A Celtic Summertide: The Old Ash Tree

This summer we’ll celebrate the rich tradition of music across the Celtic realm with tunes from Scotland, Ireland, and Nova Scotia.

One of the brand new works we’ll premiere is an original composition by Jason McKinney written to honor his grandfather.

IMG_6442One of my fondest memories of moving to our home in northern Michigan was waking up on the morning after the move, looking out the window, and seeing the old ash tree at the edge of the front lawn. It was majestic and stately, easily setting itself apart from the scraggly ironwoods around it.

As seasons rolled by, I saw the tree in many different lights and characters, in sunlight and moonlight. It became a prominent feature in my mental map of our property. And so, when it became apparent the tree was suffering a slow death by infestation, my heart sank. We were powerless, unable to save the tree and its sisters.

The ash tree plays a significant role in Celtic mythology. The ash tree was often seen as the central column of the Tree of Life. Sometimes referred to as the World Tree, the ash was believed to be a bridge between worlds — like a cosmic axis running from Annwn (the lower world), Abred (this world), Gwynvid (the upper world), and disappearing finally into Ceugant (eternity).

When the arborists came in May 2017 to remove the ash trees, I tried to carry on with my office work. I tried ignoring the chainsaws and chippers roaring mere feet away, but it was impossible to deny the irreversible and permanent changes taking place outside. I was gradually overcome with a heavy, inexpressible sadness. Hearing a bittersweet tune in my head, I sat at my piano and wrote it down. With an uncharacteristic finality, I wrote “The Old Ash Tree” at the top.

The Old Ash Tree 1

Knowing the ash tree’s importance in Celtic symbolism and lore, I felt it was appropriate to orchestrate this tune for our Celtic concert. But while exploring the tune further — turning it over and over, adding layers, expanding themes — something unexpected happened. The metaphor behind the tune expanded beyond the ash tree to encompass my own family tree.

My paternal grandfather (Paw Paw Bryant) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease around 1997 when he was in his early sixties. Bryant McKinney Sr.The news was hard to bear, and — having witnessed the disease overtake many of his siblings — there was not a lot of hope for the future.

Paw Paw was a constant presence in my childhood — a bottomless source of encouragement, discipline, and inspiration, always making time to indulge our curiosities. He was gentle yet persistent in doling out wisdom. He was nearly always right, but rather than tell you so repeatedly, he would usually set out to prove it or suffer impressive injury in the attempt.

Always a fan of spinning tales from his childhood, he fostered in me a love of storytelling. He seldom scolded me even when it was apparent I might be exaggerating details to make my story more compelling.

One of my most vivid memories of Paw Paw is when he told me he often climbed persimmon trees to pick fruit for his mother and sisters. I was skeptical, but before I could complete my sentence, he had shinnied up the trunk of the old persimmon tree, and was readying to chuck the fruit down to me. The best fruits, he said, are in the tops of the trees, and Paw Paw was always right.

He instilled in me and my brothers a work ethic that’s unrelenting, fascinated with seeing a job through. Though he may have sometimes been the very reason we were in danger, he was also the reason we were perfectly safe and had no reason to be afraid. To my mind, he’s never aged a single year, but reality tells a different tale.

Jason with his father & grandfather Jason with his father & grandfather

It’s been 20 years since his diagnosis. While it’s nothing short of a miracle that he’s still with us, watching his slow descent into the barrenness of the disease has been The Old Ash Tree 3painful. On visits, I’ve witnessed his mind oscillate unpredictably between the present and the past. I’ve seen genuine fear in his eyes as he describes losing himself, getting lost in the woods — a place he’s known like the back of his hand. He can no longer venture out on his own.

The Old Ash Tree is dedicated to my grandfather, Bryant McKinney. In it, I hope to capture his strength, the beauty of the humble life he’s led, and his role as a central axis in my family, the main branch in our tree of life. I also wanted to portray his bravery and stubbornness, his constant fight against a disease that steals his mind inch by inch, day by day.

I’ve woven a central tune throughout the piece, similar to a rondo form. Each time it returns, it reminds me that Alzheimer’s may silence our loved ones, but it doesn’t erase them. Paw Paw hears us, but he can’t always let us know that he understands; he remembers and loves us, but he can’t always express it.

The Old Ash Tree 2Writing the piece was difficult for me because it meant confronting my grief and sharing it at the same time. Deciding on an ending was probably the most challenging moment. Our lives don’t end with neat and tidy cadences, and I didn’t think it was fitting for this piece to do that either. Instead, the central tune slowly retreats, weightlessly drifting off into the light.

When I visit the stump of the old ash tree, I still sense the space that immense tree occupied. Its roots remain, still holding the earth in place. The rings of its life, now on display, are weathered the color of stone. When a breeze stirs the slowly encroaching understory, I look up to see the opening it left behind in the canopy. Sun streams down, warming the forest floor. New saplings are slowly emerging.

The Old Ash Tree 4

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Don’t miss

A CELTIC SUMMERTIDE

______________________________________

Friday, August 17th, at 7:00pm

Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

____________

Admission is free.
Freewill donations will benefit Manitou Winds’ debut recording!

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A Celtic Summertide: O’Carolan Reimagined

This summer we’ll celebrate the rich tradition of music across the Celtic realm with tunes from Scotland, Ireland, and Nova Scotia.

One of the brand new works we’ll premiere borrows four tunes from Ireland’s most famous composer, Turlough O’Carolan. Jason McKinney re-imagined the tunes, setting them for flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and lever harp to create O’Carolan’s Symphony.

When I began studying lever harp in 2010, one O'Carolanof the volumes of harp music I purchased was a collection of tunes by O’Carolan*. Exploring the tunes while also teaching myself to play the harp, I eventually read more and more about the composer, developing a growing curiosity about the particular tunes I kept coming back to.

Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) was born somewhere in County Meath (most likely Nobber [Irish: an Obair]) during a time of unrest in Ireland. Throughout his lifetime, an ongoing struggle for power and dominance raged constantly between Britain and Ireland, Protestants versus Catholics. The country was torn apart by oppressive, unfair laws which impoverished and disenfranchised many natives. While O’Carolan’s career as a traveling composer, musician, and poet brought him into the homes of families on both sides of these conflicts, history shows he managed to have broad appeal without ever betraying his loyalties to Ireland and Catholicism.

There is scant information known of his life and career as little was documented. What we do know of his biography is largely comprised of pieced together anecdotal accounts. As a child, O’Carolan was educated thanks to the generosity of the wife of his father’s employer (Mrs. MacDermott Roe). Roughly around age eighteen, O’Carolan caught smallpox which blinded him completely. In an effort to save his future, Mrs. MacDermott Roe sent O’Carolan to a harpist where he trained for three years to become proficient.

What follows is an interesting scene. Upon completing his musical studies, Mrs. MacDemott Roe presented the 21-year-old O’Carolan with a sum of money, two horses, and a sighted guide to be his Meathcompanion. From there, he was on his own and this was to be his only option: a career as an itinerant harpist.

In a story that might have easily have ended in tragedy, O’Carolan went on to become one of Ireland’s most famous and prolific composers. Relying solely on the generosity of his patrons, for nearly 50 years he roamed the Irish countryside from Dublin to Galway and all points north composing songs and entertaining the rich and powerful. By the end of his life, he’d amassed a reputation which always preceded his arrival. He was received not as a traveling minstrel but as a welcomed friend. Weddings and funerals were often postponed until he arrived!

Most of O’Carolan’s compositions were kept alive by harpists, fiddlers, and flutists who taught them by rote to their students. Though there are extant books published during his lifetime which contain one or two O’Carolan tunes, volumes of his collected works did not begin appearing until the late 18th century. At last count, there are 214 Athenry Castleverified tunes attributed to him with several dozen others of dubious origin.

Because of the long path each of his compositions traces through history and retelling, we know very little about them other than possibly which patron they were written for and the homes or castles in which they likely premiered. In some instances, lyrics written by O’Carolan have been unearthed and matched with specific tunes, but in the absence of musical notation it’s uncertain how these songs would have been sung or accompanied. Unfortunately, O’Carolan’s works are preserved only as single melodic lines. How any of the tunes would have been harmonized by O’Carolan is literally anyone’s guess!

When I began compiling repertoire for Manitou Winds’ “A Celtic Summertide”, including tunes by O’Carolan was an instinctual decision and provided an excuse to learn more about his life and work. Seeing the bare melodies as an adventurous challenge, I selected four of my favorites, compiling them into a suite I entitled O’Carolan’s Symphony for flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and lever harp.

Movement I: George Brabazon (first air)
Movement II: Lady Athenry
Movement III: Planxty Burke
Movement IV: Mrs. Power (or Carolan’s Concerto)

Click each tune name to read a brief history and see the original melodic line.
courtesy of IrishPage.com

O'Carolan in Concert

While performing in those stately homes in Ireland, O’Carolan chanced to hear the music of Corelli and Vivaldi performed by visiting musicians. Biographers say he was intrigued by their art and absorbed as much of their sophisticated style and form as he could with his limited musical education and his musically-limiting instrument. In O’Carolan’s time, a harp could only be tuned in one key and could not play any accidentals.

Rather than attempt to recreate what O’Carolan himself might have done with these tunes (which would have amounted largely to guesswork), I chose to compose O’Carolan’s Symphony in a style I felt Jason's Harpwould indulge O’Carolan’s own musical curiosity while giving a nod to the colorful anecdotes peppering the many written accounts of his life. To further aid the storytelling aspect of the work, I chose to imagine the varied personalities and daily lives of the people for whom O’Carolan named these tunes.

While maintaining respect for the form and melody inherent in each tune, I incorporated modern harmonies, added countermelodies and varied textures, changed a few rhythms… ultimately scoring the entire work for instruments that either didn’t exist in O’Carolan’s day or have evolved to a great extent. I hope the work is a fitting homage to the inspiring if not somewhat legendary life story of Ireland’s last great bard.

We hope you’ll join us for the premiere!

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Don’t miss

A CELTIC SUMMERTIDE

______________________________________

Friday, August 17th, at 7:00pm

Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

____________

Admission is free.
Freewill donations will benefit Manitou Winds’ debut recording!

*There is some debate among scholars as to whether Turlough O’Carolan (Irish: Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin) should be referred to as “O’Carolan” or simply as “Carolan”. Though historic record confirms the composer referred to himself as “Carolan,” as did his closest friends (completely ignoring his first name), the “O'” prefix is universally included in modern usage when formally referring to someone whose surname is preceded by it. My personal preference is to include the prefix out of respect to the composer.

For further reading about the life and music of Turlough O’ Carolan:
O’Sullivan, Donal. Carolan: The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper. Cork, Ireland: Ossian Publications, 2001 [1958]
.

Rowsome, Catríona. The Complete Carolan Songs & Airs. Dublin, Ireland: Waltons Publishing, 2011.

A Celtic Summertide: A Story that Lingers, a Tune that Wanders

This summer we’ll celebrate the rich tradition of music across the Celtic realm with tunes from Scotland, Ireland, and Nova Scotia.

Collaborating artist Emily Curtin Culler, soprano, will premiere a new collection of Irish songs and join us in other traditional works specially arranged for this concert.

Picture the scene: The year, 1880-ish. Ballysadare (Irish: Baile Easa Dara) – a tranquil bayside village in County Sligo. The poet William Butler Yeats, who had spent many summers here as a child, returns for another sojourn. In his wanderings about the village, he comes upon an elderly Irish woman who seems to be troubled by a song she can’t remember. As she goes about the duties of her day, she sings the same lines over and over to herself, but can’t remember what comes next…

Ox Mountains, Baile Easa Dara

Down by yon flowery garden my love and I we first did meet.
I took her in my arms and to her I gave kisses sweet
She bade me take life easy just as the leaves fall from the tree.
But I being young and foolish, with my darling did not agree.

Yeats also found her song troubling, but perhaps for different reasons — he wanted to know the rest of the story! In the end, he constructed his own answer by writing a poem based on the few lines the woman could remember. His poem, An Old Song Re-Sung appeared in his 1889 volume “The Wanderings of Oisín and Other Poems”:

W.B. YeatsDown by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

— “An Old Song Re-sung”
Down By the Salley Gardens
W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

By the time it was published, Yeats had come to realize he’d written a poem about a fairly well-known song. As it turns out, the song the elderly woman was futilely trying to recall was Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure, but she could only call to mind the second stanza. The similarity between Yeats’ first stanza and the lines of the second stanza of the original song were too close to ignore. To acknowledge his accidental plagiarism, Yeats published his poem under the title An Old Song Re-Sung. However, when it was republished in 1895 it became known as Down By the Salley Gardens, a title which has firmly stuck.

And, the rest is history… except that what really imprinted Yeats’ poem in our hearts was the tune which was eventually married to it in 1909. Sadly, this tune was torn from yet another song (The Mourlough Shore, aka The Maids of Mourne Shore or The Mourne Shore) which will ever be overshadowed by the poem that stole its tune!

The Mourne Shore

A story ripped from its song, turned into a poem, and then married to a tune borrowed from yet another song — what a tangled web! Aside from revealing the transient nature of tunes (which seem to Mourne Country Parkwander effortlessly from poem to poem until they find their true destiny), what might we glean from this fable of tunes and texts? Perhaps the moral is that — in spite of the tune originally given to the words which may have been intended — we cherish more the words we forgot sung to the tune that got away.

In arranging this beloved song for our program, I sought to bring out all the bittersweet feelings from the simple but timeless poetry which Yeats wrote in an effort to finish the story the old lady couldn’t remember. To accomplish this, I call upon the 34 strings of the Irish harp, the mellow breeze of the flute, and the beautiful voice of our special guest soloist, Emily Curtin Culler.

We hope you’ll join us for the premiere!

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

A CELTIC SUMMERTIDE

______________________________________

Friday, August 17th, at 7:00pm

Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

____________

Admission is free.
Freewill donations will benefit Manitou Winds’ debut recording!

A Celtic Summertide: The Art of Collaboration

This summer we’ll celebrate the rich tradition of music across the Celtic realm with tunes from Scotland, Ireland, and Nova Scotia.

Collaborating artist Emily Curtin Culler, soprano, will premiere a new collection of Irish songs and join us in other traditional works specially arranged for this concert.

If you’ve attended a Manitou Winds concert, recently, you’ve no doubt experienced the wonderful voice of Emily Curtin Culler. Whether singing an aria from a Baroque cantata, a classic German lieder, or a traditional Irish lullaby, Emily’s voice has tremendous dynamic range and is tirelessly light on its feet. She is a consummate chamber musician who brings sensitivity and musicality to every performance.

Emily came to northern Michigan by way of Boston. A soprano Choral Scholar with Boston University’s Marsh Chapel Choir, she performed weekly services for audiences throughout New England and around the globe via WBUR.

She’s also an original core member of the Lorelei Ensemble. Emily CullerThe ensemble specializes in performing lesser-known early music while also collaborating with living composers to produce innovative programming. (Hear recordings of Emily performing with Lorelei HERE!)

An in-demand performer and avid interpreter of new music, Emily is also a non-profit and arts management professional. Presently, she is Leadership Annual Giving Manager at Interlochen Center for the Arts and Interlochen Public Radio.

Last fall, when I began creating repertoire for “A Celtic Summertide”, I knew the program’s central element would be juxtaposing our instruments (most of which are not Celtic folk instruments) with traditional Celtic tunes. Since many of the tunes are also beloved folk songs, I couldn’t resist including a few of these. For a new collection of Irish Gaelic songs, I knew Emily was our ideal collaborator!

Trí Amhráin as Éirinn (Three Irish Songs) is a suite of three traditional Irish songs in modern settings for soprano and wind quintet. The opening song, Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn (We Brought the Summer with Us), is a centuries-old tune sung to celebrate May Day (Bealtaine) and the beginning of summertime.

Bábog na Bealtaine, maighdean an tSamhraidh,
Suas gach cnoc is síos gach glean.
Cailíní maiseach go gealgháireach gléasta,
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn.

Doll of the May, maiden of Summer,
Up every hill and down every glen,
Beautiful girls brightly dressed,
We brought the Summer with us.

Though sources claim the text and tune originated in early 15th-century Ulster in what is now primarily Northern Ireland, we can’t be certain. The precise age of the text and whether it was always married to this tune is also a matter of speculation as Ulster Summerother versions exist alongside completely different tunes.

The song was sung by young women and men performing as “Mummers” or beggars during the Bealtaine celebration. Roaming door to door singing, they would have offered garlands of hawthorn, holly, and flowers in exchange for food and other gifts. Their garlands were believed to ward off fairies (mischievous little people) and thus bring good fortune to the recipient when placed at the entrance of their home.

I was inspired by the summery images in the stanzas (“yellow summer from the sunset…”, “the cuckoo and the lark are singing with pleasure…”) which were particularly inspiring in the dead of a northern Michigan winter. I also fell in love with the tune — it’s lilting phrases, for me, painted a lovely landscape of rolling hills and flowery glades. I employed the vivid colors of the wind quintet to bring these landscapes to life while parading the soprano’s line through them, spreading summer tidings.

The second song, Seoithín Seo Hó (Hushaby), is a lullaby whose tune is believed to predate its text. The 20th-century song collector Eileen Costello noted in her 1919 anthology (Amhráin Mhuighe Seóla) that many believed the tune was sung by the Blessed Virgin to lull the Christ Child, and so it was traditionally sung without lyrics. Costello credits the text to a Rev. O’Kelly of Galway. In keeping with tradition, alternate stanzas of the Irish lullabies are often hummed rather than sung.

While at first glance the lyrics are sweet and sentimental, one stanza warns that children are at risk of being abducted by fairies (a common theme in the folklore). Apparently, the fairies steal a child’s soul, exchanging it with an old or sickly fairy (a “changeling”) who inhabits the child’s body and soon dies.

Ar mhullach an tí, tá síogaí geala
Faoi chaoin ré an earraigh ag imirt is spoirt.
Seo iad anair iad le glaoch ar mo leanbh
Le mian é tharraingt isteach san lios mór.

Atop the house, there are bright fairies
Playing sport under gentle rays of the spring moon.
Here they come to call out my child
Wanting to draw him into their mound.

Lullaby, Mother & Baby (Roseland)A number of Irish lullabies make mention of fairies as a way of coaxing children to close their eyes — it’s believed sleeping children can’t be lured away by wily fairies. Still, it’s hard to imagine easily falling asleep knowing your only protection is that your eyes are closed!

In my setting of the lullaby, rather than capitalizing on the sinister fairies lying in wait on the roof, I chose to focus on the love poured out by this mother as she shares an intimate moment with what I imagine is her first child.

Seoithín seo hó, mo stórín, mo leanbh.
Mo sheoid gan cealg, mo chuid den tsaol mhór.
Seoithín seo hó, is mór é an taithneamh,
Mo stórín ina leaba, a chodladh gan brón.

Hushaby, my treasure, my baby.
My jewel without deceit, my share of the big world.
Hushaby, it is the greatest sight,
My treasure in his bed, asleep without care.

Unlike most lullabies, the chorus of this tune has a “soaring” quality, naturally drawing out a crescendo (the opposite of what you’d want when lulling someone to sleep!). Rather than working against this natural tendency, I set the music so that the mother becomes so caught up in her joy she accidentally wakes the baby and then coaxes him back to sleep.

The third and closing tune, Beidh Aonach Amárach (There Will Be a Fair Tomorrow), is a “dandling” song. Rather than telling a story, dandling songs are meant to be Doolin County Claresimply entertaining to sing due to the sound or rhythm of the lyrics. These are often used to amuse or distract children (in the US, popular examples of dandling songs might be “Pat-a-cake” or “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”).

Appropriately, the text in this song is a back-and-forth disagreement between daughter and mother. The daughter wants to go to the fair where she intends to marry the town’s shoemaker, but her mother won’t allow it… and the daughter’s pestering ensues!

A mháithrín, an ligfidh tú chun aonaigh mé?
“A mhuirnín ó, ná héiligh é!”

Momma, will you let me go to the fair? (repeat 3 times)
“Darling, don’t ask again!”

In my setting, I wanted to highlight the playful quality of the lyrics and tune rather than presenting the entire text (which traditionally contains ten or more verses). I also interjected a bit of theater by adding awkward pauses and some mocking on the daughter’s part.

I crafted this entire song set with Emily’s voice in mind, and so I’ve dedicated it to her. Coaching her in the Irish Gaelic pronunciation as she painstakingly translated each syllable into IPA characters was great fun and a provided further encouragement for me to learn more about a language that has always fascinated me. Manitou Winds is honored to have her premiere this new work with us, adding her special signature to the performance!

We hope you’ll join us for the premiere!

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

A CELTIC SUMMERTIDE

______________________________________

Friday, August 17th, at 7:00pm

Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

____________

Admission is free.
Freewill donations will benefit Manitou Winds’ debut recording!

Variety: It’s the Spice!

Our September 24th concert was an experiment: a test to see just how much variety could be crammed into a single concert program performed by a single ensemble. To up the ante, we also added an element of chance; allowing the audience to play a game to randomly select the concert order.

Twelve different instruments and one guest musician later (Eric Olson, alto & tenor saxophone), we wound up with a concert that ran the gamut from Handel and Mozart to Hoagy Carmichael and Stevie Wonder! Here’s a list of the selections in the order they were performed:

Overture from “The Barber of Seville”           G. Rossini/arr. B. Holcombe
flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, & bassoon

Playground           H.A. Curtis
piano solo

Contradanza from “Three Pieces for Clarinet & Piano”           P. D’Rivera
tenor saxophone

I. Allegro from “Horn Quintet in E-flat Major”, K. 407           W.A. Mozart/arr. B. Holcombe
flute, english horn, clarinet, horn, & bassoon

Royal Garden Blues           C. Williams & S. Williams/arr. Ken Abeling
flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, & bassoon

Sir Duke           S. Wonder/arr. J.T. McKinney
flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, & bassoon

The Nearness of You           H. Carmichael
tenor saxophone & piano

III. Brazileira from “Scaramouche”           D. Milhaud/arr. D. Stewart
piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, horn, & bassoon

Ancient Pines           L. McKennitt/arr. J.T. McKinney
flute, clarinet, & lever harp

I. Natalie Fraser (hornpipe) from “A Suite of Cape Breton Tunes”           J.T. McKinney
flute, clarinet, & lever harp

Summer Waltz           L. Hood
flute, clarinet, guitar, & lever harp

Cranberry Island           D. Tolk
piano solo

Overture from “Music for the Royal Fireworks”           G.F. Handel/arr. T. Cramer
flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, & bassoon

To facilitate this colorful program based purely on variety and fun, we enlisted the aid of Jan Ross (aka Janice B.), voice-over artist, and our production manager, James Deaton (aka. J.D), to co-host the concert as a game show. Janice B. and J.D. selected audience members at random to come forward and randomly select the concert order. Those audience members were then entered into a special prize pool for a chance to win one of three prizes.

Adding even more flair to the event, we were joined by guest artist, Lori Feldpausch, who brought a dazzling array of paintings from her home studio to create an elaborate exhibit in the church’s narthex.

We were honored to be a part of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church’s “Concert on the Hill” series, and we’re delighted to have played a part in raising funds for Habitat for Humanity of Benzie County and Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing.

Winter Songs & Carols: The Art of Collaboration

Leelanau County WinterIn our annual winter concert, Manitou Winds presents a program of music, poetry, and prose inspiring you to embrace winter. But what does it mean to embrace a season known for darkness and cold? When confronted with the dazzling merriment expected of us for the holidays, what could we learn from a season of quiet and introspection?

During winter, a season that receives more than its fair share of bad press, we’re more often tempted to find ways of distracting ourselves from the season’s sometimes harsh realities. We huddle indoors like hermits, deck our halls with boughs of holly, or fly the coop for an extended stay someplace warmer and more life-affirming.

For our 2016 collaborating artist, Ellie Harold, winter is often a season of inner discovery. With the weather outside inhospitable for her paints and canvas, daily inspiration from picture windows becomes limited and quickly exhausted. Where else might an artist turn but inward?

Last winter, desperate for a subject to Periwinkle Skiespaint, Ellie found inspiration in a most unlikely place! “A brief scrounge through my recycling bin yielded a [mostly] rinsed out ketchup container and lid. I set up a small table and started arranging Still Life With Dead Ketchup Bottle.”

“As I began to paint I was reminded how I love looking at light shining on and through a transparent object,” says Ellie. “I love how painting asks that I look more and more closely at the thing in front of me. I love how, if I look carefully and paint well enough, I actually begin to see what’s there, to feel its existence as a Presence in the world. It doesn’t matter if the thing before me is a crunched up plastic bottle with remnants of ketchup clinging to its innards – the point of the exercise is not to make a pretty picture. Rather it is to look – using paint as a medium – until I see.”

Here in Northern Michigan with many of our Winter Quietudefavorite hang-outs closing up for the winter and some of our friends and neighbors departing for warmer climes, perhaps it’s an exercise that would benefit all of us: to look at the starkness of winter and allow the innermost elemental beauty of the season to emerge. Those of us who are artists can then take those discoveries with us to our respective “canvas” and kindle in others a passion for this season of cold and darkness.

For our Winter Songs & Carols performances, this December, Ellie has graciously loaned us two of her paintings for promotion and inspiration. For the performance in Traverse City, we have SnowLight — a beautiful abstract evoking both warmth and chill, abundance and scarcity, conversation and silent wonder.

"SnowLight" ©2016 by Ellie Harold

Ellie says it was during a recent winter here in Northern Michigan that her painting style underwent a significant change, leading to a series of abstract paintings. “For most of my painting life I’d been a representational artist. I painted from life or photographic references or not at all. But when the weather turned, I found myself bored with painting from photographs and insufficiently motivated to brave the Michigan cold,” she recalls. “Fortunately, the brush in my hand found its way to the palette and then to a large canvas. The result? A whole new sort of painting, one for which I have yet to develop a descriptive language. In fact, the new work seems to be its own language. It speaks to me while I’m working and fulfills a deep need to reveal my Inner Landscape.”

The painting selected for our Glen Arbor performance, Winter Sunset, explores the more literal and external landscape but its juxtaposition of light and darkness still invites us to explore a deeper landscape within. In my own musings about our winters here in Leelanau County, I marvel at how the slightest change in winter sunlight can turn an entire landscape’s mood on its head — sometimes my own mood too! There’s definitely a special magic in this season!

"Winter Sunset" ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“Longtime residents of this area are amused at how snow continues to delight me,” says Ellie. “I tell them it’s a visual thing. I see in this winterscape fascinating shapes, colors, and contrasts — for this landscape artist that’s the whole hokey pokey. It pretty much makes up for the cold temps, howling winds, icy roads and endless layers of clothing.”

You’re invited to embark on an exploration of your inner landscape with music, poetry, prose, and a special exhibition of Ellie’s works. Our final collaboration for 2016 is an excellent opportunity to meet Ellie and see more of her work in person. Come surround yourself with winter inspiration!

For more information about Ellie’s home studio and gallery and to view many more examples of her work, visit www.EllieHarold.com.

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Don’t miss

Winter Songs & Carols

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Saturday, December 3rd, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

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Friday, December 9th, at 7:30pm

The Leelanau School
1 Old Homestead Rd.
Glen Arbor

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Admission is free for both performances
A freewill offering will be taken

Summer Fantasies: Summer Waltzes Out

The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar) ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar)” by Ellie Harold, 2016 Collaborating Artist

For our Summer Fantasies concert, we invite you to join us in a colorful journey for the imagination as we visit the themes of summertime and all of its fantastical elements. In this series of brief articles, you can learn more about the pieces on the program; the composers who penned them and the events that inspired them.

We’re so excited to be premiering another new work written by a member of our group: Laura Hood. In May, we unveiled First Flight — a quartet for flute, clarinet, harp, and guitar. Now, just in time for our Summer Fantasies concert, Laura has finished a new piece for the same quartet.

Laura 01Summer Waltz

— Laura Hood (b. 1961)

The theme for Summer Waltz was composed about six years ago when Laura was part of a much different small ensemble — flute, violin, hammer dulcimer, and guitar. I like to think the theme needed some time to steep before Laura fully committed it to paper!

When a composer is deciding which instruments will be used in a composition, it is not unlike a painter gathering the pigments and paints just before heading to the canvas. Sometimes a composer simply writes using the instruments available, but other times they are able to hand select the timbres and colors they prefer.

“I really love the arrangement for Manitou Winds,” Laura says. “The combination of harp and guitar is perfect especially when Jason is playing in the lower registers — the harp has a depth that is missing even in the lowest strings of the guitar. The rich, woody sound of the clarinet is also wonderful in this piece, and Sam’s rich tone on the flute completes the ensemble.”

Having selected the instruments, the next task is deciding where the piece will go — what story it will tell, or what picture it will paint…

“As I was writing this short waltz, I was picturing a hot and humid summer night, with a warm wind blowing and the cicadas and crickets chirping,” Laura Out of Africarecalls. “A couple in love is dancing slowly on their big front porch. I picture a setting like that in my favorite movie, Out of Africa, when Robert Redford and Meryl Streep are together on her farm.”

During rehearsals, we’ve all had fun describing what Laura’s new waltz evokes in our minds. Magically, we all seem to see summer scenes, albeit different ones. Laura’s is cinematically inspired — a hopeless romance wrapped in the warm embrace of an impossible summer. My own is more mundane, but nonetheless bittersweet.

When I’m performing Summer Waltz I’m imagining a very common scene in Northern Michigan: a family enjoying its final day at the beach before making the long journey home, back to “the real world.” These happy times soon become memories depicted in photographs, invisible captions written on the heart. Seasons change. Vacations end. Children grow up and families change.

Embedded in these lines and harmonies I find the simultaneous happiness and sadness that comes from being in a beautiful place (literally or figuratively) while knowing you can’t stay forever. Standing on the beach at Good Harbor Bay before my husband and I ever imagined we would live here, feeling the water lap at my toes while looking out at that wide open expanse of blue, knowing there Frankfort Beach Dream ©2016 by Ellie Haroldwere so many miles between this beautiful place and home… it was a special kind of heartache. And now that we’re here, it’s a similar ache that comes with the changing of each season — each so beautiful and perfect in its own way, but never staying for very long.

“It is a simple melody, the harmonies are not complex,” Laura notes. “The waltz tempo is slow and easy — just how we all hope those perfect summer nights will pass: slow and easy.”

We look forward to presenting Laura’s latest creation at our upcoming concert as we celebrate the ending of one season and the beginning of another. We hope you can join us for one last waltz.

Remember, for more information about our collaborating artist, Ellie Harold, visit www.EllieHarold.com.

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Don’t miss Summer Fantasies
Friday, September 30th, at 6pm
Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

Admission is free.

Summer Fantasies: Three Reveries

The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar) ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar)” by Ellie Harold, 2016 Collaborating Artist

For our Summer Fantasies concert, we invite you to join us in a colorful journey for the imagination as we visit the themes of summertime and all of its fantastical elements. In this series of brief articles, you can learn more about the pieces on the program; the composers who penned them and the events that inspired them.

Within our Summer Fantasies concert program, there are three pieces I’ve dubbed reveries. I refer to them this way primarily because reverie is an intentional nod to their French origins, but also because each was inspired by or intended to evoke a dream-like fantasy.

Gabriel PiernéPastorale

— Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937)

Though he was a talented and very active musician and composer in his day, much of the compositional output of Gabriel Pierné is seldom performed (at least internationally). Like many composers whose works bridged the late-Romantic and 20th century (e.g. Jacques Ibert), he wrote for many different genres and types of ensembles and this is perhaps why he never received long-lasting notoriety for any particular accomplishment.

His colorful Pastorale, composed around 1886, is a vivid example of Pierné’s mastery of the colors within the wind quintet. Beginning with a lyrical if not somewhat plaintive solo from the Frankfort Beach Dream ©2016 by Ellie Haroldoboe, we’re guided into the warm and lush pastureland of the French countryside. This theme is passed about freely between flute, oboe, and clarinet, while the horn and bassoon provide the unmistakable voice of the bagpipe’s drone.

This is a journey across fragrant and sunny pastures or even the Lake Michigan coastline, guided not by a particular sense of destination, but merely a yearning to wander and to feel the warmth of the sun and the embrace of a fleeting breeze that comes and goes.

DebussyGolliwogg’s Cakewalk

— Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Certainly a contrast from the nearly obscure Pierné, Claude Debussy is no stranger to concert programs. Although Debussy disliked the label of “Impressionist” being applied to his works, it is perhaps his association with this movement and his fascination with the musical elements it contained that has given most of his works lasting influence.

Much like the painters who were classified as impressionists, composers who became associated with impressionism often used moods and emotions as themes for their works. Similar to an artist skillfully using their pallete, a composer uses stark contrasts of color, texture, and timbre to blur the traditional framework of “melody vs. harmony” or “foreground vs. background”. The effect causes the viewer or the listener to focus attention on a larger perspective rather than small details.

Debussy dedicated his solo piano suite, Children’s Corner (1908), to his three-year-old daughter. Each movement is inspired by toys from Claude-Emma’s toy collection. For our concert, we’ve selected the final movement, “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk”, transcribed for wind quintet by Tom Kennedy.

On the surface, this is a colorful dance movement with very abrupt dynamic and tempo changes. But there are deeper historic and musical details within this seemingly simple movement.

When the movement was composed, Golliwogg dolls were very much in fashion due to the popularity of the series of children’s Golliwoggbooks written by Florence Kate Upton (1873-1922). Golliwoggs were stuffed black dolls with red pants, red bow ties, and wild hair — a mimicry of black-face minstrels. Perhaps due to the fact that Upton did not trademark her Golliwogg character, the later free use of these characters as menacing villains and garish icons in literature and advertising has led to the modern perception of Golliwoggs as overtly racist against people of African descent.

A most detailed history of Golliwoggs can be found here — as part of the ongoing work of Dr. David Pilgrim at Ferris State University. When examining the Golliwogg character from an historic context, it’s difficult to see its beginnings as anything but racially insensitive at best. Debussy’s music being associated with a character that became purposefully demeaning to people of color is certainly unfortunate.

Meanwhile, the cakewalk itself is a product of black minstrel shows. Beginning somewhere in the mid-1800s, the dance was a parody of upper-class whites performed by black dancers as entertainment for white audiences. At the conclusion of the dance, the most elaborate dancer would be awarded a prize — a hoecake wrapped in a cabbage leaf. Gradually, the dance became a popular sensation regardless of the race of the dancers.

Debussy also embedded a bit of satire into the music by quoting Richard Wagner’s love-death leitmotif from the opera Tristan und Isolde. Each time this quote appears it is immediately followed by distinct banjo imitations — an immediate contrast between drama and mirth.

Despite negative associations and undertones of darker themes, Debussy’s piece has remained a concert favorite. At least Tropical Joy ©2015 by Ellie Haroldthe murkier side of its origin has provided important discussion for students, teachers, and historians. Personally, rather than imagining the demeaning, clown-like dance of a Golliwogg, I imagine the energetic, boisterous play of children during a performance of this piece; what I imagine Debussy himself likely intended.

Our unique challenge as a quintet is to perform this piece with the precision of a single pianist’s 10 fingers rather than the 50 fingers belonging to the 5 individuals we are! The contrasts and abrupt changes are enough to make any ensemble flex their muscles.

FauréPavane

— Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

While there are certainly more renowned French composers, it was Gabriel Fauré’s scholarship and teaching philosophy that freed French art music from its stubborn rut, paving a clear path between the Romantic era and the 20th century. When he was appointed head of the Paris Conservatoire in 1905, a crowning achievement of his life’s work, he rocked the boat considerably by broadening the curriculum of study — extending it well into ancient times as well as into very modern works which had been completely banned previously. His appreciation for a wide variety of music and intuitive compositional technique enlivened future generations of composers (e.g. Maurice Ravel & Nadia Boulanger).

Originally written for piano and chorus in the late 1880’s, the orchestral version of Fauré’s Pavane was premiered in 1887. During this period, his career as a composer was beginning to bring both modest income and (gasp) the extra-marital romantic entanglements which would delight, inspire, and torment him.

Appropriately, the choral lyrics lament the romantic helplessness of man. Fauré described the work as “elegant, but not otherwise important” little realizing it would become one of his most performed Water Shapes ©2015 by Ellie Haroldpieces, inspiring similar works by Debussy and Ravel. The orchestral version is often performed with or without chorus and can also include dancers.

Manitou Winds’ performance of Fauré’s Pavane is based on the orchestral version of the work arranged for wind quintet by Tracy Jacobson. An unavoidable challenge facing wind players is the sheer necessity of breathing without interrupting Fauré’s long, enticingly chromatic phrasing. This breathing difficulty is complicated by the tendency for most orchestras to perform this work at a tempo much slower than the composer intended. The memory of these inspired performances tempts us to play more slowly than our lungs will allow. Meanwhile, we invite you sigh along with us, getting lost in Fauré’s light-hearted romantic daydreams.

The reverie-themed paintings in today’s article are from our collaborating artist, Ellie Harold’s studio. For more information about Ellie’s home studio and gallery and to view many more examples of her work, visit www.EllieHarold.com.

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Don’t miss Summer Fantasies
Friday, September 30th, at 6pm
Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

Admission is free.

Summer Fantasies: Händel’s Fireworks

The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar) ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar)” by Ellie Harold, 2016 Collaborating Artist

For our Summer Fantasies concert, we invite you to join us in a colorful journey for the imagination as we visit the themes of summertime and all of its fantastical elements. In this series of brief articles, you can learn more about the pieces on the program; the composers who penned them and the events that inspired them.

Music for the Royal Fireworks

— Georg Friederich Händel (1685-1759)

From the beginning, Händel led a successful career as a composer. Having garnered the favor of royal patronage, his primary audience was both powerful and wealthy. But it was his arrival in London in 1710 that led to his immense popularity, winning him the commissions Handelwhich led him to compose music that still shows up on concert programs nearly 300 years later.

In our modern era of iPods, online streaming music, and non-stop news-feeds, live music is so commonly bypassed in favor of the convenience of “canned music” that it’s almost inconceivable for us to envision music being written and performed expressly for a single occasion. However, it was exactly that sort of one-time occasion that prompted King George II to commission Händel in 1749 to write Music for the Royal Fireworks.

As the title so clearly suggests, the music was intended to accompany an elaborate fireworks display. The fireworks were only one part of a gigantic outdoor celebration of the recently-signed peace treaty which ended (albeit only temporarily) the War of Austrian Succession.

This particular commission carried with it some fairly difficult requests Händel was required to honor; among them, a commandment about the instruments to be used. Rather than the traditional orchestra, the king commanded only wind instruments be used (No fiddles of any kind!). This edict led to the formation of a rather strange ensemble comprised of 24 oboists, 12 bassoonists, 1 contrabassoonist, 9 trumpeters, 9 horn players, 3 timpanists, and a battery of side drums. Having begrudgingly complied, Händel later added strings to his score and (thankfully) it is this version that is most often performed!

In an odd twist of fate, it was an unauthorized public rehearsal held a week prior to the big party that was the more successful premiere. That rehearsal performance (which Händel had vehemently opposed) led to one of London’s first RoyalFireworkstraffic jams as concertgoers crammed the streets, stalling traffic for more than three hours. A week later, during its intended premiere performance, many spectators were distracted by the fireworks which had set fire to one of the elaborate pavilions in the middle of the show.

One month later, Händel himself conducted a performance of his revised score (with added fiddles, zero fireworks, and hopefully far fewer oboes) and this set his suite on the road to becoming one of his most popular works.

Manitou Winds’ performance will feature three of the smaller movements from Händel’s suite painstakingly arranged especially for wind quintet by Trevor Cramer.

The first selection, II. Bourrée, is based on a stylized French dance that was especially popular during the Baroque period (1600-1750). Composers often elaborated on this quick dance rhythm in inner movements of multi-movement works as a contrast to slower, Manitou Windsheavier material. These pieces were not actually intended to be danced to for any performances, but they have a tendency to get one’s toes tapping.

III. La Paix (Largo alla siciliana), “The Peace“, was Händel’s acknowledgement of the peace treaty his music was commissioned to celebrate. It’s a wonderfully serene movement based on the siciliana style marked by lilting rhythms. Perhaps to denote the happy occasion, Händel broke from tradition and composed this siciliana in a major key, avoiding the darker sounds we normally associate with minor keys.

We close out our visit to the royal fireworks party with what is probably the most recognizable movement from the entire suite: IV. La Réjouissance (“The Rejoicing“). This boisterous theme was undoubtedly Händel’s way of letting the guests know the party was definitely not over!

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Don’t miss Summer Fantasies
Friday, September 30th, at 6pm
Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

Admission is free.

Summer Fantasies: The Art of Collaboration

The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar) ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar)” by Ellie Harold, 2016 Collaborating Artist

For our Summer Fantasies concert, we invite you to join us in a colorful journey for the imagination as we visit the themes of summertime and all of its fantastical elements. In this series of brief articles, you can learn more about our collaborative artist and the individual pieces on the program.

When you attend a Manitou Winds concert, not only are you able to experience and witness the unique, intimate quality of chamber music, you can also experience the unique visual art provided by our collaboration with a local artist we’ve personally selected.

What does it mean to “collaborate” with an artist? How can musicians and visual artists truly collaborate when each works in a completely different medium? We’ve learned that each collaboration means something a little different. Each experience is flavored by the music we’ve chosen for the concert and also by the artist’s personal style, their existing work, and their eagerness to engage and bond with a bunch of musicians.

Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery Sam Clark, Jason McKinney, Christina Duperron, Laura Hood, Anne Bara

Our 2016 collaborating artist is Ellie Harold of Frankfort. You can read all about Ellie and her marvelous home studio and gallery in an article we posted earlier this year while we were working toward our spring concert. Ellie’s work is unique for its boldness of colors and contrasts and its blurring of the lines between representational and abstract art. The immediate and unmistakable effect of her artwork was what initially drew us to reach out and ask her to collaborate with us. However, it has been her personal artistic philosophy and her openness to explore new facets of the creative process that has made her an inspiration to The Art of Collaborationus and has insured more joint projects for us in the future.

Our collaborating artists typically provide artwork to help us promote our concert, and we always offer the artist an opportunity display a collection of their artwork at the concert venue. But, not too long before the concert, Ellie approached me with an even bolder idea. “About a week before the concert, a friend asked if I was going to paint ‘live’ during the event,” Ellie recalls. “I’d heard of artists ‘performing’ live before an audience and had not given it much thought, but in this circumstance it seemed like a perfect way to expand our notion of collaboration.”

I remember getting Ellie’s e-mail about painting live while I was in the midst of pulling together some rehearsal details. I had been struggling with ways to demonstrate for the audience the deeper connection between our music and Ellie’s art. Though I was immediately touched by our synchronicity of thought, her idea seemed very risky to me initially. I thought, perhaps, a few audience members may find the presence of an artist and a canvas distracting or feel it was some form of artistic non sequitur. Still, though, I found the idea irresistibly refreshing. After polling the rest of the group members to be sure they wouldn’t find it distracting to their own performance and okaying it with the concert host, I gave Ellie the green light.

Ellie arrived to set up her exhibit in the narthex — a very exciting sampling of the contents of her gallery. Then, she brought in the very blank 30″ x 40″ canvas that was to be her part of the performance. “How on earth is she going to fill up a canvas that size?” I wondered, “And will she feel nervous with a live audience or be rushed by the clock and the program as it sweeps by?”

IMG_6429

IMG_6420 IMG_6445

“I had located my gear off to one side in the area occupied on Sunday mornings by the choir. I squeezed out some paint and placed the blank canvas on my easel. With no particular image in mind, I simply responded to the music as I was hearing it in the moment,” Ellie recalls. “Deliberately setting aside my thoughts, as in meditation, I painted intuitively, allowing the brush or palette knife, this color or that, to make their way to the canvas without thought, according to impulses arising both from the music and within me. Within a short time, I found myself at one with the music, in a sort of fearless, inspired, altered state I’d previously only experienced when speaking or teaching in church.”

IMG_6457“As a whole, the painting seems to have come from a space that includes me, but also transcends me.”

— Ellie Harold

By intermission, you could tell our audience was intrigued by the joint creative process they were witnessing. The music we were performing was less than 20 years old and certainly not familiar to most concertgoers. The titles and composers listed on the program did not provide many clues. Only the performance itself could reveal the intent and direction of the music. Meanwhile, Ellie’s painting was even newer — each color and shape an unfolding mystery for the eyes.

Following the concert, audience members gathered around Ellie’s canvas to see her creation up close. For the members of Manitou Winds, it was especially exciting because we’d been completely unable to see the canvas during the performance. Ellie dubbed the painting “New Voices” (the theme and title of the concert).

New Voices ©2016 by Ellie Harold

“To me the painting speaks of the reality of how Art Ideas can find expression when there’s openness and trust in the process of consecrated action,” Ellie says. “I can recognize familiar elements in this work, but I also see lyrical passages that seem directly related to the music. As a whole, the painting seems to have come from a space that includes me, but also transcends me.”

Speaking personally, I find the landscape Ellie brought to life during the performance a very intriguing piece — at once welcoming and foreboding. There’s an apparent direction to the forms, but throughout there’s also a very open and improvised feeling, not unlike the mystifying pattern of falling raindrops. I feel drawn into this landscape to explore and discover the mysteries hiding behind those forms.

You can find Ellie’s painting (“New Voices”) on display in her gallery at 402 Forest Avenue, Frankfort, alongside her other paintings newly created this summer. Also among her summer’s bounty is the painting selected to promote our upcoming concert entitled “The Secret Life of Barns (Cedar)”. We’re looking forward to our performance with this magnificent landscape as a colorful backdrop.

Summer Fantasies Poster

On September 30th, Ellie will join us once again on-stage at the Oliver Art Center in “Summer Fantasies” as we explore the many moods and colors of summertime. Ellie says the canvas will be even bigger, this time! We’re all excited to see where her brush will take us as the music guides us along an uncharted, fantastic journey.

For more information about Ellie’s home studio and gallery and to view many more examples of her work, visit www.EllieHarold.com.

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Don’t miss Summer Fantasies
Friday, September 30th, at 6pm
Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road
Frankfort

Admission is free.