Music Speaks: Conferring with the Sun

In our 2017 spring concert,

Rogers Road by Margie Guyot

Manitou Winds explores the meandering, mystical path connecting music and words.

Words were created to communicate. Whether spoken or written, we need words to translate, convey, and make sense of our own experiences. Still, words are powerful but limited; they can tell us about an experience, but words themselves are not an experience.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined how music embodies its own wordless language of storytelling through sound and its interaction with our personal memories or daydreams. When music and words unite, however, a bit of transformation occurs. You might say music has the ability to transform words, briefly, into an experience.

Sun Songs by Jenni Brandon (b. 1977) collects sacred poetry from three different Native American tribes, examining their beautiful and harmonious relationship with the earth. The work — a seamless song cycle containing three songs — is written for soprano, English horn, cello, and piano and demonstrates Jenni’s transcendent flair for “tone painting”. I contacted Jenni, recently, and she graciously told me more about these texts, their significance, and how she chose them.

Many of Jenni’s works are directly inspired by nature or our interactions with it. “I had recently gotten a book of Native American prose and poetry (The Winged Serpent),” Jenni explains. “The book inspired me to look deeper into the lives of Native American people. Theirs was and is collection of cultures that honors the earth, sun, sky — all of nature. The idea of telling a story from their perspective (in a modern art song) really appealed to me.”

Nootka Sun MaskI. Song to bring fair weather
You, whose day it is, make it beautiful.
Get out your rainbow colors.
So it will be beautiful.

— translated by Frances Densmore (1867-1957)
from Nootka and Quileute Music

Jenni assembled texts from three different Native American tribes, choosing their relationship with the sun as her focal point for telling a story. “I was interested in telling a story of the sun – of their respect for it and the Earth, and the notion of honoring the land,” says Jenni. “Even though these tribes were far apart (geographically) and maybe never crossed paths, I think it’s powerful that their conception of the sun and their honoring of the sun and nature is so similar. It’s a recognition that distance and time may separate us, but our feelings about the land and our love of it are often the same, even today.”

II. Song to pull down the clouds
IMG_3333At the edge of the world
It is growing light.
Up rears the light.
Just yonder the day dawns.
Spreading over the night.

— translated by Ruth Underhill (1883-1984)
from Singing for Power

Understandably, some modern ethnomusicologists dismiss the works of early anthropologists and musicologists. On the surface, it can appear many of those early scholars sought to define native music using western terminology, forcing it into standard forms and categories rather than studying it and documenting it in its organic state.

Ruth UnderhillAs pioneers in their field, however, they simply lacked the extensive knowledge of worldwide ancient cultures and the flexible musical lexicon that evolved in the decades following their discoveries. In truth, pioneers such as Frances Denmore, Ruth Underhill, and Leslie Spier are largely responsible for the survival of the often extant information we have about many Native American tribes which had already begun to vanish in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

What early scholars clearly understood and emphasized was that song had an important place in many Native American cultures. Their cultural practices combined words and music in ways that extended well beyond our fairly simplistic modern labels of secular and sacred.

III. A PrayerPapago-Woman
Sun, my relative
Be good coming out
Do something good for us.

Make me work,
So I can do anything in the garden
I hoe, I plant corn, I irrigate.

You, sun, be good going down at sunset
We lay down to sleep I want to feel good.

While I sleep you come up.
Go on your course many times.
Make good things for us.

Make me always the same as I am now.

— translated by Leslie Spier (1893-1961)
from Havasupai Enthography

Not only bridging miles by bringing together the poetry of these three unique tribes, Jenni seamlessly combined their songs into an uninterrupted journey from dramatic daybreak to dusk. From the first note to the last, there is no significant break or pause in the work. The voices of the native poets blend into one another.

Jenni says she often likes to tell a single coherent story by combining different texts and then using the common themes within each to link them together as a whole.

“There’s one line that really makes me feel these texts were meant to be together: ‘Make me always the same as I am now.’ The author talks of wanting to ‘feel good’, and I think of the feeling IMG_1767many of us get at a sunrise or sunset – the feeling of infinite possibility, that everything is going to be okay. I think this line captures the spirit of the work, and — to me — brings sunlight into what can be a dark and angry world. If we hold onto this good feeling, this sense of loving the land — finding the goodness in a sunrise/sunset — then we will do what we need to do in order to keep that feeling alive, to make us the same in that moment of happiness, even when times are hard and challenging.”

While studying the English horn part and rehearsing and discussing this enthralling chamber work with our special guests (Emily Curtin Culler, soprano, Jean Coonrod, cello, and Susan Snyder, piano), I’ve noticed that same line has stood out as significant for me as well. Colored by Jenni’s musical framing while still maintaining its pure word form, the line becomes an elemental statement of both gratitude and hope. What better way to express both simultaneously than to wish a feeling or moment would never end?

IMG_5309

In this unique combination of timbres which melds together in stunning warmth and remarkable expressiveness, Jenni Brandon has transformed simple but sacred words into a profound experience. We invite you to join us as we follow the sun on its journey from daybreak to dusk.

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Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

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Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

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Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken

Image/Photo Credits
1. Rogers Road, © 2016 by Margie Guyot (Manitou Winds 2017 collaborating artist).
2. Bella Coola Sun Mask, Nootka mask art, Nitinaht Lake, British Columbia. (Nancy Sue & Judson C. Ball Collection of Native American Art).
3. Sunrise Over East Traverse Bay, © 2011 by J.T. McKinney.
4. Ceremony Sun Dance, original artwork by David Joaquin of Two Hawk Studio. (Quote by Ruth Underhill, Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians, © 1938 by University of Arizona Press).
5. Tohono O’odham (Papago) Woman, © 1907 by Edward S. Curtis.
6. Sunset at Pyramid Point, © 2016 by James Deaton.
7. Sunset on Good Harbor Bay, © 2012 by J.T. McKinney.

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New Voices: Jason McKinney

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

“I did not sit down, one day, and decide I would write Three Narratives,” says Jason McKinney (b. 1979). “The piece just happened to come together during a very difficult time in my life. Jason McKinneyThe structure of the piece, the melodies inside the structure — these were all comforts to me, a way of coping.”

Three Narratives (for flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano) tells of the composer’s very personal journey of coming out to his family and friends — a journey that led him through fear, self-hatred, and finally joy.

He began writing the piece in 1999 (originally scored for oboe, mezzo-soprano vocalise [no lyrics], and piano) and performed an early version as part of his 2001 junior recital. Still, Jason insists Manitou Winds’ performance on May 1st will be the true premiere. “I have revisited and revised the piece many times over the years — adding lines, refining sounds, creating entirely new sections. In many ways, it’s only now the piece I truly meant for it to be” he says. “I think I’m ready for the music to speak to other people who may be having similar struggles.”

Many of the composer’s favorite lines in the three-movement piece were conceived in one particular practice room of his university’s music annex. “I think a lot of people picture a grieved artist staying up all hours of the night, baying at the moon,” he says. “For me, it was usually early morning. I would wake up from a fitful night of sleep, grab a tall coffee, and make my way to my favorite piano long before classes were to start.” It was during these early morning solo piano sessions that the lines of each movement began to take shape. Jason eventually committed those lines to paper.

“Once I started putting the melodic lines onto the staff paper and sketching the underlying supporting material, I began to get the sensation that the music was something of a narrative — telling a story with characters coming and going with the Jason & Brendaphrases,” he says. “I’d never written anything quite like it before and I’ve not since.”

Movement one, entitled “Once”, is dedicated to Jason’s mother, Brenda, whom he credits for his having been allowed to pursue music. “Mom not only encouraged us to succeed, she was a kind of force behind us.” he says. “She was determined we would have opportunities she missed out on. So, when I showed musical aptitude, she did everything she could to see that I had an opportunity to take lessons.” The movement also depicts Jason’s childhood and adolescent memories of musical exploration.

The joy of the first movement ends very abruptly without harmonic resolution, segueing into movement two, entitled “In the Dark”. Jason identifies its first melody as the theme of utter self-hatred. “It’s a melody without any real direction or resolution; persistent and unwilling to be ignored. The drone in the clarinet is like a ghostly reflection in a mirror.” The self-hatred Jason wrote about in his score was also being written down in his personal journals which he’d kept since early high school.

Three Narratives“For years, I’d prayed almost nightly that God would make me not gay anymore. I thought if I tried hard enough not to be gay, one day I would be rewarded and it would be completely erased. Eventually, I began praying that I would die — specifically, that I would not wake up the next morning. It was a prayer I said often for about three and a half years. Every sunrise was like a reminder that I was doomed.”

As the theme of self-hatred reappears in many forms throughout the movement, we hear depicted Jason’s struggle to move on with his outward life at university while his inner life was falling apart. He says it was his close friend, Amanda, who helped him eventually heal. “We talked for hours about our fears and our self-hatred. It was the first time I’d ever talked to someone who had the same ‘sickness’ as me.”

As the second movement nears its close, the composer’s anguish resolves into peaceful epiphany as the music shifts from a very discontented, climactic atonality to a relieved Eb major. “I don’t like to call it an epiphany, but it was like rays of light came tearing through the darkness I’d been wandering in for ages. In that moment, I knew the change I Jason & Amanda (2005)needed to make was to stop trying to change — to stop hating myself. I’d been trying to go in the wrong direction,” he explains.

“Tired of asking why. Tired of reasoning… I was just hanging my head there in silence. And then, like reading for the first time words I’d overlooked a hundred times, a voice in my mind: You can’t be fixed because you aren’t broken. You are who you were made to be; stop trying to be someone you aren’t.

Movement three, entitled “Turning”, depicts Jason’s eventual acceptance and coming out to his friends and family. Though the movement’s final theme was actually penned years before they met, Jason insists the music depicts the moment he met his husband, James. “I told him during our vows (five years later) that it was like that cheesy Savage Garden song: I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life.”

“It’s strange that I don’t really journal much anymore. I used to spend hours writing in journals, unloading so many thoughts. I’ve tried picking it back up, but it somehow doesn’t seem to be necessary for me anymore. I guess it’s because my life is no longer ‘closeted’. I’m able to be honest with myself and this allows me to be honest with everyone around me. I don’t have to guard things behind the covers of a journal, scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting… or encoded in music.”

Three Narratives

Can music tell a story completely independent of language? Our audience on May 1st will be the judges of that when Manitou Winds premieres Three Narratives.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Laura Hood

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

Not only is our concert made up of very recently composed music, our audience will actually hear two premieres featuring the composers as performers. One of these premieres is a remarkable, Laura 01refreshing quartet written by our own Laura Hood (b. 1961).

Although she’s never had a single lesson in composition, Laura has always had a penchant for writing songs. Though a horn player through-and-through, her favored composition medium has always been voice and guitar in the singer-songwriter and folk style rather than classical horn. When the lyrics won’t come to her, she simply makes the piece instrumental!

At our summer potluck and mini concert back in 2015, Laura and her guitar regaled us with a solo performance of one of her beautiful songs (with lyrics!) romanticizing our four seasons in Northern Michigan. Having outed herself to the entire group as a composer, I hoped it would only be matter of time before she was brave enough to put some of her music on paper and slip it into the hands of her fellow Manitou Winds members! To my delight, she presented me with First Flight in January 2016 and gave me a guided tour of the score.

Wings of Wonder

Laura composed First Flight to honor her friend Rebecca Lessard, founder of Wings of Wonder, a raptor rehabilitation center and sanctuary based in Empire, Michigan. WOW has a tremendous impact in Northern Michigan — rescuing countless birds while continuing to house those who are Rebecca Lessardunable to be returned to the wild. Beyond the life-saving force the organization provides with the help of its many volunteers, Rebecca’s efforts to spread the word about these majestic creatures through community outreach in schools and community events makes her a local hero.

Right away, I loved the unmistakable folk vibe that emanated from Laura’s guitar scoring. By adding in flute, clarinet, and harp, Laura’s piece became something truly unique — a combination of timbres that is rare if not completely brand new.

Without being prompted, the next thing I noticed in the music was that it seemed to be telling a story — there was a dialogue between the flute and clarinet, an interplay between all Rebecca Lessardfour parts which seemed to be painting a picture worth thousands of words. A picture not revealed by the one-word titles of the movements.

Laura explains, “Many of the birds are clinging to a tiny thread of life when they first arrive at WOW. Movement one (Waltz) represents the tender care each new avian patient is given.” Rather than the typical steady, dance-like feel we would associate with a waltz, the music begins with a very thinly-scored but hopeful tune that grows and swells as the movement progresses (as the bird begins to heal and grow stronger).

As I learned more about WOW, I uncovered the sad fact that not all of the birds survive their trauma and move on toward recovery. Some are tragically beyond repair and are humanely euthanized. Perhaps more touching, though, are the birds who do recover but are permanently disabled, living Wings of Wonderthe remainder of their lives sheltered in the loving sanctuary WOW provides. Many of these birds are often taken on roadtrips for outreach programs Rebecca provides in the area.

Movement two (Allegro) begins with an energetic, eager guitar ostinato propelling us forward. Laura was inspired by WOW’s 100ft flight pen which offers space for the recovering raptors to begin spreading their wings and gaining endurance. “This is depicted in the running passages and soaring lines of the flute and clarinet,” Laura explains. “Like the flapping of an eagle’s wings, the music eventually ascends until it rises into the sky with majestic glory.”

Not only was this composition a departure for Laura because it required her to completely score and notate her music in a fixed form, but she had never before written for winds or harp! It became a learning and teaching experience for the whole quartet as we discussed the particulars of articulation and phrasing. We’re excited that Laura plans to write more pieces for this unique quartet.

First Flight

Rehearsing this one-of-a-kind work has been a treat for all of us — a chance to break away from the more traditional sounds of a classical chamber ensemble, allowing ourselves to immerse in a completely different acoustic. We are grateful that Laura has bestowed upon Mantiou Winds this unique treasure of chamber music telling the miraculous story of broken wings mended by loving and caring hands. We hope you’ll join us in May as Laura’s piece receives its premiere.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Daniel Baldwin

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

As creative director of Manitou Winds, I sometimes find it difficult to select pieces to add to our repertoire. Admittedly, this is worsened by the sheer abundance of chamber music in the universe (more is being created every day) and the realization that I’ve never heard most of it! daniel baldwinWhen searching for new music by new composers, the process is perhaps a little more daunting and can often be hit or miss! So, it’s gratifying when I stumble across a great composer completely by accident.

I discovered the music of Daniel Baldwin (b. 1978) while exploring the chamber music listings at Imagine Music. I was intrigued by the uncommon combinations of instruments he seemed to compose for, but I was even more impressed by his unique composer’s voice — long, dramatic phrases with lush harmonies and vivid textures.

Originally from Blackwell, Oklahoma, Daniel holds the degrees of Bachelor of Music Education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Master of Music Composition from Kansas State University, and a DMA in Music Composition from the University of Nebraska. Though still early in his career, he’s already an award-winning composer who has been commissioned by top orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra. His music has been presented on National Public Radio, Carnegie Hall, and on hundreds of university stages around the world including the MENC National Convention.

Chatting with Daniel, recently, I asked who he considers to be his biggest musical influences. “I am, of course, influenced by my teachers,” he said. Daniel studied with Eric Richards, Craig Weston, and Eric Ewazen. He daniel baldwinconfesses, “You can hear all of their influence in my music at times.” But, he also cherishes the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland — two composers whose masterful use of folk melodies can also be heard in Daniel’s music.

A large swath of his completed works are chamber pieces, however he also enjoys writing for orchestra, wind ensemble, and recently completed his first film score (a medium he hopes to find more work in). When asked if he has any current projects in the works that he’s particularly excited about, Daniel can list an astonishing number (more than two dozen!) which are in process. After reading his list, the one I’ve got my eye on is a double concerto for oboe, alto saxophone and wind ensemble!

I have to admit I came across Landscapes purely by chance while randomly searching through titles at Imagine Music. Completely judging the book by its cover, it was the title and cover artwork that immediately drew me in. By the time I heard the final minutes of the live demo, I’d already purchased the piece — it was almost as though he’d written it for Manitou Winds! In Landscapes, Daniel employs the uncommon Landscapesquartet of clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano to bring to life three paintings by legendary American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

The music — more than a tone poem depicting the scenery within the paintings themselves — delves into the life story of the artist, evoking the symbolism of the imagery while translating it into the unique timbres of the quartet. The work is an epic saga exploring the early, middle, and then late career of Church. For our program, we’ll be performing movements one and three but will definitely perform the work in its entirety on a future program.

Movement one (Of Tomorrow’s Promise) is a musical depiction of “West Rock, New Haven” (1849), but is also a commentary on Church’s early professional life. In turn, the music has a “new frontier” feel to it. From the wind-swept motion of the piano score to the brave, heroic lines of the horn, you can feel the limitlessness and timelessness of the New England wilderness stretching out before you while also envisioning a young artist getting his first glimpses of fame and recognition.

Movement three (Of Quiet Reflection) depicts “Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp” (1895) as Church was nearing the end of his life, standing on the summit of his accomplishments while reflecting on a life that was full of both triumph and tragedy. The music, here, is at once warm and bittersweet, each member of the quartet shining through in turn.

Landscapes

Each member of the quartet faces beautiful but undeniably challenging music from the score. Christina’s bassoon reaches rare, breathless heights in the long, flowing phrases. Laura’s horn takes flight in the first movement and rarely touches ground — soaring higher and broader with each heroic phrase. Anne’s clarinet both soars and plumbs the depths — shifting rapidly between melody and counter-melody. Meanwhile, I’m navigating the piano score which sometimes takes on the role of “canvas” allowing the other members of the quartet to shine, but also has its own shining, shimmering moments.

Manitou Winds is excited to present this lush and evocative work by Daniel Baldwin for our New Voices concert. We certainly look forward to exploring other works by Daniel in our future programs and hope you’ll join us in May for this one-of-a-kind, musical journey.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Jenni Brandon

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

Because she is a genuine and warmly personable musical personality, we’ve already highlighted composer Jenni Brandon more than once in our musical explorations. First, we whipped up a heartwarming coffee cocktail with Jenni Jenni-Brandonwhile discussing the surprising connection many composers have to coffee. Later, we talked about the challenges of being a modern-day composer while Jenni shared one of her favorite vegetarian breakfasts.

Now that we’re finally able to program one of Jenni’s works, I’ve recently been chatting with her about her work as a composer, looking for special insights into her unique style. “I come from a background of singing.” she says. “I love singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos who were a big influence as I grew up doing a lot of my own coffee shop performances.” In the realm of Classical music, Jenni says she takes particular inspiration from Samuel Barber, Johnannes Brahms, Randall Thompson, and Morten Lauridsen.

Though Jenni composes music for many different combinations of instruments and voices, she says there’s a special place in her heart for choral music. Like many composers hoping to get their works performed, she often writes for special commissions — choirs or ensembles who present her with a specific request. Though these specific assignments can sometimes stretch a composer’s abilities to work under artistic constraints, she says she takes it all in stride, “I take on each commission with a fresh perspective and enjoy the story I can tell with each new Jenni Brandonproject.” When asked if she has a least favorite instrument or ensemble to write for, she insists she enjoys them all. “I’ll add a ‘most unusual’ to this,” she said, “I recently premiered a work for Flute Orchestra (piccolos all the way down to contrabass flute!) with SATB choir. It was a fun piece to write as I’d never written for so many flutes at once to play!”

At the moment, among other projects, Jenni’s working on an exciting oboe/bassoon duet (another special commission) which will be premiered this summer at the International Double Reed Society Conference. The duet will be a musical depiction of Glacier National Park. Jenni certainly has many irons in the fire — there’s even talk of a new opera!

Naturally, I’m excited to finally perform one of Jenni’s double reed works, On Holt Avenue (2006) for Oboe & Piano, at our upcoming concert. A four-movement sonata, each movement presents a small vignette from Jenni’s memories of daily life in her apartment in a particular Los Angeles neighborhood. Though in our program we only have time for three of the four beautiful movements, I tried to select the most contrasting scenes.

On Holt Avenue

Jenni says she’s recently switched to decaf, but the opening movement (Morning Coffee) is a stimulating, caffeinated experience — the melody shedding beats, growing jittery, and rising higher and higher before hitting that inevitable crash that always follows a caffeine buzz. The third movement (That Mockingbird) is a nod to Jenni’s feathered friend who kept her company ad nauseum just outside the window. The Jason McKinneyoboe’s lines shift, alternating between tender and song-like to harsh and grating — like a mockingbird imitating the songs of fellow birds and then the man-made sounds of the cityscape! The fourth movement (Daisies) paints a calming, beautiful still life of a vase of daisies sitting in a sunny backdrop.

I’m honored to present this evocative oboe sonata and even more thrilled to be working with our special guest, Susan Snyder, collaborative pianist at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Susan’s interpretation of Jenni’s piano score makes the colors of these vignettes truly sparkle. I hope you can join us for a stroll on Holt Avenue this May.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Bonnie L. Cochran

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

Many composers have the uncomfortable (or some would say blissfully ignorant) task of writing music for instruments they do not themselves play. In terms of music written for full orchestra or wind ensemble, it’s especially understandable considering the number of instruments represented. The most successful of chamber music composers, however, often write music featuring at least one of the instruments they know intimately. Bonnie L. CochranSuch is the case with Bonnie L. Cochran (b. 1975) whose catalog of compositions explores the many voices of the flute.

Bonnie grew up in Georgia and began composing music around the age of 12, but did not formally study composition until attending college and university where she eventually studied with John Heiss, John Clement Adams, Larry Bell, and Ronald Byrnside. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Religious Studies from Agnes Scott College (Decatur, GA) and a Master of Music in Flute Performance from Boston Conservatory.

Perhaps the biggest impetus for her composing in recent years has been the formation of the Amaryllis Chamber Ensemble; an ensemble which she founded. The ensemble (a mix of violin, viola, cello, harp, and Bonnie’s flute) performs workshops and outreach programs as well as special events and concert appearances in and around the greater Boston area.

While searching for music for our New Voices program, finding Bonnie’s music was a happy surprise. The flute is capable of so many modern special effects and extended techniques (too many to list here!) that a large swath of modern flute music tends to explore these extra-musical sounds and effects rather than drawing the listener in with an intriguing melody. Bonnie’s music manages to be undeniably modern and yet unquestionably musical and so I knew her Suite for Flute & Piano (2003) would be an excellent fit for our concert.

The suite contains three movements and Bonnie says the melodies and especially the forms within the work evolved into their present form over the course of 6-8 years.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

— William Blake (1757-1827)

Movement one (A Dying Rose) was inspired by Blake’s “The Sick Rose” — a text which Bonnie says both fascinated and haunted her from the moment she was first introduced to it. She says she originally intended the theme to be a piece for vocalist and piano however she gave into the urge to play it on her own instrument and so she can’t hear it any other way.

Movement two (Meditation) is “reflective in nature, a little sad, yet hopeful,” says Bonnie. Like many aspects of programmatic music, the colors and inflections of the harmony — though interpreted as exactingly as the composer penned them — can sometimes strike the performer or an audience member in different ways.

Sam ClarkSam Clark, Manitou Winds’ flutist, said that the title of “Meditation” originally seemed odd to her since the chromatic melodic lines drawn by flute seemed to suggest anxiety or distraction. Once she was in rehearsal with Susan Snyder, our guest pianist for New Voices, she realized the movement does reach a state of meditative peace in the last few measures with the aid of colors added by the piano.

In contrast to the more enigmatic and somewhat somber themes in the first two movements, the final movement of the suite (Little Dance) is “a light-hearted romp” according to Bonnie. While the first two movements of the suite explore the dark and breathy bottom register of the flute, the third movement travels higher and higher as the dance progresses. Sam and I agree that the third movement is both graceful and spontaneous — not unlike the dancing of an exuberant, young ballerina in training. Oh — and there is a surprise ending: one last flourish as the flutist graces up to a high A (the very highest note in the entire suite).

Three contrasting scenes combined into one fascinating little suite… we look forward to sharing Bonnie’s remarkable piece with our audience, this May.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Deborah J. Anderson

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

I happened across the music of Deborah J. Anderson (b. 1950), last fall, by pure chance. I was searching for a modern piece for our clarinetist, Anne Bara, but was having difficulty finding something that fit the mood of the program. So, as creative director, I Deborah J. Andersondecided to go in a different direction. I read a brief description of Deborah’s Five Songs for Kathleen for oboe, mezzo-soprano, and piano and decided to investigate further. To my delight, I was soon having a very cordial e-mail exchange with Deborah who gave me permission to transcribe the oboe part for clarinet.

Deborah says she began composing music around the age of six while growing up in Tacoma, Washington, but never pursued music or composition in academia. Though her schooling was primarily in French and language instruction, her catalog of compositions reveals a consummate musician with a unique flair for combining musical colors.

Five Songs for Kathleen (2007) is a brilliant song cycle combining the often bittersweet imagery of the poets’ lines with Deborah’s signature warm and graceful melodic writing.

Winter Sun

There was a bush with scarlet berries,
And there were hemlocks heaped with snow,
With a sound like surf on long sea-beaches
They took the wind and let it go.

The hills were shining in their samite,
Fold after fold they flowed away;
“Let come what may,” your eyes were saying,
“At least we two have had to-day.”

— Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Alhambra Summer Palace by Deborah J. AndersonI asked Deborah about the backstory of the song cycle. It turns out it was a surprise gift for a long-time friend from college. “Kathleen is a retired opera singer whom I met many years ago when we were both freshmen at Lawrence University.” Deborah says, “At one point, Kathleen found it difficult to maintain her singing career while balancing family life. I composed Five Songs for Kathleen to encourage her.”

The cycle brings to life the poetry of Sara Teasdale, Emily Dickinson, and Sheila Nickerson with the added bonus of a small poem written by Deborah, herself, entitled “Swift Feet”.

Adding this song cycle to our program has given us a unique opportunity to work with the talented Claire Olinik, soprano soloist from the Traverse City area. Claire says that she’s always loved the poetry of Sara Teasdale and Emily Dickinson. When asked to pick her favorite song from the cycle, she says she would have to choose Dickinson’s “No Surprise”.

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

— Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Five Songs for Kathleen

“The poetry is so heartbreaking, yet matter-of-fact.” said Claire, “It’s been fun to play with those tones and try to find a balance.”

Rehearsal for this song cycle has also been a rewarding musical opportunity as we’ve enlisted the talents of Susan Snyder, collaborative pianist at Interlochen Center for the Arts, to bring Deborah’s Old World Echoes by Deborah J. Andersonpiano score to life. Susan’s interpretation enlivens the poetry further and allows the colorful duet of soprano and clarinet to soar.

Anne admits she initially worried the timbre of the clarinet would differ too greatly from what was originally scored for oboe, but she’s now in love with her part. While each song offers a chance for the clarinet to shine, certainly the most virtuosic moment is in Deborah’s setting of “Dolphin” by Sheila Nickerson. It features “dolphin calls” for both the soprano and the clarinet along with florid passages running up and down the instrument’s range — a colorful and vivid delight.

It would certainly be remiss to not convey what an inspiring experience it has been to work with a female composer who has set to music the texts of female poets. Likewise, it has also been a unique opportunity to place this special music in the hands of three very masterful women — together, perhaps, giving at least a modicum of long overdue vindication to the countless female composers who were overshadowed or suppressed throughout history.

Anne Bara, Claire Olinik, Susan Snyder

We look forward to sharing Deborah J. Anderson’s lovely song cycle with our audience this May and hope to explore more of her compositions in future programs.

Note: The beautiful watercolor paintings you see in this article were created by the composer, Deborah J. Anderson.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: The Art of Collaboration

One of the aspects we enjoy most about putting together one of our seasonal concerts (other than the music itself) is the opportunity to collaborate with one of the talented local artists in our area of Northern Michigan. But, what does it mean to “collaborate” with another artist — especially when you work in a completely different medium?

Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery Manitou Winds

Honestly, with each collaboration we participate in, it means something a little different; it all depends on the artist, their work, and their eagerness to engage with a bunch of musicians!

For our May 1st concert (New Voices), we were hoping to find an artist in the Benzie County area. Not only would this make their collaboration more accessible to the concert venue, but it would help Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallerygive our whole program a firmer grounding in the Benzie area. We were very fortunate, then, to come across the artwork of Ellie Harold of Frankfort.

Though Ellie is originally from Atlanta, like so many others, she visited Northern Michigan and quickly gave into its powerful charm. Within a year of her visit, she bought property and began putting down roots in Frankfort! Her home — an 1895 Victorian house in Frankfort’s historic district she and her husband have lovingly restored — is also her art studio and gallery.

Ellie Harold“For me it’s important to have a place to ground myself, but it also serves as a springboard for exploring a larger arena. Likewise, as the music of ‘New Voices’ draws inspiration from a personal experience or a local scene, as an artistic expression it also extends its influence much farther afield.” — Ellie Harold

Grounded in the beauty of Northern Michigan, Ellie’s art recently reached a very large audience in February 2016 when one of her paintings (Morning Light) was selected for the Prince Street Gallery‘s 8th National Juried Exhibition in New York City. Ellie was one of only 64 artists whose work was chosen from over 700 submissions for the juried event.

Though her artwork often has a certain representational quality, the colors and techniques she employs result in an image that goes beyond mere representational art. A glimpse of the Lake Ellie Harold Art Studio & GalleryMichigan coastline, for example, becomes alive with shades of colors and angular figures — evoking not only the image perceived by the eye, but also the colors and shades of human emotion. One can almost hear the music!

We toured Ellie’s gallery earlier this spring, hoping to learn more about her art and to also find one of her paintings that would adorn our concert poster. Finding a work that spoke to our theme of New Voices was not difficult at all. Narrowing our selection down to the perfect choice took some doing, however!

Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery

Up North Jewelscape is the perfect visual complement to the music for New Voices because it blends the familiar with the abstract and unexplored. Like Ellie’s beautiful landscape, our concert will guide the audience on a journey — to places both real and UpNorthJewelscape, © 2015 Ellie Haroldimaginary, past and future. According to Ellie, the “painting refers to elements I appreciate in the Lake Michigan shoreline but was also inspired by a trip I took to Paris last year. To me it’s a joyful and intuitive painting that celebrates nature and the visual play of complementary and secondary hues. I like that several birds have landed in the branches of those colorful trees.”

Manitou Winds recently visited with Ellie to unveil our concert poster design and to talk a bit more about art, music, and where our two mediums intersect. Like a few of the composers on our concert program, Ellie has very modest formal training in her art. Instead, her works are the result of patient and careful learning by experience. Her artistic philosophy is rooted in her understanding and experience of art as meditation. It’s proven to be a self-reflective practice, a way for her to understand herself.

New Voices Concert Poster

While putting together the program for New Voices we’ve found a few composers who feel the same: their work is the result of an exploration of their subject, not a mere academic application of composition technique. A textbook, after all, cannot explain how to write a piece of music that will paint a perfect still life of red daisies in a silver vase on a table in a sunny kitchen nook; or tell the story of majestic but broken wings being mended by careful and loving hands.

Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery Ellie Harold

Ellie Harold

Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery The Art of Collaboration

As a result of our collaboration for this concert, Ellie and Manitou Winds are eager to discuss future projects. Among the possibilities is the creation of a series of paintings inspired by an original composition. Artists of varied art forms have always managed to inspire one another to create. Ellie’s approach to the canvas resonates with me and my Ellie Harold Art Studio & Galleryown approach to composition. As we both love the landscapes of Northern Michigan, I expect our inspiration for a future project will be easy to find.

As part of the collaboration, Ellie Harold will display select paintings in a special exhibition at the concert venue. Come join us for a glimpse of inspiration on May 1st with New Voices.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

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