Archives for category: Music

Here are some of my favourite things about America: Win Butler. Big Sur. The drumming of Art Blakey. The Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago. My earliest memories, of splashing through the shallows of Cape Cod as a toddler.

That list is quickly cobbled-together over a bleary Sunday morning coffee – but needless to say I could go on and on. Today, though, what I love most is the music of Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein, and it’s my pleasure to bring you a superb performance of classics by these American masters on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert this morning.

Their music encapsulates the best of the American spirit: optimism, endless horizons; that bright-eyed American philosophy of rolling up your sleeves and getting it done.

Try your hand at the In Concert Quiz, which celebrates US travel destinations that have been immortalized in music.

And listen for a new series I’ve been working on called the Signature Series, in which I attempt to anthropomorphize the keys. Can you ascribe a personality to a bunch of sharps and flats? Today, we’ll meet A Major.

Dramatic irony is one of those storytelling techniques we all learn about in high school, and I haven’t thought about it much since then – except to enjoy it, when it’s used effectively, and even then, I don’t sit there and think, “This is a really great example of dramatic irony.”

But I’ve been thinking a lot about dramatic irony this week. This afternoon, on CBC Radio 2‘s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, I’ll be presenting Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti. It’s a paragon when it comes to the tension and emotional impact that dramatic irony can confer. Especially when the incredible Edita Gruberová is in the title role.

For it’s the music which amps up the power of Donizetti’s plot line (which he adapted from a play by Victor Hugo, which in turn describes a fictional episode in the life of the real historical figure, Lucrezia Borgia.)

Usually, when the audience is in on something (as is always the case with dramatic irony) it has been well and duly tipped off: for example, in Romeo and Juliet, we all know Juliet’s not dead; she’s merely taken a sleeping potion, even if the rest of the characters (save the friar) are unawares.

But in the Prologue of Lucrezia Borgia, it’s never revealed to the audience that Gennaro’s long-lost mother is in fact Lucrezia. Sure, it’s blatantly obvious, if you’re paying attention. It may as well have been written into the script. But it wasn’t, and this creates an opportunity for Donizetti to tell you with the music. When Lucrezia first spots Gennaro asleep by the side of the canal in Venice, the tenderness with which she sings is unmistakable. It’s unconditional, maternal love. Donizetti captures her restraint, too, in the music: she can’t tell Gennaro when he wakes and tells her about his long-lost mother. And Donizetti captures her anguish too.

A mere reading of the plot doesn’t impart the effectiveness of this particular example of dramatic irony. The story itself isn’t what impresses. Here, it’s all about the music. A kind of musical irony – shall we call it operatic irony? (Or, perhaps better – melodramatic irony.)

In Gruberová’s voice, it’s all the more heartrending. If you’ve the opportunity to watch it, I highly recommend the documentary “The Art of Bel Canto”, all about the ageless Gruberová, and the amazing operatic career that has already spanned four decades. Towards the end of the above clip from this doc, there’s an example of just how powerful the end of Lucrezia Borgia can be in her hands.

 

RPM.fm is a fantastic new website devoted to covering indigenous music, operated out of a small office in Vancouver’s Chinatown, in the heart of Coast Salish Territories.

For the past couple of months it’s been my honour and privilege to work with the team over at RPM.fm creating and producing the RPM Podcast, Season 1. So far, there are nine episodes covering various genres and topics, like the music of the North Coast, or New Traditional music, or Native Hip-Hop. Check ’em all out – you’ll discover fabulous new music by artists with whom you may not be familiar, and hear some pretty interesting stories as well.

Episode 10 will go live Wednesday, November 2nd.

On a personal note – ever since I heard (and fell in love with) Robbie Robertson‘s Music for the Native Americans as a teenager, I’ve listened avidly to the wide array of musics created by the indigenous peoples of North America. They straddle a unique position, culturally: they are creators of music in a variety of genres, but they also carry a common cultural background and history to the music they create that is particular to this part of the world. My friends at RPM call the whole thing Indigenous Music Culture. It defies categorization: it’s not “native music”, yet it is; it’s rock, or it’s hip hop, or country, or traditional music – yet it all belongs under the same umbrella. And yet it belongs also to the broader musical subculture of each genre as well, that may have nothing to do with being indigenous.

In this way the music of the indigenous cultures of North America, for me, offers us a useful and interesting metaphor: that non-Natives and Natives share some elements of the same music (not to mention the same land), while being simultaneously different and yet having many things in common.

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I love the idea of music that is tied to specific places. It’s a stimulating challenge for a composer: to try and write music that somehow evokes or captures a place.

That’s one of the things I wanted to do when I was approached by Neworld Theatre to write the music for C.E. Gatchalian‘s new podplay, Authentic, which was released today and is available from the Neworld Theatre website.

(What’s a podplay? It’s a play you experience while walking a particular route, in a specific place, through your earphones. There’s a great explanation here.)

Authentic is a love story between two men from very different cities, a Vancouverite and a New Yorker. The script is gorgeous, highly evocative, and the performances (by actors Marco Soriano and Bob Frazer) are very compelling. It was a privilege to work with this material.

I strove to create a musical flow that had two contrasting motifs within it: two motifs that would reflect the differences between the two cities, but that could also meld into each other. The Adagietto from Gustav Mahler‘s 5th Symphony plays a part in the story, so I wanted to incorporate snippets from that lovely, famous melody into the music for this play, as well; and, finally, because it is a play that unfolds along two of downtown Vancouver’s busiest streets, Seymour and Richards, I wanted city sounds to make up a part of the music too.

Authentic is best enjoyed while walking the route for which it is written, but of course, you don’t have to be in downtown Vancouver to give it a listen.

The Vancouver area is a bhangra hotbed. It’s one of the world’s capitals of bhangra, thanks to the large Punjabi community that has already lived here for several generations. Some of the world’s biggest bhangra stars call Surrey, BC home. And each year Vancouver hosts the City of Bhangra Festival, a celebration featuring performances, symposia, and an international bhangra dance competition.

The 2009 edition of City of Bhangra – or, as it was then known, the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration – takes centre stage in this documentary I produced and directed for CBC Radio & ABC Radio National, which was rebroadcast today on CBC’s Inside the Music.

If you missed it, you can listen to it in full right here:

A couple of years ago I produced & directed two audio documentaries on the music of the Indian Subcontinent for CBC Radio in Canada and ABC Radio National in Australia.

Episode 1, about the music of Bollywood, was rebroadcast today on CBC Radio across Canada. But if you missed it, fret not! You can listen to it in its entirety right here, below. Episode 2: Bhangra airs next Sunday on Inside the Music.

CLICK HERE to listen to Gros Morne: The Bones of the Earth – my feature documentary about how the theory of plate tectonics found firm footing in Gros Morne National Park, in Western Newfoundland.

UPDATE: Bones of the Earth wins Gold Medal at New York Festivals!

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada.

In Western Newfoundland, there’s a national park that holds the key to one of the most important scientific ideas of our times.

Gros Morne National Park is kind of like the Galápagos of geology – you might go to the Galápagos to experience first-hand the wonder of biology and the theory of evolution. In Gros Morne, you can experience first-hand the wonder of geology and the theory of plate tectonics.

Instead of looking out for Darwin’s finches and giant tortoises you’ll come face-to-face with vistas and rock formations that will take your breath away.

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to go to Gros Morne with my microphones to capture the echo of a continental dance that happened 500 million years ago.

My colleague (and great friend) Chris Brookes and I sought out that echo in the words of geologists, artists, musicians and poets, and in the sounds of the park itself.

We composed music based on the field recordings, too. (Listen to excerpts from the original soundtrack.)

Then we wove it all together, along with poetry by Don McKay and traditional Newfoundland music performed by Daniel Payne, Jean Hewson and Christina Smith.

The result is a documentary called Gros Morne: The Bones of the Earth, and you can listen on-demand, whenever you like, HERE.

This documentary was produced with the support of Parks Canada, and sometime this summer, a longer version, presented by Shelagh Rogers, will be available in Gros Morne National Park and online.

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The good folks over at The Banff Centre have been publishing a gorgeous multimedia journal for the past couple of years called BoulderPavement.  The latest issue is based around the idea of Body & Dance and features fabulous original artwork and compelling literary non-fiction, among other things.

I’ve been lucky enough to contribute regularly to BoulderPavement and I’m thrilled to be a part of this issue as well.  For this original audio composition I decided I wanted to get at the question of the origins of rhythm, and the close relationship between music and our bodies that we sometimes take for granted.

Thinking about this, I remembered a great story told by Ustad Zakir Hussain when my colleagues and I interviewed him for a project called The Nerve. That became the basis for this mini-doc, a kind of “scored story” with original music and sound design.

Read more – and visit Boulder Pavement

It’s been six years since the tsunami devastated South & Southeast Asia, and just over a year since the massive earthquake in Haiti. There was a lot of coverage in January about how Haiti is faring, one year later, and hearing all about it has gotten me thinking again about being in Sri Lanka in December 2004 and January 2005.

I was in Colombo during the time just after the tsunami, and I remember being overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness. I wanted to help in some way, but at first, charities weren’t interested in someone with my skill set. During that time, I began to question whether I had made the right choice in life by studying music. Is music ultimately useless?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering ever since, and this article appeared in the first edition of BoulderPavement about a year ago:

Read “Our Constant Companion”

P.S. For some powerful audio about compassion and perseverance in Haiti, tune in to CBC’s Tapestry this coming Sunday, Feb. 6th. They’ve got a great show lined up.

This morning I had the privilege of sharing some of my favourite British Columbian 2010 music releases on CBC Radio 1’s NXNW, with the wonderful Sheryl MacKay.

It’s a thrill to realize just how much great music is coming out of my home province.

Hands-down my pick for Album of the Year, period, from any location, is Versicolour, by singer-songwriter Aidan Knight. It’s a work of art, really, from start to finish. Every single song continues to surprise me with subtleties and wondrous little moments, even after dozens of listens, and the final track, Jasper, was unquestionably the anthem of the year in our household. I can’t wait to hear more from this promising young artist.

Here are some of my other favourites: