There’s a side of my career that doesn’t often get a lot of attention, even though it has been responsible for some of my most cherished performances, and continues to provide a humbling reminder of music’s power to move a listener when other methods fail. For the past several years I’ve performed concerts for the Health Arts Society, a non-profit society that brings live music to elders in care facilities throughout Canada. Many of these men and women are no longer able to attend cultural events in their communities due to poor health or mobility — so Health Arts brings professional-level music and theatre events directly to their residence. I’m so proud to say that, to date, I’ve performed 130 concerts for this incredible organization.

I’ve given concerts throughout BC under the Health Arts banner, but this past week presented a wonderful opportunity to perform in and around Toronto, thanks to the recently initiated Heath Arts Society of Ontario. HASO’s general manager, Raymond Aucoin, paired me with the fabulous Toronto-based pianist, Younggun Kim, and together we gave a week of concerts that included works by Schubert, Chaminade, Bizet/Borne, Chopin, and Poulenc.

These concerts reaffirm the worth of what I do. There is always someone who is touched in a way that I’d never expect: once, after a bedridden woman shouted “bravo” at the end of a performance, one of the staff informed me that it was the first thing she had spoken in months. There have also been a number of occasions when I’ve been approached by individuals who were professional musicians themselves, and am regaled with tales and anecdotes. And I challenge anyone to keep it together when you’re playing Ave Maria and the whole room hums along with you — years later, it never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to bring music to where it is needed most, and the reminder of how intensely vital the arts are in every stage of our lives.

A week of new music has come and gone! In my previous post I mentioned that I was going to listen to a new musical work every day for the month of April. So far, it’s been an interesting experience: my “listening time” often occurs at the end of the day, when I realize “Damn, I haven’t listened to a new piece yet…. Argh”. Often I was torn between listening to a new piece and curling up on the sofa with a book and a beer. That said, each night I managed to pry myself away from my book (if not my beer) and dutifully listened to something new.

And, I gotta say, each night I was rewarded for the effort.

I actually think I lucked out this week: everything I listened to was frickin’ awesome in its own way. Most of this music was entirely new to me, while a couple were pieces I had heard maybe once or twice many moons ago, and had more or less forgotten. The list this week was:

April 3rd – Toru Takemitsu: Sky, Horse and Death

April 4th – Derek Charke: Sepia Fragments

April 5th – Richard Rodney Bennett: Tom O’Bedlam Song

April 6th – Bela Bartok: 5th String Quartet

April 7th – Maurice Ravel: Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé

April 8th – Alban Berg: Altenberglieder

April 9th – Vladimir Martynov: Night in Galicia

The Martynov was the wild card of the bunch. Recommended to me by composer Jocelyn Morlock (who was referred to it by her former composition teacher, the late Nikolai Korndorf), I personally found this sprawling 70-minute work began to outstay its welcome by the fifth movement. But the opening movement is so intensely striking, balancing healthy doses of chant-inspired minimalism and folkloric ridiculousness. Here’s a clip for anyone interested (seriously, it blew my mind, so if you can spare 15 minutes, it’s absolutely worth a listen):

I decided today that I need to listen to more music. Some people might find such a statement ridiculous, coming from the mouth of one who claims to be a “professional musician”. And to an extent it is a ridiculous statement: particularly as someone who performs and commissions a lot of new music, I’m constantly surrounded by new sounds. But the truth of it, at least for me, is that the demands of juggling the various facets of a freelancer’s schedule — performing, teaching, practising, networking — often don’t allow for time to sit back and truly listen to music. Yes, one could argue that I’m listening to music whenever I practise, rehearse, or perform, but I’m talking more about a kind of listening that does not involve counting, analyzing, or a mild (yet constant) level of panic.

So the plan is this: every day I’m going to attempt to listen to a piece of music that I’ve 1.) never heard before, or 2.) heard before once or twice, but never really had the chance to truly listen, or 3.) heard before, but interpreted by a different performer. Most importantly, I’m going to make an effort to pick music that does not feature the flute in a major capacity — God knows I listen to enough flute music, so the repertoire for this project will focus more on vocal/choral, opera, string quartets, electronic music,etc. And I probably won’t post every day (in fact, I’m pretty certain I won’t). But I’m hoping to share some of my findings, particularly stuff that I think is particularly noteworthy. Some of this stuff may strike one as being blatantly “standard repertoire”, but the idea of this project is not only to unearth some of the more esoteric stuff out there, but also to acquaint and reacquaint myself with some important repertoire that I’ve simply never had the chance to get to know: for example, I’m hoping to get through a number of Bartok and Shostakovich string quartets, among other things.

I thought I’d start off with some Toru Takemitsu. This is a work of musique concrète entitled Sky, Horse and Death. The piece is strangely short in duration: I find myself just starting to get into the quasi-ritualistic repetitions of bells, vocal cries, and horse whinnying (yes, there are horse whinnies), and suddenly it’s over. It’s hypnotic, surreal, and more than a little disturbing.