Sojourn of Spring: Home Away from Home

Performing Craig Phillips’ Sojourn for organ and winds will be an exciting moment in next month’s spring concert.

Commissioned by the American Guild of Organists, Sojourn premiered at their 2010 convention in Washington, D.C. We’re pleased to bring this powerful work to Northern Michigan, backed by the artistry of guest soloist Thomas Bara!

sojourn
1) n. – a temporary stay;
2) v. – to stay as a temporary resident

Because it’s a word seldom heard outside the discussion of lengthy travel plans, sojourn is almost always defined as the act of traveling, or a word indicating a particularly sojournlong or epic journey. In reality, however, it’s simply the act of setting up a temporary home away from home.

As creative director of Manitou Winds, I often find myself speculating about the deeper meaning and sometimes hidden origins of the music we perform. Composers ultimately create their art through music and are seldom in the business of storytelling, so this leaves me with a lot of detective work. Beyond the notes and instructions on the page, beyond the audible details of musical form at the heart of a piece, many musicians want to find an even stronger connection to a piece that touches them. Sometimes we feel we haven’t mastered a piece until we’ve understood why it was written.

Fortunately, when you’re playing music written by living composers, you can get in touch with them and pick their brains for these insights into their work. And so, I e-mailed Craig Phillips recently and asked him for more details about Sojourn.

It was during a February 2008 interview with The Diapason, that Phillips announced he had been awarded a 2010 AGO New Music Commission. As you might imagine, such a prestigious commission carries with it weighty expectations and a deadline! During the interview, he confessed he’d already begun to muse about what he might write.

By the summer of 2009, roughly a year away from the premiere, the work was still in its planning stages. Phillips took a sabbatical from his duties as Director of Music at All Saints’ Church in Beverly Hills to seek a time of rest and renewal — mental space to focus on Alet Les Bains 3his composing. His travels landed him in southern France’s Occitanie region in the little medieval village of Alet-les-Bains where he’d arranged for an extended sojourn. Phillips says the sights and sounds of Alet-les-Bains were direct inspiration for Sojourn.

The village is a charming destination in the region. Hugging the eastern bank of the scenic Aude River, the heart of the hamlet is steeped in history from a tumultuous past, the remnants of which are some of its most popular features.

The ruins of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Alet draw history buffs and photographers alike. The cathedral was destroyed by the Huguenots in 1577 during the early years of the French Wars of Religion in which Catholics and Protestants waged a bloody battle for the throne. The ruins are a fascinating example of Gothic architecture.

Alet Les Bains Cathedral 2 Alet Les Bains Cathedral 1

The town also boasts one of France’s largest sources of mineral water. The water of Alet-les-Bains was first bottled and sold over 120 years ago. Located near a natural hot spring, the town was also famous for its thermal spa. These days, both the bottling and the bathing have ceased commercially, but visitors still find a way to enjoy the water.

Southern France is a summer haven for many, especially writers and artists who take advantage of the slower pace of village life, delicious but simple food, and inspiring scenery set amid easy Alet Les Bains 1solitude. When shutting out modern distractions and interruptions, it becomes easier to access the creative impulse.

“It turns out, that first summer was a turning point in my composition career,” Phillips mentioned. “I have returned to the same village each summer since for a time of concentrated composing. I find it to be a place of inspiration and renewal each year.”

Clearly he’s onto something! Sojourn, his 2010 commission, was received with critical acclaim. Then, in 2012 he received another AGO New Music Commission and was awarded the American Guild of Organists’ Distinguished Composer Award, putting him among the ranks of composers such as Stephen Paulus, Richard Proulx, and Alet Les Bains 2Virgil Thompson. To date, Phillips has published over 125 works.

While a summer’s sojourn in France may be out of the question for some of us, the value of respite and quiet remains universal and an integral part of tapping into one’s own creativity. We often think of a sojourn as a distant home away from home, but it can be as close as a favorite nook on the back porch or a quiet cove in the nearby woods or a spot at the water’s edge at your favorite beach. Sojourn can be a state of mind!

We invite you to experience this remarkable work at our upcoming spring concert. Come along as we witness the sights and sounds of Alet-les-Bains.

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Don’t miss

Sojourn of Spring

______________________________________

Saturday, May 12th, at 7:30pm

Central United Methodist Church
222 South Cass Street
Traverse City

____________

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

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Sojourn of Spring: The Art of Collaboration

For our 2018 spring concert, Manitou Winds welcomes spring’s brief sojourn to Northern Michigan with music and poetry celebrating the wandering spirit.

Special guest organist Thomas Bara will join us onstage for two exciting works for organ and winds.

Despite its small size, the organ studio at Interlochen Arts Academy is thoroughly alive and continues to thrive thanks to the support and devoted Tom Baraservice of instructor Thomas Bara.

It’s true that organs are large, costly, and rarely found in the average home, but the reason organ students are a rare commodity is multifaceted. “For better or for worse, the organ is historically linked to the music of the church,” says Thomas. “Before the prevalence of amplified music, organ played a pivotal role in most congregational worship, so the pool of people exposed to the instrument was larger than it is today.”

With fewer people counting themselves as regular churchgoers, and some churches removing their organs or letting them fall into disrepair, the organ faces a shrinking opportunity to make an impression on budding musicians. Still, Thomas insists this is not an insurmountable challenge.

Thanks to the Internet and various forms of social media, it’s actually easier than ever for organists, composers, and would-be organ students to find one another. “Many of the young people attracted to organ, today, are drawn in by the dynamic body of work now posted online. They have instant access to the most dramatic organs and charismatic performers,” says Thomas. “I would say that finding dedicated students is still a challenge; I wouldn’t say the challenge is growing, but my students are coming from a different place than when I began teaching.”

Organists can sprout up almost anywhere, and Thomas is living proof of that! Although he came from a musical family where everyone loved singing, he grew up on a pick-your-own strawberry farm far away from his classically trained relatives. Life on the farm fostered a love of mechanical things and fed his penchant for problem-solving, as there was always something needing to be CUMC organ 1fixed. “Embarrassingly, my entry point into music was all of the organ’s gizmos and thing-a-ma-gigs,” admits Thomas. “I loved all of the keyboards and buttons… the ultimate mechanical marvel that also sounds cool!”

“The organ in the church I grew up in was in clear view of the congregation,” he remembers. “I always picked my seat so I could watch the organist during the service.” Not surprisingly, it was a church organist (John O’Brien) who eventually became Thomas’ first music teacher. Though he wanted to hop right on the organ bench, he was first required to learn piano.

He went on to study at Interlochen Arts Academy and then earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the Eastman School of Music, where he received the prestigious Performance Certificate and the first Harold Gleason Emerging Artist Award. Having performed as both an acclaimed soloist and accompanist in New York, Copenhagen, Cambridge, and IAC Organ Instruction 1London, Thomas has returned to Interlochen where he masterfully trains students, most of whom go on to attain impressive accolades and performance positions.

Asked if teaching organ might be different than teaching other instruments, Thomas says he believes all instruments require basically the same core values in both teachers and students. “The traits I work to model and champion for my students are passion and individuality,” he explains. “Passion drives us to work hard, to strive to learn as much as we can, and to do the dirty work even when we don’t feel like it. Passion motivates us to leave our comfort zones and to try again after we fail. Passion goes hand-in-hand with individuality, so I do not believe in doling out the ‘definitive’ interpretation of pieces. I want my students to invest themselves in the music and commit to IAC Organ Instruction 2their ideas.”

While the organ may not be as familiar to concert audiences (especially chamber music audiences) as it once was, organists know firsthand it is surprisingly versatile, adding color and richness no other instrument can provide. Thomas admits there are cringe-inducing misconceptions about the organ and what it’s like to play it. “Any guesses how many times I get asked to play ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Come on Baby, Light My Fire’?” he laughs. “People often identify the organ with loud, spooky chords full of clamorous harmonics — that, or the Hammond B-3. Truth is, the organ is extremely versatile. It can cover everything from super-soft pianissimos to towering fortes. I love surprising people with how great the organ can be as a collaborative instrument.”

Great musicians can often discover new insights even within familiar repertoire as they return to those pieces over the years. When Thomas joins Manitou Winds next month, CUMC organ 2however, he’ll be premiering a brand-new work for organ and wind quintet written by Manitou Winds founder, Jason McKinney. There will be more on this collaboration in a future article.

Interpreting a piece of music with absolutely no performance history demands a creative spirit and an adventurous musicality. “More and more, I want to feel like I’m presenting a piece as a fellow composer — someone who understands intimately how a piece is put together,” he says. “With any music, new or old, I want to find the inherent genius in it and find a way to move the audience to experience it as I do.”

We’re confident the concert and premiere will be a splendid event thanks to Thomas’ masterful interpretation and his sensitive collaboration with the musicians of Manitou Winds. We hope you’ll join us to experience this celebration of spring and the wandering spirit.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Sojourn of Spring

______________________________________

Saturday, May 12th, at 7:30pm

Central United Methodist Church
222 South Cass Street
Traverse City

____________

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

Winter Songs & Carols: Our 2017 Concert Program

Thank you to everyone who came to hear Manitou Winds’ 2017 Winter Songs & Carols program. Each year, we put together a unique collection of songs in various styles performed on many different instruments to inspire you to embrace the entire season of winter.

2017 Winter Songs & Carols

2017 Winter Songs & Carols

This year, our theme examined winter as a gateway to hope and renewal. We incorporated music and the spoken word to present an emotional but uplifting program — a message of hope to those who may be having trouble feeling jolly this season.

Our concert was performed Saturday, December 2nd, at Grace Episcopal Church, Traverse City and Friday, December 8th, at The Leelanau School, Glen Arbor. For both performances of this extra special program, we were honored to be joined by three very talented guests: Jan Ross, reader; Christy Burich, soprano; and Emily Curtin Culler, soprano.

To make the concert feel more intimate and personal, we chose not to list the musical selections in the program. Now that our performances are completed, we’re delighted to share all the details with you.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PROGRAM LISTING

We’re so very excited to announce our December 2nd performance will be broadcast on Interlochen Public Radio on Christmas Day at 4:00pm (Eastern Standard Time). Follow this link to listen to the broadcast. Just follow the link on Christmas Day, and click the button at the top to listen live!

If you have any questions about this or any of the programs we present, please contact us or send us a message on Facebook. Or, just come up and talk to us after a performance! We hope to see you in one of our concerts in 2018!

 

Winter Songs & Carols: There’s Still My Joy

fullsizeoutput_dbe“One tiny child can save the world
One shining light can show the way
Beyond these tears for what I’ve lost
There’s still my joy for Christmas Day.”

— from There’s Still My Joy by Beth Nielsen Chapman

If you’ve attended a recent musical production at Traverse City’s Old Town Playhouse, or if you attended 2016’s Winter Songs & Carols concert, Christy Burich is probably already a familiar face and unmistakable voice. She puts so much energy and feeling behind her voice and Christy Burichonto the stage, it’s hard to forget the experience.

While working with Christy in rehearsals for last year’s concert, she mentioned she’d always wanted to create a concert or an album to help those who may be suffering through grief — a program about hope, healing, and renewal.

My eyes widened as I quickly told her it was a theme I’d considered for our 2017 Winter Songs & Carols concert. I’d been afraid to mention my idea to anyone because I had serious doubts about putting together such a program. I reasoned our audience expects a reflective but generally light-hearted evening of music. How would we explain a holiday concert that touches on grief and loss? Thankfully, after our chance conversation, I began a collaboration with Christy over the following year in which I learned about her journey through grief and healing. Eventually, I realized my fears about this project were very short-sighted.

In 2013, Christy’s husband Larry passed away after a year-long battle with a very rare form of cancer. “From the very night Larry passed, I began a conversation with him on paper,” Christy says. “I was emptying my heart of all the pain and sadness — my longing to see him, my Larry & Christypleading for forgiveness for my anger at his leaving. I would pause, listen, and just wait for words and answers to come.”

Christy says a lot of her healing came through journaling and painting. “Some say my life is an open book — I’ve never been able to contain my feelings,” she says. “But, I believe that’s what makes me an artist: the desire, the need to express my feelings through art, song, or monologue. For me, art is a way to fully acknowledge, honor, and release my emotions. When I’m vulnerable with an audience — big or small — I feel a sense of Oneness, that our souls are deeply connected.”

This year’s program was created by pairing writings from Christy’s personal journals with a carefully-curated program of music. Though the holiday season often asks those who are grieving to hide their feelings of emptiness and uncertainty, we’re hoping our unique program will invite everyone to the holiday table to explore the season of winter as a time of peace, healing, and renewal. I talked with Christy, recently, about her collaboration with Manitou Winds, for our 2017 Winter Songs & Carols program.

Being an artist and a vocalist, it makes sense you’d feel drawn to music as a means of expression and a way to explore your grief journey. Do you remember the moment when the idea of a concert like this started to take shape for you?

Not too long after Larry’s passing, I realized I had two choices: either live a full and vibrant IMG_2751life, or be swallowed up by grief simply waiting to die. I eventually chose to live fully. In part, my decision was inspired by my stepson who was just 13 years old when his father died. I realized if he could honor his father’s memory by consistently rising up, giving life his very best, then I could too! His determination to create something good from our loss is what inspired me.

In the deepest struggles of my journey, I was comforted by the writings of wise and inspired authors, and also through the personal stories of others who were taking part in grief support groups. Grateful for their support, I knew even early on I’d want to someday be that support for others. That’s when I began to have a vision of a healing concert.

I’ll never forget the moment when we were talking after rehearsal, last year, and we realized we’d both had this same idea about a concert to comfort and heal. Did it surprise you when I told you I’d been creating a holiday-themed concert?

I never imagined it would be during the holidays, but it all seems to be Divine timing! Larry and I were married just two days after Christmas — it was our favorite season! Since his passing, the holidays, our anniversary, and Larry’s birthday following New Year’s Day have always been hard to endure. The whole season of winter can be especially hard for those missing a loved one. While I hadn’t pictured it, I think that’s why this concert is happening during winter and the holidays.

IMG_2490Part of the program we’ve put together is a monologue taking you and the audience all the way back to the beginning of your grief journey: the night Larry passed away. When we discussed using these particular pieces of writing, I remember asking you if you’d be able to get through the performance.

I’ve still got friends and family wondering the same thing! I feel like rejoicing when I tell them my strength is coming from the lasting and loving connection I still have with Larry. I don’t feel alone in this; I am so grateful to God and the Angels for this very auspicious opportunity to perform and share.

You’ll be reliving a very personal, painful time in front of an audience — entering into that vulnerability you’ve mentioned earlier. What sort of message are you hoping will stick with those who attend?

For all of us, I want this concert be a time of remembrance and unity with our loved ones. I also want to show there is healing beyond grief and give assurance that Love Never Dies! I’ve learned through my journey that our relationships continue in spirit. The connections we share are still real although they have changed. Perhaps, in some ways, we become more intimately connected than before. Our loved ones are only a thought away. Wherever we go, they are there guiding, loving, and protecting us. Always.

Without giving any spoilers, what do you think will be your favorite part of the program?

There’s a song toward the end of the program that happens to be Larry’s favorite song. It carries a beautiful and encouraging message. I sang it to him many times when he was ill, and over the years it has shown up in my own life at different times, bringing fullsizeoutput_e0aan unexpected smile. I know I’m going to enjoy singing those words to him, again, and to our audience.

Collaborating with Christy for this year’s special program has been an honor and a treasured experience. We admire her bravery and strength in sharing this difficult journey with our audience, and we’re grateful our music can be a part of that experience. It has been a memorable experience for each of us. Along the way, there have been many moments during rehearsal when one or all of us have been choking back tears. Thankfully, just moments later we’ve also been brought to tears of laughter while gathered around the table sharing (embarrassing) stories and comfort foods.

As musicians, we are sometimes handed the burden and privilege of sharing music during difficult moments in people’s lives. Emotionally, that strain can be difficult to bear, but having music in those moments as a tangible means of expression can embolden us, strengthening us when words alone might fail. The message of our concert this December is one of hope and healing. We hope you can join us.

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Don’t miss

Winter Songs & Carols

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Saturday, December 2nd, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

___________________

Friday, December 8th, at 7:30pm

The Leelanau School
1 Old Homestead Rd.
Glen Arbor

____________

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

Winter Songs & Carols: What the Stars Saw on the Prairie

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

— Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
from The Rest is Noise

When my paternal grandmother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in December 2005, I had recently moved to Chicago and was unable to travel back to Louisiana to attend her services. Having been Jason, his father, and his grandmotherdenied the chance to say goodbye was probably what sharpened my grief the most.

Her bear hugs were now out of reach, but it was a comfort to know our hearts could still communicate across any distance. She lived her whole life in Louisiana, rarely traveling more than 2 hours from home. Now freed from her earthly entanglements, I envisioned her flying effortlessly with her angel wings all the way to Chicago to say goodbye — a beautiful, healing journey before rising to take her place in the stars to watch over us.

A few years later, I was listening to music in my cubicle at work when I suddenly realized I was holding back tears. From an album entitled “A Handfull of Quietness” by Kathleen Ryan, a piano solo named What the Stars Saw on the Prairie instantly brought me back to that vision of my grandmother’s journey. I bought the mp3 and listened to it frequently; each time, it brought more comfort to me.

WinterNight

Eventually, I decided to take a bold step and try to perform this piece. I went to Kathleen’s website, but to my dismay the sheet music was not offered. Checking back several times over the course of a year, I finally built up the courage to write to her personally to ask for the music:

“… For some reason — perhaps the combination of the sound of this piece and its programmatic title — this music brings me back to that time when I had to reconcile the death of a close loved one with the knowledge that she would still be looking down on me from above. It’s a very healing piece for me, personally. Her powerful but gentle presence, I feel, is within those harmonies you put together. If you could please consider releasing the sheet music someday, I’d be very grateful.”

To my delight and surprise, Kathleen wrote back the very same day:

“Thank you so much for your very kind words. I am very touched that you find What the Stars Saw on the Prairie to be healing and to be a reminder of your grandmother. It is a very special piece for me, too, possibly my favorite of everything I’ve created. “Powerful but gentle” is indeed what that piece means to me; your grandmother must have been someone quite special.

… I’m just lazy about writing music down (happily I have a good memory!) and What the Stars Saw on the Prairie is just complex enough that I haven’t faced it yet. But since I know you would like to play it, I’ll make it the next one to be notated, how’s that?”

And so began a very meaningful collaboration with Kathleen. She wrote to me, occasionally, giving me updates on her progress of notating the piece. A rather big complication arose when just a few months after we got in touch she broke her left wrist and was unable to play for some time. Being unable able to play, notating it became impossible.

Thankfully, Kathleen persevered. Then, when Jason McKinneythe music was finally in front of me, I became faced with a tall task of my own: learning what turned out to be quite a complex piano solo — the most technically-challenging piece I’d ever attempted to play! Learning to perform it became another way of connecting with the music and with my grandmother’s memory. It took over a year, but I eventually got up the nerve to perform it for a small home recital in 2013.

Honestly, I figured this was the end of my relationship with this piece of music: I’d faced the challenge and successfully performed it. But, when I began compiling pieces for this year’s Winter Songs & Carols concert with the theme of “grief, loss, healing, & renewal” in mind, I gradually came upon the idea of arranging Kathleen’s piece for winds and piano. I saw it as an opportunity to draw out even more of the colors What the Stars Saw on the PrairieKathleen had put into the work while reconnecting with the deep meaning the piece holds for me.

I wrote to her to explain my idea, and she kindly consented to let me tinker with her creation. Over the course of a few weeks, we passed drafts of the score back and forth until we were both pleased. The new arrangement is now officially available for sale (an exciting first for me), and will have its premiere at our concert this December!

I’m deeply grateful to Kathleen for her support and generosity during this entire experience: it’s no trivial matter to turn your music over to someone else’s imagination! I’m also grateful to Manitou Manitou WindsWinds. Rehearsing this has been an intense, emotional delight; their musicianship bringing these lines to life.

Collaborating for this project reminded me what little control we have as composers, arrangers, and musicians over the effect our music will have on each listener — and how wonderful it is to not have control of that! Music reaches out to each of us in unique and surprising ways, touching our hearts even amidst times of grief when words remain hopelessly out of reach.

I hope you can join us for this year’s Winter Songs & Carols concert — a special evening we’re dedicating to those who may be experiencing difficult times this holiday season.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Winter Songs & Carols

______________________________________

Saturday, December 2nd, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

___________________

Friday, December 8th, at 7:30pm

The Leelanau School
1 Old Homestead Rd.
Glen Arbor

____________

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

Music Speaks: Dancing in the Sky

In our 2017 spring concert,

Rogers Road by Margie Guyot

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

Our concert, May 27th, will showcase music from many different genres and styles — from traditional wind quintets in the Classical tradition to modern works and American folk tunes for all sorts of combinations of instruments. While the oldest work on the program premiered in 1830, the newest work will be receiving its world premiere!

We’re very excited and honored to premiere another chamber work by our friend and fellow ensemble member, Laura Hood. In her latest work, Sky Dance, Laura composed both the music and the lyrics, arranging for flute, clarinet, ukulele, guitar, harp, and a very special mother-daughter vocal duet (sung by Laura and her daughter, Jessie Hood).

I recently chatted with Laura about her latest chamber work to get some insider information on the upcoming premiere:

So, where did you get the inspiration for this new piece? Are there any particular memories attached to Sky Dance?

The basic song structure was actually written over ten years ago. I was on a spring camping trip with some Leelanau School students on North Manitou Island. We’d all just finished a very intimate, moving council on gratitude, and I was sitting on the beach, watching the light change during sunset. That’s when I first jotted down some of the main lyrical ideas in my little journal.

“So quietly, in the gentle hour,
IMG_5299the hour of blue,
When the sky meets the earth, and where they join, there is you.
Suspensions of the day, they are resolved, the root holds on and the tonic remains true.”

— from Sky Dance
Laura Hood (b. 1961)

Our concert program explores the connection between music and words. Several lines from your lyrics marry musical terms with natural imagery — I love the masterful mixing of metaphors you’ve made here! A lot of the music on the concert program tells a story or evokes a specific scene. Were you also hoping to tell a story or paint a scene with this piece?

I think of it as more of a scene than a story. The first part of Sky Dance is about the tender and intimate moments of dusk; the delicate transition between light and darkness. It’s about this fine line where everything becomes very real. I wanted the vocal lines here to be subtle and low, so the supporting instrumentation is quite transparent too. Then the song transitions into the safety and celebration of nighttime — a dance party with the Aurora Borealis. Here, everyone is playing in a fun 5/4 time — each instrument and the voices all have their own part to play in the celebration.

As I was working on the scoring, my husband Bruce shared with me a chapter from The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, called “Sky Dance”. It was about the intricate mating ritual dance the woodcock does in springtime right at dusk. The male bird establishes his territory on the ground, spirals up into the sky, and then tumbles back to the ground to begin again. It’s just be another example of the kind of magic happening during those precious moments of transition at the end of the day.

Sky Dance“Let the night enfold you.
Let it lift you into the sky.
In darkness all of your shadows disappear,
your soul is free, no chains of fear.
And you can dance and you can sing.”

— from Sky Dance
Laura Hood

You mentioned this piece began over ten years ago. I imagine time has changed some of the meaning of the lyrics for you — probably also the music itself. While scoring it for a chamber group, did you find translating that original vision into printed music a challenge? Did it change your vision?

It was a fun challenge to score one of my songs for a group rather than just solo guitar and voice. First of all, I had to notate the vocal parts which are very unstructured and folk-y. That was probably the hardest part and — at times — it felt like I was First Flightputting my melody into a box where it didn’t belong.

The flute and clarinet parts added a whole new challenge and dimension to the song — possibilities I had not thought about before. Since I’m a brass player, it took me a couple of tries to write parts that were not only fun for Sam and Anne to play, but also helped to create the sound I was hoping for.

Then came the harp part, which I usually approach much like a bass part (but with many possibilities for pizzaz). I knew that if I gave you a chord structure, you would come up with something cool more or less on your own, so all I had to provide was an outline for the harp.

Maybe rather than changing, I guess you could say your vision expanded! Performing your music is always such a treat because the music is challenging and yet not nearly so rigid as typical chamber music. We’re often invited to change our parts in subtle and not-so-subtle ways — there’s definitely that element of improvisation you naturally expect of us!

I feel so fortunate to work with you, Sam, and Anne. You’re able to play anything I write, you’re willing to give me suggestions, add your own ideas to the music. It was an amazing process to hear the notes I wrote on a piece of paper just spring to life, creating what I think is a really cool piece. I feel humbled and honored by this whole process.

The honor is certainly ours! We’re grateful you share your music with us — not to mention your great horn and guitar playing! For this upcoming concert, our audience will also get to hear Da Sista Hood with Jason Mudgettyou sing for the first time — your daughter Jessie, as well, will be performing with us for the first time. Can you tell us more about your musical work with Jessie?

Jessie and I have been playing music together for about three years as Da Sista Hood, playing at local establishments and for events and fundraisers in the area. It’s been fun to work as musical colleagues, creating the sweet harmonies that just come from blending voices of the same family. Matching tone and timbre just comes Da Sista Hood with Jason Mudgettnaturally for mother and daughter, so we’re able to focus on the sweetness of the harmonies, our inflection and interpretation of the lines. I’m continuously amazed by Jessie’s poise, her musicianship, and her ability to learn new material. I’m of course very proud of her and thankful for opportunities to share music together — including this premiere performance.

We hope you’ll join us for this one-of-a-kind premiere of another original work by Laura Hood.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

______________________________________

Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

____________

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken

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.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

______________________________________

Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

____________

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.

Music Speaks: A Bunch of Nonsense?

In our 2017 spring concert,

Rogers Road by Margie Guyot

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

We’ve been discussing for the past few weeks how music can enliven poetry and prose — bringing out hidden meanings from the words, engaging the listener beyond what the naked words ever could. But, when the words are basically nonsense, can the reverse occur? Can a composer use words to play with music rather than using music to play with words?

I happened upon Two Songs for Tenor and Wind Quintet and the music of David Jones (b. 1990) while Manitou Winds was still in rehearsal for our debut appearance in 2015. My chance encounter was David Jones, composerthanks to the modern wonders of internet searching. I was brainstorming for ideas and asked the ether of cyberspace for music written for vocalist and wind quintet. Thanks to the internet, discovering undiscovered and unpublished student composers is easier than ever.

David was about to graduate with his Bachelor of Musical Arts in Composition from Brigham Young University-Idaho when I first got in touch with him back in 2015. He’s now received his Master of Music Composition and is presently a graduate teaching assistant at BYU in Provo, Utah. Among his influences, he credits Stravinsky, Debussy, Hindemith, and Holst for shaping his motive-driven style. His brilliant settings of these two songs actually began as a light bit of competition.

“I wrote each of these pieces for two separate art song competition recitals put on by the voice faculty at BYU-Idaho,” David recalled. “The assignment for the first was to write something light or humorous since the recital was being held on April Fools’ Day.”

For a light and humorous subject, David consulted the poetry of Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), selecting Jabberwocky for his text. David says it was the “creative vocabulary” of Carroll’s poetry that initially drew him to it. “The light mood in which Carroll presents what could be considered a fairly dark topic appealed to me, so I sought to capture that in the nature of the music,” David says.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

JabberwockyAnd as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

— “Jabberwocky”
from Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carrol

First published in 1871 as part of Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)), Jabberwocky remains one of the greatest nonsense poems ever written in English. Beneath the surface of the playful Humpty Dumpty & Alicelanguage is a tale of the heroic slaying of a terrifying beast, but somehow it’s the words that stick with folks rather than the gory details.

“It seems very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand!… Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”

— Alice
from Through the Looking-Glass

David’s setting pairs the modern-day wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) with a vocalist armed with Carroll’s playful lexicon. What results is a fantasy tale set to music. Using a central theme presented by the vocalist, David manipulates the timbres of the quintet in inventive ways, altering the theme as needed to further portray the story.

The second song was written under slightly different circumstances: another competition but slightly different rules. All of the composers were required to use the same text: The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (1812-1888).

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Kitty! O Kitty, my love,
What a beautiful Kitty you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Kitty you are!”

The Owl and the Pussycat

Kitty said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

The Owl and the Pussycat (1871)
by Edward Lear

David readily admits he was not terribly fond of the assigned poem initially. Lear’s poem, like Carroll’s, is considered a nonsense poem but — unlike Jabberwocky — the nonsense comes more from the subject of the story and the poet’s whimsical plays on words rather than extensive use of nonsense words.

Students were assigned to use different instruments or sounds to represent various characters from the poem. David uses a central theme to carry the poetry, again, however for the quintet accompaniment he employs even more colorful uses of harmony, dissonance, and instrumentation to mirror events in the poem. In his setting, we hear several quirky harmonies, lop-sided rhythms, and even a few specific animal references (e.g., when the oboist is asked to crow his reed to simulate a pig’s squeal).

We’ve been enjoying rehearsals of these whimsical pieces — delighting in the crunchy harmonies and unexpected twists. For our concert, we’ve enlisted the vocal talents of our special guest, Emily Curtin Culler, soprano. Manitou Winds is delighted to present these two original settings of classic poetry for our Music Speaks concert.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

______________________________________

Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

____________

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken

Music Speaks: One Ambivalent Shepherd

In our 2017 spring concert,

Rogers Road by Margie Guyot

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

Words and music have long been intertwined going back to ancient times and continuing into our modern era of singer-songwriters. But, it was the composers of the Romantic Era (1820-1900) who began to be so moved by contemporary poetry and literature that they began to explore ways to enhance words with music — adding nuances and emotions that words alone were incapable of communicating.1

Prior to the influence of Romantic idealism, words and music often joined together in a sort of marriage of convenience. Poems were often written to fit existing melodies while musical accompaniment would be matched to a poem with little more reason than a shared meter.2 Depending on the listener’s perspective, the relationship between music and poetry was seldom more than one being a colorful delivery vehicle for the other!

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, composers began to write music that spoke to their own interests and ideals rather an aristocratic patron’s wishes. No longer at home in the lavish ballrooms of the affluent, the forefront of musical development was to be found in much more informal parties held in private homes where men and women with interests in the latest poetry, literature, art, and music would gather to perform and be entertained.1 It was in this vibrant, scintillating atmosphere that the art song (i.e. lied) was created.

Perhaps the most famous Romantic to unite music and poetry in a passionate embrace was Franz Schubert (1797-1828). In his short lifespan of a mere thirty-one years, he lived the rough-and-tumble Bohemian life of a true Romantic: abandoning a career in teaching to pursue his passion — a move which made him virtually penniless, but enabled him to write more than 600 art songs (not to mention several masterpieces in other forms).

“When one has a good poem the music comes easily, melodies just flow, so that composing is a real joy.” 1
Franz Schubert

— Franz Schubert
(1797-1828)

Schubert’s approach to writing art songs had a lasting influence on the composers who would follow. Rather than merely writing music to accompany poems, he joined poetry and music in a way that sought to make them inseparable. He purposefully bent the rules of harmony and often broke with conventional ideas of form — expanding the vocabulary of music, enabling it to speak more clearly to the listener and get at the meaning of the poetry.

Within the staves of Schubert’s art songs, music forms an intimate, sympathetic relationship with the text. When the narrator of a poem feels sadness, there is a very purposeful shift in harmony to evoke that emotion. When there is a sudden burst of joy in the text, the music has often built up to that same passionate fervor even while the text was only beginning to hint at it.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (English: The Shepherd on the Rock), D. 965, was written in the final month of Schubert’s life and demonstrates his unique talent in marrying music and poetry. While arguably not an example of his most deeply-felt connection to a pre-existing text, Schubert was clearly showing off!3

Designed to be a showpiece for the famous operatic soprano Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptmann, he was instructed to write a work allowing her to express a wide range of feelings and emotions onstage. Perhaps because the clarinet was a fairly recent addition to the orchestra and yet another opportunity to add innovation, Schubert added a clarinet to the usual voice and piano combo.

For the text, Schubert wove together lines from three different poems written by two different poets. In effect, the song is divided into three fairly distinct segments. The first and third segments were excerpted from two poems written by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) — “Der Berghirt” (The Mountain Shepherd) and “Liebesgedanken” (Thoughts of Love) — while the middle section was written by K.A. Varnhagen von Ense (1785-1858), excerpted from his poem “Nächtlicher Schall”(Nocturnal Sounds).

When on the highest cliff I stand,
gaze down into the deep valley
and sing, and sing,
the echo from the ravines
floats upwards from the dark valley
far away.

The further my voice travels,
the clearer it returns to me
from below, from below.
So far from me does my love dwell
that I yearn for her more ardently
over there, over there.

With deep grief I am consumed,
my joy is at an end;
all hope on earth has left me;
I am so lonely here,
I am so lonely here.

So longingly sounded the song in the wood,
so longingly it sounded through the night,
drawing hearts heavenwards
with wondrous power.

Spring is coming,
Spring, my joy;
now I will make ready to go journeying.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965
Translation by Lionel Salter

Reading the text from a purely literal stance, it seems a bit vague if not overly-dramatic. Perhaps you also sense a change in voice between the two different poets. Here, Schubert’s music masterfully fills in gaps of emotion, meaning, and time left open by the words. Through carefully-placed harmonic changes and recurring, memorable themes, Schubert unites the poetry into a single voice. Through the union of words and music, you find yourself feeling the shepherd’s longing and just as easily understanding the sudden joy and hope of springtime.

It’s a marvel that he composed a piece filled with joy and hope while suffering from the very illness that doomed him to an early death. Sadly, we don’t know whether Schubert ever heard his piece performed. He certainly couldn’t have known how enduring it would be; he died only a month after completing it, and its premiere occurred nearly two years later.

Emily Curtin Culler, Susan Snyder, & Anne Bara

The trio of soprano, clarinet, and piano are in conversation and practically dancing throughout this song — a dazzling display of dexterity and vocal agility! A work of such range and depth is demanding for all the musicians involved. Manitou Winds is excited to present this Romantic masterpiece featuring Emily Curtin Culler, soprano; Anne Bara, clarinet; and Susan Snyder, piano.

We hope you’ll join with us in celebrating the coming of spring and the unity of words and music at our spring concert.

___________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

______________________________________

Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

____________

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken

References
1. Wright, C. (1996) “Listening to Music”, West Publishing Company; St. Paul, MN. pp. 245-249.
2. Grout, J. & Palisca, C. (2001) “A History of Western Music”, W.W. Norton & Company; New York, NY. pp. 448-449, 544-546.
3. Howell, C. (2013) “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen”; http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2007/Apr07/Hirt_430542.htm

Manitou Winds in the media!

2016 was a dynamic year for Manitou Winds — many opportunities to get out into the community and share the intimate quality of chamber music while also spreading imagination, creativity, and inspiration through visual art from our collaborating artist, Ellie Harold.

In April, Jason and Ellie were invited to go on air with the Christal Frost show on WTCM 580 AM in Traverse City’s Radio Center to discuss our spring concert. Jason had never been on the radio before! Microphones and cables everywhere… it was quite an experience.

Manitou Winds & Christal Frost
Manitou Winds at WTCM

In November, Ellie and Jason were interviewed by Allison Batdorff of the Traverse City Record-Eagle. We were gearing up for 2016’s Winter Songs & Carols concert, and also reflecting on the year’s collaboration with Ellie. You can read the full article HERE.

Manitou Winds at the Oliver Art Center
Summer Fantasies Concert

In December, Jason and Ellie were interviewed by MINews 26’s Marlaina Scarbrough, spreading the word about what makes chamber music so unique and describing our efforts to bridge the gap between visual and performing arts.

We’re certainly excited about 2017 — our new collaborating artist (Margie Guyot) plus plenty of upcoming concerts. We hope you’ll be able to join us in May for “Music Speaks…”. Stay tuned for more details!