Jan 19, 2012 - Concert on Pender Island and visit from George Zukerman
Excited to be back on the beautiful island that was home to my parents for 17 years, I awakened early on Jan 19 and immediately began making a reed for the evening concert. The snowstorms of the previous two days had made it impossible for the piano tuner to come and the last time the fine upright Yamaha at the school had been tuned was in October, so I wanted to be prepared in case it was quite flat (pianos never go sharp unless we are in the height of summer).
We had an amazingly savory and wonderful breakfast from Chuck and Doreen of Hummingbird Hollow - zucchini pancakes, a rich, cheddar and vegetable baked mini-omelette, fresh fruit, fresh muffins, homemade jam... incredible. The resident herd of deer came to the front door and were looking in the window... Guy was particularly delighted when a calm little fawn touched his tiny warm nose to Guy’s hand. There no natural predators for the deer on Pender Island, and the kind islanders feed them in winter, so they are quite trusting.
Then I kept working on the reed, making a wider, larger reed by free-hand shaping and profiling. I managed to produce a reed that would play 10 cents flat from low B flat to treble clef F and thus felt prepared for anything. Well, anything that involved a baroque-sounding reed playing modern music!
This gave us time to meet our lovely presenter, Jill Justice, for lunch. We decided to go to Pender Sushi at the Driftwood Centre, but on the way, Jill pulled her car over to the side of the road. I drew beside her in our massive SUV (a pimped out, purple-lit white Ford Navigator). Jill called up to me, “Wouldn’t you like to see your mother’s old house?” At first, I said no, thinking that it all might be a bit sad, and also thinking that I was really ready for lunch. But Jill gently pressed and I agreed. I led the way, finding the place fairly easily through the winding island roads. And I was very glad... the main house has been rebuilt in a grand west coast style, and happily, the timber-framed studio that my father built many years ago was still in place. I left feeling as if I had seen a dear old friend.
We went on to an excellent lunch at Pender Sushi with Guy giving Jill a lesson in chopstick handling. Then we loaded up again into our massive truck and made a quick visit to the Community Centre to see the log picnic table with an integrated roof that my Dad had built... it too was in beautiful condition, preserved and useful, so again I felt that we still had a connection to this place.
Then we drove the the school for our 4:00 rehearsal... they were in the process of setting up the chairs in the gymnasium and moving the piano on stage. We met many of the people who make this series happen, including Colin (a clarinetist) who was setting up the stage lights and Denny (a violinist with 25 students on the island) who was our stage manager and Larry, the treasurer! Others were there from the committee, another example of the large numbers of volunteers needed to make concert societies live!
We rehearsed, and the piano sounded very nice... true, it was somewhat flat and a bit uneven, but manageable and the basic voice was very rich. Guy opened the lid and took off the front panel to give some more sound... we argued a bit about where to place it since the challenge is to not have Guy’s back to the audience but still have enough of the instrument facing the room. We then piled into the truck and scooted back to the bed and breakfast... in the dark, I chose one wrong turn in the curving network of country street options but my ancestral memory guided me back to the right path. Guy and I have steadfastly declined GPS units in our travels and thus far have managed to blunder to the right places.
Guy changed into his concert clothes and headed out into the snow in his fine patent leather shoes. We went back to the hall and got the CD table set up... I have been very disorganized on this tour! Usually I have an inventory sheet prepared for each venue with an exact list of titles and numbers. But on this tour, I have opted to bring many more of my recordings since we are playing so many pieces from the recordings. In the scramble to leave Toronto, I managed to create a list of titles and have asked each venue to keep a simple running total of everything that we sell... it has worked so far and people have been incredibly tolerant of my system!
The audience was very warm and responsive... the music and stories pass in a blur for me but I am always grateful for the energy that comes surging back. We always open with Flight of the Bumble bee and that gives me time to know how well I will hear the piano in the hall full of people. Then we play the pieces with piccolo trumpet and bassoon, and then the Paganini with corno da caccia and bassoon. This was the first time that Guy had played the corno since the accident in the Calgary airport (the automatic check-in kiosk popped open it’s front panel, causing Guy’s cargo case full of trumpets to pitch forward onto the soft-cased corno... a big ding in the curve of the body)... Guy was able to hold the tone and pitch despite an increased tendency for the corno to want to warble! I played my regular concert reed and worked hard to keep the pitch low enough for the A=438 piano... I succeeded generally though had to give up on some of the sustained, soft low notes. We close the first half with the Schreck sonata and it was a particularly lush feeling performance.
At intermission, I was standing behind the curtain when Guy went out to pick up the piccolo trumpet, so I couldn’t see why he suddenly let out a loud, happy cry. When I peeked around the curtain, I saw George Zukerman standing at the edge of the stage! I was very happy to see him, and so impressed that everyone had kept his visit as a secret so that we would be surprised!
We had a quick talk and then visited with the audience before playing the second half. Guy and I have learned that intermission is the best time to meet people and that we have to go directly from the stage if there is to be enough time to interact. This means I am playing a two hour concert without swabbing the bassoon, but it has not been in problem in the very dry cold climates where we are playing (Regina, Calgary, Brooks, Whitehorse, Saskatoon, Trail, Brandon, even Pender Island was dry).
Jan 20, 2012 - Travel to Whitehorse - no cell phone or FaceBook for 2 days!!
We were up at dawn the next morning to pick up George at 6:10 a.m. on the way to the ferry... our hearts lifted at the site of the brightly-lit neon sign in the ferry coffee shop but on closer inspection, a notice in the window said it was closed until mid-February.
We had breakfast on the ferry, eating the packed muffins that Doreen had given us the night before and then we all went to sleep until docking in Tsawassen. I plan to come back on another trip dedicated to asking George many questions about his rich life.
Guy and I went to downtown Vancouver and had lunch in the Vancouver Hotel before returning our pimp-mobile. We got it back to the rental agency before 2 and saved a day’s rental. We then had seven hours before our flight to Whitehorse.
We found a spot where we could plug in our computers and phones, all within striking distance of coffee shops, chocolate shops, gift shops and the time passed very quickly for me... we worked on our kid’s show that we were scheduled to perform the next day and reviewed our cues.
Guy fell asleep the minute we got on the plane and we landed 2 and a half hours later, the white mountains around Whitehorse glistening in the bluey moonlight. We dragged our suitcases through the dry squeaking snow and crystal glittered air, two long-legged foxes were in the parking lot... one sleeping on a snow bank and the other trotting between the cars. Our little rental car (Ford Fusion) was plugged in and ready to go. For some reason, we couldn’t find the trunk-popping button. Or rather, we did find it but were so bleary that we thought it was some mysterious battery-exploding button and were afraid to push it until the rental guy came out and pushed it for us (sigh).
We crunched through the sparkling cold night (-32) and easily found our hotel. As usual, we declined a GPS and our Rogers phones do not work in the Yukon (no FaceBook for two days) but the route couldn’t have been easier. We checked into our big, rambling, old-north clapboard-style hotel and trudged around, searching for a spot to plug in the car. We finally wedged in next to an immense, shining Dodge Ram pick up truck and another car to nose up to the electrical outlet trough. Then we crashed into our beds in the absolutely warmest rooms of the tour.
Jan 21, 2012 - 2 Concerts in beautiful Yukon Arts Centre
We went down to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant. A man dressed in insulated lineman overalls and coat did a double take when he saw me, swayed lightly and said, “Holy ****! That’s some great hair!’ and I said “Thank you!”
We had enormous delicious breakfasts supplemented by the emergency instant Starbuck’s decaf that Guy is traveling with. Then we headed up to the Yukon Arts Centre to walk through our show before the 1:00 performance.
We were met at the Performer’s Entrance by Denette Readman, the presenter for Whitehorse Concerts. She showed us all of the rooms (change rooms, green room) and the lovely stage, introduced us to the stage manager (Marie-Joelle) and the technicians (Matt and Ryan) then took my key and re-parked our rental car at a plug-in station.
The main hall at the Yukon Arts Centre has a very nice 9 foot Steinway and this was being set up at the back of the stage to allow the chairs for the children’s show to be all set on stage with us.
We talked through our moves and cues, then got dressed for the show. Guy created his persona (Buzz) of a dishevelled, bright-eyed, innocent child with clothes that look like they were pulled out an attic trunk: baggy taupe riding jodpuhrs, mismatched socks, unlaced black boots, a red-star trimmed Russian military cap with askew ear flaps and a ragged-edged cadmium red silk jacket... very adorable. My character is the magician (Crow), mysterious, regal, connected to the animal world and to the wisdom of elders: I wore my black sequined pants under my latest blue superhero skirt with a long train of blue feathers and a gathered bustle of various textures of net, silk, studs, silk, a black net shirt with fingerless glove-sleeves and a silver sequined vest over top. Pointy black boots and a black feathered neck piece finish the invention. We had a large, attentive audience of children, mostly aged 2 - 4 but a few older ones along with a very supportive group of parents.
Our children’ s show is hugely based on Guy’s character (Buzz) --- the eternal child who is so open to discovery, so quick to flights of joy and occasional dips into sorrow, responsive to all learning - Crow is the magician who awakens the genius in the child, leading him to accomplish more than he could alone yet also showing him that it is only his efforts that lead to the magical results.
Before the show, Marie-Joelle and Danette took care of everything (water on stage, setting everything the way we want) and at the last moment, I asked Marie-Joelle if she could film the show, so now we finally have a video of it. And photographer, Bruce Barrett took over 100 beautiful photos which he gave to us on a disc at the evening concert in exchange for a CD.
The Buzz and Crow story shows many basic concepts and is based on the sounds that are made by the reed (a crow) and the sound made by the mouthpiece of the trumpets (a buzz) --- in the course of our silent story, children learn about breathing, how we communicate through breathing and movement, a little bit about how the trumpets and piano work. They discover the music along with Buzz as he puts things together, they see his emotions as he lives through the different kinds of music... mostly he is elated by everything but he dissolves into sobs at the end of Oblivion and has to be coaxed back to happiness. We leave time for many questions at the end and allow the kids to come close to the instruments, sometimes to play them though Guy is very careful about avoiding sharing germs with small children!
After the show, Ryan and Marie-Joelle reset the stage for the evening concert and we had time to rehearse for half an hour, just to get used to the large Steinway and the acoustic of the hall. The sound is very good though slightly dry (hall) and the piano was very good.
We then jumped in our car and headed downtown. Guy took me to a store that represents native artists and we found beautiful presents. Though there are fine restaurants in Whitehorse, we did not have time to sit down to a long meal, so ducked into Tokyo Sushi for a quick dinner, then in to a neighbouring shoe store that had the most astonishing selection of warm fashion boots... everything from seal skin to black designer mukluks to the black tuscan goat with leather fringed yeti boots that I bought.
Back to the hotel for a quick nap and collecting Guy’s concert wear. I slept for 15 minutes then we drove back to the arts centre for the “meet-the-audience” session. About 20 concert-goers came to listen to Denette Readman interview us on subjects ranging from our beginnings in music, how we find repertoire, what kind of music do we listen to, why do we like new music, continued interest in classical music. Then questions were taken from the audience, and they centred around our instruments (makers and history). The questions went on a bit longer than planned because we always enjoy talking about our story and I had to scramble to get into my dress for the show. I had a couple minutes to spare and quickly sanded my reed before going on stage.
Then a fire alarm sounded and the concert had to be delayed until the fire department came and confirmed that there was no fire. The hall was full and the audience very responsive. Our management has arranged for us to have individual speaking microphones for all concerts and this has been a huge help.
We went out at intermission and had the chance to speak with many children and grown-ups. This is the time that we get wonderful questions and responses from people... one woman expressed her appreciation of how we play Bach (not austere or technical) and there were many questions about the bassoon. I can show people the keys, the reeds and the C# brace that cut my hand (from one of our stories). There was even a former bassoonist in the hall, a beautiful young Scotswoman from Edinburgh and we learned that we had a connection through her teacher and my dear, departed friend, Christopher Robson.
After the concert, Whitehorse Concerts held a reception and we had the chance to speak more with musicians and artists from the area...I so wish that I had a better memory for names! I should be making notes but at this event, two women asked for a closer look at my bassoon so I reassembled it and let them inspect it... it is always hard to juggle a bassoon and a notebook! But so incredibly good that people are interested enough to ask.
Guy and I were very tired when we arrived in the hotel rooms after midnight, but we still wanted to look at all of the photos and the video! I fell asleep on the bed with all the lights blazing, waking up in the wee hours to crawl under the covers. We were up early to pack and have breakfast with Debbie and Vern Peters at the Burnt Toast cafe before heading to the airport again. Our flight was easy with only a bit of roughness in 50 km winds at the Vancouver airport. We now know our way around Vancouver, so we bailed into the car and went straight to a restaurant that I wanted to visit last time... Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Restaurant. We wanted to try the pie, but as of last Friday, it has become a full-fledged restaurant offering 3-course organic meals. I had a lamb stew with rosemary dumplings that was one of the best meals of my life.
This has been a very good tour... cold temperatures and heavy luggage, but the fantastic experience of playing a two-hour recital every other day with travel days in between to promote recovery! We are meeting so many people who have never heard the bassoon before and who love Guy from many other performances. I feel astoundingly lucky.