the long way home

– part one

These writings are for all those I kept waiting, those who encouraged me to write more and for those who are curious and love the worlds woven from words and of course for those of us who are in need of some moments for procrastination pleasure. May these series of belated posts attempt at answering some of the questions I’ve receieved and a leisurely dive into my adventures abroad, my untangled thoughts and emerging escapades. This story will be strewn across three ‘episodes’ or parts, otherwise I may have to redefine this as an online book.

an overdue embrace with exhaustion

In the last few months’ words have eluded me. I’ve been lost in a daze of recovery and every little activity seemed consuming. The patterns that my fingers had danced to for these months, a feverish act of musical necessity had become engraved into my being, an obsession of the mind, even permeating as deep as sleep. My feelings were a melange of things, and quite honestly a bit fractured. Perhaps if you were to place a canvas in front of me it should remain blank for sometime. And this is exactly what I had done to myself. Placed myself in front of a computer and instructed my fingers to type in words emotions and experiences of the months past and time to come. Several times I sat down to write this. Between practice breaks, early mornings, late nights and even when being held captive to a chair by being in transit. Sometimes I could only write a few words and continue to make corrections on previously written material. I painted the white on the canvas a few shades whiter. But, I could not keep putting off the detail that I felt I must paint, in order to illustrate a presence in my absence. This may come in stabs of colour whilst at other times an unruly possession of explosive vivid expression, and sometimes you will visibly see the gaps. Yet I, myself, do not feel colourless, even having slumped into the arms of my long overdue embrace with exhaustion. Alas, I have arisen from my mental hibernation later than preferred.

shadows of the studio

Removing myself from what had become the quotidian, living amongst the peace of the quite alarmingly separated village of twenty-two residents in Elmsted took some time. It was a slow emergence from a flute induced dream back into the clamour of civilisation. I concluded my time at ‘The Flute Studio’ at the end of March. These six months felt non-stop and having stepped right into this intensive residency after completing my Bachelor degree gave me no time to be seduced by any prospects of unwinding. I believe my time in England could be considered somewhat of a “once in a lifetime experience.” I’m not sure when I will get another opportunity to spend six months dedicated to practicing my flute with no distractions, apart from the machinations of my mind and very charming animals and a few people. I speculate that it is very unlikely that I will have the luxury of such a pilgrimage again. But I do hope to embark on more creative residencies where I will need to focus less on technique and more on the joy of music making and sharing. My studies in England gave me time to overcome many technical obstacles that made certain musical ideas more difficult to communicate. It wasn’t such a ‘creative’ experience, as I knew would be the case from the start. I went there to improve the technical aspects of my playing and in turn clear some fog that had preventing me from some means of creative communication. It also opened up new insights into different areas of flute playing that I may not have had the opportunity to explore on my own or during my bachelor degree, such as learning the Baroque flute and recorder, master classes with renowned flutists and pedagogues and repertoire previously unknown to me.

Trevor, my teacher at the studio, is the keeper of myriad resources and erudition when it came to repertoire, flutes of all ages and even advice beyond the flute. Beyond the flute? Well, there were times when Trevor would speak about experiences and anecdotes where one’s character, actions and unfortunately physical appearance are weighed into consideration when one is applying for work and collaborating with others. Talent and hard work is only part of what seems to be some very inconsistent criteria. Keep your elbows off the table when you’re eating your celebratory cake in front of the jury. Tattoos, piercing and hair colour, anything too vividly ornamental can also be considered somewhat overtly individualistic in certain workplaces and contexts. In the context of an orchestra uniformity is key not only to the music, but to dress code. I am a lover of colour, an advocate for freedom of the deepest personal expression and I am genuinely empowered by others who express themselves. Music is inherently expressive. But of course it is not the only way we express. I draw, take pictures and adore gardening but I express in the quotidian; in my daily choice of clothing and adornment, my choice of food and so on. I have begun to ramble but, perhaps this is part of the reason I am so drawn to chamber music groups that exude individualistic qualities of each member. It seems that within more traditional modes of music making virtuosity is valued, appearance is appropriate and structures are safe. I am continuously confronted by rules and it is often said that one must know the rules to break them. I have come across a lot of these rules in my studies and in institutions. But I still find myself questioning, ‘who is making the rules and how (or how not) are these rules evolving and being eroded?’ I’m slowly discovering myself in this world of structures, and when to be myself, if not always.

continental calling

I had planned to return to Australia at the end of the course, on the 31st of March but I decided I was to postpone my flight until later. The northern hemisphere had ensnared me. At times it can be hard to put my decisions into words, and often I am nervous that they may be an act of impulse. But I have begun to trust my impulse as instinct. I am not one to travel for pleasure, I travel to expand my creativity, view and knowledge. Once my mind is captivated by an idea my body seems to follow. Concluding Trevor’s course presented me with a choice– was I to metaphorically throw my pasta in the air and see where it is to land and move from there, or was I to pick just one or a few and follow stick to those chosen pieces. And so I threw my pasta everywhere.

I know that in previous posts I have discussed my thoughts regarding specialising and I still feel I travel on the same wavelengths as these thoughts. But alas, some of the opportunities I’ve applied for and taken have been a melange of musical making. I think this is right for where I currently am mentally and musically.   

I decided to stay on in London for ten days after finishing my residency in Kent. I was invited to play and do a conduction in the London Improvisers Orchestra’s April concert. I was very excited to have this opportunity as I had some ideas I wished to trial including constructing several graphic scores (samples pictured on the left) and conducting them. When I came to conducting though, I was reminded of how expressive, communicative and innate movement is. In fact, I became aware that all movement is dance. The Malaysian theremin player, sound designer, improviser, composer and educator Ng Chor Guan made me most aware of this. His conduction was truly beautiful and evolved from gentle gestures to convulsions that possessed the orchestra to mirror in sound. I will speak more about dance in my later episode. After having some insightful lessons, listening to as many concerts as I could and gorging on vegan pizza it was time to move on to Germany.

A LONG NIGHT SHORT OF SLEEP

Würzburg is a city that I never might have wanted to visit if not for my old flute teacher and friend. Having endured Trevor’s course herself she invited me to spend some time in Germany following my time in England, as a means to unwind back into “normal living” away from the flute farm. But before I continue to describe sehr schön Würzburg I must first tell you about the eighteen hours that got me there.

London to Germany. There are several ways to get there. You can catch a plane, a train and even a bus. But being a ‘student’ and fr-asian (frugal Asian) I was seduced by the price of taking a bus. Not only did it appear to be a reasonable price but it also promised to double as overnight accommodation. I only discovered later that I had to pay a price in confronting hours of oddities.

It was a beautiful day to leave London. The sun was shining, unobscured by clouds, the sky was blue and even the people seemed a bit brighter in colour. That night I was to take the late night bus from London to Würzburg transferring at Frankfurt. Wearing my strawberry hat, I waited in Victoria station with people traveling far and wide. I was somewhat confused when my bus was announced, for it was destined for Bucharest, which is quite some distance from London. I saw some equally lost and confused people around me who also were heading for Frankfurt. The bus drivers, who spoke Romanian and struggled in English, managed to tell us that the bus was making stops in France, Belgium and Frankfurt (and beyond). Once the journey began I was determined to completely immerse myself in sleep, and something about the stuffiness of being in a vehicle often puts me to sleep. I sat down next to a man who was Belgium bound and a connoisseur of long bus rides it seemed. There was a point where my brain could not tolerate the conversation as I became hounded with questions on my religious identity and marriage status. Was I to endure this until the early hours of the morning when he was to alight? Sleep the saviour tugged at my eyelids and all cascaded into a gradient of darkness.

The bus stopped.

In a confused state I opened my eyes. I was quite certain the eighteen hours had not elapsed already. Many passengers seemed familiar with the stops and filed out of the bus, cigarettes and documents in hand. We were at Dover and our documents were to be checked. We went into the immigration building and were coldly met with the grim faces of immigration officers. “Français?” The officer asked each of us. Those of us who nodded were gifted with a hint of acknowledgement. After all documents were checked we went back to the bus. Surely now I could sleep for the rest of my journey. Or not. The doors opened and one of the immigration officers came aboard. He made his way towards the back of the bus. He approached a man who was sitting in the far back.

“Where are your documents?” He asked.

The man grabbed at his belongings trying to find some form of documentation.

“I, uh, left it in a café.” He said.

“I don’t understand.” The officer frowned. “Please explain.”

The man tried several times to explain the absence of his documents, but to no avail.

‘I do not understand what he is trying to say.’ He said to himself in French.

“You will need to come with me.” He said to the document-less man.

The man and the officer left the bus.

I closed my eyes and slept... alas, only to be woken up soon after.

Eyes squinting, I took out my itinerary. We needed to cross the Channel to get from Dover to Calais so that we could be on our way through Europe. I was convinced we would be taking an underground tunnel to get across the river. Naïve I was.

Our bus boarded a ferry, a ginormous boat with numerous other coach buses. We all had to alight from our bus and enter the main part of the ferry. Up stairs we went until we reached an area with levels of seating, shops and food. It seemed like a moving sad shopping mall and we were the cornered consumers.

I wanted to find a place to sit down and sleep for the duration of this ferry trip. There wasn’t much to see from the windows, a darkened view of the Channel. But my mind was a void pulling me towards sleep.  

I slunk up to the food court which had a designated level all to its own. In the very early hours of the morning people were having breakfasts and beer. In an undying state of exhaustion, I lay down my head at a booth and slept until we reached the continent.

People were to alight where they needed, Calais, Bruges, Frankfurt, just some of the stops littered along the way to Bucharest. Stops were made and people moved in and out of the bus for cigarettes, air and stillness. When new passengers would board the language scape would shift slightly. Once we passed France and Brussels the French speaking faded into the distance whilst conversations in German and Romanian grew more prominent. Post-Dover was without much surprise. Sleep faded in and out of focus and often. I clutched onto my flute and bags in a rather dazed state. I reached Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, an area which is considered one the most dangerous areas in Germany. Mind you, this is dangerous by German definition, and as I have now discovered it is barely comparable with crime in other cities in the US or Australia. But it was here that I waited for my next bus with several other people who consistently and quick conspicuously snuck glances at my strawberry hat. I wish I had a little secret camera installed into the hat that could take photos of people’s facial reactions to seeing it. Smiling faces, faces of confusion, wonder, appreciation or sometimes ambiguous expressions. But what I do know is that when children see me wearing this hat they do not hold back from exclaiming: “Erdebeere!” Or, “strawberry” in unrestrained excitement of seeing something fun in contrast with the imposing concrete structures, grey skies and scarce smiles.  

From cows to Castles

I had never been to Germany before. In fact, there are many places in Europe that I have never been despite being half-European. Driving into Würzburg my sleepy eyes and mind thought that I had returned to the lush landscape of Elmsted, instead now castles had replaced cows. The magnolia trees were in at the Hauptbahnhof. I adore the pale colour of the giant flowers heavy on their leafless branches.

Würzburg is a quaint city in Bavaria. A city of wine, wine and beer drinkers at all hours of the day, nature and culture. It is also home to Germany’s best music research centre at the Hochschule für Musik.

To my excitement, I also was informed that the X-ray were invented there. It’s always fun to learn about ubiquitous things that were invented in somewhat obscured places. Each place has their own piece(s) of pride I suppose!

Episode/part two will tell of Berlin and my first audition for a professional job. Stay tuned (not always in equal temprement) and sweet sonic journeys until then!

born of dust and remembering

Looking up at the night sky one can see several patches of darkness. These are the parts of the night-time blanket that haven’t been embellished with the twinkle of starlight. The cornea is at the mercy of this void so vast and so false. Perhaps I’m more aware of the stars out here in Kent. 
It’s a luminous language foreign from that of the structured lighting of a city.
Here one can look up and see generous pointillism.
There is more that the eye can see when the ceiling is your torch.

I now find myself past the midway mark of my time at The Studio. I also find myself, along with the rest of the world* in a new calendar year. Salutations two-oh-one-nine. I think our world is a bit too myopic to consider this the eve of a year of ‘perfect vision’ (two-oh-two-oh), not synonymous with the brave new world that chilled the muses many. Although, the subtitles on the news of New Year’s Eve seemed to believe we were entering 20 AD. Which in some respects could be considered true considering certain policies and ideologies I need not explicitly state. Perhaps 2002 had even more of a ring to it (tragically memorable for more war and bloodshed). But it’s still a number so good the drunks of 2002 could read it backwards and forwards and still know the year they were in whilst quenching the thirst of the underlying human obsession with symmetry. Alas, there is a slight complication. Our fictional protagonist Anna, born in Ekalaka Lake in 2002 has long wondered why the word palindrome failed in itself to be a palindrome. Perhaps palinilap could usurp the word palindrome as a more appropriate term of fitting exactly what it serves to represent. But here’s a proposition for those who get inexplicably fascinated with symmetry: come find me in two-one-one-two and we can stare in the mirror and contemplate our own facial asymmetry in a symmetrical year. It will all be ok. Born of dust, back to dust. That’s symmetry right? Nevertheless, here we are in a new western calendar year and my endeavours are the same but fortified with perhaps what some call the new year’s resolution. V-I: alas even perfect resolutions find themselves challenged. However, the new year is empowering. Why? It’s a time where we look at a construct of closing and entering, perhaps one of the few times where we are encouraged to sit and reflect and meditate upon the internal and the external, achievements and mistakes, our actions and our own desires. However, it is not quite any of the above that serves as the catalyst for this entry to my blog. Instead I felt it was about time to break a rather self-imposed silence, a silence that I hope this entry will explain.

*For those who celebrate the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar.
Also, I wrote this entry just before the new Lunar Calendar Year.
But now it’s the new Lunar year as well so 新年快樂 to all my Chinese family and friends!

monotony and memory

My week is structured around the days that I am at the flute studio. It’s a monotonous motion that I am certain is valuable to my flute playing and development, but perhaps not the most blog-inducing. We’ve ploughed through more repertoire than I ever did in my three years of undergraduate music studies and I am finding that I am learning pieces and concepts faster and that I have become more vigilant regarding my own playing and expectations. I’ve had the opportunity to play for some remarkable guest artists at the studio including Michael Cox (Principal Flute BBC Symphony Orchestra), Rachel Brown (historical flute and music specialist) and Juliet Edwards (accompanist and pianist). We’ve also attended master classes in London with Emily Beynon (Principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) and William Bennet (Professor at Royal Academy of Music) which have been equally enriching. But classes with Trevor are often the hardest and most rewarding. He is a erudite figure who can be simultaneously cruel and caring in character, and my time here at the flute studio has been undeniably beneficial. He speaks of a world of ghosts that seemingly still haunt the way flute is taught and institutionalised. These ghosts are his friends… from Marcel Moyse to Alain Marion and other remarkable figures who he worked with or taught and some that are still alive today. But most importantly, it is fully clear that he respects his friends and colleagues, and that they have imparted lessons regarding music and life onto him and that this equates to a large portion of his wisdom– a wisdom he shares with his students. It is far from an evangelical “church of flute” vibe, and despite many of my friends thinking I joined an obscure flute cult in the English countryside, this is a valuable opportunity to learn from one of the few remaining flutists and pedagogues of a time passing. While many of Trevor’s values and tones of teaching may be outdated, it can still be applied to a large portion of the flute repertory (being that it is mostly composed by dead white guys anyway!). But the sentiment of the rules, character and fundamentals of music transpires across the periods. Even in more anarchical approaches there are always shadows. So in some ways I came to the studio to understand more about the past, because so much of the music I have played in my musical studies is steeped in periods past, but because it helps me to understand more about how we arrived at the sonic inventions of the present. It is also becoming increasingly clear to me just how much there is to consider when learning, performing and teaching music. But also how there is much (somewhat disregarded) simplicity. It is all a matter of understanding. I think after this course I will spend some time reading back through the notes I took from the studio classes. There’s just an incredible amount of information that I could probably compile it into a guidebook that I could use for the rest of my career and to help students and colleagues. I’ve also taken time to think more about the direction of my career. Not too long ago I was somewhat vehemently opposed to the idea of a career in orchestral playing. But I think this course has opened up realms of new possibilities that perhaps I had turned my attention away from. Whilst I gravitate most towards contemporary music, I now see my own musical identity broadening. That is not to say that I do not want to specialise, in fact I think I would eventually love to be a specialist in contemporary music. However, I am in love with delving through different styles and genres of music (and different modes of expression) and at this stage in my career I want to embrace that exploration further. After the conclusion of this course I am eager to explore a variety of opportunities in the various realms of musical expression.

time-travel, noise travel,
feet first into gravel

London is seductive. It’s this noisy and luminous magnet of activity that has abundance. Back in Australia one would sometimes have to wait months, if not several years for an artist, exhibition, program to come from overseas and grace our senses. We have such fine local artists in Australia and we are certainly never short of entertainment. But, envision this, you’re in Sydney for a night and there are three concerts happening simultaneously and you would like to be present at all of them. Omnipresence would border on delusional so you’d have to choose one. Cities are reminiscent of supermarkets, there’s choice, choice and more choice; choices to the point where you cannot choose whether or not you want to be dizzy because you already are. I am a sworn lover of nature and all places not suffocated by concrete but the magnetism of cities always draw my feet back into its streets. It’s no paradox, but more an acceptance that cities often house opportunities, culture, the arts and people to them. I am a victim to that magnetism. I’ve been into London a several times now, to listen to concerts and attend masterclasses. It’s about a 40 minute trip into London via South-Eastern rail that can cost up to £26 return, so I have to choose my visits wisely and sparingly. It certainly proves difficult when there is a worthwhile concert, exhibition or event happening EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible exhibitions particularly ‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay at Tate Modern, a 24-hour film I have been wanting to see for years. I’ve also been to the National Gallery, The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A museum holds such an extensive collection (all the Rodin statues!) and I also went into an exhibition regarding the production and sustainability of fashion. I am yet to go and listen to the many wonderful orchestras in London. I tried purchasing tickets for a London Symphony Orchestra concert but the few remaining tickets were around £80. For most events there reasonable are student or youth fares for around £10, but for these you have to act fast. But I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Claire Chase, Bang On A Can All-Stars (selections from Field Recordings, Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields), Frederic and Jan Rzewski and the London Improvisers Orchestra. On the weekend that Bang On a Can (BOAC) and Claire Chase were playing in London there was also a Ensemble Modern concert, but as I had booked for another concert I couldn’t make it to that. Alas, choices! King’s Place has an incredible series called ‘Venus Unwrapped‘ that shines the spotlight on the creative power of Women in music. The BOAC concerts I went to were a part of that series and as I was sitting in my seat I realised that 80% of the works programmed were by women. What was most intriguing was that the concert was not advertised as a ‘program of mostly women composers’. At times I find that organisations and artistic directors feel the need to highlight that they are making an incredible effort to program the music of women and this is fantastic. But it can also be mildly counter-productive and can perpetuate tokenism, exclusivity and marginalisation. I think it’s about constructing a program that is made up of great music and balance. But when there is an alarming under-representation (or no representation!) in concert programs excluding particular groups in society, that is when we must highlight existing imbalances. But most importantly the focus should be to forge a more inclusive future through providing platforms where these unique creative voices can be heard. So before I went to the BOAC concert I wasn’t aware of Venus Unwrapped nor was I aware of how many composers were women on the program. It was only when I sat down that I thought to myself– ‘damn, this music is good’, and that’s all that should matter.

fertile ground

My time here in Elmsted, Kent is almost solely dedicated to the flute and practice. The other day, I was asked by one of the neighbours (by neighbour I do not mean next door, but rather, across a field) what I do when I am not practicing or at the Studio. I stared into my cup of tea, a pause, for a moment of consideration before I gave an answer. You see, there is not much else to do here than practice, go for walks in the woods, and get creative with a limited diet. However, in this time away from the clamorous seduction of city living I have found gentle entertainment in my the machinations of my own mind. Being here has extended opportunities beyond the flute. I have found more time to compose music and experiment with musical ideas I have wanted to try for some time. During this course I started making composition part a regular practice through composing my own warm-ups and exercises for flute to some larger projects not directly involving the flute. In the last three and a half months I composed my first string quartet ‘A Waning Body‘ that was premiered at the Environmental Sound Art, Classical Music and Australian Female Composers concert at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Each note from this work is a sonic translation of data collected from Antarctic Mass Variation since 2002. It was a concept I’d wanted to explore for some time as a means to promote heightened awareness on the alarming rate of climate change. Consequently, it’s full of sounds that aren’t meant to make anyone feel terribly comfortable. I also wrote a piece for percussion/speaker and fixed media dedicated to my Brisbane duo partner, Joyce To for her solo recital at the Tilde New Music Week in Melbourne. I’ve been exploring spoken elements with vessels (glass, flutes) and wanted to create a piece that featured this idea as a central element. And thus ‘Ingrained/in-grains’ came into existence. There’s no recording as of yet but you can listen to the fixed media component here. There are other ideas and concepts that are still in an embryonic state but are slowly taking form. I am also beyond excited to announce that a ‘Noisy Women’ concert will be happening again this year for International Womens Day (8 March). Last year the concert received overwhelming support from the Brisbane community and beyond with an audience exceeding the capacity of the venue and many more watching nationally and internationally into the live-stream. As well as being a concert celebrating the valuable contributions of women throughout musical history it is also a space to promote established and new works by women. How can masterpieces be made if they are not heard? Hence, this year the concert is happening again, albeit under a new and very exciting name (with an equally exciting acronym): Women of Noise. This year I also have a talented team of young musicians (Courtney Lovell, Anna Rabinowicz, Sasha Walker, Elizabeth Shearon) on the creative and organising unit who are undoubtably the backbone of the project. More information regarding the program and musicians involved will be available on our Facebook and Instagram so be stay tuned to exclusive sneak peeks and exciting updates!

Encore?

In the final months of my time here in Kent I’ll be up to my knees in pieces, practice and hopefully more snow! I am glad I took the time to write this entry as it has given me moments to reflect on time passed and the time that is passing. After my time in the United Kingdom I will travel to Germany where I will stay with one of my old flute teachers. I’ll be investigating opportunities including jobs, Masters degree options, maybe even going to a festival or two, getting some lessons and doing more performing. From one ambitious plan to another it seems! At this stage I anticipate that I’ll return to Australia late in the year. I’ll certainly be eager to perform, collaborate, catch up with friends and family and share what I learnt here at the studio. Here’s to the continuum of noise.

some photos…

…till the cows come home

before proceeding please listen:

I’ve been told that England seems to be mostly in eternal drizzle to the point I thought it true. This place I’ve known for less than a week now has welcomed me with a warmth all too familiar. Did I bring that warm weather with me? This question incessantly plays in my head, perhaps a delirium induced by several layers of clothing in weather nearing the twenties. But a few days passed and I looked at the clothes I had brought in worry. Could my plans of being the winter marshmallow wrapped in jumpers been only fantasy? In this somewhat balmy weather I make my way down the narrow roads, greeting the cattle, sheep, goats, horses, badgers and birds as I walk to The Flute Studio.  Trevor speaks about the world of flutes and the beauty of music. He places manuscript on our stands and ponders over his collection of hundreds of discs, selects one and it plays. Listening to Les barricades mystérieuses has become the bookends of days at the studio. Calling it a ritual wouldn’t be an understatement. In this landscape few planes fly overhead and cars drive past infrequently, perhaps the distant mooing, tractors and the flute playing of my housemate Lindsay are the sounds that I hear most. In the comfort of the studio and this little farm stead across from St James the Great, I pick up my flute and play.  

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Elmsted Court

I’ve arrived in Elmsted “an area of outstanding natural beauty” in the Kent downs, this is where I will be residing for the next six months. Elmsted was given its name in the time of Saxon, Elm referring to its abundance of elm trees and Sted meaning place derived from the Saxon word ‘stede’. It is a place of beauty and history. I walk down roads sided by hedges, sometimes you can find wild berries. The Anglican Church across the road is dedicated to St James the Great and dates back to the 11th century. It is always open and seems like it will be a beautiful acoustic for practice and recording. There are headstones so old they have become sculpture at the mercy of the Elmsted elements of weathering. One can barely make out an a name nor epitaph.

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St James Anglican Church

Our days at the studio have begun with high expectations and great intensity. Technical exercises are propelled at us one after the other and are expected to be absorbed into memory and therefore become automatic. Trevor seems to encourage the cacophony of all of us searching around lost in a tempest of tonalities and deciphering patterns he demonstrates to us by ear. After all: “you wouldn’t be doing these exercises if you can do them perfectly.” A week at The Studio is made up of classes on Monday (Technique and Studies) and Thursdays (Repertoire and excerpts) and the rest of the time is spent in personal practice of a specific regimen and research projects on the history of the flute up to 1700.  Trevor also takes us shopping once a week, a day I like to call “Tesco Tuesdays” and little excursions to neighbouring towns, Wye, Ashford and London. So far, I’ve met some of the community who seem to welcome Trevor’s students with great excitement. Last Friday, we were invited to play a game called Whist, a classic English trick-taking card game popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.  We were taught how to play only days before by Paul and his son Robbie who are friends of Trevor. It was quite a remarkable experience as during a game of Whist there is such energy of concentration and barely any sound other than the tapping of cards and the occasional apology. We are also preparing to have masterclasses Rachel Brown, Michael Cox and Juliet Edwards, among others. This week, we will go to London to hear a masterclass with Emily Beynon, the principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw. In December, we will be playing in two concerts in the local area which I am particularly excited for. Otherwise, our time here is spent inside the house at Elmsted Court practicing all day with walks around the neighbourhood to freshen the mind (I’ve even tried running again!).

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From left to right: Lindsay, myself, Trevor, Kumjung and Agne.

So far the house is inhabited by Lindsay and myself. Lindsay is also a flutist/composer who also shares the ability to talk to for hours on end. She also happens to be allergic to soy which means I can no longer be lazy and buy those frozen vegan meals made with soy protein (this is probably for the best!). It’s an interesting dynamic to be living with another flute player. Prior to this course I often speculated about what it would be like. Would it be competitive? Beneficial? Or even a little overwhelming? It’s only been 2 weeks but I can say it is certainly beneficial and lots of fun. Often, we both will practice sight-reading duets and do technique together. It is a helpful exercise to do this as there is pressure to keep up with each other but also you have another person’s perspective rather solely personal practice analysis.

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New friends made en route to the studio. 

I’ve certainly been busy with adjusting myself to this new environment and regime practice regime so I apologise for the delayed post and not uploading my recital footage yet. I will endeavour to do this tonight and it will be up on my Youtube soon.

Finally, I wanted extend my heartfelt gratitude to those who donated to my Australian Cultural Fund page to support my ongoing project and production costs at the flute studio. Thank you my lovely friends, family and colleagues. To Carlin Hara-Crockford, Judy Brandl, Robert Lantos, Michael Hannan, Daniel Fawcett, Natalie Williams and the mysterious but generous ‘anonymous’. The fund is open for another four days and all donations over $2 are tax deductible! https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/the-flute-studio/

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Before I sign off, a few more words. I am quite outspoken about how I feel about “dead white guy composers” and consciously make decisions to program wonderful music that written recently especially my those under-represented. I am not iconoclastic, and I must confess I used to come across as such in my first year at the Conservatorium. However, Contemporary music has always made more contextual sense to me, I think it’s because it’s the world I live in. I don’t live in a palace or go to Church, or get invited to the dinner parties dinner parties of the aristocracy, nor have I lived through any world wars. But it’s a world that many composers did live and work in. This course delves into a lot of repertoire I have never really gelled with. I do of course appreciate and love listening to diverse styles of music but really feel most comfortable in contemporary as most of you know. This course for me is about becoming more versatile and feeling comfortable across all expressions of the musical language. I want to be able to express more honestly how I feel towards something that may be distant from our present time but still translatable to now. It is possible, and I have seen it done, that we are able to communicate our current landscape where we face environmental, social and political crisis’ though music because sound, vibration is what makes up our world and is innately human.

Something old but beautiful that I was reminded of by Trevor:

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New neighbours.

For flute players and others who might be interested this is the list of repertoire and excerpts for the studio:

Repertoire
Debussy: Syrinx
Honegger: Danse de la Chèvre
Enesco: Cantabile e Presto
JS Bach: E minor Sonata BWV 1034
JS Bach: E major Sonata BWV 1035
Marais: La Follia d’Espagne. (Flute and piano arrangement in G minor)
Schubert: Introduction and Variations on “Trockne Blumen” D. 802
Mozart: Concerto in D major
Mozart: Andante in C
Telemann: Fantasies 2, 4 7, 10.
Dutilleux Sonatine
Berkeley: Sonatine
Widor: Suite
Telemann: Sonatas in F Minor
Telemann: Sonata in F Major
Messiaen. Le Merle Noir
CPE Bach: Solo in a minor
Roussel: Joueurs de Flûte
Doppler: Aris Valaques
Müthel: Sonata in D major

Excerpts
Bach: Aus Liebe: St Matthew Passion
Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo
Mozart: Magic Flute
Beethoven: Leonore No 3
Rossini: William Tell Overture
Schubert: Symphony No 5 in Bb: 3 movts
Mendelssohn: Scherzo
Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals: Voliere
Dvorak: Symphony No 8
Rimsky Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol
Prokofiev: Classical Symphony
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf
Bach: Domine Deus from B minor Mass.
Brahms: 4th Symphony

If you hadn’t already established it, these are all dead white guys… but they have an  important place the flute repertory.

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Beautiful pumpkins at Perry Court Farm

reflections through the curtain of haze; England emerges into salience

The first leg of my journey is done. This morning I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport looking quite large with clothing– not ideal for this 26 degree, 6 am weather. Of course, I am preparing myself for a chilly London evening (always in relativity to Brisbane weather). As I was sitting here writing this, waiting for my gate to open, I cast my gaze outside to watch the sun rise through the haze of pollution which I know all too well from visiting Chinese cities. I believe my last post was written post-Nief-Norf, when I was in Knoxville Tennessee which was only around four months ago. It’s not that the time between then an now was too mundane to write about, I was just incredibly inundated with preparing for my final recital and addressing my other university and musical commitments. This post will be a series of reflections on my last few months in Brisbane and the wonderful opportunities and people who made my time there so unforgettable.

gallerie: a graduating recital

 

 

Behold! My ultimate concentration face. Well, for a recital requiring 40 minutes of playing it was a festival of concentration of all mental, spiritual and physical energies–but a feeling of triumphant cathartic release. It was my most honest performance to myself and my audience that I had played in my three years of my degree. In front of an audience of friends, family, teachers and colleagues what more could one ask for?

a little bit of context for those who could not be there and those wishing to know more…

I had my final recital on the 26th of September. This was my last recital in the Bachelor of Music course at Queensland Conservatorium and I was ready to make it more than just an examination. With the guidance of my teacher, Virginia Taylor, I put together my dream program of pieces that complemented each other and created a ‘gallerie’ of colours and narratives when programmed together. I began first with Female Nude (1993) by English-born Australian composer, broadcaster and writer. Apart from the fascinating and quite sensual title I was intrigued to discover the sound world Ford was exploring in this piece. Female Nude is written for solo alto flute (also for alto flute and wooden percussion) and is the third movement from his work Mondrian for flute/s and percussion. The work draws its inspiration from the the Dutch painter Piet Mondrain and his prolific work. Female Nude spells out the word Mondrian (whilst omitting the d) in fragmented utterances from the performer. These syllabic gasps are interjected between quartertonal pitch variants of A (E concert)– A quarter flat, A natural, A quarter sharp. For those who are not musicians, wind players or flute players this technique is achieved through particular fingerings, or/and a physical action such as ‘bending’ the pitch through the mouth. This piece is ornate with nuanced techniques that intrigue not only the player but the audience also. From flutter tonguing, tongue rams, simultaneous singing and playing, each technique adds to the macro-image and idea of the work rather than what can sometimes be a case ambitious overwriting of “extended techniques.” I had the pleasure of playing this again the day after in Gatton at the ‘New Music at the Old Butter Factory’ concert.

The next piece in the program was Michel Blavet’s Sonata No. 4 ‘La Lumagne’. This piece, commonly misspelt as ‘La Lumague’ became a favourite of mine as I gradually realised just how much could be continuously invented when presented with Blavet’s ideas. Blavet himself was a flute virtuoso alongside his career as a composer and I think this shows in the fundamentally simple beauty of his writing. I think that what Blavet offers is a set of collaborations in his sonatas, between what is written and what the performer can further contribute. Of course, this is a evident feature of Baroque ornamentation which was often improvised by performers to portray a heightened sense of virtuosity. These something special about the written characters that Blavet presents. The most particular example that comes to mind is his final movement in the fourth sonata titled ‘Le Lutin’, the hobgoblin. Blavet’s muscial depiction of the hobgoblin is one of mischief and buoyancy. Two light accented crotchets accentuate the opening, a motif that embellishes the whole work and brings to mind the how a Hobgoblin might walk. Whilst I did not do all the written repeats in my recital (due to time constraints), however I am sure that I will be revisiting this work in the future.

Twentieth century French art is so very colourful and is particularly evident in the music of composers and performers during that time. During the 20th century much Flute repertory flourished and we were gifted numerous works which contained then progressive approaches to pitch, rhythm, extended techniques, instrumentation and structures. Whilst the Sonatine for flute and piano by Pierre Sancan is not a ‘radical’ work it is one that has been embraced by many flute players as a popular staple since its publication in 1946, and is his most widely-known work. French music of this period has particular difficulties. Like many French flute pieces the Sancan requires the lyricism of liquid phrases despite widely written intervals punctuated with more rapid statements. There is evident duality in the music, between the cantabile lines and the rapid punctuations that give it a sense of constant movement and colour changes. One particular section, the Andante expressivo, of which I termed the ‘heart throb’ section became a musical outlet for my deeper emotions. There is a very small list of works from the distant past that I have felt a genuine connection to, however I felt that I was able to emotionally synthesise with the Sancan in a way that I could express my underlying emotions. The andante expressivo occurs after a short piano cadenza which paves the way for this more reflective and still movement with leading to a more tumultuous current of release. I found myself on the edge of tears on the day of my recital as I dug into the emotions I had been feeling about leaving Brisbane, a place that had been such a incredible home with genuine people. Of course whilst I knew I would only be away for around six months, I felt that I was leaving somewhere that had become a bit of a haven and a most definite home. I felt like this section of Sancan gave me the means to express this.

My last piece is a piece most dear to me, and an Australian premiere– Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre (2002) which is a reworking of the second movement of her flute concerto Aile du songe dedicated to flutist Camilla Hoitenga.  WIf you’ve been an avid reader of my posts then you may be familiar with the name of this piece as I played in during the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival. This was the first time I had performed any of Saariaho’s music and I was so stoked that Terrestre was my introduction into her musical language. Upon coming back to Australia, I began putting together my recital program and was determined that this would be my closing piece. All I had to do was put together an ensemble, and I think I found a dream team. I felt so incredibly privileged to have an ensemble of talented members on board, with the multi-talented flutist and composer Hannah Reardon-Smith conducting the work, Flora Wong conjuring sonic sensations from her violin, Oliver Scott with the meditative sounds of his violoncello, Loni Fitzpatrick spiralling through each movement in circular motion and Joyce To leaping from percussion instrument to instrument. Whilst I love this piece it was also the hardest piece to put together as an ensemble. It demands high concentration throughout frequent metre changes, technique changes and rapid gestures. The flute part in itself contains a feast of gestures, tone colours and most notably combines characterised spoken interjections from Oiseaux, a collection of poems by Saint-John Perse. The first movement, Oiseau dansant refers to an aboriginal tale in which a virtuosic dancing bird teaches the whole village how to dance. The second and closing section, L’oiseau, un satellite infime, is a synthesis of the previous parts of the concerto and floats away like the bird, a small satellite in a universal orbit. Who would’ve known that contemporary music would be at the book ends of my recital? Well, I suspect most people! 😉

I will be uploading a video of my recital unto my Youtube in the next week, so click here to subscribe and be notified first!

Again, thank you to my wonderful family and friends who made the room overflow with love and support. You are the dream audience and I’m so grateful that you all came to hear my last recital at the con for a while!

flooding the old butter factory with new sounds

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I had been invited to perform in a very special event the very next day after my recital. Two of my dear friends and colleagues– composer, performer, improviser Jasmin Leung and percussionist and improviser Tim Green had put together a very rare opportunity in the food bowl of Queensland, the beautiful Lockyer Valley. Michael Louttit, Elizabeth Jigalin and myself were invited as guest performers to showcase some of our own work. Over the past week they had been working with children on their holidays to construct a concert of wonderful sounds. I thought to myself that never before had I seen children engaging with experimental sounds and ideas, but this thought was quickly negated as in youth experimentation is what helps us learn. Some absolutely incredible pieces were written by the children, including a piece titled unique rhythms, crazy sounds which was essentially a groovy drum circle and a duo who called themselves the Alfoil Girls who stunned the audience with dozens of ways to make sounds with alfoil in their piece Shimmer. The most astounding idea was wrapping alfoil on a small microphone and running it against the wall. Another piece, Twenty Two Screaming Bowls, written by four of the children involved singing bowls, bows and small objects. I was amazed at how these boys who I had seen running around with uncontrollable energy earlier could create something so utterly meditative. I felt quite inadequate with the sounds I was presenting, especially since I was playing the oldest piece, Female Nude written in 1993! Usually this is still called new music, but an ongoing question I have is when does new music stop being termed “new.” The works composed for the concert were so new, written within the week and some were even improvisations. Jasmin had written a structured improvisation As Close as Lips and Teeth for the whirly tubes swung by the children, vocalisations and me on flute. Jasmin was so eager to have this event the rural town of Grantham as many of the residents had never before heard experimental music let alone a live concert. It was a truly special event and I could see how it touched the lives of the children, their families and the community. It is so wonderful to see experimental music being introduced to children. I believe I wrote about this in one of my other posts regarding Norf-Speak. But this event was different because the children were given the opportunity to make experimental sounds and consequently they composed some of the greatest works I have ever heard. Children have a unique musical perspective and I think much more of this should be heard in ways such Jasmin and Tim’s program.

climbing the stairs to Treehouses

I find myself often working without music. My whole day is spent focusing on intentions of sound that sometimes it can be fatiguing to listen to music for pleasure. Other than instrumental music and concerts I have rarely found myself at ‘band’ shows. This was a bit different. My friend Tim Mead is a vocalist in Treehousesa Perth-based group drawing on folk and spoken ideas. Currently the band are supporting listener, a US based spoken word rock band on their Australian tour. I’m vibing pretty hard to their music currently, especially after hearing them at Blackbear Lodge. Their new track Old Friends is seriously infectious with an absolutely scintillating synth line and fresh vocals and spoken/screamed lines. Non-instrumental music is not my usual subject to write about but I’m liking what I hear and feel that I should do an investigation into more local Aussie bands, especially during my time away. So please comment some suggestions of bands/songs that I should have a listen to. Meanwhile you should all go and give Treehouses some loving on Spotify!

Elim Chan and the New World

This title is pretty multi-faceted. Firstly, it most obviously refers to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor “For the New World” Op. 95 which was performed by the Queensland Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hong-Kong born conductor Elim Chan last Friday night. Secondly, it eludes to this new world we are entering i music regarding representation of gender, musical ideas, culture and politics. Lastly and on a more personal level, it relates to the new world I am travelling to.

This concert was so incredibly special for a number of reasons. The program was absolutely blockbuster, consisting of Strauss’ Till Eulenspeigel’s Merry Pranks, to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations played by the incomparable Meta Weiss to the momentous New World Symphony. Elim Chan mounted her podium with presence, intent, her arms outstretched and coursing energy into the veins of the orchestra. I have never before witnessed a conductor with such deliberate intentions, ideas and the technique to coax out world-class playing. The Strauss was taken at a bright tempo, light and drenched in character. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, however I was frequently aware of the rich curtain of sound produced by the strings, often more present that the winds. Motif were dextrously passed around sections of the orchestra with solos sounding incredibly polished. The Rococo Variations seemed a lot more textually balanced. With her cello, Meta Weiss made her first statement of the theme with poise and buoyancy. In my proximity to the stage I was able to witness the detail in her fingering and bowing that conjured incredibly moving phrases. As a flute player I may be biased, but there are a few particular sections in this work that I adore. Without a doubt the dialogue between the flute (principal played by Kyla-Rae Ashworth) with the theme and the cello is a personal favourite. Then of course the theme in the relative minor and the final variation. The incredible thing is that Tchaikovsky plays by some of the most standard ways of musical variation, but the work itself never fails to get audiences excited. The final work in the program was the New World Symphony a work that always is an audience favourite. I like to endearingly call this symphony the symphony of seconds as Dvořák introduces and passes his themes and motifs around second positions of the orchestra (ie. second flute, second violins). The work itself is a narrative of triumph, nostalgia an energy and I can confirm Elim brought out all these qualities. It would have been incredible to have the opportunity to work with her for this project but unfortunately I was engaged with preparations with my departure. Instead I had the opportunity to listen and be an audience, a position that is important to the learning and growing mind of a musician.

London landing

Well, I’m finishing the last few lines of my blog on a lounge in London. I arrived at Heathrow around 16:00 this afternoon after over 22 hours of combined flying. At the airport I met fellow flutist Lindsay Bryden who has been living in London and is also doing the Trevor Wye Flute Studio for six months. For those who don’t know why I’m now in England, I’ll do some explaining! Earlier in the year I applied and auditioned for The Flute Studio under the tutelage of Trevor Wye, a renowned flutist, pedagogue and author of several best-selling books. I found out a few months ago that I had been accepted into the course which has recently received confirmed support by the Australian Council for the Arts and The David Cubbin Memorial Fund. The studio has been operating for over 27 years and has welcomed students from over 19 countries. The primary focus of The Flute Studio is to achieve flute performance to a very high level through a meticulous focus on flute technique, method, tone, repertoire, history and performance. The course prepares individuals for the rigorous and highly competitive nature of a professional career as a musician. Whilst I delve through various ‘corridors’ of repertoire, genres, expressions and settings, having technical autonomy is imperative to greater nuances in expression and communication. I am confident that The Flute Studio is an important next step in my professional and musical development.

Tomorrow, Lindsay and I will be travelling to the Elmstead Court Farm where we will live for the next six months whilst perfecting flute technique with four other wonderful flutists from Lithuania, Korea, the U.S. and another from Australia. I’ll be sure to keep this blog healthy and regularly fed with fresh content so be sure to subscribe to be notified of new posts and activities.

If you are interested in financially supporting my on-going project and production costs (such as food and public transport to and from concerts and masterclasses) then you can do so via my Australian Cultural Fund project page here. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and are meaningful no matter the amount! Thank you for your ongoing support!

To all my family and friends~ I already miss you and Brisbane town and I’ll see you next year!!! 👋🏼 I can’t wait to share all my adventure with you!

from norf back to south

This post is truly hard to write. It feels that as my fingers touch these keys that I am living again in the final hours of the festival. The final hours of sound which brought the festival to a spectacular close. These past two weeks have ripped through in a relentless whirlwind of activity and I have found these moments of reflection through writing to grant me a sense of pause and breath. I now sit on the plane completing this entry, it is my third attempt and I hope I will be able to express the depth of my feelings towards the last two weeks which were the Nief-Norf Summer Festival.

2018 x 11 = a taste of the new

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Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark (2018)

I shall start a few days back, at the Composer’s Concert. This concert was a showcase of the composition fellow’s new works performed by the performance fellows. Never have I seen a program which lists the same year which we are living in as the composition date for each composition. All were composed this year and that was just so incredibly refreshing. Almost so new you could still see the steam rising. Each work had its own compositional style, none exuded or were the offspring of another composer’s idiomatic style. I thought this was quite a remarkable thing. I played in a composition titled Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark for voice, flutes (flute and piccolo), violoncello and percussion. This piece was written to be fun and was quite the whimsical work set to a text by Carl Sandburg. This piece certainly had its own particular challenges. Apart from being one of the more ‘tonal’ works I played during the festival this piece also held some challenging ‘licks’ and passages that required particular attention to the cleanliness of articulation and technique (which is of course important across all works). The composing fellows would always be at every concert, listening to the various works we were performing. During my time at the festival I had the privilege to speak with each of them about their compositional practice and language. I was particularly intrigued by one of the composers, Varun Rangaswamy who had undergone a metamorphosis in compositional identity. In the composition presentation he gave us an insight into how his style had evolved through a reflection on his cultural identity as well as the current political situation in America regarding immigration and foreigners. I have always felt that new music has a crucial perspective in regards to current political, environmental and social situations in the world, as a vehicle for reflection and as a medium to translate its chaos. It is undeniable that every work written bears the weight of the present, of the composer’s internal thoughts and the noise and activity of the external world. For this very reason, I believe that composers who reflect upon their own compositional language and trajectory will have a clearer image of what they want to sonically depict in future compositions. However, this thought does not always reign supreme. Experimentation is an integral part of the compositional process and for many emerging composers this practice is a crucial aspect of developing a compositional identity. During the festival I worked with one of the fellows, Sebastian Zel from whom I requested an electro-acoustic piece for alto flute. We set aside a time where I could show him some techniques characteristic of the alto flute and see how electronics could manipulate these ideas. Some of the most surprising sounds were key clicks and jet whistles. The harmonic richness of the alto in the higher registers also was translated in a unique way by the patches he was using. It certainly was such a intriguing interaction between the interplay of the alto flute and real-time manipulation. I also invited many of the of the composers to send me their flute pieces when they wrote one. This will also tie into a commissioning project from flute and percussion and in future flute/violoncello/percussion which is my dream ensemble configuration. I received a surprise email from Christopher Adler, the Head of Composition at Nief-Norf, with a wonderful solo flute work as well as a duo for alto flute and violoncello both commissioned and to be recorded by Lisa Cella. I am excited to see what works will come my way from the connections and friends I made at the festival. But for now I have so many projects of my own which I shall bring back with me to Brisbane.

Have a look at some of the highlights from Concert 10.

Hyper from Varèse’s Hyperprism to New York’s Hypercube

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Hypercube in action for the 11th Nief-Norf Summer Festival Concert

The 11th concert of the festival was not only special as it was our evening to rest before the colossal marathon concert to come but was a concert featuring guest ensemble Hypercube from New York. The ensemble has a signature instrumentation of saxophones, guitars, percussion and pianos. The pieces they played apart from Hout (1991) by Louis Andriessen were either written for or revised for the instrumentation of the ensemble. I have this guilty pleasure for the sound of a well-played accordion you see. Andrea Lodge played the piano-accordion (as well as the piano) and it added this wonderful visual and sonic depth to Sam Pluta‘s American Toyko Daydream IV (Data Structures/Monoliths). After that piece it was announced that they solidify then tilt by (2018) Nicholas Deyoe had to be taken off the program as in the throws of passionate performance the accordion had been injured. The other pieces on the program included Liminal Bridges (2016) by Philip Schuessler and Mastodon Rises (2017) by Christopher Adler. It was a wonderful smorgasbord of music exploring the timbral interactions between the instruments of the ensemble. I was most captured by the ensemble synchronicity and dynamic. They had that telepathic way of communication of an ensemble which has been working together for some time. I think part of this observation came from a craving to have a deeper connection with my ensembles during the festival. Of course, my connection towards musicians I have worked with numerous times becomes strengthened each time we re-engage musically with one another. I noticed in some groups this was better than others, for example Unlit Cigarettes, Pangkur, Terrestre, Mouthpiece 28 held more ensemble glue than some of the other ensembles I worked with. Part of this can certainly be attributet to having minimal rehearsal time, often only with three days to put together a work.

Naturally, ensemble communication comes from experience. The experience of working in a chamber setting and professional performance. Its both a quantative and qualitative experience. One may have the fortunate opportunity for their first chamber music immersion to be with a group of seasoned chamber musicians. I see a salient point in my musical future, where once having played, performed and engaged in myriad chamber configurations I will come face-to-face with a collision. And from this collision I know I will feel the ground beneath as bedrock, a place where the people around me will exude an intricate, telepathic electricity moving from their fingertips, breath, gesture to the synapses of my understanding. I have felt this synergy before, but in ensembles where time seems evanescent. However, one of my upcoming chamber projects this year involves making this desire a reality, incarnate and establishing it as a robust concept.

Have a look at some of the highlights from Concert 11.

counting by hours, closing in songs

Concert twelve– the final concert, they even call it a marathon. 

I ran towards the Natalie L. Haslam Music Centre to catch the beginning of what I knew would be seven hours of intense and gripping music-making. As I slowly opened the doors I was immersed by George Lewis’ Calder which was performed in the echo chamber of the foyer, the sounds of trombones, percussion and piano bouncing off the tiled floors and walls. I was set to play two pieces in the line-up of over 20 works– Christopher Burns‘ Injunctions (2013) and Jordan Munson‘s Heartless Fools: Union + Awaken (2018). Despite the enormous length of the program I listened to a majority of the pieces, only sitting out the works immediately before mine.

There were a few pieces which completely had me entranced with all my senses locked in deep fixation. I begin with Daniel Fawcett‘s Radiant Cry II (2018), composed for soprano and electronics, and I honestly am led to believe, infused with some sort of magic. Katherine Ambrester, soprano and a very dear friend whom I had the lucky privilege of living with during the festival, was the soloist in this piece. Bathed in a blue light emerged whispered words, spoken articulations to sung thoughts. From her body, her fingers and hands were enveloped in gloves with cables travelling from fingertips to a device made only in a few hours of the night. There was a feeling of pause and beautiful ascension. Amongst the many wonderful works, I was particularly excited hear Rain by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and 2.5 Nighmares, for Jessie by Natacha Diels. I was enchanted and so very drawn towards Jessie Marino’Rot Blau (2009) which is for two identical performers, modified gloves, lights, cups and mouth lamps. This was such a quirky piece performed by Alex Richard and Hannah Dick each wearing a blue and red wig. The piece was so full of character and I really would love to try this with my duo partner Joyce in one of our upcoming concerts. I was eager to hear the work by Tomas La Porta titled Haikus sin palabras (2018) which had been chosen from the Call For Scores. This young composer wrote beautifully for flute, piano and percussion with lines which gave space and room for stillness. I had the opportunity to speak with him after about his work and musical ambitions. He said he had to return to Argentina the next day for school. I spoke further with him on social media and he informed me that he had completed his piano quintet on the plane and was working on a piece for soprano and orchestra inspired on the Mystery of the macabre by György Ligeti as well as his second piano concerto. I am excited to hear many more of his pieces and hopefully even play one of his works in the near future. I also was quite eager to hear the work of Weijun Chen, another composition fellow who I was fortunate to meet at the festival. His work, Three Early Songs (2018) was initially intended to be performed in the Composer’s Concert but was moved to the final concert, and fit perfectly into the program. It was beautifully scored for soprano and piano with a peaceful and intimately warm presence.
As I looked down the list of the program which we seemed to be moving through quite rapidly I spotted a work by Matthew Burtner, a composer who had recently featured in  my university essay on Ecoacousticology. His work Cloudprints (2008-2012) was featured in the marathon program. This work is primarily scored and contains a section with images of cloud shapes and formations. The piece has a beautiful and leisurely sense of movement and I found it incredibly refreshing to listen to.

Throughout the festival I’ve been exposed to the honest, conceptual and almost extraterrestrial work of Carolyn Chen. Every time her name was on the program I would be so excited to hear/see/feel what would occur in the recital hall. For the marathon concert her piece Drown (2011/2018) was performed by the wonderful soprano, Alexandra Porter. It’s a piece which involves singing of course, then singing into a fish tank with a hydrophone which receives sounds outside and inside of the glass. If that wasn’t enough, then a camera was also placed looking at the tank to capture the image Alexandra plunging her face and singing into the water and well as the faces she was making on the other side of the tank. This was projected in real-time on a screen above the stage. Carolyn is full of wonderful and whacky ideas in all sorts of unpredictable places of the quotidian and using objects and combinations of things you wouldn’t quite expect. And…. she has a flute piece which I certainly will be playing sometime in the near future! It was such a joy to be able to meet Carolyn and discover her works and witness absolute fun unravelling.

I now move to the works that I was performing in. Injuctions is a work by Christopher Burns for five or more improvisers and involves a series of ‘injunctions’ given by hand cues. For example, one thumb is ‘no pattern’, vulcan salute is ‘no quarter’ and an open palm is ‘no development’ amongst several other gestures. It seemed only fitting to have performed a Burns work for the first concert I played in and now to be ending with another Burns in the closing concert. Unlike Unlit Cigarettes I found this work so incredibly challenging to engage in as a performer and improviser. There were several times when we would run the piece where I would just feel an urge to sit out, to not contribute as there was an incredible amount of activity happening already and any further contribution would muffle what was already unravelling, perhaps creating a cacophony. I think my difficulty with this piece may have been attributed to the large number of people involved. There were around fifteen improvisers involved all with strong and wonderful ideas and because of this I felt there was minimal space for silence or even a solo, duet or small ensemble interaction. I think I often take for granted the courtesy and practice of listening that I have experienced with working regularly with a small group of improvisers in Brisbane. It almost seemed that everyone played for the entire fifteen minutes of stage time we had during the marathon. But the part of the performance which struck me like a big face palm was when a fellow improviser introduced ‘the lick‘ to the performance. Now, I haven’t got any prejudice against this Jazz cliche, I just felt that it’s introduction seemed alien from the improvisational realm we were weaving. Once it was introduced the realm unravelled into a world of quotations. Improvising with musicians I have never worked with previously has its own challenges as I have mostly identified. However it also presents its own charms, offering fresh ideas and sonic perspectives which may not have arisen if not given the chance and space to improvise together. It is truly rare that I come out of an improvisation feeling unsettled but the version of Injunctions that we performed certainly made me feel this way. Perhaps I could have steered it in the direction I would have preferred through the given hand gestures but in some ways the performers had each taken to their own anarchical ideas and it seemed an unshakable trajectory. I won’t forsake myself of the knowledge that I had fun. I had fun playing my flute, piano, percussion and engaging in the chaotic scenes which unravelled on stage. There was this wonderful moment of interplay between spoken/sprechstimme statements, chewing gum and a rhythmic ostinato. I always find with all improvisations that I am able to remember some truly wonderful moments which even after the close present me with a feeling of satisfaction. Our version of Injuctions made the audience laugh and smile as the chaos, stories and humour which transpired on-stage. I think that despite my own discomforts, that the work was a perfect piece in the lengthy program to perk the audience up.

Do you ever have one of those nights where you put your weary body to bed at a decent hour of the night? Well, I certainly indulged in one of those nights, perhaps when I shouldn’t have. I initially thought I was only going to be performing Injunctions in the marathon concert and had slowly unwinded since having performed Terrestre. The morning after my early slumber, I checked my messages to see if there were any updates or changes. It was 9:50am and I had missed a 9am rehearsal which was only established at 11:30pm the night before for a piece which had been added to the marathon program. Of course due to the late nature of the addition my absence was excused but I am always strict with myself with rehearsal attendance and early arrival as you never know if the person who is hiring you is very particular. Anyhow, I was overjoyed to be involved in Jordan Munson’s Heartless Fools: Union + Awaken a work for flute, bass clarinet, trombone, electric guitar, piano and electronics. I know I have previously expressed my love of working with living composers and how Nief-Norf truly made an effort to invite composers to the performance of their pieces and have composers workshop their pieces, and this was another opportunity to do so. Jordan had been present throughout the whole festival as the Technology faculty, predominantly making sure everything would run smoothly from performance to performance. It was very exciting to hear and be involved on one of his works. The piece revolved around F-sharp Phrygian and would rise and fall in a sort of drunken climb again and again then fall to short melodies and eventually dissipate. Jordan made use of lights which would respond to sound and the intensity of sound, so if I played a forte-fortissimo B7 the light would be at its brightest whilst the light would be duller if I played much softer and lower. We were bathed in a blue light and as our sounds intensified flashes of the bulbs would greet us. It was truly a spectacular and beautiful work to be part of and I am so very thankful I had the opportunity to perform with such incredible musicians. It was certainly a spectacular way to close the festival.

…no fall of a curtain but only applause and goodbyes to know it was over…

So here I am, I’ve attempted to write this post a fair few times and now I’m completing it. It’s been hard trying to put this festival into words when I often run to music to express what words cannot.

Two weeks, twelve concerts, and thousands of memories. Ok, this totally is not a weeping moment. I’ve already done that. But in all honesty Nief-Norf Summer Festival made me experience an infinite amount of thoughts, sounds, sights, ideas and emotions. I’ve met many incredibly prolific and passionate musicians who also are hooked on this world of whacky and weird noises and want to celebrate and create much more. I was given the opportunity to play pieces that may not have been so easy to facilitate in Brisbane. And I now I have the confidence that I can tackle ALL repertoire no matter how gnarly it appears. Coming from classical performance, contemporary music often is a sort of secret identity I engage with outside of my studies. At Nief-Norf I felt completely welcomed into the outstretched arms of the festival and through the pieces I played, the people I met and the things I experienced I was invigorated and in many ways rejuvenated. It was hard work but I honestly would do it all again. The people I met gave me names of other festivals and intensives which I am so excited to look into for next year. I also have many couches to sleep on and homes which have open their doors to me as part of the new friendships that have been born. So, of course, this will make the United States much more accessible to me in future. These friends are indeed musical colleagues which I see myself working and collaborating with in the near future. To the entire Nief-Norf family (especially Andrew Bliss, Eric Retterer and Abby Fisher) I thank you for the noisy and incredible time that was the Nief-Norf Summer Festival. See you and hear you soon!

 

P.S Nief-norf friends please keep me updated with your musical movements and beyond!

If you’re a fellow lover of noise and want to hear more or have any questions about the Nief-Norf Summer Festival please don’t hesitate to contact me using my contact form.

recollection of resonances

There has been a short period of silence from the ‘Bog-blog’ primarily due to the intensity of this noisy festival schedule of back-to-back rehearsals and a concert each day. It’s unrelenting but here is a recollection of the past few days which have seemed to me much longer than just “a few days.”

…composed connections…

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I will start with Pangkur, a piece selected from the ‘Call for Scores’ submissions by Juro Kim Feliz. When I first received this piece I looked at it, trying to decipher its language of notation, with arrows from instrumental line to instrumental line and changes from piccolo to alto flute. I was so incredibly in awe at how it had been scored as I had never approached anything like it before. The scoring was reminiscent of Crumb (many logical spaces in relativity to other parts) but involved many more indications. Pangkur is originally intended to be for sextet of piano and percussion on stage with the quartet (flute (alto and piccolo), clarinet (Bb and Bass), violin and violoncello) offstage. The quartet is without measured time whilst the duo is written using metre and is conducted. Whilst both components form the piece, they may be performed independently of each other, that is as just a quartet or a duo. For the festival we performed the quartet which certainly alleviated the challenge of having to coordinate with a conducted part on the other side of the hall. We still performed offstage, playing on the balcony with the hall lights off. This piece which had previously made me question how on earth I would pull it off revealed itself to be a work of incredible nuance and beauty. Whilst I did miss the beautiful complexity of the interactions between the two ensemble groups of the piece, particularly the vocalisations in the percussion and piano parts the quartet stood as a complete work in itself. It was such a pleasure to put it together as well as perform and premiere the quartet in the presence of the composer who was overjoyed to hear it’s premiere as a quartet. Jonathan, the violinist I have been working with during the festival expressed that he wanted to perform the piece again in LA where he lives. Who knows, I may just be coming back to America sometime soon…

HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 5.

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The Pangkur Quartet with the composer Juro Kim Feliz.

Working with living composers on their works is always such a privilege. It gives insight into the character of the composer as well as immediate feedback and communication which is an integral part of realising their musical language and expression. I have been in awe of Nief-Norf’s commitment to contacting living composers and communicating with them in regards to pieces of theirs which we are performing at the festival and even inviting them to listen to their works being rehearsed and performed. Another instance of working with a living composer during this festival was in Nox by Drew Baker. Like Juro, Drew arrived on the day of performance to give some final notes and any tweaks to how we were executing the parts of the score. This piece was another exploration of the space of the concert hall. It is written for four groups: stage, centre, left and right hall. Each group has their own set of sections which are cued by the conductor and each section corresponds to new musical idea or material which builds off the previous idea. This was an incredibly straightforward work to put together and it was made so much easier through the way it was scored in ‘sections’ of sound ideas. It was certainly one of lesser demanding works in regards to note content. The works to come certainly demanded more time and attention.

HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM CONCERT 6.

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stacking sound: a trombone, alto flute and piccolo, oboe and cor anglais, makeshift celesta and a battery of percussion…

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I’ve always wanted to play Feldman. When I first received the score for Instruments I (1974) I found myself straining my eyes to distinguish between minims and crotchets as the notation program had kindly printed them with as much distinction as the facial features of an ant. Feldman’s writing is so incredibly idiomatic and intricately explores how timbres of each instrument combine to form a new compound timbre. Flutes, oboes, trombone, celesta and percussion? A unlikely combination of instruments which each suffer from being characteristically obvious. All is intended to be “extremely quiet” in Instruments I (and a large majority of his other works) with a focus on the sustain of sound rather than on the initial attack. Personally, I found this piece an exercise in heightened awareness of focus in sound, sustain, rhythm and timbral blend. Third octave alto flute is a challenge to execute especially at a more delicate dynamic as I often find that the timbre of alto flute is characteristically rich in harmonics and at that register a pianissimo sustain becomes rather difficult. The piece served as a wonderful exercise to explore the physical commitment required to execute such demands and I must say my alto flute tone truly evolved. This piece gave me the opportunity to focus on tone quality in for auxiliary instruments which often don’t receive the careful attention to nuance of tone and colour which I invest in my concert flute.

On another note, the reason I said makeshift Celesta was because we did not have access to a real celeste so we used a keyboard with a celeste patch instead. It did the job just like the real thing, just with less physical majesty.

The concert seven recap can be found below. This concert also featured Static by Vanessa Tomlinson, who had convened the Queensland Conservatorium New Music ensemble and is my primary new music mentor. It is a great piece with plenty of sandpaper action and lots of great percussion sounds and actions.

…I use my mouth as a mouthpiece…

Concert eight was THE CONCERT. It was certainly the most demanding for me and contained two of the pieces which I had invested an enormous amount of time and commitment into. The Erin Gee and the Kaija Saariaho. It was an undeniably cathartic and noisy evening.

I use my mouth as a mouthpiece. This is a direct reference to Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 and her mouthpiece compositions which utilise the voice as “an instrument of sound production.” Scored for voice, bass flute, bass clarinet, violin and percussion the piece is highly interwoven and is truly a work of chamber music. So much of the piece is dependent on the interplay of different instruments with different voices filling in the gaps to form the piece that is Mouthpiece 28. I had a wonderful time playing bass flute. I rarely have the opportunity to do so in Australia as I do not have access to a usable instrument. The bass flutes at the Queensland Conservatorium are mouldy and are not the right instruments to be executing new and experimental music on as this music demands a lot of contact with the instrument (breathing in and through the instrument, tongue rams and other highly specific actions which require hygienic instruments as to not contract disease from the last 100 players who did not have cleaning cloths and swabs provided and left tuna sandwich residue which has fermented over two years). Ok, I am aware that this is highly graphic but I have smelt tuna residue in the communal flutes before. I was thankful to have Lisa Cella bring the bass flute from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This flute looks gold (it’s actually brass but still so very impressive in appearance) and is so responsive and easy to play. It also didn’t give me extreme wrist pain but that was mainly because I was wise enough to support it with a chair during rehearsals. My flute teacher, Virginia Taylor once gave me a stern warning that if she ever saw me practice bass or alto flute without the support of a chair she would come into my practice room and lecture me on my lack of sensibility. I have truly taken this advice to heart.

Gee’s Mouthpiece 28 was a pleasure to perform. It was a privilege to perform alongside Felicia Chen once again especially in a piece where the flute player has to match the nuance and character of the intricate and highly quirky vocal part. The ensemble members Jonathan Tang, Alexandra Hecker and Kevin Zetina were so incredibly easy to work with and made a piece with complex rhythms and constant time signature changes less intimidating. Also our wonderful conductor (and professional cellist) Ashley Walters was the bedrock of the ensemble and made all the changes in time signature incredibly clear.

…how to put together a concerto in three days…

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Taken from her flute concerto, Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Terrestre‘ is a piece which maintains the demands of a flute concerto but is scored for a smaller ensemble of solo flute, violin, violoncello, harp and percussion. When I first received the email that I was playing this piece I remember feeling my stomach do a huge backflip. I stood up, approached my CD shelf and took out Claire Chase‘s album Terrestre and listened. I received the sheet music for the piece the week before the Nief-Norf festival and was so incredibly thankful to receive guidance from Hannah Reardon-Smith on executing double trills and the spoken lines. I had to start learning this piece immediately because I knew Terrestre is one of the monumental contemporary flute works and all the praying to the bird gods would not make it any easier. It is a truly unrelenting piece but so undeniably rewarding.

I had thought the piece was programmed for the last concert of the festival, the marathon concert and felt that this was somewhat ample time to really have the work solid under the fingers. However, when I discovered that the performance had been moved to concert eight  (Wednesday 20th) my jaw dropped. I felt like I needed Lisa more than ever but she had departed form the festival to prepare for the Soundscapes Festival in Italy (I certainly will be applying for this next year!). I was left to my own devices, just my flute, a practice room, my metronome, my manuscript and I with limited time to put together this large and demanding work. Help did come and I was privileged to have Jennifer Ellis arrive for week two of the festival to coach the Saariaho chamber group. She was suprised that they had not assigned the work to a flute player who had played it previously, but none of the three of us flutes at the festival had ever played it before. Jennifer had played it before with Claire Chase so she knew the exact demands of the piece especially from the perspective of a chamber player. She had done it unconducted and expected that we would too but also said that it was unusual and most unheard of to perform this piece after only three days of rehearsals. So Ashley Walters became our conductor rather last minute and that was when the ensemble was able to truly make music. What I mean by this is that we had previously been so caught up in trying to stay together as an ensemble and by having a conductor we were able to have that grounding and focus on the intricacy of Saariaho’s musical narrative.

The ensemble was such a pleasure to work with and their solidity as an ensemble made the piece a lot easier to put together. I was absolutely stoked to get to work with two-thirds of the other members the Pangkur ensemble, cellist Ashlee Booth and Jonathan Tang on violin. I was lucky to be joined by Kevin Zetina on percussion in the same concert and play with the harpist Celia van den Bogert for the first time in the festival.

We waited to go on stage. The self-made mohawk man opened the doors and we assumed our places. A purple light bathed the stage and I could feel a fiery intensity. L’oiseau dansant was about to appear, dance and set the stage ablaze and then ascend to the satellites above… 

Terreste is so infused with lush colours and narratives. As an ensemble we decided on stories to match with Saariaho’s adjectives dappled throughout the work. I was so overjoyed when after the perfomance audience members and peers expressed how they felt that a story was unravelling on stage that they felt enraptured and entranced. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much energy in one room. Whilst there are elements of my performance that I felt I could have done better (as I always feel with all performances I ever do!) I felt that I was not choked by nerves and that I was free to express, to enjoy and dance. IMy vocalisations alongside the flute line felt heightened and I found myself feeling like thirteen minutes had been swallowed up in my very first breath. It went by so quickly.

I want to play this work again. I want to play it many more times and share Saariaho’s wonderful and strange musical language. She knows how to write for the flute and I want to keep playing and sharing her works. Now that I have learnt and had my first performance of Terrestre I will seek out an ensemble of musical friends to play this when I return to Australia. I am so very thankful to the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival for having programmed this challenging work (although it gave me quite the scare!). After the performance, Jennifer came up to me and said that this work is a favourite to program in concert and now that I have leant and performed it I will have the opportunity to do so again and again. So it turns out that this work will be on my concerto and repertoire artillery alongside the notoriously requested Mozart concertos. It has imparted on me a fiery intensity that I will revisit again and again. I look forward to also hearing how it evolves in future performances.

You can listen to some snippets of Concert eight below. They cut out the very opening of the Saariaho so it’s contextually a bit odd but I’ll post the full video once that has been published.

The remaining days of the festival are rather quiet for me. Tomorrow I am performing one of the composer fellow pieces, Arithmetic by Jonathan Newmark and then on Sunday I will be performing Injunctions by Christopher Burns in the marathon concert. Tomorrow night I’ll also be doing Sharehouse I again in a late night ‘Norf-Space’ performance. And on Sunday I’ll be attending the Knoxville Pridefest to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to explore Knoxville a little further and maybe even the Smoky Mountains before I leave.

Till next time.

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The Terrestre team.

a few crayons, graphic scores and a concert of unlit cigarettes

I’ve been caught up in this incredible whirlwind of sound, energy and activity over the past few days and it’s been hard to catch a breath away from the flute and the festival. Myriad things have taken place– from going to the Joy of Music School and presenting performing and making graphic scores with Knoxville families to my first concert at the Nief-Norf Summer Music Festival.

Norf-Space– the sounds of crayons on paper

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On Wednesday afternoon five ‘Norfers’ (including myself!) travelled to the Joy of Music School in Knoxville. The Joy of Music School is a not-for-profit organisation which provides free music lessons and instruments to hundreds of financially disadvantaged, at-risk children and teenagers. Founded in 1998, the school has over one-hundred teachers who volunteer and give these children the opportunity of music education. At the school, we had the pleasure of sharing our love for the strange and wonderful sounds of contemporary music notation with the children and their families. We spoke about graphic notation, extended techniques and played some live examples. James Meade, a guitarist played William Walton’s Bagatelle No. 3 to introduce guitar extended techniques and introduce some more unconventional symbols which were unfamiliar to the children. We then catapulted the room into the world graphic notation. From examples of Cage, Eno to Cardew. A performance fellow and singer, Felicia Chen sung Stripsody by Cathy Berberian which is one of my favourite pieces for voice as it has boundless character. As the children were going to be constructing a graphic score of their own, I decided I would perform Sharehouse I, a game piece involving improvisation and theatre that I wrote a few months ago for the Queensland Conservatorium New Music Ensemble. The children and their families were then invited to collaborate and construct a big graphic score that we would perform to them. Their hands were busy, their smiles wide at the thought of how we would interpret their lines, squiggles and cartoon animals. Two large and colourful scores emerged and were attached to the wall ready for their performance. This part of the evening was certainly the most special. Norf-Space made me speculate how my musical trajectory may have been shaped if I had been introduced to the world of contemporary music, extended techniques and graphic notation at an early age. Would I have rejected classical conservatoire level training or have been left a little confused? The children expressed that they felt that the music was a little strange but agreed that they loved every aspect of our performance. I think the power of contemporary music is that it is a diverse art form where aspects of its practice are highly accessible to all levels of musicians, non-musicians and listeners.

 

You can view the video of the day here

Concert II– unlit cigarettes

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After only a few days of rehearsals we had approached concert two. I was playing in Christopher Burn’s Unlit Cigarettes (2012). This piece is so exciting and involves three movements. I wrote more about the details of the piece in an earlier post. For the performance I felt that the ensemble energy was elevated, all gestures and ideas were executed with certainty and clarity. The audience embraced the piece and I had many fellows and audience members approach me after telling me how they laughed, cried and felt on edge throughout the entire fifteen minutes of the work. I would love to do the Burns again in Australia. It can be done in so many different ways and is never the same even when playing with the same people again and again. It’s the pleasure of dynamicism. In the same concert there was H. by Navarro for two singers and spring drums which was such a riot of a piece; Roger’s Bandwidth for guitar and pedals and cello and in honour of the renowned sad trombone effect, Sad Trombone by Shankler for trombone clarinets, cello, piano and electronics. It was a concert of such intense energy and pieces that literally SCREAMED. The teaser video from the concert can be viewed here.

After the concert I had my first ‘downtown’ Knoxville experience and went and explored the area with some of the other fellows. It’s such a great looking area with quirky buildings and arty lanes and parks. I’ll get some decent photos next time I go as my camera doesn’t seem to like night shots!

Until next time, for now I have to run off to more rehearsals!