How literature got me into music

As we look back on our lives we can all identify those pivotal moments – decisions or events – that led us in a completely new and often unexpected direction, and essentially changed our lives. For me, one of those moments is crystal clear, and occurred during my last year of high school. I had recently completed a project for an English course – a written report on a short story by the Canadian writer Silver Donald Cameron. Coincidentally, Cameron was a writer-in-residence at the University of Prince Edward Island that year (1985-86). When he was to give a public lecture at UPEI – a reading from one of his new works – my English teacher, Jean Ginn, suggested that I attend. The timing was good – I was free, and my younger brother Barrie was heading into town anyway because he had a rehearsal with the UPEI Jazz Band that night (he was only in grade 9 at the time!). After Cameron’s lecture I made my way to the Music Dept. to wait for Barrie. As I sat and listened to the end of his rehearsal, I was completely blown away by how good the band sounded. My exposure to good live music was pretty minimal at this point, so hearing something of this calibre was eye-opening and pretty darn exciting! I expressed as much afterwards to Barrie’s saxophone teacher, Rowan Fitzgerald, who also played in the band, and he took the opportunity to introduce me to the band leader, UPEI brass prof Jim Montgomery, and also to some of the trombone players (including one Bob Nicholson). As luck would have it, the band was short a trombone player, so Jim asked if I would be interested in joining. I thought that sounded awesome, so Jim suggested I sit in with the wind ensemble that week, which would give him a chance to hear me play. As a result of that ‘audition’, I became a member of the UPEI Jazz Band, and started taking private trombone lessons with Jim. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life – one that steered me into music as a career, and to studying at UPEI. Incidentally, that trombone player Bob Nicholson, after introducing me to his sister Sandy, is now my brother-in-law!

According to my own memory, plus some journal entries among the few high school scribblers I’ve kept, I had been leaning towards a career as a Phys.Ed. teacher (following in my older brother Kerry’s footsteps), or possibly architecture. Music was perhaps my third choice. Looking back, that one night waiting for Barrie at UPEI changed everything, and I know that if I hadn’t come into town for Silver Donald Cameron’s lecture that my life may have turned out quite differently. I may not have gone into music, or even gone to UPEI; I would not have met Sandy…

I owe it all to Silver Donald Cameron!

31 years later I had another opportunity to meet Silver Don – and to finally thank him. He was in town on October 2nd for a screening of his documentary film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. When I heard about the event I thought, “well, he changed my life once before – I can’t miss this!” Indeed, his work in the environmental rights movement continues to change lives, whether through his writing, his films, or his 100+ online interviews of environment leaders. A humble man, Cameron would downplay the significance of all the things he does, but just like he had no idea of the role he played in changing the direction of my life, he is probably unaware of how much of an impact his work has had on so many others. From all of us, Don, keep up the good work!

Dale and Silver Don

A photo of me with Silver Don, shortly after thanking him for the seemingly insignificant chance encounter that, 31 years previously, had such a significant effect on my life.

UPDATE: Silver Donald Cameron died on Monday, June 1, 2020 after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 82. (See CBC article).

Posted in Crazy Coincidences, Game Changers, Life | Leave a comment

Serendipity in Sackville

Dave RockThis school year I am teaching part-time at Mount Allison University’s Music Dept. in Sackville, New Brunswick. Yesterday, as I was wandering around town, killing time before catching the bus back home to Charlottetown, I happened upon Dave’s Rock Emporium, a record store that opened just this summer, where I was greeted by the owner, Dave himself.

“What do you like?” Dave asks, “Classical? Jazz? Rock?”

“Well,” I say, “classical’s my main thing, but I listen to quite a bit of jazz and rock too.”

“OK, well that decides it then. I was thinking about putting on some Deep Purple, but I’ll play some classical instead.”

Thinking it’s probably going to be some lame classical pops crap, I say, “No, no, it’s OK, I’m fine with Deep Purple.”

But Dave insists, puts a record on the turntable, and from the speakers springs forth the glorious sound of some fine music for trombone and piano. I stop, and I look at Dave, and I say, “OK, either you somehow know I’m a trombone player, or this is an extraordinary coincidence.”

“Really? You’re a trombone player? This record just came in with a very mixed assortment of music, and I was just trying to figure out how to price it.”

File 2017-09-26, 10 59 53 PM

I ask who it is, he shows me the jacket, and my jaw drops to the floor. It’s an old recording from the 1970s that I have been trying to find for a LONG time: Henry Charles Smith Plays Trombone, Volume 2, one of three solo recordings Smith made during his tenure as principal trombonist with the great Philadelphia Orchestra (not to mention some classic albums with the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble). Smith was an excellent player whose beautiful, singing tone on these recordings served as an excellent model for me during my university years. In fact, these performances still compare favourably with anything else that’s been recorded since.

Many years ago I had acquired the other two LPs, but had never been able to find this one – until now! And yesterday’s experience fills me with wonder as I think about the synchronous set of coincidences that led to me finally finding this record. Being in the right place at the right time – serendipitous in Sackville.

HENRY-CHARLES-SMITH-croppedFor further interest:

Smith’s three solo recordings have been remastered and released on a 3-CD set over here at Potenza Music. These would be a great addition to any trombonist’s CD library.

Henry Charles Smith is the trombonist on the famous recording of Hindemith’s Brass Sonatas with Glenn Gould (Sony 52671). In an interview here, Smith recounts some details of his experience recording the Trombone Sonata with Gould in 1976. See the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 23-27 (2009) for even more details about the recording session – an essential, insightful read if you plan to perform this Sonata.

Smith would be around 86 years old now, and I believe is still active as a conductor in Minnesota.

 

Posted in Crazy Coincidences, Trombone | 1 Comment

Brass Instrument Repairs

While most musical instrument mishaps can be prevented with a little care and maintenance, occasionally things happen. Luckily, many minor repairs can be performed very successfully by the school music teacher. In this post I have compiled several useful articles and ‘how-to’ videos that I hope will help any teacher to quickly and easily find good instructions (or a refresher) for most common brass instrument repairs.

Rule #1: Neither student nor ‘handy’ parent should ever try to do any repairs themselves. Teach the student how to keep their instrument well adjusted, and periodically check all screws and other moving parts. Make sure students keep all slides and/or valves well lubricated, and generally treat their instrument carefully.

Rule #2: Don’t try to be a hero. If you are uncomfortable performing any repair, enlist the services of a qualified repair technician.

Vibrations or rattling sounds

  • Tighten all screws (3rd valve slide, lyre holder, water key, etc.) and valve parts (caps, buttons, etc.).
  • Check for loose braces or other soldered joints (these will require a repair technician).

Mouthpiece

Stuck mouthpiece

  • Do not use pliers. Do not try to twist the mouthpiece out forcefully. Pull out straight using a mouthpiece puller.
  • Instructional video

Dented mouthpiece shank

Water Key (Spit Valve)

Missing or worn-out water key cork and/or spring

  • Symptom: often the cause of an airy sound.
  • Tools: precision screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutter (optional: glue, lighter)
  • Instructional video
  • Optional: How to make your own cork in a pinch

Valves

Loosening stuck valve caps, stuck slides and seized valves

  • Tools: Plastic hammer or rawhide mallet; penetrating oil. Do not use pliers.
  • Put a few drops of penetrating oil into the joints and let sit. If necessary, a few very light glancing blows with a plastic/rawhide hammer will help break up any mineral deposits.
  • Instructional videos:

Piston valves misaligned or mixed up

  • Symptoms: the instrument is stuffy, or air won’t pass through at all.
  • Instructional videos:
  • Vertical alignment: replace worn-out felts with proper thickness. Port alignment can be checked with a valve piston/port inspection mirror.
  • Spring tension: If a valve feels ‘soft’ and doesn’t spring back quickly after being released, the spring may be worn out and need to be replaced. It is possible to get a little more life out of a spring by adjusting its tension.

Replacing strings on rotary valves

  • Tools: precision screwdrivers, scissors, 50-lb test fishing line.
  • Instructional video
  • Instructional diagram 1 (includes port alignment diagram)
  • Instructional diagram 2

Rotary valve port alignment

  • Replace worn bumpers (stops) on rotary valves if:
    • valves are noisy because bumpers have hardened; or
    • notch marks inside valve cap are misaligned.
  • Tools: Screwdriver; X-Acto knife or razor (to trim bumper to correct thickness).
  • Instructional video and additional information

Removing rotary valves

  • Rotary valves may need to be disassembled if:
    • they need to be cleaned well, especially if they sound scratchy or gritty; or
    • the valve action is slow and sluggish even when well-oiled; or
    • they need to be realigned, and simply adjusting the bumpers isn’t enough.
  • Instructional videos: part 1 and part 2

Repairs best left for a repair technician

  • Any of the above procedures if having trouble
  • Loosening stubborn stuck slides and seized valves
  • Removing dents
  • Soldering loose joints or braces
  • Trombone slide is misaligned or ‘sprung’

I hope you find this post helpful. If any of the above links are outdated and no longer work, please let me know, and I’ll update them.

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Brass Teaching Materials

Over the years I’ve created a few handouts on brass instrument techniques: warm-ups, drills, exercises, etc. Some of these are geared towards younger students (beginner & intermediate), which school music teachers have found useful; and some are for more advanced players, which I’ve used with university students. All of the beginner/intermediate exercises are also applicable to advanced students; the basic concepts can simply be expanded or adapted.

One of my goals was to fit the content for each topic into one page only; as a result, there is a lot of information packed into some of these. The student will benefit the most from:

  • reading the instructions;
  • learning and understanding the concepts;
  • being creative in applying these concepts to:
    • develop their own exercises/patterns;
    • develop a daily routine that progresses in a logical sequence.

I’m making these PDFs available here as a free resource; please help yourself and photocopy as needed for your students. Let me know in the comments what you find useful, or if there is anything else in particular that you would like to see added. I will periodically add new materials as they are created, so feel free to bookmark this page and visit again!

Printing tip: These PDFs are formatted in US Letter size (8.5 X 11). For best printing results, make sure scaling is set to 100%. Do NOT choose your printer’s “Scale to fit” option.

Beginner/Intermediate:

Intermediate/Advanced:

Advanced:

Information for Teachers:

Fingering Charts:

Without question, chromatic fingering (or slide position) charts are the best for beginners, in terms of being able to find notes (and the most common fingerings) quickly and easily. However, fingering charts that show the notes in the harmonic series (i.e., all the notes for a particular fingering), are useful as well; they help students understand the construction of the instrument, and also show any alternate fingerings available. Mine are set up vertically – each column shows all the notes in the harmonic series for each fingering – with the low notes at the bottom, which is visually intuitive.

Scale Sheets:

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Discovering Takashi Yoshimatsu

I have a friend who, when he played percussion in the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, sent me a CD (Chandos 9960) of works by the Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu. It contains his Symphony No. 4, Atom Hearts Club Suite No. 1, and Trombone Concerto ‘Orion Machine’ (performed by Ian Bousfield). I already had a different recording of the Trombone Concerto (Camerata 30CM-354), excellently played by Yoshiki Hakoyama, so it was nice to compare the two performances. And I just love the Symphony No. 4. Yoshimatsu’s works are tonal, neo-romantic, and inspired by elements of nature, both earthly and celestial. He is also influenced by jazz and popular music, which are often juxtaposed with more traditional classical influences. His Atom Hearts Club Suite is a good example of this:

The suite combines elements from four sources: The Beatles’ masterpiece Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which draws on all kinds of music, from classic to rock; Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus, a great progressive-rock work of the 1970s; Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother; and Fragile by Yes. These have then been shaken using the 100,000 horsepower of Osamu Tezuka’s comic-book hero Mighty Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy). There are four movements: the first is a progressive-rock-style Allegro molto in irregular time, the second a mysterious Andante in ballad style, the third a paramour’s Scherzo, while the fourth rounds the suite off in slapstick boogie-woogie style. – Takashi Yoshimatsu

Not every composer who tries this is successful – it can sound contrived and, well, cheesy. Although Yoshimatsu’s works aren’t completely dairy-free, there are many moments where his stylistic amalgamations work quite well, and the Symphony No. 4 is one very tasteful example – I absolutely love it.

If you haven’t heard Yoshimatsu’s music, I encourage you to check it out.

CHAN 9960

 

Posted in CDs, Composers, Trombone | Leave a comment

Blow-air-o: Practice Strategies for the trombone solo in Ravel’s Bolero

The trombone solo from Ravel’s Bolero is one of the most challenging excerpts in the entire orchestral repertoire, and one of the few excerpts that is required on every single orchestral trombone audition. This solo passage, lasting just 17 measures (see Figure 1), is notable for its high tessitura, especially the repeated high D-flat in measures 5 and 6. More than just being able to hit the notes, the trombonist must be able to play this passage with precision, delicacy and style.

Figure 1. The solo trombone passage from Ravel’s Bolero:

Bolero Complete

The practice and successful performance of this excerpt requires the efficient use of breath and physical gestures, and mental quietness. Because this passage begins well into the piece (after about 7 minutes of waiting) and starts on a high B-flat, the trombonist can be susceptible to an undesirable degree of physical tension that accompanies mental uncertainty or anxiety. This can be mitigated by effective preparation. To this end, I suggest several methods for practicing this excerpt that allow the performer to target different sections in a variety of ways that focus on specfic technical and musical elements.

Octave Transfer

To begin the passage with confidence, first establish good tone production on an easy note, such as the B-flat one octave lower. Play the most beautiful middle B-flat ever heard, striving for a tone colour appropriate for the character of the work. Then, while keeping the embouchure set for a middle B-flat – indeed, without changing anything other than the tongue level – play the high B-flat just as beautifully (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Exercise to establish good tone production on beginning note:

Bb repeated

This concept can be applied to the first 8 measures in sections. To begin, try the first measure alone, followed by the first phrase up to the E in measure 4 (see Figure 3). Then isolate the next section, measures 4-8, and finally measures 1-8 together. It is important that all practiced elements, including the lower octave, be played with the same character and style that one would use in performance.

Figure 3. Measures 1-4 one octave lower:

Ms 1-4 8vb

Chunking and Looping

There is benefit to isolating certain figures and repeating them, for the purpose of reinforcing the technical and musical gestures. For example, create a pattern by playing the opening four beats and repeating back to the beginning (see Figure 4). This type of pattern repetition (or looping) will help the performer work on the first measure without always having to begin “cold”, and allows some repetition of the glissando between beats 4 and 5. It may be helpful to conceive of this particular pattern in 4/4.

Figure 4. Isolating and looping the first 4 beats:

opening bar repeated

Subdivision

It is very important to play this excerpt with rhythmic accuracy. There are several instances where a note is tied into the downbeat, and the next articulated note comes on the 2nd sixteenth-note or the 2nd eighth-note of the beat (see measures 1, 3, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16 in Figure 1). This type of figure can be problematic; many performers are often late coming off of the tied note, especially on a sixteenth note. Practicing the passages with 16th note subdivisions is a very useful tool for ensuring their rhythmic accuracy, and provides a good foundation for the eventual mental subdivision required in performance (see Figure 5). This strategy can be applied equally well to measures 9-17 (leaving the single triplet figure in measure 10 intact – see Figure 6). Remember to keep the tongue light, and the slide arm relaxed and efficient.

Figure 5. Measures 1-4 subdivided:

Ms 1-4 subdivided

Figure 6. Measures 9-17 subdivided:

Ms 9-16 subdivided

Glissando

While trombonists normally strive to avoid glissandi when they play, the technique can be used as a practice tool to establish good air flow, to open up the sound, and to work on smooth connections between notes. Play measures 9-17, for example, tonguing only the first note after each breath, allowing glissandi to occur (along with natural slurs), with the goal of keeping the air flowing continuously, without pulsation, through the phrase. This air pattern becomes a model which is then applied to the passage, played again using normal tonguing. The performer should find that the passage has become easier after having established a more efficient air flow when using the glissando.

This method can also be used to improve slide technique. Again, without tonguing, allow the glissandi to occur, but with the goal of minimizing its effect through fast slide action. This establishes a more rhythmic impulse to the slide arm by shifting the responsibility for rhythmic integrity away from the tongue. After having reinforced the importance of a rhythmic slide, the passage should be noticeably cleaner when repeated with normal tonguing.

Expanding the limits

As previously mentioned, the high tessitura of this passage is one of the biggest challenges for the trombonist. A very effective technique for mastering any skill is to expand one’s limits. If a performer has practiced skills that go beyond what is normally required, than the required skills become much easier. With this in mind, try playing the opening 8 measures one semitone higher, one wholetone higher, etc. (see Figure 7). Regardless of the outcome, returning to the actual pitches is guaranteed to seem easier!

Figure 7. Measures 1-8 one tone higher:

Ms 1-8 tone higher

The practice techniques described above will help the trombonist better prepare the Bolero solo for performance or audition. With imagination, these (and many other) techniques can be applied to the practice of any other piece of music. Effective practicing is intelligent practicing. Haphazard or non-directed practicing reinforces undesirable habits. By devising thoughtful practice methods that target specific concepts or techniques, the performer can make efficient use of practice time, establish good habits, and derive great satisfaction from making music!

Recommended Reading

de Alcantara, Pedro. 1997. Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Sorensen

Posted in Music, Pedagogy, Tip Jar, Trombone | 2 Comments

Green tip: Make your own foam soap (and save $!)

When choosing hand soap for a family with kids, foam soap is the way to go. Bar soap makes a slimy, gunky mess of the soap dish, while liquid soap seems to trail a stringy mess all over the dispenser and the sink. With foam soap, you get the right amount of lather in the palm of your hand with one pump of the dispenser; no drips, no gunk.

The problem with foam soap, however, is that a bottle doesn’t last long – about one week in our house. And at $3/bottle, the expense adds up, and means a lot of bottles tossed in the recycle bin.

Buying eco-pak refills is a good option, both economically and environmentally, allowing you to re-use a single dispenser that you fill as needed from the eco-pak (1 eco-pak refill will provide about 3 bottles of soap). But, there’s an even better option. You may know foam soap’s fancy sounding main ingredient aqua by its more common name: water. This got me thinking: how much actual soap is in there, and could I make my own by diluting regular liquid soap with water? After some experimenting, I discovered that it actually takes very little liquid soap to make a batch of foam soap, and it works quite well! Here’s the simple recipe I use for a 300 ml container:

First, you will need a special foam soap dispenser (which aerates the soap, making it foam). You can buy this on its own, or you can just buy a bottle of foam soap and reuse the container once it’s empty.

Add 40 ml of liquid soap to the empty dispenser (notice in the photo below how little soap is needed). To avoid bubbling, gently top up with water (260 ml), cap it, and then shake to mix. There, you’re done. Tip: warm water dissolves the soap faster.

It takes very little soap to make a batch of foam soap.

It takes very little soap to make a batch of foam soap.

Our soap of choice is the BioLife liquid hand soap 1-litre (1000 ml) eco-pak, available at Shoppers Drug Mart for $6.99 (but any liquid hand soap will do). Using 40 ml for one recipe, that’s 25 bottles of foam soap from 1 eco-pak. Compare that with buying 25 bottles of foam soap at $3 each – that’s $75!! (not to mention 25 bottles in the recycle bin).

1 refill = 25 bottles.

1 refill = 25 bottles.

In our house – a family of 4, with fairly regular hand-washing (I also use it as my shaving cream!) – the eco-pak lasts about half a year. Good for the wallet and good for the environment!

– Saving the Earth one soap at a time.

Posted in Environment | 2 Comments

Call for scores – The Canadian Trombone Project

Are you a Canadian composer who has written for solo trombone (with any accompaniment), trombone ensemble, or chamber ensemble featuring the trombone? If so, I would like to include information about your work in my Canadian Trombone Project – an internet database that will increase the exposure of your music for trombone! This will be an indispensable resource that allows performers, educators and students to discover and learn about any work in the Canadian trombone repertoire, which will result in more frequent performances of this music, and perhaps even stimulate the composition of new works.

Make sure your work is included!

Eligibility: Any Canadian citizen (by birth or naturalization), or permanent resident (i.e., landed immigrant).

Contact: Please provide information via the submission form here:
www.islandtrombone.com/submitwork.html
or send information and/or scores by email to dale[at]islandtrombone[dot]com.

Even if you think I probably know about your work already, please contact me anyway. I would like to have your contact information if I need more details.

Additional information: This project is an extension of my research for the DMA program in performance at the University of Toronto, where my dissertation will be an annotated bibliography of Canadian solo trombone music. This resource is being created in conjunction with a searchable internet database that will be continually updated to include recently composed and discovered solo, chamber and ensemble works for trombone. I am hoping to find every Canadian trombone piece ever composed! For more information, please visit www.islandtrombone.com.

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Dear Grammie (a letter inspired by the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra cuts)

Dear Grammie,

Hope you’re enjoying the Holidays! The celebrations must be incredible where you are.

I know it’s only been a week since I last wrote, but a lot has happened since then. I’m sure you’ve been following all the news over the proposed cuts to the orchestra at the Charlottetown Festival. We’re not sure yet who is going to be cut. I guess it depends on the directions the orchestrator is given. Our worry is that it could affect more than just six of us. Rather than being told to cut six specific instruments, the orchestrator may simply be instructed to create an orchestration for 13, in which case he could just as easily write for a completely different set of instruments. There is talk of using electronic keyboards; I know that would drive you crazy! Anyway, we’re going to try not to let the stress of this news interfere with our enjoyment of the Holidays. The Christmas show must go on!

The whole thing has gotten me thinking, reminiscing about when I first started playing the trombone. I remember practicing in the living room while you were reading. I could always tell when you pretended to keep reading, but weren’t really paying any attention to your book. I especially remember when I played “Pomp and Circumstance” how your eyes would well up with tears. I never did get around to asking what it was about the music that moved you so. Although I couldn’t have explained it then, I realize now that your response was my introduction to the emotional power of music. It’s something that has stuck with me ever since, something I experience every time I perform, or when I listen to music myself.

Just last week I played a concert for some school kids. You wouldn’t believe the cheers after every piece. After it was over they swarmed the stage, asking for our autographs. One boy even wanted me to sign his sneaker! Ha ha, that reminds me of one time when I left through the stage door after an Anne performance, and this sweet little girl asked me for my autograph. Her mom said, “Oh, he’s just a musician.” Can you believe it?! The girl wanted my autograph anyway, but her mom dragged her off in search of bigger fish. It’s such a shame that some people grow up and forget how to feel the magic of music.

Anyway, our kids have certainly been bitten by the music bug. I can’t remember if I already told you that Alexandra started playing violin this year, and is still singing up a storm. Bailey’s been asking for a guitar for Christmas, and he has recently learned to whistle (and does it non-stop!). You should hear him! Alex and I went to hear the Toronto Symphony together. The sound of their 80-piece orchestra sent chills up my spine. Alex got so caught up in the music that I had to tap her arm because I was afraid her physical rapture would disturb some of the other patrons! I love seeing the joy music brings to their lives. They are aware of what’s going on with the Charlottetown Festival, and understand, but we are trying to shield them from the fallout as much as we can. Such sweet kids; I wish they could have known you.

Grammie, every day I remember your words encouraging me to follow my dreams, no matter what obstacles get thrown in my path. Every hurdle I face makes me more determined to live up to those inspirational words.

Here’s hoping you have the best Christmas ever! We miss you so much.

Love,
Dale

P.S. I don’t know how it works up there, but if you happen to know Norman Campbell, please tell him we’re doing our best to look out for him and his music. He must be going crazy looking down at all this nonsense, but at the same time he must also be overwhelmed by how many people have spoken up in support of protecting the legacy of his music. Please give him my best.

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Orchestra cuts to save money: Really? A closer look

Confederation Centre CEO Jesse Inman has stated that cutting 6 positions from the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra will save “in excess of $100,000 per season”. This is an exaggeration that is unfortunately being quoted as accurate by the media, so let’s start by correcting this amount:

The base pay for an orchestra musician is $870 per week. The upcoming season is 13 weeks long (and this is about average). Here’s my math: $870 X 6 people X 13 weeks = $67,860. Add 10% pension: $74,646.

It is true that some people make more than the base rate. There is extra pay for the librarian, the union steward, the leader, etc. This increases the average rate of pay, but you can’t calculate savings by using the average rate, because the higher-paid positions (librarian, union steward, leader, etc.) will still be required, no matter what the instrumentation.

Now, let’s look at the financial ramifications of re-orchestrating. There are the costs of paying for the re-orchestration, and for the copying of the orchestral parts (both of which will be substantial) – but I am going to ignore that, because these are not ongoing costs; they are one-time up-front costs.

But, a reduction in the number of musicians will actually cause some increased on-going costs. First, any orchestrator, no matter how skilled, is going to have to find creative ways of getting around the restrictions imposed by writing for limited resources (cf. my analogy of limiting the lighting designer to 1/3 of their colour spectrum). One of the ways to accomplish this is to ask musicians to “double” (play more than one instrument) in order to add back some of the missing colours. The union rates for doubling are an extra 50% for the first double, plus 25% for each subsequent double. In Hairspray, for example, which used a smaller orchestra (15 musicians), three of the musicians played four instruments each. With three doubles, those three musicians were each making twice the base rate.

If three musicians are being paid twice as much, we have just reduced the projected savings by exactly half. We are now down to $37,323 saved.

Incidentally, doubling is still an artistic compromise because the doublers can’t play two instruments at once, so all of those colours aren’t available all of the time.

The next step the orchestrator will take to deal with the limited instrumental resources is to incorporate the use of technology, such as synthesizers, to try to replace some of the missing orchestral colours. I’ve already written about the artistic compromise of this approach, but extra technology also comes with increased financial costs.

Unlike the cost of the re-orchestration, added technology is not a one-time cost. Because technology is constantly changing, new gear must always be purchased or rented in order to stay current. In Hairspray, for example again, three keyboards were used, and they couldn’t be just any keyboard; they had to be a certain Kurzweil model, and those keyboards had to be rented for the entire run of the production (including the cast rehearsal period). In addition, keyboards must be programmed with the correct sounds. Someone has to spend time doing this, and their time costs money. And guess what else? Keyboard players automatically receive payment of an extra 25% per keyboard – not per person, PER KEYBOARD.

This increased use of technology also breeds the need for more technology. Sound technicians will tell you that sampled sounds are extremely difficult to mix (they describe the sound as “dead, lifeless, and inert”, not to mention the tuning issues and articulation incompatibilities that arise when paired with acoustic instruments). The three keyboards in Hairspray created quite a challenge in sound production: how to create an environment in the pit where everyone can hear all of the instruments, but at a volume where the sound technician has control over the final mix. In the Hairspray situation, individual headphone monitor systems were rented and provided for each musician. This required a dedicated sound board in the pit (Cost: more gear) and an extra sound technician to control the monitors (Cost: wages for one extra crew).

Is anyone keeping track of the savings…?

As contractor of the orchestra for Hairspray, I can tell you that the cost of music for that production (including both musicians’ fees and added technology costs) was actually more than that for Anne of Green Gables…

I have taken the stance that audiences are more discerning than implied by the Charlottetown Festival, who seem to think that nobody will notice the difference in the music played by a decimated orchestra. If I allow that some audience members really won’t notice – that they are completely oblivious – I then also have to allow that some audience members really WILL notice, and I have indeed heard from many audience-goers about how importantly the music contributes to their experience of the musical. We then must expect that some of our audience will be disappointed and won’t return to see the show again. Cost: lost ticket sales. And there is NO chance that a reduction to the orchestra will, in and of itself, attract any new patrons.

Now, there is one more hidden cost about which details are sketchy. Elaine Campbell, lyricist, and wife of Norman, the composer of the music for Anne of Green Gables, established The Norman Campbell Legacy Fund: Anne of Green Gables-The Musical Endowment, which was “created to support the cost of the live orchestra, which is the foundation of the distinctively rich sound that defines the music of Anne of Green Gables”. What happens to the endowment if the orchestra is gutted? Will the Campbell heirs then withdraw their support?

Do we really still think that these cuts will save money for the Charlottetown Festival? Does the paltry amount saved, if any, really justify the cost to the artistic quality of the show? Surely there is a better way to save money, and at the same time save the integrity of the production and the reputation of the Confederation Centre as “one of Canada’s premier live theatre houses” that “showcases the best in Canadian visual and performing arts”.

Posted in Music | 15 Comments

Why the orchestra matters

In my previous post about the proposed cuts to the Anne of Green Gables orchestra, and also in my radio interview on CBC this morning, there is one thing that I feel I have not been articulating clearly enough. The Charlottetown Festival says that reducing the orchestra by 1/3 will have no negative impact on the quality of the musical. This is a delusional statement at best, if not downright deceptive, and here’s why:

Let me make some analogies, in an attempt to better get my point across:

Imagine telling the artistic director that she has to make do with 1/3 of the cast. She gets to keep Anne, of course, and Matthew and Marilla, etc., but Mrs. Blewett really has to go. In fact, that whole Mrs. Blewett scene is really not essential to the story. And hey, come to think of it, neither the stationmaster nor Earl the mailman is really necessary either. Sure, those characters may not be essential, but they add DEPTH to the story, and contribute to a richer experience for the audience.

Now imagine that the lighting designer is told they can only use 1/3 of the colour spectrum. They get to keep the blue and the green, but sorry, no red anymore. The thing is, without red, they no longer have yellow either, because yellow is made from the combination of red and green. Sure, it’s still light enough on stage – you can still SEE all that you need to see – but something is missing: depth of colour.

And this is exactly why an orchestra cut by 1/3 is unacceptable. Musicians refer to the different instruments in an orchestra as “orchestral colours”. Each individual instrument has their own colour, but just like primary visual colours, the combination of those colours in different ways creates even more colours and shades. Playing with 13 musicians instead of 19 is exactly like taking colours away from the lighting designer. Sure, there are still enough musicians to play all the notes in a chord – you can still HEAR all the notes you need to hear – but something is missing: musical depth of colour.

And what about the “contemporary changes” artistic director Anne Allen mentions in yesterday’s press release? Does she mean electronic technology? That’s sure what it sounds like to me. Let me make another analogy:

Imagine that this year they decide to use a painted mural of a buggy instead of the real thing. Sure, you can’t actually sit in it, but it looks great, doesn’t it? But something is missing: depth, the 3rd dimension.

I bet you can see where this is going. Let’s replace the strings with a synthesizer. Sounds almost as good as the real thing, doesn’t it? But something is missing, something only a human can bring to an instrumental sound: depth of expression, the musical 3rd dimension, the ability to caress a phrase, to add warmth to the tone, to articulate a note with varying degrees of softness, to infuse passion into a musical line. And isn’t that what music/musical theatre/the Arts is all about: giving expression to that which is uniquely human.

I also believe that Anne audiences are smart enough to notice that something is missing, and I think it is very condescending to imply otherwise. Some of them may not be able to articulate it in so many words, but they will notice. They will notice because an orchestra of fewer players lacks depth of colour, and electronic sounds lack depth of expression. How can this not be a compromise to the “integrity of the score” – a compromise that will contribute to a “lesser experience” for the audience?

Posted in Life on PEI, Music | 8 Comments

Charlottetown Festival to reduce orchestra

Today (the week before Christmas) the Charlottetown Festival announced plans to re-orchestrate Anne of Green Gables-The Musical, a plan which will see the orchestra reduced by six musicians, from 19 to 13. This is devastating news – news that could have an enormous impact on my life as I know it. For the last 22 years I have played trombone for this production. I have rarely subbed out. I have always imagined doing this until the day I retire, and I can’t believe that there is a possibility it may be over. The Charlottetown Festival has been my bread and butter, my single biggest source of income, and something I truly love doing. Having this work every summer is what has given me the freedom to be a musician on PEI – to do what I want to do, where I want to do it. Losing this job would change my life – I would either have to do something else for a living, or move away from PEI. It is ironic that now, as I pursue a doctorate in performance – the most advanced form of musical training – I may no longer be able to survive as a musician.

But there is a bigger picture here. This is not about me – or even about six musicians – losing our jobs. People lose their jobs every day; it is just part of business in our current economic climate. No, what is at stake here is the artistic integrity of the Anne of Green Gables production itself. Only a year ago the Charlottetown Festival invested in a new “re-imagined” production of Anne of Green Gables, complete with new choreography and sets, in an effort to make the show even better. Why take a step backwards now? To save money, of course. But of all the possible ways to save money, why target the music? Well, music is ephemeral and intangible – you can’t see it or touch it or hold it in your hands and marvel at the skill that went into its creation. At first glance, it may appear to be superfluous – a little extra icing on the cake. But the truth is that it is as integral to the artistic quality of the show as the choreography, the sets, the costumes and the lights – surely the title of the show gives this away: Anne of Green Gables-The Musical. And orchestration matters: imagine watching a movie – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, even Titanic – with only 13 musicians (or worse, an electronic keyboard) providing the soundtrack instead of a full orchestra. Music is an essential component in providing emotional impact – even gamers know this; witness the current trend for video game productions to include a soundtrack recorded by a live full orchestra. As one producer says:

The only reason to use a live orchestra in a game soundtrack would be to make the game better than if you had not used an orchestra; to make the game more immersive, more engaging, more fun than if it didn’t include the orchestra. And on the business side, it would be helpful if you could sell enough units to pay for it. . . . But, then you might say: “Of course a live orchestra would make our game better, but we can’t afford it!” Well, my goal . . . is to communicate just one thing: In order to make a game that would truly be better due to using an orchestra, can you really afford not to use one? – Jack Wall

An audience attends musical theatre for more than simple entertainment – part of the experience is to be “immersed” and “engaged”, to be emotionally and spiritually enriched and uplifted. The music is an essential part of this. Audiences know the importance of this too – they are a lot smarter than it would seem they are given credit for. And one of the big attractions for the Anne of Green Gables production at the Charlottetown Festival – the one thing that sets us apart from anything else in the region – is our 19-piece orchestra. Audiences know that they can come to Charlottetown and experience something special – something they can’t experience anywhere else – something the Charlottetown Festival promotes as a “Broadway calibre production”. As a national cultural institution (and one that has received increased federal funding recently) that “showcases the best in Canadian visual and performing arts“, the Confederation Centre of the Arts “is the result of a dream shared by all Canadians – to create a place where our country’s history and multicultural character is celebrated, and where the talents of its people are nurtured and showcased“. If their goal is to provide quality programming at a national level, they need to aim to maintain the musical quality of their flagship musical production. 13 musicians do not an orchestra make.

And what about the wishes of Norman Campbell (the composer) and his wife Elaine, two of the co-creators of Anne of Green Gables-The Musical? Years ago the orchestra was reduced to its current size of 19 – a size that was believed to be the absolute minimum required to do justice to the music. Before he died, Norman made it very clear that his wish was to see the orchestra preserved, and Elaine did her best (before her own death) to see that this wish would be upheld – by donating a large sum of money to the Charlottetown Festival specifically earmarked for the purpose of maintaining the orchestra. I guess now that they are dead, their wishes no longer matter…

Below is the press release that was issued this morning. What do you think?

For Immediate Release

Centre plans to re-orchestrate Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ in 2012

(Charlottetown, PE – December 19, 2011)- After presenting a successfully re-imagined Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ last summer, the Confederation Centre of the Arts is planning to re-orchestrate the music of this flagship production in 2012. The re-orchestration work will take place in the spring and will be presented for the 2012 season of The Charlottetown Festival.

“Ensuring that we preserve the magical theatre experience that audiences have enjoyed for many years is of the utmost importance. Although the musical score for Anne of Green Gables has been altered over the past 47 years, we have never made a change to this extent.” says Anne Allen, Artistic Director of The Charlottetown Festival.

This change in the score will mean the musical can be presented with a reduced orchestra. The current orchestra includes 19 musicians. The re-orchestrated score will require 13 musicians.

“The opportunity in re-orchestrating is that should we decide to tour Anne, this reduced orchestra size would make it more feasible. The reduced orchestra size will also allow for some contemporary changes and flexibility.” adds Allen.

The change will also allow The Charlottetown Festival to keep theatre ticket prices reasonable for visitors and Islander’s alike according to Confederation Centre CEO Jessie Inman.

“We want to continue to offer a first class, affordable musical theatre experience,” says Inman.

The contract to re-orchestrate the musical will be assigned in early 2012.

Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ is sponsored by MacLean Construction and plays selected dates from July 3 to September 26, 2012. Tickets for the hit musical start at $20 and can be purchased at the Confederation Centre Box Office, toll-free by calling 1-800-565-0278, or online at www.charlottetownfestival.com

The Charlottetown Festival major sponsor is APM. Media sponsors are The Guardian, CTV, Ocean 100 and K-Rock.

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Media contact:

Tracy Stretch, Communications Manager, Confederation Centre of the Arts

902-628-6135 | 902-314-5966

tstretch@confederationcentre.com | www.confederationcentre.com

www.facebook.com/confedcentre

Posted in Life on PEI, Music | 12 Comments

International Trombone Week 2011

Today marks the beginning of International Trombone Week for 2011 (April 3-10), and there are many ways we can all celebrate: perform (or attend) a trombone recital, compose a piece for trombone, make a radio request for some trombone music, etc. etc. Use your imagination!

I started the week by performing a pretty heavy program with the Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra: Schubert’s “Great” Symphony in C Major, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Canadian composer John Beckwith‘s transcriptions of several of Bach’s Figural Chorales, and the world premiere of Canadian composer Jim O’Leary‘s “Softly at Night the Stars are Shining” with soprano soloist Helen Pridmore.

When last I wrote about International Trombone Week, I was performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the PEISO and wrote about the importance of this work for trombonists. Schubert’s “Great” Symphony is also a landmark work, as Schubert took Beethoven’s idea a step further. Not only does Schubert use the trombones to reinforce the texture of the orchestral fortissimo, but he also gives us some wonderful soft chords to play, and even the MELODY!!!  – and we play in all four movements! We are in fact quite a bit busier than the trumpets in this Symphony. Like many performers, I use the alto trombone on the 1st parts in Schubert’s works, not just because it is historically accurate to do so, but also because the alto has a brightness to its tone that blends well with the trumpets and creates a bridge between the upper and lower cylindrical brass. I think of this blend as a pyramid shape, where the tone broadens from high to low more evenly than it would with a tenor trombone on the 1st part – I think this is a very pleasing sound.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture is also quite an important work for trombonists, as it is one of the few orchestral pieces that contains a trombone solo. This one is a chant-like solo in the 2nd trombone part that can be played quite freely, and features the noble sound of the trombone to great effect. The fact that this solo is in the 2nd part leads me to wonder if Rimsky had the alto trombone in mind for the 1st part – this is definitely something to look into. Having said that, I do prefer to play this on the tenor…

Beckwith’s transcriptions of the Bach Chorales are interesting pieces, once again demonstrating how Bach’s music seems to lend itself quite well to being set in just about any possible style. These transcriptions call for a multi-tasking single trombone that must perform staccato bass lines, marcato tenor, and in the case of one of the chorales we played, a delicate and very high melody necessitating (for me, at least) a switch to the alto trombone. Did I mention how much I love the alto?

Jim O’Leary has been very much influenced by the Swedish composer Jan Sandström, best known outside his own country for his so-called “Motorbike Concerto” written for virtuoso trombonist Christian Lindberg. Jim is likewise no stranger to writing for the trombone (I premiered his Trombone Concerto with the PEISO in 2005), and his new piece calls for four: three tenors and a bass. I love getting to play a piece that explores the various colours of the trombone; in addition to passages using straight, cup, bucket and harmon mutes, there are soft and loud elements covering a range of over three octaves, and even some multiphonics (a technique whereby the trombonist sings one note while playing another) thrown in for good measure. Jim is the new composer-in-residence for the PEISO, so we can look forward to some more great trombone writing from him in the very near future.

All in all, a good start to the 2011 edition of International Trombone Week.

I’d love to hear what you are doing to celebrate ITW, and with that in mind, I do have a suggestion: if you are in PEI this Friday, come hear Romancing the Trombone, a recital featuring me with my sister Jacqueline Sorensen Young on piano, as we aim for nothing less than to put a spell on you that causes you to fall hopelessly in love with the sound of the trombone – just one of my many evil plans for the week…

A happy International Trombone Week to you all!

Posted in Trombone | 1 Comment

Joy to the World

Last night I went carol-singing with some friends – that’s right, singing! Not a trombone in sight! Together with Perry, Peter and Doug, we went around Charlottetown, mainly dropping in unannounced at some seniors’ homes, but also at a couple of friends’ homes, singing barbershop quartet Christmas carols. This was our 2nd annual outing, and hopefully the beginning of a new tradition. The seniors who were surprised by our visit seemed to really appreciate our impromptu performance!

The last time I went caroling was in Toronto (over 10 years ago), and then it was brass caroling (carol-brassing?), not singing – although we did have a couple of singers tag along on our adventures! That tradition used to begin at Herb’s place and proceed through his neighbourhood, stopping to play at friends’ homes along the way. On one memorable occasion, our evening culminated in what could only be called a doppler-elevator-effect. That momentous event has been documented here.

It is fun to sing, and it is fun to share the joy of the Christmas season with friends – and with strangers. And one very unexpected surprise came from this: Visiting all those seniors’ homes gives one a nice tour of the available facilities in the area. The Geneva Villa on Walthen Drive felt so warm and homey, I thought to myself, “I could see myself living here some day”. And while I hope that day is far into the future, it is a bit of a relief to have that decision crossed off the list!

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Of Mice and Men

Last night I had a dream. I dreamed that there was a mouse in our house, and when I discovered it, in my dream, I caught it by the quickest, most resourceful method I could come up with in the spur of the moment – with my bare hand. It was a wiggly little thing, this mouse in my dream, but I managed to hang onto it without either of us getting hurt. Knowing that the mouse would need to be released a considerable distance from the house so it wouldn’t find its way back in, I proceeded to make my way into the woods, intending to go as far as I could, right to the very end of our property. The mouse in my dream was actually rather cute, and with every step I took through the woods, I found myself falling more and more in love with the little creature. It was, then, a tearful moment when I finally said goodbye to my new little friend as I sent it on its way.

The dream was not a surprise. You see, we’ve had an actual mouse in our house the last couple of days – maybe longer, but I just saw it for the first time a couple of days ago, a little brown streak out of the corner of my eye, disappearing under the couch, never to be seen again. I set a trap, a nice little humane trap designed to keep the mouse alive for release back into the wild.
Mouse TrapSure enough, when I awoke this morning the trap door was closed, so I prepared to live out my dream by taking the trap outside. But that’s where the similarities ended – my real mouse (probably a vole, actually) was dead; in fact, rigor mortis had already set in. Perhaps due to my dream (or the fact that I am such a softie), I realized that I was upset by the little creature’s demise. It really was a little cutie!

Posted in Wildlife | 1 Comment

International Trombone Week 2009

Today marks the first day of International Trombone Week 2009, and I intend to celebrate! I am going to attempt to write a post a day here on my blog, and I even have a performance planned with the UPEI Trombone Quartet.

It is fitting that I should be performing in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the PEISO this afternoon. This particular work is generally regarded as the first Symphony (the genre, not the orchestra) to use trombones, albeit with one relatively obscure exception. After this, it would become common to have three trombones in the orchestra, and for this we are truly grateful to Beethoven for his influential and extraordinary vision. The score calls for alto, tenor and bass trombones – but not until the last movement. The first note for the alto trombone is a high C, and it is agonizing to sit quietly on stage for three movements waiting for your big moment – it would be really nice if the conductor would stop the piece for a few minutes to let you warm up for it! Later there is a high F (two if you take the repeat!), and a high E near the end. This is the only piece in all the standard orchestral repertoire that asks the first trombonist to play these notes. One might assume that there must have been an amazing trombonist at Beethoven’s disposal for him to have written these notes; on the other hand, maybe old Ludwig just had no idea what he was doing. By all accounts, the first performance of the work was an absolute disaster, although we don’t know how the trombonists may or may not have contributed to this. What is clear is that neither Beethoven nor anyone else would ever write such high notes for the trombone again, perhaps implying that a lesson had been learned!

I do enjoy playing the alto trombone, and look forward to this afternoon’s challenge. And I can’t think of a better way to kick off International Trombone Week!

Posted in Trombone | 2 Comments

Making Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Considering my recent obsession with dark chocolate and my fondness of peanut butter, it’s only natural that I should want to eat them together. With Reese’s as my model, I’ve been making my own chocolate peanut butter cups, and it goes like this:

Using a double boiler (to avoid scorching), melt some nice dark chocolate. Into a little candy cup, spoon just enough chocolate to cover the bottom of the cup. Let the chocolate cool down and solidify (faster if you put it in the fridge). While you are waiting, mix some peanut butter with a bit of honey. I use natural peanut butter (100% peanuts), and the honey helps stiffen it so it is easier to control when adding it to the cup. When the chocolate base has set, spoon in a small ball of the peanut butter mixture and press down to spread it into a disc shape, keeping it slightly away from the side of the cup. Then pour in some more melted chocolate so it surrounds and covers the peanut butter. Let cool. Presto, delicious peanut butter cups, guaranteed to please!

A word of caution: don’t be too disappointed if people refuse to believe that you made these all by yourself!

Posted in Food, My Favourite Things, Recipes | 3 Comments

25 Things About Me

I was recently tagged here in the 7 Things thing, and coincidentally tagged by my wife on facebook with the 25 Things thing there. So here I am, killing two birds with one stone, and ending my blogging hiatus with my list of 25 things you don’t really need to know about me.

1. My middle name is Burpee. That’s right, Burpee. Sad but true. What were my parents thinking?! Actually, I like it. It’s distinctive. Some of my best friends call me Burpee. Without laughing, even. (Burpee was also my maternal grandfather’s middle name, and that’s what everyone called him – except for my grandmother; she couldn’t stand it).

2. I love the trombone. I could listen to trombone music all day, every day. And I love performing. I wish I had more time to practice, though.

3. I love my family more than anything (even the trombone!). They bring out the best and the worst in me, and that can only be caused by people for whom I am truly passionate. When Sandy and I met it was love at first sight, but it would be another year before we finally started dating. That was in 1987 – we’ve been together for over half of our lives!

4. Being a dad is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but you know what? I think I might actually be good at it! I just wish I didn’t have to work – it bugs me when I miss out on happenings at home.

5. I am fiercely loyal. I still can’t bring myself to get rid of my ’92 Dodge Colt, even though absolutely nothing on it works anymore. Man, what a great car that was! OK, let’s add “sentimental” to the list, too. Dare I mention that high school graduation T-shirt from 1986?

6. I am a night owl. My best work (including this list, lol) is done after everyone has gone to bed. It’s inertia, really. Awake – just want to stay up. In bed – Zzzzzz.

7. I can fix anything. I’m not afraid to take anything apart, and when I put it back together I feel confident that the leftover parts must not have been all that important anyway. I will likely be a handyman when I grow up.

8. I have two university degrees: a Bachelor of Music degree from UPEI (1991) and a Master of Music in trombone performance from Northwestern University in Chicago (1992). Believe it or not, they’ve actually come in handy a couple of times.

9. I have been nearly vegan for 17 years. I say “nearly” because I have been eating a few eggs in the last couple of years. I don’t really know why either – they’re disgusting.

10. I have a high metabolism and can eat and eat and eat. I have put a few all-you-can-eat restaurants out of business over the years. A long time ago I lost a bunch of weight and ended up really skinny. Some people assume that I lost the weight because I became vegetarian, but it actually happened before that, due to “Starving Student Syndrome” that year in Chicago. I have been gradually able to put the weight back on after some sporadic periods of lifting weights, and am finally back to my teenage high of 165 lbs. I am kind of sensitive about people calling me skinny. I think a double standard exists whereby people seem to think it’s OK to tease people about being skinny when they wouldn’t tease somebody about being fat.

11. I have recently come to the inevitable conclusion that I have celiac disease. If you’re wondering how I could possibly survive as a nearly-vegan who can’t eat wheat, let me say that for every food I’ve given up I’ve found lots more to replace it. The result is that my diet includes a much wider variety of foods than it ever would have if I was still a meat-and-potatoes man.

12. My first big job was playing in the Band of the Ceremonial Guard on Parliament Hill in the summer of 1988. Marching on the Hill in 30 degree heat, wearing a wool tunic and a bearskin hat – we earned our money. We also had to undergo basic military training – I threw a real live hand grenade and learned how to operate a rifle and a submachine gun. These skills have come in very handy in my career as a trombonist.

13. Farthest I’ve travelled: Japan, 2000 – a three-week tour playing in the orchestra for Opera Atelier‘s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. What an amazing experience that was.

14. I am a patient man, but two things drive me crazy: slow drivers, and Windows computers.

15. I love building things out of Lego and K’nex. Bailey and I will play with that stuff together for hours. Hey Bailey – Bailey? Where’d you go?

16. I am such a perfectionist, I can’t even send an email to myself without proofreading and correcting spelling mistakes, grammar and punctuation. Like, chill out, man.

17. I am really quite boring. I can’t believe you’re still reading this.

18. I love a good action flick. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be that good. I’ll watch anything. Except Keanu – that guy makes me sick.

19. When I am older, I want to play the role of Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables, The Musical. I already know all the lines!

20. My favourite smell in the whole wide world is almond extract. Time stands still when I get a whiff of that stuff.

21. When I think about winning the lottery, my first thought is about how many composers I would commission to write trombone pieces. Oh man, I can’t wait to play all those new works. What? You have to buy a ticket?!

22. I am an earth muffin. We live off-the-grid in the middle of the woods, buy local as much as possible, shop second-hand and generally try really hard to be green. There is lots more I could do to be greener – every day I try a little bit harder. Someday I hope to be able to look my grandkids in the eye and honestly say I did my best to keep this planet liveable for them.

23. One of my biggest regrets is quitting piano. As a kid, I would start lessons every fall and then quit after a few weeks. Perhaps if I had been taking lessons from someone other than my mother I might have stuck with it; who knows? I know it’s never too late, but I don’t even have the time now for everything I’m already doing. A retirement project, perhaps…

24. I value my friends highly. If you’ve read this far, you must be a good one. Thanks! By the way, if you haven’t heard from me in a couple of years, it’s not that I don’t love you; I think about you all the time. It’s just that:

25. I am a procrastinator. How did I ever get around to finishing this list?

Posted in Life | 3 Comments

Windterra Wind Turbine

When we built our off-the-grid house in 2000, our power system consisted primarily of 8 photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, we have been keen on adding a wind turbine to complement the solar, but just haven’t made that step yet. My father-in-law recently pointed out a small ad in the newspaper about a new Canadian-made wind turbine, so I checked out their website and was very excited by what I saw.

The Windterra ECO1200 is a 1000-watt wind turbine which, as you can see in the photo below, spins on a vertical axis rather than the traditional horizontal axis which you would be used to seeing. The advantage of the vertical axis system is that the turbine is omni-directional, meaning it will work no matter what direction the wind is coming from. The traditional wind turbines need to face into the wind in order to work. Other advantages of the Windterra turbine include: 1) it works better in turbulent air, 2) it is more effective at lower wind speeds (operates as low as 11 km/h), increasing its efficiency and output, 3) it can be mounted on the roof, eliminating the need for a costly tower, and making it easier to install and service.

Windterra’s online price of $6050.00 includes the turbine, controller/inverter, and mounting system – pretty well everything you need to get started.

Unfortunately for us, the Windterra ECO1200 is designed for grid-tied systems, and will not work with our inverter. I am truly disappointed about this, because it seems like such a great product. However, for those of you who are on the utility grid and have been considering the possibility of making some of your own power, this product may be your answer. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for the right turbine for us.

windterra.jpg

NOTE: New information: As of May 15, 2010 Windterra has closed down all operations.

Posted in Environment, Renewable Energy | 19 Comments

Letter to my Tailgater

Dear Tailgater:

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed me here on the road right in front of you. I know I’m driving a car much smaller than yours, but I do have my lights on, so surely you see me? Speaking of lights, do you have your hi-beams on, or is it just that you’re so @*&#ing close?! Oh sorry, am I holding you up? I guess I’m only doing the speed limit; that must really suck for you. What the…?! Oh man, I wouldn’t do that if I were you! Passing on a double solid line on this stretch of road? Don’t you know the cops are always sitting at the bottom of this hill? Geez, you must be doing 120! Oh, I see, you’re from Ontario… Listen man, you should trust the native drivers – we actually know what we’re d… Oh shit, see those flashing lights? Yeah, that’s a cop car – we’ve got those here too – uh, I think it’s a little too late to slam on your brakes. Yep, you’re busted. Bummer. Then again, with an SUV that size, you’re probably not too worried about a li’l ol’ ticket – a drop in the bucket compared to how much it must cost you to run that thing, eh? Hopefully they won’t take off too many points though. Hey, my turn to pass you! See you later! Maybe you’ll catch up again a little further down the road – then again, I might be home by the time you’re done here. Say Hi to Officer Bob for me!

Sincerely,
Damn Island Driver

Posted in Life on PEI | Leave a comment