Winter Songs & Carols: Susan Hatt Johnson

Winter Songs & Carols will be Manitou Winds’ first-ever concert — one they hope to make an annual tradition in Northern Michigan. It’s a concert in exploration of the many facets of winter — from the holidays we look forward to each year to the more mundane aspects of a season that tends to get a lot of bad press. Each year, Manitou Winds plans to Susan Hatt Johnson - Version 2gather music — new and old — to celebrate winter in new and exciting ways.

For this year’s event, Manitou Winds is tremendously honored to be working with the glittering talent of none other than Susan Hatt Johnson of Frankfort, MI!

If you’re a lover of music and the arts in Northern Michigan, it’s likely you have already experienced Susan’s dynamic stage presence and powerful performances. In addition to singing and dancing with the sensational SwingShift (a local swing band) in various hot spots around Northern Michigan, she has made recent guest performances in Traverse City with both The Dance Center, Inc. and Encore Winds, belting out demanding diva ballads such as My Heart Will Go On and Where Are You Christmas.

Susan has also graced the stage in two recent productions with Traverse City’s stellar Old Town Playhouse. In 2013, she starred as Fantine in OTP’s production of Les Miserables.

Then, in spring 2015, she starred as Gingy/Sugarplum Fairy in the OTP production of Shrek: The Musical where she was joined onstage by her husband, Brian Johnson, who starred as Lord Farquaad:

Manitou Winds is delighted to partner with Susan for Winter Songs & Carols. For this performance, Jason has arranged four unique songs to highlight Susan’s remarkable versatility, pairing her with the members of the ensemble in imaginative ways.

“These four songs are likely going to be a surprise for our audience,” he says, “Most people would expect purely Christmas music, but we’re taking this in a different direction.” Jason won’t disclose what four songs Susan will be singing, but he did mention Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Loreena McKennitt.

Manitou Winds’ Woodwind Gourmet had an opportunity to chat a bit with Susan after her recent rehearsal.

WWG: Did you always know you wanted to be a singer/actress? Did you have training as a vocalist?

Susan: I have been singing for as long as I can remember — even as a young child. My parents bought me an old upright piano when I was eight years old. I started acting in junior high. Then, in high school, I started writing my own music. I always knew I would do something with music, though I made a pact with myself (right around the time I started private lessons at age 15) that I would not major in music/theater, so I’d have some other career skill to fall back on. But, while at MSU, I did continue training in opera and musical theater.

WWG: You were originally from Muskegon. You went to MSU. You and your family now live in Frankfort. Obviously you’re a Michigander through and through! What’s your favorite part about living in Northern Michigan?

Susan: Of course I’d have to say it’s the people of Northern Michigan. But, definitely also the arts, here. And you can’t forget Lake Michigan.

And, as you’d expect, he didn’t let her get away before asking what Susan’s favorite wintertime dinner is…

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White Chicken Chili
Serves 6-8

3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon oil
Woodwind Gourmet White Chicken Chili3-4 hot chili peppers (a mix of varieties)
4 poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded, & chopped finely
2 large yellow onions, chopped finely
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 15oz cans cannellini or navy beans, rinsed & drained
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
4 scallions, sliced thinly

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the chicken thighs (about 4 minutes per side) then transfer to a plate; remove and discard skin.

Meanwhile, remove and discard ribs and seeds from 2 hot chili peppers; mince and set aside. (Note: you can leave all the seeds and ribs in if you prefer your chili spicy!)

After removing the browned chicken, pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the Dutch oven (add additional oil if necessary), and reduce heat to medium. Add minced chili peppers, chopped poblanos, onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened (about 10 minutes).

Transfer 1 cup cooked vegetable mixture to a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup beans and 1 cup broth; process until smooth. Return this mixture to the Dutch White Chicken Chilioven along with the remaining 2 cups broth and the browned chicken thighs. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until chicken registers 165-degrees.

Transfer chicken to a large plate. Stir in remaining beans and continue to simmer, covered. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces; discard bones. Stir the shredded chicken, lime juice, cilantro, and scallions into chili and return to simmer. Allow flavors to mingle for another 10 minutes or so. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dallop of sour cream and a side of corn muffins or crusty bread.

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Don’t miss Winter Songs & Carols
Saturday, December 5th, at 7:00pm
Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington Street
Traverse City

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit Grace’s Friday Community Lunch Mission.

Three Celtic Carols

While putting together arrangements and selections for Manitou Winds'”Winter Songs & Carols”, I sought pieces that would be a departure from what our audience might expect to hear during a season usually filled with Christmas concerts. Part of that departure was accomplished by selecting tunes that have a stronger connection to the celebrations of Advent or Winter Solstice than Christmas. But, I also sought out Christmas tunes that were perhaps less popular or overshadowed.

While researching, I noticed a lack of Celtic representation in literature for winds. Joining my search for overshadowed tunes with my love of Celtic music, I became inspired to create a small suite of carols with Celtic origins written expressly for wind quintet. Our audience will hear the world premiere of this suite on December 5th.

Three Celtic Carols

When people think of Celtic music, they most commonly think of Ireland or Scotland. However, the Celts inhabited quite a large area of Europe in ancient times. Roaming the countryside of northern Spain and France, for instance, you can find prehistoric Celtic sites that very closely resemble those found in Ireland and Scotland. Celtic influence in those areas is unmistakable and continues into the modern era. So, while these tunes may be only partly Celtic when examined closely, they are unarguably influenced by the Celts.

Movement I: Jesous Ahatonhia

    The lyrics of this carol are believed to have been written by Father Jean de Brébeuf in 1642 while he was working as a missionary in New France, Jean de Brébeufministering to the Huron (Wyandot) tribes.

    While it’s now common to think of missionaries from the days of colonialism as mere invaders, Brébeuf’s earnest and compassionate efforts to learn the language and culture of the Huron people is compelling. Rather than attempting to convert them to Catholicism by forcing them to learn French, he translated French texts into Huron.

    Naturally, Brébeuf wrote his carol in Huron, the lyrics transporting the story of the Nativity from Bethlehem to the New World. Rather than a manger in a stable, Christ was born in a lodge of broken bark, swaddled in rabbit’s fur. The three Magi were hunters who brought gifts of fox and beaver pelts rather than frankincense and myrrh.

    ‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
    When all the birds had fled,
    That mighty Gitchi Manitou
    Sent angel choirs instead;
    Before their light the stars grew dim,
    And wandering hunters heard the hymn:
    “Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born!”
    — English translation of the first stanza

    The carol’s Celtic connection (though admittedly murky) lies in Brébeuf’s birth in the Normandy region of France which had long been a part of the Celtic nation Brittany Mapof Brittany (see map) and had strong Celtic influence even once the two regions were separated politically. The folk tune which he adapted for his lyrics (Une Jeune Pucelle) may have directly originated in Brittany as well, but due to its folk origin this cannot be said for certain.

    Tragically, Brébeuf and many of his converts were eventually captured, tortured, and killed by the Iroquois. Musically, I find it difficult to marry peace and hope with danger and violence! So, in my treatment of this carol, I sought to portray for the audience the sense of danger and the unknown Father Brébeuf and his companions must have felt while journeying across the Atlantic to minister to the Huron people.

Movement II: Carúl Inis Córthaidh

Ireland Map

    The tune and lyrics for this carol undoubtedly originated in Ireland but a precise date for its origin cannot be pinpointed. Both the lyrics and the tune may be as old as 12th century or as new as 18th century. Whether the lyrics were originally written in Irish Gaelic or English is also debated since the only Irish version that can be found contains a rhyming scheme more indicative of 19th century Irish than medieval Irish poetry.

    We do know the tune was transcribed by William Grattan Flood, organist and musical director at St. Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, directly from from a local Irish singer. Flood submitted the carol for publication in the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928. Its publication in that volume has thankfully led to the carol’s preservation and eventual spread around the globe through many other hymnals that followed.

    I have always found the tune intriguing, musically, because of its modal inflections (depending St Aidan's Cathedral by Andreas F. Borcherton its treatment, it hints at Mixolydian mode). However it holds special meaning to me since it’s the only traditional Christmas carol that is 100% Irish (both the tune and the lyrics having originated in Ireland).

    For my treatment of this carol, I began by depicting a blustery landscape on the southeastern coast of Ireland — lots of fluttering in the flute and clarinet! As the waves crash upon the coastline (horn and bassoon) and we drift farther inland, we hear the intoning of a cathedral organ beckoning us to come out of the driving wind. Here, a single chorister (oboe) is singing the carol tune and is eventually joined by the rest of the choir. Though the movement begins as boisterously as the first movement, a much more contemplative mood is revealed. As the lyrics suggest, the tune also beckons us to ponder the mystery of the Nativity.

Movement III: Moita Festa

    This tune originates from northwestern Spain’s Galicia region. Galicia was settled by the Celts in ancient times and their influence on the region’s folk Galicia Mapmusic is quite evident even though the Celtic language in the region has all but died out.

    The carol, which has no lyrics traditionally, was composed in 1829 by Joseph Pacheco, music director at the Mondoñedo Cathedral in the province of Lugo (Galicia). The tune name translated from Galician means “many festivals”. Pacheco composed the tune especially for Christmas celebrations — traditionally the only time of year in which the Celtic folk instruments were allowed to join the church orchestra. Traditionally, the tune is presented in a theme and variations form with built-in repeats as the tune goes through each variation.

    The Galician musician most responsible for bringing this tune to our modern-day attention is Carlos Núñez. For his 1996 album, The Brotherhood of Stars, he created an arrangement entitled Villancico Para la Navidad de 1829. His recording popularized the tune and has led to many other arrangements and performances by Celtic Mondoñedo cathedralmusicians outside of Galicia.

    I enjoy the mental image of the eager folk musicians who were allowed once a year to add their best musical offerings to worship services. Since those instruments are not part of a wind quintet, I used the tune to depict a young boy awakening on Christmas morning, joyously spreading Christmas tidings through a Galician village as he skips and bounces along his way to the Cathedral for mass. As he makes his merry way, he is joined by more and more villagers who sing along in their unique character to his tune. By the conclusion, we’ve arrived at the center of the village as the great doors of the Cathedral are about to open onto a joyous cacophony of voices and livestock.

Aside from their Celtic roots, what unites these three tunes is that each served as a musical bridge to overcome some sort of divide — whether the differences were linguistic, geographic, or simply cultural traditions. In their own time and in their own way, each of these tunes served to unify people during Christmas.

Manitou Winds is excited to premiere these three beloved folk carols in this very unique setting for wind quintet. We hope you will join us on December 5th for Winter Songs & Carols!

Winter Songs & Carols: The Art of Collaboration

IMG_7395You don’t have to look very hard to find folks in Northern Michigan who are proud to live and work here. The area is teeming with artists of all sorts — drawn here for the sense of community, the easy-to-find solitude, and of course the beautiful natural scenery that’s the backdrop for all four seasons.

Each musician in Manitou Winds feels a deep connection to Northern Michigan. We each exhibit this connection in our own personal ways. For most of us, it’s clear in our choice of outdoor sports — hiking, biking, water skiing, boating, etc. But, our love of Northern Michigan and its four seasons has a deep resonance in the music we create as well.

Rather than a celebration of the holiday IMG_6261season, our concert on December 5 (Winter Songs & Carols) will be an exploration of a season that tends to get a lot of “bad press”.

Winter is not always an easy season to love. Some of our favorite restaurants and stores close up. A few dear friends fly the nest for warmer climes. The sun is barely up before it starts to go down again — if you actually get to see the sun! And the snow… well, let’s just say you don’t want to cheer too loudly about news of an approaching snowstorm. You’re liable to have a snow boot aimed at your forehead.

But, winter’s not just about those things that we give up — the departure of all those summer comforts. It’s also about those things that we gain. Winter brings a very special kind of quiet to nature. That unique peace and quiet can also come to us if we let it. The songbirds are mostly gone and we’re left with the sound of IMG_5955pine needles catching the wind, the knocking of branches, the scurrying of forest critters. Suddenly, these small voices are brought to our attention.

Winter may make the outdoors less hospitable for some, but think of the warm comforts we can enjoy indoors — cherished time with friends and loved ones. And think of winter’s beauty — more than just a silver lining in the clouds! When the sun breaks through on a bitterly cold winter’s day, you find yourself squinting at a world covered in silver, gold, and azure… maybe the inconvenience of the season isn’t too much to bear?

The beauty of a Northern Michigan winter… it’s why we had the idea to explore winter in music. It’s also why we came upon the idea of using local Michigan art to promote all of our concerts. We happened upon some of Vivi Woodcock’s lovely work during a summer weekend trip to Petoskey. In her beautiful watercolor, Solitude, I could so clearly see the beauty of winter that we’re hoping to convey in our concert.

Vivi is co-owner and curator of the Northern Michigan Artists Market gallery in Petoskey. The gallery is always a great place to explore, featuring artwork in many different forms from more than 85 different Northern Michigan artists.

Vivi’s own artwork is a combination of printmaking, collaging, and painting using various water media and other natural materials. Through the building of layers and the use of texture, she expresses the colors of nature that she loves.

She studied art at the University of Michigan and has since created works for competitive exhibits and shows. She also works as a contract artist, designing logos, posters, stationery, and has illustrated books and catalogs.

Vivi WoodcockWhen asked about her artistic philosophy, Vivi says, “Continual experimentation yields new ways to express the lively spirit and nature’s gifts I see in daily life.”

We certainly see that lively spirit present in her work — and you can too! Vivi very generously allowed us to use Solitude for our concert poster. To see more of Vivi’s work, you can visit the Northern Michigan Artists Market online. Better yet, you can stop into the gallery, talk with Vivi, and see her work in person.

Collaborating and learning from one another is probably the most rewarding part about any artistic endeavor — whether you’re collaborating with fellow musicians to express the fullness of a musical line, or you enlist the help of a visual artist to help the audience fully visualize a dramatic concept. We look forward to being inspired by more Northern Michigan artists and showcasing their impressive work.

For more information about Winter Songs & Carols, visit our Performances Page. For even more updates and insights, you can like us on Facebook.

Two Unique Quartets

When Manitou Winds performs its first-ever concert on December 5, 2015, it will be an evening of several premieres. Two of the pieces on the program, in particular, are quartets which were specially arranged for our concert.

The first and probably most familiar of the tunes is In the Bleak Midwinter by Gustav Holst (1874-1934). HolstHistorians believe it was composed in 1904 or 1905; one of three hymns Holst composed at the request of Ralph Vaughan Williams, musical editor of the English Hymnal (published in 1906). The original manuscript was lost, unfortunately, but correspondence between Holst and Vaughn Williams gives us a reasonable timeline.

The lyrics Holst was asked to set to music were written quite a bit earlier by the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Rossetti initially wrote the poem in 1872 for publication in an American magazine (Scribner’s Monthly), but sadly it remained unpublished until 1904, some ten years after her death.

    In the bleak mid-winter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak mid-winter,
    Long ago.

    Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him,
    Nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away
    When he comes to reign:
    In the bleak mid-winter
    A stable-place sufficed
    The Lord God Almighty,
    Jesus Christ.

    Enough for Him, whom cherubim
    Worship night and day
    A breastful of milk
    And a mangerful of hay;
    Enough for Him, whom angels
    Fall down before,
    The ox and ass and camel
    Which adore.

    Angels and archangels
    May have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim
    Throng’d the air,
    But only His mother,
    In her maiden bliss
    Worshiped the Beloved
    With a kiss.

    What can I give Him,
    Poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd
    I would bring a lamb,
    If I were a wise man
    I would do my part,-
    Yet what I can I give Him
    Give my heart.

Christina RosettiHolst’s compositional prowess was put to the test since the poem’s lines are very much irregular, not easily yielding to predictable meter. Magnificently, however, Holst’s melody manages to smooth over those rough places, adding poignancy to the text.

The hymn, now published in many Christian hymnals around the world, is regarded as one of the most evocative and yet introspective hymns about the Nativity. More than a mere retelling of the story of the Nativity, the text transports the manger to a snowy landscape, beckoning singer and listener to visit and ponder the scene rather being a mere spectator.

In taking on this beloved carol for Manitou Winds, I sought to capture the essence of both Holst’s melody and Rossetti’s text even though no one would be singing. Accordingly, I chose what is arguably a very non-traditional quartet of instruments. To begin, I selected what I believe to be the warmest trio from within wind quintet (oboe, clarinet, & bassoon). Then, I knew a guitar’s gentle meandering would add an unmistakable sentimental quality befitting the last stanza in particular (my personal favorite). Adding a stringed instrument to the mix also assured the wind musicians would have ample chance to breathe!

Moving from Britain to Scotland, the other quartet on December’s program is a never-before-transcribed work by the late fiddler Johnny Cunningham (1957-2003). King Holly, King Johnny CunninghamOak was recorded in 1995 for the Windham Hill Sampler “Celtic Christmas” as a quartet for fiddle, oboe, harp, and double bass. I always cherished the tune and futilely sought pre-existing arrangements of the piece. As best I can tell, nothing about the piece was ever committed to paper in published form. It exists solely as a recording. Seeing as how our program is in exploration of the many facets of winter, I knew the piece — especially its association with Celtic mythology — would fit right in.

The infinite battle between darkness and light, cold and warmth, winter and summer, is a common thread in both Celtic folklore and ancient Celtic religion. Even modern, Neopagan religions have adopted these elements in some form. King Holly and King Oak are mythological figures who each represent one half of the year. King Holly represents the dark half of the year (we might say autumn and winter) while King Oak represents the bright half of the year (spring and summer).

The kings continually battle one another throughout the year. While neither is more virtuous than the other (i.e., good vs. evil), neither is ever fully victorious. The Oak King is his strongest at Midsummer while the Holly King is his strongest at Midwinter. According to the mythology, neither king could truly exist without the other; they are essentially two parts of a whole.

oak king holly kingCunningham composed a beautiful melody to represent each king. King Holly (often described as a fore-runner to the modern day Santa Claus — both in wardrobe and in demeanor) is represented by the almost chant-like melody in harp over the double bass. King Oak (often portrayed as a fertility god — a giant, green lord of the forest) is given a lush, almost pastoral-like presence on the oboe accompanied by the rest of the ensemble. Through Cunningham’s juxtaposition of these two melodies, the listener can envision not only winter and summer, but also the beautiful transitions — the rise and fall from power — each season brings to nature via the winning and losing of the kings’ battles.

For my arrangement, I wanted to stay as true to Cunningham’s original as possible while still working within Manitou Winds’ instrumentation possibilities. I assigned the fiddle’s lyrical and soaring lines to the flute. I gave the oboe’s role to the clarinet. I took some liberties in order to work the double bass’ haunting presence into a part for bassoon (which obviously has an entirely different range and musical character). Lastly, the harp part on the recording was largely improvised, so I made an effort to keep the character of the original harpist’s performance while adding some accompaniment in the absence of the double bass.

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We hope both of these quartets will present for our audience alternating views of winter’s character: Rosetti’s image of the miraculous Nativity set in the darkest, coldest part of the year and Cunningham’s portrayal of the never-ending battle between winter and summer.

Woodwind Gourmet: Jason’s Müesli

IMG_5497I 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 that drove 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 things eventually transcribed themselves in my head as tunes needing to be written down.

As a kid, I composed tunes on my tiny Casio keyboard; I never wrote them down, I just kept them in my mental repertory. In early high school, I began creating 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 IMGwith 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 ensemble. My high school band director, who loaned me his old orchestration books (most of which flew right over my head at the time), urged me to enter a national composition contest and arranged for my piece to be recorded.

To properly set the scene, I should also 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 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 together in both staves for the piano part. I was wide-eyed IMG_8479and 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 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, there was an energy inside that swirling sound that buoyed my sunken confidence, overshadowing my worries about how unqualified and unworthy I was. Music really is a miraculous thing.

I didn’t win the competition, of course. I didn’t even get 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 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 the recording every day for a long time. I kept wanting that feeling of the initial downbeat to come rushing over me again. I quickly learned it is a very elusive feeling, one a recording cannot capture. When I listen to that cassette recording, now — almost 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 that drives some composers to destroy their early compositions!

Fortunately, among the musicians of Manitou Winds, I have found an opportunity most composers would envy: IMG_8209living, breathing musicians who willingly play any scribblings I place in front of them. I have the honor of learning from their experience while getting to enjoy that elusive “living sound” far more often than I would have ever imagined.

For our Spring 2016 concert, we will be presenting a program entitled “New Voices” — highlighting new composers and music written within the past 20 years. Along with a list of very talented composers’ works, one of my pieces, Three Narratives (2014) for flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano, will be on the program.

Today’s recipe, the final one from our series of “Notable Breakfasts”, is one of my personal favorite breakfasts. You can easily put it together the night before and then adorn it with whatever goodies you happen to have on-hand, depending on the season and your mood. No cooking required!

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Müesli
Serves 2

Jason's Muesli 11 cup old-fashioned oats
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup milk
a tiny pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 medium apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice* or ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, honey, milk and salt; stir until combined. In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and raisins. Cover both the oat mixture and the raisin mixture; refrigerate overnight.

Divide oat mixture, soaked raisins, and any remaining orange juice into two serving bowls. Divide yogurt, apple, walnuts, vanilla, and spice between the two bowls; fold the mixture together. Serve chilled.

*Jason’s Mixed Spice
Yields about 4 tablespoons
Woodwind Gourmet
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine the spices in a small bowl or jar and keep in an airtight container. More exciting than plain cinnamon and more complex than pumpkin spice; you’ll find lots of opportunities to use this blend.

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Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

Series IV: Our Virtual Potluck

Woodwind Gourmet: Jenni’s Tofu Scramble

IMG_5268My fascination with composers’ eating habits began innocently enough in my undergraduate years… now that I’m no longer a student and can study anything I choose, I’ve decided to dust off that quest and go off in search of my favorite composers’ favorite breakfasts!

While composers throughout history could often seek out the patronage of wealthy nobility, giant churches, or prominent artistic organizations to propel their careers and their musical growth forward, composers of today face a completely different reality. In our modern era, a composer is just one voice in an endless sea of voices — all struggling to hone their skills, express their ideas, and (above all else) have their music performed. With orchestras and other large ensembles across the globe struggling to keep seats filled and finances in check, there is precious little room for new names on concert programs.

Jenni Brandon (b. 1977) knows that struggle first-hand. Through hard work, dedication, and (admittedly) a Jenni-Brandonlittle luck, her compositions have already been performed all over the world — invaluable exposure that has garnered commissions from a variety of ensembles and chamber groups. She’s amassed an impressive and ever-expanding catalog of unique, original pieces for various types of ensembles. One might say she deftly navigates the “sea of voices” while maintaining a voice all her own.

With evocative titles and colorful, motivic writing, she paints landscapes using the human voice, musical instruments, and harmonic textures as her paints and canvas. In the same way a writer may go people-watching, probing the expressions and mannerisms of strangers while forming characters for their next plotline; Jenni often finds inspiration by immersing herself in nature and in the practice of Yoga.

“I do love my work and I feel blessed and content to have such joy in my life: writing music is part of my fabric, and teaching yoga has become a joyful way to serve others. I believe these are part of my jenni-triangle-fixpath,… We might stray from our path, we might seek contentment and balance outside of us, but it is that inner voice, that True Self, that whispers to us and draws us back to where we need to be.” — Jenni Brandon

While we can’t rattle off an e-mail to Mozart to ask his advice about a particular passage or pick the brain of Beethoven by leaving a comment on his Facebook wall, today’s musicians and composers have exciting, unique opportunities to collaborate — taking new music to new audiences in new ways.

Manitou Winds is presently studying two of Jenni Brandon’s works: On Holt Avenue (2006), for solo oboe and piano; and Found Objects: On the Beach (2013), for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Our goal is to feature these two works on a program in 2016 along with music from other new composers written within the last 20 years.

Recently, I e-mailed Jenni to congratulate her on creating these two beautiful pieces… and, of course, to ask her about her favorite breakfast. Imagine my delight when she responded! She said she was happy to take part in our series — and especially to be our vegetarian/vegan composer.

Jenni’s a big fan of getting breakfast from her juicer, but she’s also a sucker for a good sit-down breakfast like this Tofu Scramble. If you’re new to tofu scrambles, you’re sure to be hooked. They allow plenty of room for improvisation — add or take away any vegetables you’d like — and they’re easy to throw together for breakfast or even a quick dinner.

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Tofu Scramble
Serves 4

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
Jenni's Tofu Scramble 21 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 chili peppers, chopped* (jalapeños or a mix of varieties)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, crumbled
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Corn or Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas
Pepper Jack, Sharp Cheddar, or Vegan Cheese (optional)
Salsa (optional)

Heat two teaspoons of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion; cook until translucent and golden. Stir in the broccoli, bell pepper, and carrot; cook until crisp-tender (3-4 minutes). Transfer the vegetables to a plate; keep warm.

To the now empty skillet add remaining oil, garlic, chili peppers, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Sauté for Jenni's Tofu Scramble 3about 30 seconds to release the flavors. Stir in turmeric and crumbled tofu; cook 2-3 minutes or until tofu has dried slightly and begun to lightly brown. Return the sautéed vegetables to the skillet; stir and cook until heated through. Serve on warmed tortillas and top with cheese and salsa if desired. Leftover scramble is delicious and easily reheated.

*If you want a milder scramble, remove the seeds and membranes from the chiles. Jenni prefers it spicy, though… and so do I!

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For the perfect Jenni Brandon soundtrack to accompany your serene scramble, here’s the fourth movement, entitled “Daisies”, from On Holt Avenue:

Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

Woodwind Gourmet: Jacques’ Pain Perdu

IMG_8426My fascination with composers’ eating habits began innocently enough in my undergraduate years… now that I’m no longer a student and can study anything I choose, I’ve decided to dust off that quest and go off in search of my favorite composers’ favorite breakfasts!

It’s interesting to note the stories of composers whose parents approved of their vocation and compare them with composers whose musical pursuits went against their parents’ wishes. Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) was in the unique position of being supported endlessly by his mother while being completely disapproved of by his father.

Some say it’s a subtle theme underscoring much of his work: an underlying sense of never quite belonging. Looking over Ibert’s catalog of works, you notice he wrote for many different kinds of ensembles and for vastly different purposes. In fact, he’s most noted for being an eclectic — never aligning himself with prevalent genres or styles yet borrowing and combining all of their elements.

Ibert’s mother — an accomplished pianist — was his first music teacher. His father, a businessman, withdrew all financial support when — at age 21 — Jacques resigned from Iberthis position at his father’s company to enter the Paris Conservatoire. To provide for himself, Ibert eked out a living by working as an accompanist and writing pop songs under a pen name. Proving his prowess as an improviser, he was also employed as pianist at a silent film theater where he performed music to fit the action taking place onscreen. He went on to write over 60 film scores.

Spanning many genres and media, Ibert also composed operas, ballets, concertos, and varied forms of incidental and chamber music. Manitou Winds studies his Cinq Pièces en Trio (1935) for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. We’re soon to delve into his Trois Pièces en Brèves (1930) for wind quintet.

Though he rose from obscurity to prominence during his lifetime (winning numerous awards), it is perhaps because of his refusal to pursue a single musical genre or form that he’s not on many “Top 10” lists of composers. Instead, audiences are often pleasantly introduced to him when one of his works graces a program. Hopefully his daring use of orchestral colors peppered with hidden musical surprises will continue to inspire musicians and audiences alike to seek out more of his music.

A composer growing up in Paris while bridging the 19th and 20th centuries probably ate some interesting breakfasts — a mix of gourmet and eating on the cheap. In homage to Ibert’s eclecticism, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a recipe that is simultaneously simple while betraying decidedly gourmet influence. Today’s recipe is an autumn-inspired riff on classic Pain Perdu (literally “lost bread”). Dressed down, it’s just stale bread dipped in egg batter and fried up. Dressed up, it’s adorned with exotic spices and rich, complex flavors of fruit and wine.

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Pain Perdu with Fruit Compote
Serves 2

Fruit Compote:
2 cups Riesling or Gewurztraminer
2 cups water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 3-inch Ceylon cinnamon stick
Pain Perdu1 star anise
2 whole cloves
8 mission figs, stems removed, quartered lengthwise
10 dried apricots, cut into strips
3/4 cup dried tart cherries

Pain Perdu:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 slices bread (brioche or challah are ideal)
Lightly Sweetened Whipped Cream

To make the Fruit Compote: In a medium saucepan combine wine, water, and sugar. Combine the cinnamon stick, anise, and cloves in a teabag or piece of cheesecloth; tie closed with kitchen string. Add spice bag to saucepan; cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to boiling. Add figs and cook for 3 minutes. Add apricots and cook for 3 minutes more. Add cherries and cook for 2 more minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer fruit to a bowl. Raise the heat slightly and continue cooking liquid for 15-20 minutes or until reduced to about 1 cup. Remove spice bag and discard. Pour liquid over fruit. Allow to come to room temperature, then chill, covered, up to 4 days. (Leftover compote makes an excellent accompaniment for plain yogurt, oatmeal, or poundcake!)

To make Pain Perdu: In a shallow dish, whisk together the eggs, milk, maple syrup, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon. Melt half of the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. While the skillet is heating, dip the bread slices into the batter, turning them and re-dipping as necessary until the batter has been absorbed. Place Woodwind Gourmettwo slices of bread in the skillet; cook approximately 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from skillet (slices can be kept warm in a low oven if desired); add remaining butter and brown remaining slices.

To serve: Warm the finished compote slightly. Divide bread slices between two plates. Top each with several scoops of the macerated fruit from the compote then drizzle each serving with several spoonfuls of the spiced syrup. Garnish each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and a dash of ground cinnamon.

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For the perfect Ibert soundtrack to your whisking, dipping, and noshing, here’s one of Ibert’s best-known works: Divertissement (1929).

Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

Woodwind Gourmet: Haydn’s Cherry-Almond Tart

IMG_8429My fascination with composers’ eating habits began innocently enough in my undergraduate years… now that I’m no longer a student and can study anything I choose, I’ve decided to dust off that quest and go off in search of my favorite composers’ favorite breakfasts!

When we think of the lives of Classical music’s most storied composers, what likely comes to our minds is either stuffy, powdered wig scenery (fancy galas with wealthy people dressed in their finery) or we think of the tortured, starving artist scribbling onto scraps of manuscript paper. While both images are in some cases true, each composer’s story is unique in its own way — even when compared to composers of the same time period.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is one of my favorite composers — and not just because of his music. Haydn’s story is one of those classic, rags-to-riches narratives with a happy ending. Born in a small town to parents who could neither read music nor provide him with any advanced training, Haydn slowly and patiently worked his way Haydnthrough the often complicated layers of 18th century society to become one of the greatest and most prolific composers in history.

Haydn went from a nearly-starved schoolboy to a wealthy and well-connected composer who enjoyed celebrity status in his later years. While he’s regarded as the “father” of both the symphony and the string quartet, it’s amazing to realize he was neither a child prodigy nor privileged enough to receive formal instruction in composition. Thus, he was largely self-taught — privately working his way through textbooks and scores while working odd jobs as a young man.

Because of his skills as a violinist, he gradually gained the favor of aristocratic patronage. When he eventually came to be an official staff member of Hungarian nobility, he was finally in a position that would provide him with all the resources needed to hone his compositional skills. In fact, his success in composition became a vital part of staying alive!

Like any other member of staff, he wore a uniform and lived in servants’ quarters. Rather than scrubbing chamber pots and clearing out horse stables, however, he was required to write, rehearse, and conduct all of the music for the noble family and their many guests. During his time with the Esterházy family (1761-1790), he faced a mountainous workload and ever-shifting musical and non-musical demands. Thankfully, he also had daily access to his own very talented orchestra and the finest singers. This proved to be most advantageous for his artistic growth, allowing him to experiment at Esterházawill. Within the staggering musical output he created while serving the Esterházy family, one can trace the evolution of style and technique that eventually shaped all of Classical music — and he was self-taught!

The immense wealth of the Esterházy family eventually led them to construct a new palace (mainly as a summer residence) in Esterháza. It was an immense palace not only boasting 126 rooms but also containing its own church, opera house, and marionette theater. Haydn’s residence was moved each year from Eisenstadt to the Esterháza estate each time the family relocated. Though trapped in the middle of nowhere — isolated from civilization and in the middle of what was then swampland — work never slowed for Haydn.

On one occasion, after having returned once again to Esterháza, Haydn wrote in a letter to his friend Marianne von Genzinger:

Well, here I sit in my wilderness; forsaken, like some poor orphan, almost without human society, melancholy and dwelling on the memory of past glorious days… I lost twenty pounds in weight in three days, for the effects of the good fare at Vienna has disappeared on the journey back. Alas! alas! thought I to myself, when forced to eat…a tough grill instead of a Bohemian pheasant, Hungarian salad instead of good juicy oranges, and dry apple fritters instead of pastry. Here in Esterháza no one asks me, “Would you like chocolate with or without milk? Will you take coffee with or without cream? What can I offer you, my good Haydn? Will you have vanilla ice or strawberry?”

Being a man who obviously appreciated good food, Haydn would have loved today’s recipe — a slice of this Viennese-style Cherry-Almond Tart served alongside his morning coffee (with or without cream, whichever he wished).

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Cherry-Almond Tart
Serves 8-12

Tart Shell:
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Woodwind Gourmet1/4 teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup cake flour

Filling:
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups pitted tart cherries – (fresh, canned, or thawed frozen)

For the shell: Whisk together the egg, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; whisk until mixture turns a light yellow. Continuing to whisk, add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, whisking until combined. With a wooden spoon, gradually work in both flours until a smooth dough forms.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on work surface. Empty dough onto the plastic wrap; knead gently to incorporate any loose dry ingredients. Form dough into a disk and cover with plastic wrap; chill for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

For the filling: Add almonds and flour to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until larger pieces are more manageable and then finely grind. Add the sugar; pulse briefly. Next, add softened butter and extract; blend until smooth. Mix in egg and egg white. Transfer filling to medium bowl; cover and chill until needed.

To assemble and bake: Remove tart dough disk from refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes to soften slightly. Place the dough in a removable-bottom tart pan (you may use a 9-, 10-, or 11-inch tart pan); pressing the dough, work it with your fingertips to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Using a fork, prick the bottom of the shell in several places. Place unbaked shell in freezer to chill for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400-degrees. Place rack in center of oven.

Remove shell from the freezer; cover with two overlapping sheets of aluminum foil. Fill tart pan with pie weights making sure the weights are to the top of the pan and evenly distributed over the entire surface. Bake the shell for 20 to 25 minutes or until it is Haydn's Cherry-Almond Tart 2dry and lightly golden brown. Gently remove foil and weights; allow to cool on wire rack before filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Once shell has cooled, spread the chilled filling evenly into the bottom. Place cherries atop filling and bake for 40-50 minutes or until filling has puffed and browned slightly. Allow to cool completely before serving.

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Want an ideal Haydn-esque soundtrack to enjoy your coffee and tart? Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor (The “Farewell” Symphony) is entirely appropriate. The final movement was Haydn’s nudge to Prince Esterházy that it was time to pick things up, leave the swamp, and head back to Eisenstadt. During the adagio in the fourth movement, each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that by the end, there are just two muted violins left on stage!

Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

Woodwind Gourmet: Bach’s Bread & Biersuppe

IMG_8426My fascination with composers’ eating habits began innocently enough in my undergraduate years.  Between long stints in the practice room, I would sit in the music building break room where I would invariably find myself in the company of many of my classmates. We were always in various stages of pain or ecstasy with our homework or practicing.

During one particularly long spell of analyzing the harmony and form of a Bach prelude, one of my classmates became frustrated and sighed, “I don’t care what Bach ate for breakfast, I just need to get through this assignment!” We all chuckled because we understood the sentiment; getting bogged down in the minute details of a piece was often exhausting while it was pure bliss to simply get lost in the beauty of its sound.

Later, I found myself casually wondering, “What did Bach eat for breakfast?” I carefully filed that curiosity away for a more appropriate time, since there were more pressing matters at hand. But, now that I’m no longer a student and can study anything I choose, I’ve decided to dust off that quest and go off in search of my favorite composers’ favorite breakfasts!

Which, of course, eventually leads us to Germany in the early 1700s and may involve some “dramatic interpretation” on your narrator’s part…

Johann Sebastian Bach, who had just entered his twenties, had recently been appointed organist at St. Boniface’s Church in Arnstadt. Disenchanted with the choir and his St Bonifaceresponsibilities, he applied for a one month leave of absence to visit and study with the great organist/composer, Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck.

While it’s fascinating that Bach was so intrigued by Buxtehude that he abandoned work and steady pay to study with him, it’s even more daunting to realize Bach made the journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck (more than 260 miles) on foot… in the winter of 1705. Now that’s what you call suffering for your art!

So enamored was Bach of Buxtehude’s music and technique, he over-stayed his leave by a few months and did not return until February of 1706. Remarkably, he also made the return journey on foot, but this time he was carrying on his back several handwritten manuscript copies he’d made of Buxtehude’s works!

Travel by foot was very common in those days unless you were very wealthy, so it’s likely Johann wouldn’t have stood out from any of the other wanderers looking for food and shelter. So, historians know very little about this entire, life-changing episode in Bach’s life. Perhaps that’s why it has always fascinated me. How many days did his journey take? What route did he use? Where did he sleep? More importantly, what did he eat?!

I like to imagine the young, carefree Johann stopping off in some wayside town. Maybe a charming little village where he was offered lodging for the evening and a simple breakfast by some adorable, matronly hausfrau. And what might this hausfrau have served him for breakfast? According to some food historians, it may have been Brot und Biersuppe (Bread and Beer Soup).

Here follows the Woodwind Gourmet’s take on this very old breakfast specialty that’s been in existence since medieval times. Baking the oaty, mellow homemade bread will make it a cozier meal, but feel free to substitute any hearty bread you might already have on-hand. For the beer, I used a Guinness Extra Stout, but any dark beer or stout that you prefer would work for the soup.

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Bach’s Bread & Biersuppe

Bach’s Bread
Yields 1 loaf

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
IMG_84361 1/4 cups warm milk (100-110-degrees)
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
3 tablespoons honey

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warmed milk. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour in the yeast mixture; stir to form a shaggy dough. Knead dough, by hand (10 minutes) or by machine (5-8 minutes) until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rest for 1 hour until doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough and transfer to a lightly oiled surface.

With your hands, press the dough into a rectangle and then tightly roll into a log, pinching the seams to seal. Place in a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, cover the pan loosely and allow dough to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, just until it’s crested 1″ to 2″ over the rim of the pan.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. Allow to cool before slicing. This loaf can be made in advance and freezes well.

Biersuppe
Serves 2

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
IMG_84351/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 cup dark beer or stout
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sauté the shallots and garlic until softened; add the thyme, tarragon, and sage, stir for 30 seconds. Add the beer, stock, and brown sugar; cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a low boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and flour. While whisking, slowly pour in about half of the hot beer mixture. Pour the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and continue cooking until mixture returns to boil and thickens sufficiently. Stir in the mace, pepper, and salt.

To serve, toast slices of bread and generously butter. Place the toast in shallow bowls and ladle soup around toast.

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To accompany your stirring, kneading, whisking, and slurping, here is a signficant collection of Bach’s organ music (The Orgelbüchlein) — most of which was likely composed after his visit with Buxtehude.

Looking for more recipes? Check out the other recent Woodwind Gourmet series:

Series I: Oboes, Oranges & Almonds

Series II: Composers & Coffee

Series III: Notable Breakfasts

August Was a Busy Month

August was certainly a busy month for the musicians of Manitou Winds. Still reeling from the preparation and performances for the 2015 Traverse City Film Festival, we put in a lot of rehearsal time for another promotional concert for the Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra at Stormcloud Brewing Company, in Frankfort.

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This second performance at Stormcloud featured the Manitou Winds NEO Trio in a full hour of music. We enjoyed being a mellow backdrop for the brewery’s patrons on a beautiful summer afternoon.

July and August were full of performances and appearances for Manitou Winds, so we wanted to take some time out for rest and celebration amidst all these dates scribbled on our calendars. What better time for a potluck?! We gathered close friends and family and met in Laura’s barn for a potluck dinner and a mini concert. It was a fun evening in spite of the unseasonably chilly weather!

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While putting together the program for Stormcloud, the NEO Trio was also arranging and rehearsing for hymns and special music for the August 30th Sunday morning worship service at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City. While we truly enjoy sharing our music with everyone, we relished our first opportunity to perform music in a quieter, reverent setting (i.e., not in a crowded movie theater or a lively brewery).

Here is a short video taken during our rehearsal with Grace Episcopal’s organist, Kathy Will:

And now, as the tourists are beginning to pack up their belongings and the leaves are conspiring to change at any minute, we are beginning rehearsals for our December concert: Winter Songs & Carols on Saturday, December 5th, at 7:30pm. See our Performances Page for more information about upcoming concerts and events.

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