RPM PODCAST WINS UNITED NATIONS GOLD MEDAL

The audio podcast “Electric Pow Wow” from the RPM Podcast series, produced by Paolo Pietropaolo for MBM Digital, has been awarded the United Nations DPI Gold Medal at the New York Festivals Radio Program and Promotion Awards.

In addition to this special distinction, “Electric Pow Wow” was also awarded a Silver Medal in the Audio Podcast – Culture & the Arts category. As well, “Atheist Pastors”, an episode of the CBC Radio program Tapestry with mix and sound design by Pietropaolo, was awarded a Gold Medal in the Religious Programs category.

On the RPM Podcast, Indigenous music and culture meet in sound. Each episode gives voice to the music, stories, and experiences of Indigenous artists from around the world by exploring a place, idea, or tradition that inspires Indigenous songs and people. “Electric Pow Wow” explores how the pow wow is getting plugged in, mashed up and remixed by 21st century artists.

The RPM Podcast is hosted by Ron Dean Harris (aka Ostwelve), and produced by Pietropaolo, with executive producer Lynn Booth, creative producer Jarrett Martineau, and production manager Christa Couture at Make Believe Media Inc. in Vancouver.

“Atheist Pastors” is hosted by Mary Hynes and was produced for CBC Radio by Tina Pittaway and Nicola Luksic, with mix and sound design by Pietropaolo.

This marks the 7th consecutive year that Pietropaolo’s work has been recognized at the New York Festivals. In all, his productions have received seven Gold Medals, five Silver Medals and one Grand Award (for Best in Festival) during that time.

The New York Festivals have recognized the world’s best work in radio and audio broadcasting for the past 55 years, with winning programs chosen by an international group of judges. Programs from 27 countries competed in this year’s edition.

The United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) Awards, juried separately from the festival by members of the United Nations, honour programming that “best exemplifies the aims and ideals of the United Nations.”

Winners were unveiled at a ceremony in New York on June 18, 2012.

The year I moved to Vancouver, I arrived in the middle of November. It was dark and gloomy and dreary and rainy. I did a lot of walking that month, to get to know my new neighbourhood and my new city, and my constant companion was Rufus Wainwright.

I know not everyone likes Rufus Wainwright. But I fell in love with his music on those damp wanderings through Vancouver’s West End, my headphones blocking out the pitter patter of the rain.

I’ve listened and re-listened to all my favourite Rufus songs dozens of times over the years, and I’ve gradually come to realize what it is about his music that I find so satisfying.

It’s that I can’t figure it out. His music is a mystery to me: I can’t imagine how anyone could conceive of those melodies, those harmonies, those orchestrations, and make those creative choices. It’s music I can’t dissect intellectually –in much the same way as does the music of Puccini or Debussy or Beethoven, it leaves me breathless and awestruck.

I think his music has as much depth, as much to discover, as classical song. Perhaps for that reason it came as no surprise to me when Rufus Wainwright decided to “cross over”, as they say, to the world of classical music with his opera Prima Donna or with his 2009 album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

Say what you will about pop musicians going classical – and say what you will about Rufus’s voice or his persona or whatever it is that might rub you the wrong way, if you’re one of those people who hasn’t been able to get into his music – I’m here to tell you to give him a chance, if you aren’t already a convert.

His work has somehow tapped into the uncertainty of our times and has captured the imagination of millions – including mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta (pictured above), who gave the premiere performance of All Days Are Nights as a classical song cycle in March in Toronto.

I’m chuffed to be able to share that concert with you today on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert. And if you miss the show today, you can listen to Wallis’s performance anytime you like at CBC’s excellent Concerts on Demand website.

What makes something classical or popular? I’m not sure it’s a question we should even be asking anymore. But if you’re intent on classification, I’ll wager you’ll have a hard time placing All Days Are Nights. Some songs sound like “pop”, others sound much more like “Broadway”, others have a “classical” ring. But does it really matter, in a world that shuffles through music the way ours does?

Back in Mozart’s day, I imagine that music was just music. I imagine people thought about what kind of music it was (if they did think about it in that way at all) based on where they heard it rather than by genre the way we do today. Because back then you couldn’t divorce music from the place in which it was being performed, of course. Salon music. After dinner with the family at the piano music. Concert hall music. Tavern music.

Applying those categories to music today, a lot of songs we think of as being in different genres would end up as new bedfellows. But not, I think, as strange bedfellows.

When I was a kid, like many kids, I took piano lessons. I remember in my imagination all the different notes had their own personalities. I don’t know why, but I felt particularly sympathetic towards C-sharp. I felt sorry for him, for some reason. I wasn’t overly fond of F-sharp, and E always seemed cheerful.

Who knows what prompted these childlike musings. Perhaps the monotony of practicing scales (at which I was never very good – neither the monotony, nor the scales.)

Lately I’ve had a chance to revisit the idea of each note having its own characteristics with a new series I’ve been working on for CBC Radio called The Signature Series. If A Major were a person, who would she be?

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.

2. Gather the most famous melodies composed in that key.

3. Mash them up.

4. Meet the person behind the key.

 

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

I must confess I didn’t really know anything about the Ancient Greek author and historian Thucydides until a marvellous opportunity to learn all about him landed in my lap.

Nicola Luksic is a fantastic journalist and producer with CBC Radio in Toronto, and a wonderful person with whom to collaborate. Nicola’s produced some of the finest programs to hit the airwaves in the past few years, including And Sometimes Y, The Bottom Line, the double Gabriel-Award-winning 2010-11 season of Tapestry, and many more.

This past season Nicola also wrote & produced a documentary for CBC’s Ideas about Thucydides, and I was thrilled when she asked me to select scoring music and do the sound mix. With the help of the APM music production library, I tried to create an atmosphere that would immerse listeners in the world of Ancient Athens, Sparta, and the Peloponnesian War.

LISTEN HERE to Nicola’s excellent doc, Thucydides: The First Journalist.

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.