Monday, 30 May 2011

This post is in memory of Bruce Haynes, a friend and mentor who died on May 17th here in Montreal.

I wrote most of this a week ago, but decided to wait until I was in Montreal again before posting it. Part of me wanted to communicate right away, and part of me felt that I should, but I was reminded of old emails apologizing to Bruce for tardiness in getting back to him with my side of various conversations about music, and I treasure a reply from him saying it's ok: "I've made damn sure I
won't myself feel hurried in writing this..."

So I've taken my time, and in a way the act of taking extra time and care seems like a better tribute than the writing of any clunky words that I could come up with. Since a first attempt at writing, a page has been created on Facebook where people have posted all sorts of lovely remembrances, showing facets of Bruce which are delightfully new to me. He had almost completely stopped playing the oboe by the time I started to get to know him, so to hear of stories of him as a performer is dear indeed. It's good to know that my desire to set down my own stories isn't an isolated thing, but fits into a kind of community of people from all over the world who are eager to remember.

I recently re-read an email that I wrote in 2008, describing sitting in Susie and Bruce's kitchen. I think it's safe to say that it's my favourite room in the world. It's beautiful for one, with a great wooden counter, shelves covered with motley teacups, and a pinboard full of family photos (is it made of wine corks?). As if to nourish the creativity and the exchange of ideas that it has always hosted, there always seems to be a freshly baked creation of Susie's to munch on. In fact, the first time I went to visit during my trip to Canada last autumn, I called from the rain after a rehearsal and Bruce and Susie picked up at the same time - as soon as I'd said hello, Susie put down the phone and there were tasty gingerbread creations just being pulled from the oven by the time Gawain and I arrived. This kitchen is a vortex for early music: festivals, concerts, recordings and books get planned, and many people meet there for the first time; others get to know each other. As I write, the memories of conversations with Bruce come back - authenticity in performance (Bruce introduced me to the ideas of Diderot on whether sincerity is required in acting), and disagreements about subtlety versus the exaggeration of gestures in recordings (there's a stereo under the shelf with the sugar to help us illustrate our points). One day during the germination of The End of Early Music, we disagreed about whether modern musicians should write in period style. We were both vehement and it lasted for seven delightful hours. We had to order a pizza and open a bottle of wine and no, even then we never quite agreed, but it was a delicious disagreement. Sometimes we also talked about non-musical things: Bruce showed me that one can judge a good potter by their ability to craft a spout that doesn't drip, for instance, and just last autumn we bemoaned together that someone had respectably cleaned the many dried and twisted strands of spaghetti off the walls of the kitchen where they had been thrown many times over the years to be tested for doneness - if it sticks, it's done.

My second favourite room in the world is probably Bruce's office. It's right above Susie's music room, where I heard Ste-Colombe performed for the first time, where we rehearsed much of Orfeo in 2007, where I evesdropped on David Greenberg, David McGuinness and others in the middle of creating the CD La Mer Jolie while I worked quietly in the corner in 2004. So as you can perhaps imagine, Bruce's office just above is a vast space - very warm, but vast enough that there's space to pace and move about, and room to step back a bit from even very complicated ideas. We talked about Vicentino last I was there, and about the affects of Bach Cantata movements. Bruce had gone through each cantata and assigned to each movement what he thought the affect was, refining his own list of affects in baroque music in the process. We talked about timing in music, too, and listened in fascination to a recording of romantic violinists playing Bach with no pause for breath whatsoever.

Last week I wrote a paragraph about how how Bruce, in the course of all these talks about music, communicated an open, welcoming and humble (or humbling) outlook: a willingness to take the time to listen to others, but also the discipline to take time to dedicate to his work despite everything going on around him (which was sometimes a lot), and an understanding of how crucial it was for himself to give his love of learning warm, vast and well-nurtured spaces to grow in. Being around all this changed me as a person and I very much hope that his memory will continue to do so. But while writing it is one thing, I cheeringly just realized this second that in the apartment for which I signed a lease here in Montreal on Thursday, the kitchen and the office are the biggest and most welcoming spaces.

Another thing about Bruce that I'll treasure is his passion for questions. I remember when I was 17 and my boyfriend was 19 and had gone off to college, he told me when he came back that he had grown up somewhat and found me much younger than he had before. I asked him how things change when you become a proper adult, and he replied that you ask fewer questions. Ah. Our relationship didn't last much longer after that, needless to say, but still, a part of me always wondered if actually I wasn't really growing up properly, since I was still always full of questions. In Bruce I suppose I found a kind of co-conspirator in refusing to give up this youthful trait, and yet as someone far more centered and settled than I was, he was also proof that actually a love of questions over answers (c.f. The End of Early Music) has nothing to do with how grownup you are. Nor does optimism for that matter. And so I was pleased when I learned the two stories of him that came back from the hospital: that the last words of his peaceful departure, surrounded by Susie and his children, were the half-sentence: "I am questioning...", and that and after his second open-heart surgery asked for a desk and a chair to be brought to his hospital so that he could keep going on his latest writing. Thanks, Susie, for this news.

I remember the last time I spoke with him, too. I had already visited him a couple of times when I was in Montreal last, but having to leave a viol for someone in a safe place, I arranged to leave it with Bruce so that I could drop by one more time. We had tea - and cakes of course - and talked for an hour or so, about music but also about life and the new directions mine would take with starting my Ph.D. I was wary that I had felt compelled to go that day, and not knowing when I would be back again, took care to say a proper goodbye when I left.

Yesterday I registered for MedRen 2011, where I'll present my first academic paper in a month's time. I admit that I've been dreading that perhaps a part of me that I don't much like will rise defensively to the surface when people start to ask me to come up with answers to their questions after my talk. This morning, in the midst remembering Bruce, I can't help but be reminded that I can choose whether this moment should feel like the test of my ignorance that I dreaded just last night or if it could be something else. I think in the same circumstance, just like when he was invited to talk about his book in Basel, Bruce would have looked forward to other people's questions more than to talking himself; he would have loved each opportunity to hear of ideas he hadn't thought up on his own and delighted in other people's perspectives. And of course that's the way it should be. Thank you, Bruce, for giving me the chance to get to know you enough to realize this. I look forward to the many such challenges his memory will put before me in the coming years. I'm going to miss him a lot.

Friday, 6 May 2011

It's been a week of getting enough of Europe - an important step in getting ready to move back to Canada, I think. On Monday at the request of a friend giving a talk on Orlando di Lasso in Canada later this month, I hopped on a train and spent a night in Munich to take some pictures. I visited the Residenz and the Stadtsmuseum, imbibed at a beer garden, perused the Viktualenmarkt and otherwise "did Munich" as you might expect a tourist with a Eurail pass to "do". I was somewhat relieved at how much it felt like other German cities - maybe it really is time to go and see what Canada feels like again.

Up the tower of the Peterskirche,
looking at the New Town Hall

Strawberries and Asparagus are in season

I always used to assume that just because something was cobblestone, it must be very old indeed. My Dad is here visiting this week, and commented on the ancient cobblestone lining the streets of Basel. So I had to take a picture of the construction of this driveway in Munich:

Treading the line between amusing and depressing is this statue of Orlando di Lasso. At first I thought Lasso was more recognized and loved than I'd suspected, now I realize that, unfortunately for him, his bronze happened to be right across the street from the hotel where Michael Jackson stayed whilst in Munich...

Lasso recognized at last

Or not. Ahem.

Speaking of statues, this one is also slightly depressing - now I understand why one puts people on pedestals - she's easily reachable:

Another thing that's given me enough of Europe... After Canada elected a right-wing majority government with less than 40% of the vote, I saw some hope in that at least the UK seemed ready to consider electoral reform which would get rid of First Past the Post and make it impossible for an MP to be elected without at least 50% of people voting for them in some way. This they proposed to do by introducing something called the Alternative Vote (AV): a multiple round system of counting votes (but efficiently only one trip to the polls for voters) so that people's second choice is also considered if the party they voted for places third, fourth, fifth and so on. Opinions have been strong: this was one of the few times that I've seen Facebook used as a forum for intelligent political debate, but I was dismayed to see how many people voted no because they saw AV either as not the best possible system that could be proposed (not enough like proportional representation for some) or because they embraced the army of straw men deployed at them by the No campaigners. Unfortunately for the former especially, I think this referendum will be boiled down by politicians to mean Yes or No: "start the wheels of change or let them rust," and alas, rusting won. After all, the status quo is obviously to the advantage of all those MPs elected by the minority (or perhaps in half-accurate political lingo "the elite" - but the Yes side wasn't PR savvy enough to use that word, alas).

Speaking of PR, I've not linked to David McGuinness's blog in a while, but today I can highly recommend a visit to read up on why musicians should stand up to people who want them to play for less than a proper fee on the theory that it's good for PR.

And speaking of not playing for a proper fee, I finally got word from the gig I'd told off for paying too little that they've replaced me with someone who would play for less - very good of them to tell me themselves at last. Smugly, I've found out that the other gig I've accepted for the same period, with two days' work instead of five, pays only 50 francs less. So there.

There was a moment when I'd questioned the wisdom of talking myself out of a concert this month though, but then the phone rang and I was offered two days of teaching 10-12 year old boys at the Musik-Akademie. I found myself divided while teaching: on the one hand it seemed unfair to ask for musicality when the kids were just at the very beginning of getting around the instrument; on the other hand, music teaching which says that you shouldn't begin to think musically until you've mastered all the right notes in the right order is to blame for such boring grown-up musicians as I've run across in my time. So I made the kids explore different articulations, notions of rhythm and ideas of phrasing, and play a fair bit without notes to read in front of them and we all had a great time.

My Dad and Jane are here visiting this week and next - how lucky for us that our jaunt up to St. Chrishona happened to be right when the cows were out on the hillside feeding and when an alphorn player - quite a good one - was getting some practice in. When we wandered off into the forest it was his continued playing that led us back to the bus stop.

Today we headed off to the Tinguely Museum - he's known for his moving sculptures. Many of his, like this fountain, were very playful, while others had a morbid streak to them.

This is the setup of one of the orchestras for performances of Mauricio Kagel's "Two-Man-Orchestra" piece, setup in the lobby and being performed a few times a week:

I think I would have to be in a very patient mood to listen to two men explore all the sound possibilities of this setup (and the other similar one) over the course of 71 minutes. I'm sure it would be quite good for me.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Happy May Day everyone!

I have big news: remember November's hair-tearing, neuron dampening, grant-writing saga? Well, a letter from the SSHRC arrived yesterday, a thin little envelope which aroused feelings of trepidation and pre-dismay. I opened it and....they've decided to award me a grant! It's a class B grant - so the pressure is off to mount a baroque opera with the windfall - but means that I don't have to worry about paying my rent for the next four years and that I can plan to take a proper vacations in the summers, both of which will give me many a sound night's sleep. Yipeee!

Previous to finding all this out, I've been a bit of a stressbag this week, so I've done two things to help: Unable to bear the idea of not knowing where I was going to live in Montreal, I got very impatient and bought a flight for the last week of May, where I hope I can find a place for July 1st. Then when I come back mid-summer I can do some nesting... I've also been doing what I ought to have started doing ages ago and have been getting some exercise. As it's mostly descriptions of cardiovascular jaunts which seem to be making it onto my blog, I wouldn't want you to get the idea that this is all I do: I've also put in hours at the Egger workshop this week, paid bills, canceled subscriptions for the move, written and read emails, tidied, cooked, found someone to take over my lease, booked travel for work, practised, and done some article/book/etc. reading for upcoming projects, both audio and academic. It's just that none of them have stories worth telling attached - or not yet anyway.

On Tuesday my neighbour, Alex, rounded up a few friends and we headed off to a Straussi - a restaurant serving only local produce which is only allowed to open during harvesting seasons. This time of year the menu is dedicated mainly to asparagus - something they take very seriously here. The asparagus in question is the posh, white stuff that you get from covering the shoots in soil the moment they show so that they never get the chance to turn green. More expensive and not as tasty, but enjoyable to consume anyway. A bike ride was required to get there and back:

Alex leading us through Lange Erlen

The Tüllinger hill - on which the restaurant sits

View from vinyards near the top

The Straussi

After a few days of admin, I couldn't bear the idea of sitting in front of my computer for the sunniest hours of the day again yesterday, so after meeting Alex to deliver a few forgotten items to his train (which was only stopping for 3 minutes in Basel), I loaded my bike onto another train and headed north into the Black Forest.

While the Black Forest does have thick patches of impenetrable woods, its rolling hills are also covered in meadows and farms. This time of year they're spectacularly covered with little yellow, white, pink and purple flowers. Soon the poppies will be out too...

It was without much hesitation that I only brought a 500 mL bottle of water with me - in my experience, it's quite difficult to get far enough away from civilization for lack of supplies to be a problem, and indeed just as I was on my last sip I ran across this:

The bike ride was not as long as I'd hoped - after a long climb up and cycle around the top of a lush valley, I hit my 1000m mark goal (starting from 394m elevation) and it started to rain. I took shelter in a, well, wooden shelter (how convenient, yey Germany), but then as I set off again it began to pour. I had chosen a steep path to go down too, which my map had said was paved but it obviously hadn't been repaved since long before the map was published in 1999 and was so crumbled that going down on a racing bike was quite tricky. By the time I got to the bottom of the big hill, I was covered in mud and my socks were completely soaked through. I almost kept going along my intended route when I realised I was only going to become miserable, so instead I coasted down to the bottom of the valley to the train in Zell, arriving conveniently a few minutes before it's half-hourly departure. In another half hour I was back in Basel, opening my post with no small delight and getting ready for a hot shower. Not a bad day at all.

Almost at the 1000m mark