I love playing the trombone, and I love being outdoors, so when I can do both at the same time, it’s a good day. And although I don’t have to worry about bothering neighbours here, there doesn’t seem to be that many opportunities to actually play outside – by the time the weather is warm enough, the mosquitoes have arrived!
One of the most fun occasions I’ve had to play outside was in May, 1993. I, along with eleven other trombonists, was hired to take part in a performance of R. Murray Schafer‘s Music for Wilderness Lake, as part of the Scotia Festival of Music. Schafer himself was there as composer in residence, so that made it even more exciting.
Our performance took place at Long Lake in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia, with Camp Kidston as our base of operations. Music for Wilderness Lake is in two parts: “Dusk” and “Dawn”, which are meant to be performed at – you guessed it – dusk and dawn! This meant that both performers and audience were required to sleep overnight, and as you can see in one of the photos, tents dotted the camp. In fact, I don’t even think we bothered with “sleep” – there wasn’t much point going to bed when we all had to be in position around the lake by 5:30 AM – and I had to canoe to my spot! I remember that one resourceful trombonist (let’s call him Jim) had the presence of mind to bring beer, and sold it out of the trunk of his car!
For the performance, the twelve trombonists spread out around the lake, and respond to some cues as they hear them. Because of the distances involved, no two performances will be the same, and depending on where the listener is located, nobody hears the same thing. Some of the cues were visual and were directed by Schafer, who positioned himself on a raft in the middle of the lake and used coloured flags to indicate certain events. It’s a very cool piece, and very well written for the instrument. Schafer exhibits a thorough understanding of the technical capabilities of the trombone. The time of day, as well as the weather conditions, are an integral part of the music. At dawn and dusk, the air is very still and conditions allow for optimal refraction of the sound waves. This allows one to hear the music very clearly, even at a great distance, and also results in multiple echoes – it is certainly a unique experience. I would love to perform this work again, but it’s not often one finds himself at a lake with eleven other trombonists! I guess that’s what memories (and photos) are for.
Speaking of which, click on the photo below if you’d like to see my set of six on Flickr.
“Music for Wilderness Lake returns to a more remote era, to an era when music took its bearings from the natural environment, a time when musicians played to the water and to the trees and then listened for them to play back to them.” – R. Murray Schafer