Sojourn of Spring: Traveling Mercies

Manitou Winds and guest soloist Thomas Bara will premiere a brand-new work for organ and wind quintet for their upcoming spring concert.

Traveling Mercies, written by Manitou Winds founder Jason McKinney, was completed in January 2018. Composing the work became both an adventure and a learning process.

To tell you more, here’s Jason in his own words:

The idea to write a chamber work for organ first came to me in May 2017 as I sat at Central United Methodist Church, Traverse City, listening to a spectacular organ recital by Bradley Hunter Welch. The organ was not a favorite instrument of mine. I CUMC organ 3had tremendous respect for it (and for organists!), but I had never had a chance to fully understand or experience the instrument.

During the recital, as we were given a tour of the newly renovated organ, I began to connect to the sound. The whole building became an instrument, and we were sitting inside it! I physically felt the raw power of chords, dissonances crashing into consonance, the dynamic contrast from roar to purr. I was amazed how an organist combines timbres as though an entire orchestra were crammed into a single console. Wind players have to come up for air, string players have to reverse their bows, percussionists have to re-strike or keep rolling. But the organ is like a singing mountain, inhaling as it exhales, sending its sound wafting over us like a mist through a forest or cascading down on us like a waterfall. fullsizeoutput_2c3b

The recital had a profound effect on me, musically. It was months before I told anyone, but I left knowing I would write a work for organ someday. Still, there were hurdles to face. For starters, I’d taken it upon myself to write a piece featuring an instrument I’d neither written for nor played before. Frankly, the instrument scares me. Hundreds and hundreds of pipes — some of them quite a bit taller than me!

Before I hoped to compose anything, I had to learn more about this singing mountain. Fortunately, I had the best organ Sherpa anyone could ask for: Thomas Bara! He loaned me reams of organ music and a copy of his album. He fullsizeoutput_2c39performed a personalized organ demonstration, explaining how various musical elements are performed and how all its manuals and stops come into play to create a unified sound. I also learned to speak its language — thumbing a glossary of strange words, discovering what the organ can and cannot do. As I pored over pages of organ repertoire, I realized I needed to understand what the individual organist brings to the music (yet more questions for Mr. Bara!).

The next hurdle was facing the blank page. My last original work was written in 2006 — more than a decade ago! When Manitou Winds came into being in 2014, I delved into my archives to dust off some of my older works, fashioning them into something better than the original. But it had been a long time since I’d faced a truly blank page.

I decided on a gradual approach by first facing smaller blank pages. I sketched musical ideas as they came to me, intuitively. Instead of forcing them into a specific context or direction, I let my mind wander, paying more attention to colors and textures. Once I’d fullsizeoutput_2c34amassed several ideas, I sat down at my piano to play through them, gradually adding harmonies but allowing even those to change whenever I felt them shifting.

Working in this freer style put my imagination into overdrive. Soon, a story about a long journey and a search for deeper meaning began to build itself into the piece taking shape. Before I knew it, I’d reached the final hurdle: sitting at the computer to orchestrate the piece for the entire ensemble (the big blank page)! By this point, I was now more eager than afraid.

The task was akin to inviting friends to a party. Composing and arranging for Manitou Winds, I’ve learned not only the fullsizeoutput_2c37unique qualities each instrument brings to the music, but also each musician’s boundaries. We do occasionally surprise one another, but I’ve come to know by heart what they love to play, what will challenge them, what they will begrudgingly play, and what they cannot play.

While orchestrating, I listened for each part to ring out. Whenever I couldn’t hear an instrument’s distinctive voice, I knew I was likely on the wrong track. I also made certain the organ was an equal part of the ensemble — neither a domineering presence nor merely accompaniment. I wanted it to seem as though Thomas was sitting in a chair next to us, taking part in the conversation rather than far away at a giant console.

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Once finished, I realized this is a tone poem about wanderlust. Hearing the call of adventure, our narrator seeks excitement and wisdom from faraway places, dismissing the concerns and well-meaning advice of loved ones. Life abroad proves to be inspiring and overwhelming, leading our narrator on an introspective journey to find himself. Eventually, the wanderer returns home to find he is forever changed.

The title, Traveling Mercies, came to me while I was still sketching in my notebook. The title has a double meaning: fullsizeoutput_2c35it evokes the special blessing travelers request as protection before embarking on a long journey, and it reminds me of a line from my favorite psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). I’ve always taken comfort in the notion that mercy can be a traveling companion — following us if we allow it.

Rehearsing the new work has been tremendous fun for me. Hearing my friends learn their parts, gathering precision, weaving all the lines together… it’s not unlike watching loved ones open gifts and seeing their unfiltered reaction to what’s hidden beneath the wrappings. After weeks of rehearsing apart, finally getting to add Thomas and the organ to the full ensemble was simply magical.

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Without Thomas Bara and the members of Manitou Winds, this piece would never have been written, and so I’ve dedicated the work to them. I hope you’ll join us for the premiere.

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Don’t miss

Sojourn of Spring

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Saturday, May 12th, at 7:30pm

Central United Methodist Church
222 South Cass Street
Traverse City

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Admission is free.
Freewill offering will benefit scholarships for
Interlochen Arts Academy music students

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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: 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.

2015 Traverse City Film Festival

IMG_3936In July, Manitou Winds was selected from among a large pool of talented musicians to participate in the 2015 Traverse City Film Festival! Musicians from across Northern Michigan — and all across the country — were invited to submit videos and samples for consideration by the festival committee. It was truly an honor to be selected!

Our first performance was at Traverse City’s Clinch Park at The Open Space. As it happened, this was the premiere of our NEO Trio — Sam Clark, Anne Bara, and Jason McKinney. On one of the windiest days in memory, the trio took the stage armed with weighted stands and all manner of safeguards to protect them from the elements — even the film festival crew had to wait to assemble the large outdoor screen due to the windy conditions!

Setting up at Open Space Open Space 2

Open Space 4

Sheet music was airborne several times, Sam’s embouchure and breath support were tested every other measure by the gusts, Anne’s music stand had to be anchored with ballast, and Jason’s harp strings were alive with vibration from the wind — like a Celtic war harp! It was an epic premiere to say the least.

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But, as the crowd assembled and the sun slowly approached the horizon, the trio played nearly an hour of relaxing music which was carried by the gale-force winds to folks near and far. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful venue.

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Next, the trio high-tailed it to the State Theatre for their next performance just 20 minutes later! They were honored to play 30 minutes of repertoire for a full house of movie patrons! It was an unforgettable evening of music which would have been an impossible feat if not for the many film festival volunteers who assisted the trio in getting on and off the stage and swiftly to the next venue. The trio also owes a big thanks to Bill Fromm and James Deaton (our unofficial roadies) who helped load and unload equipment — including Jason’s heavy, not-nearly-as-portable-as-it-looks keyboard.

On July 31st, the Manitou Winds quintet performed for another full house at the Old Town Playhouse. Trios, quartets, quintets — we pulled repertoire from several sources for the performance.

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The Traverse City Film Festival is a volunteer-based festival that accomplishes miraculous feats of logistics and organization each year as festival attendance continues to grow along with the number of film venues. We were proud to be a part of the festival, this year, and hope to have the opportunity again.

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Want to see some video clips of our 2015 TCFF Performances? Visit our Facebook Page for videos, photos, and more!

Encore Winds 25th Anniversary Concert

Encore Winds Manitou Winds’ own Sam Clark, Anne Bara, and Jason McKinney will be performing in Encore Winds’ 25th Anniversary concert with guest conductors Peter Deneen and Nancy Brammer on Sunday, May 17th, 3:00pm at the First Congregational Church in Traverse City.

Also joining with Encore are several guest soloists: Tom Riccobono, trombonist; Harry Goldson, clarinetist; Lynne Church, soprano; and this year’s winner of the Young Artist Concerto Competition. The concert will feature works by Copland, Holst, Gershwin, Rogers & Hammerstein, Sousa, and many more.

It’s going to be a great concert! Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students.

NMC Concert Band

NMC LogoAnne Bara and Jason McKinney of Manitou Winds will be performing with the NMC Concert Band on Friday, April 24th, at 7:30pm in Northwestern Michigan College’s Milliken Auditorium.

Under the enthusiastic direction of Pat Brumbaugh, the ensemble will be performing Tchaikovsky’s epic 1812 Overture — officially heralding the arrival of summer in Northern Michigan. Also in this final concert of the season will be works by Frank Ticheli, Meredith Wilson, John Zdechlik, and many others.

The NMC Concert Band is comprised of talented community members from across Northern Lower Michigan. Come and support the local arts scene! Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults, $5 for children and seniors, and free for NMC students.

NMC Concert Band

NMC LogoAnne Bara, Laura Hood, and Jason McKinney of Manitou Winds will be performing with the NMC Concert Band on Friday, February 27th, at 7:30pm in Northwestern Michigan College’s Milliken Auditorium.

The concert will feature works by Gustav Holst, John Williams, Frank Ticheli, and many others under the direction of Pat Brumbaugh.

The NMC Concert Band is comprised of talented community members from across Northern Lower Michigan. Come and support the local arts scene! Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults, $5 for children and seniors, and free for NMC students.

Encore Winds Concert

Encore Winds Manitou Winds’ own Sam Clark, Anne Bara, and Jason McKinney will be performing in Encore Winds’ upcoming concert “Running On Island Time” with guest conductor Tim Topolewski on Sunday, February 8, 3:00pm at the First Congregational Church in Traverse City.

The concert will feature works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alfred Reed, John Philip Sousa, and many others with a guest appearance by the Petoskey Steel Band conducted by Barry Bennett.

It’s going to be a great concert! Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students.

Stormcloud Brewery

Stormcircle This summer, in an effort to raise community awareness of the Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra and its concerts for the 2015 season, Manitou Winds will be performing on the patio at Frankfort’s Stormcloud Brewing Company.

The brewery’s patrons will be greeted by the sounds of Mozart, Haydn, Ibert, and many others as they enjoy a meal from one of Frankfort’s newest and finest eateries.

Manitou Winds’ own Laura Hood and Jason McKinney are members of the BASO and are excited to invite members of the surrounding community to attend the upcoming 2015 season.

Please stay tuned for specific dates and times — come and join us at Stormcloud!