anything to paper at all!
All of this scribbling eventually led to an event that forever changed my life. On October 23rd, 1996, one of my compositions was performed by a local university’s wind symphony. My high school band director, who loaned me his old orchestration textbooks, urged me to enter a national composition contest and arranged for my piece to be recorded.
To properly set the scene, I should mention I’d set aside my saxophone a few months earlier to start playing oboe (poorly). Nonetheless, I had great affection for the oboe and featured it rather prominently in my composition. Just days before the recording session, the conductor called my band director to inform us the university’s oboist would not be able to perform for the recording. He was wondering if I would perform with the group. Suddenly, writing that big oboe solo in the opening few measures of the piece seemed less than inspired. Did I want to perform oboe on the recording? I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to play oboe ever again! But, it was my oboe or no oboe, so I agreed.
The big day came and I was onstage in the massive recital hall with all of these college people. It was my music sitting on their stands (all the lines were perfectly parallel). I had my cheap oboe reed and my school’s janky student-model oboe in my lap. I was trying to keep my cool while the musicians were warming up. I could hear random bits and pieces of my composition flying all over the place.
The pianist came over to me and very politely mentioned that — for my next piece — I should be sure all the beats line up in both staves for the piano part. Wide-eyed, I nodded in agreement. In time, I would also learn that dots always go to the right of the note-head and flags always fly to the right regardless of which direction the stem is pointing (or which way the wind is blowing).
Finally the moment came, and the conductor gave that first downbeat…
For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the feeling. It was as though the room was spinning while sound was coming from all around me — not just any sound, but a “living sound”. It was more than sound, it was colorful and vibrant — almost tangible, as if every particle in the air was vibrating, coming to life, glowing. The sound was more alive than anything I’d been able to imagine while making all those scribblings on my homemade staff paper.
When the time came, I played the oboe solo to the best of my ability… my warbly, reedy, sharp, unrefined ability. As much as I should have been afraid, the energy inside that swirling sound buoyed my sunken confidence, overshadowing my worries about how unqualified and unworthy I was. Music really is a miraculous thing.
I did not win the competition, of course. I didn’t even land an honorable mention. It was a national competition. I was from a very small public high school (fewer than 300 students). I’d never had an opportunity to write a large-scale piece before; my entire high school band was never more than about 25 students. I’d never had a music theory class or used music software. I had so much to learn! Rather than being disappointed, however, I was hooked: the spark from that first downbeat forever branded me a composer.
I listened to that recording every day for a long time. I kept wanting the feeling of the first downbeat to come rushing over me again, to feel that sound coming to life and coursing through me. I quickly learned it is a very elusive feeling not even the best recording can capture. Now when I listen to that cassette recording, more than 20 years later, that piece, that day, that oboist, all seem so distant, unreal. I also understand the biting, cringing feeling of regret and remorse driving some composers to destroy their early compositions!
Fortunately, among the musicians of Manitou Winds, I have found an opportunity any composer would envy: living, breathing musicians who willingly play any scribblings I place in front of them. I have the honor of learning from their experience while enjoying that elusive “living sound” far more often than I would have ever imagined.
And now I’m delighted to share my work with the entire Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Tom Riccobono. I’m excited to see how much more I can learn. I can’t wait to see where the music will take us, how far the collective energy of that many musicians can go (it’s gonna be rocket fuel!!)… and it all starts at the first rehearsal and that downbeat!
Posted on November 15, 2021 by Jason
Ah, yes again, the mellow sun is cooler.
Days are short and nights are longer
by the fire of family love.
The evening speaks of hearts together now;
the harvest done, and gone to rest
for winter’s coming home.
– G. Norbett
I’m sure I’m not the only one who spent most of 2021 in prolonged anticipation. We were free from strict lockdowns, but so many beloved things were still verboten. As time passed and we all came to recognize the uneasy ache in our hearts was grief rather than uncertainty, perhaps we began to recognize what we were grieving most: togetherness.
Winter may be the singular natural force that causes us to instinctively gather. As temperatures drop and night falls earlier with each passing day, the world outside becomes less hospitable, and we’re drawn to one another for warmth and comfort. The holiday season provides us with even more reasons to come together – maybe showing we care with elaborate gifts and celebrations. But the only gifts we really need this year are love and kindness.
I don’t have to tell you we’re not out of the woods, yet. Case numbers rise, surges build, headlines rage on, divisions grow… but let’s keep on healing where we can. Let’s get together!
Whether you join us in person, online via livestream, or in your easy chair next to the radio, we hope you’ll let us give this gift to you: the gift of togetherness, presented straight from our heart to yours.
From all of us at Manitou Winds,
UPDATE: Here are a few snaps from our December 4th performance at Grace Episcopal Church, Traverse City. It was a wonderful evening spent with a wonderful audience! Many thanks to those who came out in person and those who watched us via livestream. Still to come, listen for us on Interlochen Public Radio at 1pm (EST) on Christmas Eve when IPR will broadcast the entire concert!
Posted on November 25, 2019 by Jason
We have to make Christmas happen. I remember when that staggering thought occurred to me. I was 25, and it was my first Christmas in Chicago. Cold wind and nothing but darkness outside my window save for the unfeeling light of streetlamps. Sidewalks full of people, but all of us strangers.
I’d been in the city only for a few months. My life was in such disarray. I came home exhausted most days — mentally, physically, and spiritually. I was homesick, broke, and yet I was in the midst of my annual wrestling match with an old artificial Christmas tree, dredging it up from its cardboard hiding place once again.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” I asked. “Why are you putting up a tree? Pulling out all this gaudy stuff?” I kept decorating, but I kept puzzling, too.
I thought back to my childhood Christmases. Back then, Christmas always seemed to happen on its own, as inevitable as sunrise. But, that night, as a grown man hanging ornaments on my sad little tree, it finally occurred to me that my parents had made Christmas happen for me. All those years, I’d thought the “gifts” were in boxes under the tree, but the real gifts were the experiences and memories made possible through my parents’ care and sacrifice.
It really wasn’t about money. They watched the TV specials with us even though they already knew them by heart. They acted surprised each time the tree lit up with all the colored lights. They put aside their weariness and sang along. They made special meals even though it took a lot of effort and time. They helped me believe in joy by leading me through it.
My parents weren’t setting me up for some big let-down. Everyone knows life isn’t always going to be easy. But, if we can dig down deep and find even the smallest bit of ourselves to share, sometimes the joy we’re missing actually turns up, even if for just a few moments. That’s what my parents were doing: finding their own joy by sharing it with their children.
So, I decorated that year even though it probably would have seemed silly to anyone else. And you know what? That Christmas was not great at all. Things got a little worse, in fact. But, I made it through that dreadful season thanks to a very small handful of friends. And seeing the tree lit up reminded me of my family, connected me to happier times. When I let myself bob along to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, I accidentally felt a little happy in spite of myself. When the little boy turned around and hugged The Snowman before going inside, I cried my eyes out. And when “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” came on, I finally understood lyrics I’d only half-listened to before.
I guess there are some lessons we have to learn over and over. Maybe this is one of them: After all the gifts have been unwrapped, the tree put away, the calendar turned over — years after the presents have all been forgotten — it’s only the love and kindness we share that remains. It really is true: we have to make Christmas happen.
I created today’s recipe inspired by the idea of a homemade Christmas and the notion of sharing joy with family, friends, and beyond. When it comes to homemade gifts, in my opinion, bread is about as heart-felt as it gets. So long as you’re firing up the oven, remember it’s just as easy to make two loaves of bread as it is to make one. Consider passing along a little homemade Christmas to someone who may need it this year.
Father Christmas Bread
Yields 1 loaf, 12-14 slices
1 1/2 cups chopped mixed dried fruit (apricots, candied orange peel, currants, cherries, raisins, etc.)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
2 tablespoons ground anise
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
zest of two lemons
1/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
3 1/2 cups (16.25 oz) all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
a pinch of sea salt
milk for brushing
TO MAKE THE DOUGH: Combine the mixed dried fruits and the boiling water in a large measuring cup or medium bowl; soak 20 minutes. Strain the fruits, reserving soaking water to equal 1/2 cup (you may need to add additional water).
Combine the 1/2 cup of reserved soaking water with 1/2 cup milk; microwave until just warmed (about 110 degrees). Pour warm milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add next 9 ingredients (yeast through eggs); mix at low speed to blend. Add the salt and 2 cups of the flour; mix at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the soaked fruits and all but 1/2 cup of the remaining flour; knead at medium speed 8-10 minutes, adding flour sparingly as necessary to keep dough from sticking to sides of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. If still a bit sticky/tacky, knead in up to an additional 1/2 cup of flour until dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl; cover and let rise until doubled in size. (If you’d rather bake bread the next day: you can skip the first rise by placing the dough in a lightly oiled plastic zipper bag, removing the air, sealing it, and refrigerating it for up to 18 hours. The next day, you’ll need to allow the dough to come to room temperature before proceeding before rolling, filling, and shaping.)
FILLING & SHAPING: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. You may also line the loaf pan with parchment for greater ease in removing the bread once baked (especially nice if some of the filling seeps out of the bread during baking!).
On a lightly-floured work surface, press the dough into an 8 x 6-inch rectangle. With a short side of the dough facing you, roll with a rolling pin into an 18 x 8-inch rectangle (lifting the dough, occasionally, to lightly spread flour underneath if necessary). Brush the dough liberally with milk. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly, leaving a half-inch border on the short side farthest from you. Starting at the side closest to you, roll up the dough, pinching gently as you go to make sure it is tightly sealed. To keep the dough from stretching beyond the dimensions of the pan, push the ends inward occasionally as you are rolling it up. Once it has been rolled to the opposite edge, pinch the lengthwise seam tightly to secure it. With that seam facing down, firmly pinch the dough at both ends while tucking under to seal the sides.
Place the loaf seam-side down into the prepared pan; press lightly to flatten and even as needed. Cover top of pan loosely with plastic wrap; set aside to rise. Allow loaf to rise until it crests a full inch above the top of the loaf pan (about 90 minutes or longer if dough has been refrigerated). Meanwhile, heat oven to 350-degrees.
Bake the risen loaf at 350-degrees for 35-50 minutes, until golden brown. The baking time can vary depending on tons of factors. You’ll know it’s done for sure when an instant-read thermometer inserted at an angle from one of the ends reads 190 degrees. If the top of the loaf starts to brown more than you’d like, shield it with a sheet of foil lightly crimped to the pan. Cool in pan for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
The bread can be wrapped (whole or sliced) and frozen for several months. An advantage to freezing it sliced is the ability to sneak into the freezer and steal slices whenever you like without having to use up the whole loaf in a hurry. Those stolen slices make excellent toast whether simply buttered or spread with marmalade or jam. Slices also make legendary PB&J sandwiches chock full of holiday sparkle. The absolute best way to enjoy this bread, in my opinion, is to dip it in your favorite french toast batter, fry it up, and serve with powdered sugar, fresh cranberry sauce, and a hefty dollop of real whipped cream… a Christmas Morning brunch you won’t soon forget.
This post is dedicated in memory of my dear friend Nicole Gonzalez (1978-2019).
She was a best friend and also my kitchen buddy — patiently teaching me, challenging me, and reliably cracking me up. Seeing her smile whenever she tasted one of my recipes was better than any blue ribbon. While I have more memories of our time together than photos, for as long as I live, whenever I cook, it’ll always feel like visiting with my friend. I’m so grateful to have known her.
It was definitely my decision to participate in the 2018 Grace Episcopal Cookie Walk (another name for “bake sale”), but it wasn’t a decision I made on my own! Both James and Emily nudged me. Though the weeks leading up to Christmas are always busy (Hello?! Practicing and rehearsing for Winter Songs & Carols!!), in the end I couldn’t resist the chance to help out for a good cause. Besides, it had been a while since James last agreed to help me in the kitchen with something other than dishes. I was looking forward to putting on comfy clothes, loading the CD changer with holiday albums, and sharing in some messy kitchen fun!
We may have our artistic moments, but James and I are far too organized to be stereotypically right-brained! In the weeks leading up to the Cookie Walk, we held several strategic meetings to determine how many recipes we’d make and how many batches of each would be needed. We didn’t merely select a handful of recipes. No. There were lists… and they were bulleted. There were spreadsheets… categories were determined, pros and cons listed. Risks were predicted and weighed.
To be honest, I no longer remember which of us suggested Apricot Kołaczki — probably James since I tend to think mainly in terms of chocolate and nuts when it comes to cookies (and ice cream!). In any case, the recipe survived our rigorous selection process. On the evening before the Cookie Walk, baking commenced, and at the end of the long evening, it was the kołaczki that were my favorite new recipe.
I hope you’ll try these! Even though the dough was a little tender and needed to remain chilled in order to be workable, it was also very forgiving and didn’t toughen up even after what I felt was excess handling. Even our most imperfect specimens (which we ate immediately for quality control purposes) turned out surprisingly light, flaky, and tasty! If you make these kołaczki only for the apricot filling, that would be understandable. The leftover filling is delicious spread on toast!
Yields about 5 dozen cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg (beaten with 2 teaspoons of water, for egg wash)
1 3/4 cups coarsely chopped dried apricots (app. 10oz)
1/2 cup golden raisins (regular raisins work, but darken filling)
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup water
To make the dough: Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and creamy (about 3 mins). Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour mixture, mix just until combined. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; wrap in plastic wrap, chill until firm (at least 90 mins). While dough chills, prepare the filling.
To make the apricot filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until dried fruits are softened and mixture is thickened (about 10 mins). Remove from heat and allow to cool until only slightly warm. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Spoon into a covered bowl and chill until completely cold (will thicken further as it cools).
To assemble and bake kołaczki: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375-degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
On a well-floured work surface, roll out one portion of dough (keep remaining portions chilled) into roughly an 11-inch square. Rotate dough frequently to prevent sticking. (If dough gets too soft/sticky, transfer it to a sheet of parchment and chill it until firm.) Trim dough into a 10-inch square. Cut square into 4 equal strips, then cut crosswise in fourths again to form a total of 16 squares. Transfer squares to prepared baking sheet and chill for about 10 minutes.
Place 1 heaping teaspoon of apricot filling in center of each chilled square. Brush 2 opposite corners with egg wash, then bring corners together and pinch firmly to adhere.
Arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake until golden (17-20 mins), then transfer to racks to cool completely. Use remaining dough portions and filling to make more. Store cooled kołaczki layered between parchment sheets in an airtight container at room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving, if desired. Enjoy within 4 days for best texture and taste.
Baking several recipes for the Cookie Walk was tons of fun. I’m happy to report the fundraiser was successful, and lots of home bakers turned out to sell their homemade treasures! It was fun to walk around and see all the displays and admire everyone’s work.
I also took the opportunity to share some Christmas music with all the volunteers and customers at the sale. I set up with my harp in the far corner and played several sets of carols and tunes.
In the process, I wound up planting seeds for a brand new piece we’re premiering at our 2019 Winter Songs & Carols concert: Night Journey of the Magi. The piece came to me as I improvised on the tune Noël Novelete (i.e., Sing We Now of Christmas). Trying out several ideas on my impromptu audience, I made mental note of a few ideas that stuck and started scribbling them down a few weeks later!
I think that’s one of the things I like best about the holiday season: it can bring us together to do great things we probably would never have planned. And — as if that weren’t enough — we may accidentally try something new, learn something new, talk to a few strangers, and grow.
Recipe adapted from:
The Gourmet cookie book : the single best recipe from each year 1941-2009. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
Posted on November 13, 2019 by Jason
Manitou Winds’ 2019 Winter Songs & Carols program celebrates home, holidays, and hygge. To prepare for this year’s concert, we’re excited to bring you Comfort & Joy: a new series of musically and seasonally-inspired recipes from the Woodwind Gourmet.
My most cherished holiday memories tend to originate somewhere around the kitchen — the warmest place in the home for so many reasons! Maybe it’s because holiday baking brings the whole family together to revel in the season, telling stories, making memories, and eating all the best things. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share special recipes I hope will inspire you to rekindle old memories with loved ones or to start brand new traditions with your family.
Nollaig, is the Irish word for the month of December and also the Irish festival of Christmas. In the United States, we tend to think of Christmas as a one-day affair: a single day preceded by weeks of hurried shopping and incessant warbling on local radio stations beginning roughly the moment Thanksgiving dishes are done. Meanwhile, in Ireland, Christmas Day means the celebration has only just begun with tons of traditions and parties ahead. Nollaig begins December 24th and lasts through January 6th.
One happy Nollaig tradition is the long-awaited slicing of the Christmas Cake (Cáca Nollag) — a very special dessert whose preparations begin weeks in advance. Unique family recipes, special decorative touches, and anticipation are hallmarks of the classic Christmas Cake. With just a touch of planning, you can make this festive cake the center of your holiday celebration.
Recipes vary from family to family, but the traditional Cáca Nollag is a hearty, fruit-filled, whiskey-steeped cake topped with a layer of marzipan and covered with a sparkling white royal icing.
You’ll quickly notice none of the ingredients are exotic or hard to find. Instead, what makes this cake a marvel is its “maturing” period: after baking, it’s drenched with whiskey, wrapped, then aged for several weeks before finally being frosted, decorated, and eaten. A special sort of magic happens during the maturing period that elevates this from fruitcake (an unfortunate concoction sure to send most people fleeing from well-meaning relatives) to sublime. Maturing also preserves the cake so it can last throughout the festival — a good thing since a small slice of it goes a long way!
Click here for the full recipe!
Posted on September 14, 2019 by Jason
Another original piece premiering at our 2019 A Celtic Summertide concert is a colorful quartet for flute, clarinet, guitar, & harp by our own Laura Hood! Entitled Happy Feet, it’s an up-tempo, spirited rejoinder to her quiet and serene Summer Waltz (which was included on our debut album).
Here’s Laura in her own words to tell you about her latest creation!
Happy Feet began as a fun finger-picking chord progression I used to play as a warm up exercise on guitar.
Many years ago, as I was picking away on the guitar, our son, Ian, who was about 5 or 6, began dancing along. At that time, he was obsessed with Celtic music and dancing. He loved imitating the dancers from Riverdance. So, in our living room we often had our very own free-form (always barefoot) dancer with arms at his sides, doing his own Riverdance fancy footwork. Once in a while, when the spirit moved him, he would throw in some ground spins, hand stands, or a few cartwheels off the edge of the couch. The faster the better, and—wow—could those little bare feet move!
Of course the piece I eventually wrote based on this original progression could only be called Happy Feet.
I have always thought of myself as more of a songwriter than a composer, so Happy Feet is written in a song-like structure (almost like verse and chorus). It begins with that simple chord progression which keeps returning throughout the piece—each time in a bit of a different iteration.
From the chorus-like theme, it takes several different melodic pathways depicting a variety of dance moods or dancing steps, always returning back to the original progression. About midway through the piece is a section where our dancers are having a bit of a hard time: stepping on each other’s toes, maybe suffering from one too many pints, or possibly our son just landed in a heap after one of his cartwheels. I depicted this musically by causing all the parts to crash into one another through contrary motion, syncopated rhythms, and dissonant chords. Eventually we regain balance and return to the main theme once again.
Scoring Happy Feet for Manitou Winds was a fun challenge. I heard the guitar and harp parts very clearly in my head, but the wind parts were more of a challenge. Because I am a brass player, it always takes a bit of time to begin thinking like a woodwind player: able to play so many notes so quickly and jumping from low to high with ease (something which is very difficult on horn).
It’s such a thrill to hear a piece I have written played by fantastic musicians like Anne, Sam, & Jason, and to have them breathing their own energy into it. I’m so appreciative of the practice time I know it took to be able to play all of the parts at—yes—94 bpm, and of the concentrated ensemble work needed to put it together. I’m excited and honored to share this piece with all of you.
We hope you’ll join us for the premiere Saturday, September 21st, 2019, 7:30pm at The Garden Theater in downtown Frankfort! For more information, please visit our performances page.
Posted on September 4, 2019 by Jason
One of the new selections on our 2019 A Celtic Summertide program was composed by Jason based on an old Irish folk tune. Folk tunes often have origins that are difficult or downright impossible to trace. Jason found his tune of choice was no exception!
“It began years ago when I bought Kim Robertson’s beautiful 2006 solo harp album Highland Heart,” says Jason. One track that caught his attention was entitled Dark Woman of the Mountains. “I really enjoyed listening to this track (well, the whole album on repeat, actually). In those days I didn’t even own a harp, so I merely enjoyed imagining what might have inspired the tune.”
Fast forward several years, and we find Jason busy hunting down the origins of this tune in hopes of arranging it for our 2018 A Celtic Summertide concert. “The album’s liner notes claimed the tune was attributed to The Roche Collection, Book I. I did several online searches, but wasn’t finding any matches nor was I confident I’d found the source material. I found several tunes with similar names, but none of them came close to the same tune!” he says.
Jason explained that, in Irish, a dark-haired woman would simply be called a “dark woman”. “Oh, there was Dark Woman of the Glen, Dark-Haired Woman of the Mountains (mountain both plural and singular), The Dark Woman, etc., in both Irish and in English. I eventually gave up my search and shelved the idea because I ran out of time.”
It wasn’t until spring 2019 that Jason tried getting in touch with Kim Robertson herself. Kim admitted she didn’t recall where she first learned the tune. Though she’d created all the arrangements for the recording, she said it was the folks at her record label who had written the liner notes. “There’s always the chance that I have the wrong title for it,” she added.
Where do you go when you have a tune that may have the wrong name? Or no name at all? If you have no other leads, for Irish tunes you might turn to one of the largest collections ever compiled: The Complete Collection of Irish Music by George Petrie (c. 1790–1866). Partially published in the 1880s then completed posthumously in 1903 (by Charles Stanford), the collection contains a whopping 1,582 tunes!
Jason embarked on his needle-in-a-haystack search by combing tune-by-tune through this gigantic volume. “It was easy to get distracted by all the really cool-looking tunes that I imagine no one’s heard for ages, but I was kind of obsessed!” he says. “By chance I decided to start at the end of the book. Would you believe I found the tune in less than 30 minutes?”
There it was in black-and-white: the mysterious tune, but under a different title (written in the old Irish alphabet). Jason transcribed it into the modern alphabet (Baint Áirnídhe faoi Dhuilleabhar na gCraobh), but he was a little unsure when it came to translating it into English.
“My Irish isn’t that great (definitely not scholarly level), and none of my dictionaries gave me the most solid-sounding translation: Removing Alarms Beneath Leafy Trees. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it? I figured there must be an idiomatic piece missing from my translation puzzle or else a poetic slant to the title.”
The entry in Petrie’s collection attributed the tune to a PW Joyce manuscript which Jason managed to track down easily with the aid of the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s website (ITMA).
Patrick Weston Joyce (1827-1914), a younger contemporary of George Petrie and avid collector of Irish tunes, spent a lifetime collecting and jotting down melodies in an effort to preserve the vanishing Irish culture. One of his earliest tune collections is an unpublished manuscript compiled in the summer of 1856. Joyce sent several tunes to Petrie in the hopes of having them published. Thanks to the ITMA website, Jason was able to peruse Joyce’s actual manuscript where he gleefully found the tune written in Joyce’s careful hand, but with a slightly different title (Baint Áirnidhe faoi Ghílúr na gCraobh) and attributed to a Lewis O’Brien of Limerick.
“Translating from the pages of that 1856 Joyce manuscript (removing cares/alarms beneath [the] leafy/flocked branches), I started to feel more connected to this tune even in spite of my elementary grasp of Irish syntax,” Jason says. “My excitement, I imagine, is how any archaeologist must feel removing dust and debris, layer-by-layer, to slowly unveil a lost artifact. We may never know much about the person who actually wrote this tune (was it Lewis O’Brien?), but — for me — finding this earliest known title in Joyce’s own handwriting, and pondering the imagery the title evokes was deeply inspiring.”
Jason took an old tune to heart and composed a piece for clarinet, guitar, and harp which he entitled Willow Song. “The character of this old melody has an almost mournful quality. When I hear the tune, especially now, I’m instantly brought to a place of peace,” he explains. “I feel it’s about seeking solitude and comfort beneath a favorite tree or in a forest. I imagine a willow tree next to a pond, but that’s just me. There’s a certain sadness or pain in the melodic line and harmonic motion, but there’s also the sense that this trouble is being lifted up into the branches — there’s communication between human and tree. I created a countermelody to add to this sense of conversation. I think in the music you clearly hear this healing conversation reflected between the clarinet and harp.”
A month or two after finishing the piece and while he was getting it under his fingers, Jason happened upon a digitized version of The Roche Collection thanks to the ITMA website. Francis Roche (1866–1961) collected tunes from several Irish historians (including PW Joyce) and turned their findings into volumes he published in 1912. The tune turns up in Roche’s Book I where it is entitled Dark Woman of the Mountains (where Kim Robertson’s track got its title). Unfortunately, no one knows where Roche got the title, and Jason has discovered at least one other unrelated tune with that same title. Could it be the beginning of another tune-and-title search?!
We’re excited to unveil Willow Song performed by Anne, Laura, and Jason at our 2019 A Celtic Summertide performance. We hope you’ll join us for the premiere!
Images from “The Complete Collection of Irish Music” (G. Petrie/C.Stanford) and the “Early Joyce Manuscript” (P.W. Joyce) courtesy of the Irish Traditional Music Archive [Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann: http://www.itma.ie ].