An Apology

For those of you who have been closely following my blogs from Banff, (both of you,) I feel compelled to offer an apology for the lack of recent blog posts. To be honest, there were reasons:

I just can’t seem to write the kind of blog that is a glorified tweet, wherein the events of a given day are given drive-by reportage,resulting in an entry that would read like this:

Got up late after sight-reading into the wee hours, of chamber ensemble reductions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which, incredibly, included a part for electric guitar.
Thought I saw a bear, just reflection in mirror.
Morning: Incredible master class; head exploded.
Lunch: Vistas (the Banff Centre dining hall) for lunch and coffee, on the way thought I saw a bear, just a Canadian.
Early afternoon: Rehearsing, composing, and practicing.
Afternoon concert; head exploded.
Thought I saw a bear, just Geoff Shoesmith, Banff director of operations.
After concert, composing, rehearsing and practicing.
Vistas for dinner, stomach exploded.
Evening concert; head exploded.
Post concert: practicing, composing, rehearsing.
Into town for Karaoke, thought gruff-voiced singer was Tom Waits, just a bear.

See how unsatisfying and unfinished that reads? Of course, only part of the above was true.

The other factor contributing to my lack of ongoing bloggage is the overwhelming schedule. It is totally up to me if I wanted to barricade myself in my hut like Michigan Militia, briefly emerging from my composing lair to forage for berries and grubs, but the Banff Way is to participate and collaborate. Below is a short list of activities that have occurred in the recent weeks.

2 weeks worth of jazz workshops, playing for and sometimes with Dafnis Prieto, Peter Appfleman, Uri Caine and Phil Dwyer.

Guitarist/vocalist for 1 ?? weeks, toward the premiere of an hour long work by Giorgio Magnanensi.

Workshop and jam session with sitar guru, Kartik Seshadri

Attending workshops including those given by violinist, Ian Swenson and pianist, Anton Kuerti.

Giving own workshops regarding improvisation and the blues, occasionally providing individual coaching of blues playing.

Attended 90+ concerts, appearing in a half dozen, one of which was my own recital of new work written at Banff.

As a composer, I have worked on at least 30 different pieces, completing about 10 at this point.

Participating in a film shoot with Banff residency filmmaker, Rory Middleton, including composing and performing a new song. The song, as required by Rory, is about a fictional bear attack, entitled “Cover Up and Play Dead.”

So, for now, I must beg your patience regarding more detailed blogs.

Wait???is that a bear?!?

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My Life of Crime

Blog 3

My life of crime.

Monday, January 18. Just got back from a soiree organized by the poetess, Robin Chapman. There were readings and musical performances, including a brilliant performance by Alexandria Le of Mozart’s 12 Variations on “Ah! Vous-dirai je, Maman” the first movement of the late Haydn string quartet nicknamed “The Policeman” (impending synchronicity to come!) by the Elandra Quartet, a riveting performance played by Katherine Thompson on her self-constructed instrument. I eventually contributed some original songs, blues and Irish music, but not before I caused a stir with Banff security. Chapman’s studio was very tight quarters and I felt like my gear was too much to cram in, so when it was my turn to play, I asked them to give me 10 minutes. I went back to my hut and put my amplifier outside and played some very lyrical, sustained guitar music using my Dallas-made Boomerang looping pedal, turning the amplifier up VERY LOUD so they could hear it coming through the woods to them. I was then going to come singing through the forest path to the party with the ongoing loop as accompaniment. As I stood outside my hut to check on the effect I noted a vehicle approaching in what I perceived to be an extremely purposeful manner. I made a beeline for the amp and stopped the loop as the security guards stepped out of the car. They were very nice and said they had seen a lot worse. Evidently the complaint was called in by an organization of pork farmers who were having a convention. I would now like to take this opportunity to make a statement:

Dear pork farmers/mongers/distributors/purveyors of Canada,

I apologize humbly and deeply if I interrupted or otherwise disrupted any bacon-related discussion. I hope any discomfort was mitigated somewhat by a sense of karma stimulated by my swinish behavior.

Those that heard it before security came to stop it said that it was enchanting, very eerie and surreal.

And, on the way back to my quarters after-party, I saw a wolf. Was it drawn by my plaintive yet feral guitar stylings flung out into the crisp night air?

Or was it the smell of pork?

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Warming Up

Kevin Hanlon at the Banff Centre

Blog #2 – Getting Warmed Up.

Back home in Dallas, whenever anyone learned that I would be gone for 11 weeks, the question always came up;
“What exactly are you going to do there?”
I would explain to them that I would focus on a concerto for electric guitar and, to that end; I would collaborate with other Banff instrumentalists on chamber pieces where I would combine their instruments with the electric guitar. If the questioner’s eyes had not completely glazed over by then, they would still wonder if there was a schedule, what artist’s would be there, then my eyes would glaze over as I admitted I simply didn’t know, BUT, that I would have a meeting with the Banff Centre’s Music Director, Barry Shiffman and things would be sorted out then.
What was revealed in the opening orientation and reinforced in my individual meeting with Mr. Shiffman, was the Banff Centre’s intent to facilitate creativity, and not to impose a particular structure.
Each artist has their own studio with 24/7 access and may even enter the Music and Sound Building at any time should they need some of the larger spaces.
To be sure, there are seminars and concerts given on a regular basis. The concerts are not to be missed. A separate blog entry will attempt to describe some of these indescribably amazing concerts.
But, coming back to the very great latitude given residency artists, there is a finding of one’s rhythm, and for those like myself, who are here for 11 weeks, this is very pleasant. First, you must adjust to the wonders of your surroundings, which might include insomnia and vivid, strange dreams. Around the tables in the dining hall, there was shared lore that the Blackfoot nation never settled in the valley where Banff is situated, reserving it as a sacred place because of it’s special energy.

Thus, the first two weeks were exercises in self-regulation. While I was getting to know which artists I would collaborate with, there was time to practice that I haven???t experienced in years. I brought my Hanon book of piano exercises and would often start the day learning a new exercise, adding it on to a string of exercises that are meant to be played in succession. This was often quite meditative and a great exercise in concentration at the same time. Now, I am not a pianist and once was nicknamed “Ape Hands” for my jarringly hard touch by an old friend, who remains a friend to this day, due to his honesty if not his tact. Nevertheless, the time I have had to focus on basic technique has led to improvement not just in my piano playing, but more pertinent to my research proposal, my guitar playing. Benefits from the thoughtful application of Hanon’s exercises are basic finger control and development of fine motor skills. Also, from lunch and dinner discussion with Banff artists, I will eventually have lessons from 3 of the pianists here, so, in your face, Cus! (See “Ape Hands” tag above)

Speaking of self-regulation, the buffet at the Banff Centre is not to be believed.
I had visions of honing my mind AND my body in rigorous program of exercise and self-control, applying an austerity that might be associated with deep research, but NOOOOO, said the Banff Centre Buffet, the expansiveness of which is clearly a metaphor for the mountain ranges in a panoramic view offered by the Vistas dining room where our daily Bacchanalias are held.
If you do not self-regulate at the Banff Centre buffet, you will have to book an extra seat on the plane ride home to accommodate your girth. You will also need to email more recent pictures to your friends and loved ones before you head back so that they can be less shocked by the bloated behemoth that returns.
Now, to be sure, the Banff Centre makes sure that there are plenty of fruits and vegetables, that vegetarian dishes are abundantly available. But if you are an omnivore, every meal will be a cornucopia of choices and you will very likely do what I have done so many times: One of each, oh sure, a little bit of each, but a little bit of 10 things (I am not kidding) can really add up.
Then there is the dessert buffet???

-Briefly pauses, overcome by emotion-

The buffet, combined with the view from the dining room and lively chat at table may hold you for 2 hours at a stretch.
I offer two examples of the liveliness of table talk at the Banff Centre:

Catherine, sharing her copy of Bartok’s transcription of Bach contrapuntal keyboard pieces into separate lines so as to understand the individual lines more clearly, later, in the same conversation, an extolling of the virtues of the blue-tongued skink. Look it up.

Knut, informing me of the existence of sketches Grieg made of a second piano concerto in Bb and later telling of the short-lived craze in Norway for the curious sport of curling when their team took the gold in the last winter Olympics.
Curling; the sport that features something like a tea-kettle slid across ice whilst a duo of custodians operate brooms in order to guide the kettle. Honestly, it sounds like a group of homemakers snapped from a bout of cabin fever.

Happily, no one has tried to explain cricket. Yet.


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Getting the Show on the Road

“Let’s get this show on the road!”

So exclaimed the gate manager at American Airlines, Terminal C as I stood in line with the huddled masses. The very definition of peppery, her wizened features suggested a youth that may have predated flight. She was out loud incredulous that certain parties had to review their ticket to determine their 1st class status, which qualified them to stand in a slightly better line. In truth, her advanced years, vigor and perspicacity would have made her the most interesting person in any room.

So why was I sweltering under two coats and sweating about the carry-on status of my hand-made Jim Reed electric guitar?
I had been invited to an 11-week residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, beginning January 10. While there, I would work on various music composition projects, especially a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra. To that end, I would be collaborating with other Banff artists.
In case you don’t know any more about the Centre than I did before I applied for a residency there, I recommend this link:

The travel day began and ended in darkness, so the charms of Banff would have to wait for a morning revelation. There was a surprise when I exited the twin-prop plane onto the tarmac at Calgary Airport, braced against the expectedly brutal elements in my aforementioned coats. Instead, I was greeted with the warmest air temperature I had experienced in the previous four days in Dallas. Now Calgary must surely have many good points, but the shuttle through its western suburbs ran a gauntlet of American fast food franchises that could have convinced the weary traveler that the flight had mistakenly gone to Mishawaka, Indiana.

Banff in the morning did not disappoint. There is something about being surrounded by mountains that I find comforting. I take special delight in seeing layers of mountains. A mountain behind a mountain suggests to me that there is always a new place to explore.

Over coffee in downtown Banff, I was treated to the sight of a doe and it’s fawn (really more of an adolescent due to the following; coloring, wouldn’t walk with it’s parent, and would occasionally stop to paw the ground in what appeared be a “texting” gesture) strolling leisurely through the midtown park.

By the way, should the words “petting zoo” or “feeding/photo opportunity” come to mind while in Banff, drive them out of your head now! Deer logic is faulty at best. When they discover that you are not a limitless source of food, they express their displeasure by rearing up and attempting to slash your face off of your head with their sharp hooves. (Info courtesy of Chris of Banff Security) The deer have yet to learn that face slashing does not equal more food. They are as cute and stupid as a 70’s AMC product. You are free to generate your own metaphors.

I met with some of the other residency artists at a Monday morning orientation. The truly international cast includes artists from Ecuador, Russia, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Australia. Everyone is friendly and very happy to be there, many of them, returnees. We were asked to introduce ourselves. My background in improvisation led Banff’s energetic, yet laid-back music director, Barry Shiffman, to invite me to organize a session on improvisation this coming Thursday. (Jan. 14) Part of the first day was spent getting situated in my studio, which is also called a hut. Perhaps when one composes a particularly inspired passage you may call it a studio. Until then, it’s a hut. Residency artists are provided with their very own space for work and practice. I will greatly value my time in Hut 12.

A final thought for this first entry: I have on occasion fished around in my pockets for my car keys only to feel a thrill of joy at their absence! No driving for 11 weeks! Bliss!



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