The creativity pas-de-deux

  People who have dedicated their lives to the arts, or simply devoted themselves to making their lives a work of art, know well the feeling of reaching out towards inspiration, towards excellence. This yearning for that undefinable something has an ill-tempered neighbor, Mr. Frustration. He wears many masks: the composition that dies half-written because “I can’t make it come out on paper like it is in my head.” The comparison to another player – “I’ll never sound like her.” The fear of irrelevance – “Nobody wants to read this kind of story anyway. Why bother?” The conditional taskmaster – “If only you had worked harder, sacrificed more, then you might have made it.” And so many others. What a soul-sucking, time-wasting masquerade. Anyone who has done the cha-cha with the demon of perfectionism as often as I have knows the drill. It’s always the wrong tempo, and you always step on his toes. Get off that dance floor, friends. Now.
I recently listened to the marvelous audio book version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, a gorgeous meditation on creativity and allowing yourself to “make stuff,” even if it isn’t perfect. Even if you know it hasn’t a prayer of being perfect. Just Make The Stuff. It’s what we were born to do. And it’s fun. In her book, Gilbert challenges the belief in an indifferent or even hostile universe. If you love nature, she says, and yet believe nature doesn’t care about your existence, then how can you ever enter into a relationship with it? Why not believe that the love can flow in both directions? This is equally true for creativity. If the essence of the soul is creative, how can the universe not reflect that principle? 
I believe this is just as true for the interpretive artist as well as for the painter, composer, choreographer, chef, or novelist. An image that has come to me recently while playing my horn is that of each note loving me back as much as I love each note. It’s a different quality of music-making. We all know both performance versions when we hear them, the technically flawless presentation that leaves us cold, and the one that has love and passion. That second one reaches beyond itself, beyond the interpreter, and makes us feel those things too. Furthermore, I believe that the concertos, symphonies, songs WANT to be played beautifully. Imagine the pieces themselves blushing and going all shivery when a musician opens up to receive them! Throw them a great party, and they will want to come back and hang out and dance on the tables.
The beautiful things are out there waiting to be made, and so it is up to us to reach out for them with open arms, an open mind, an open heart. Music-making in this way is so incredibly rewarding. Indeed, it becomes its own reward. You will of course do your best to prepare with attention and discipline, and nothing can replace all the hard work. But you see, that’s not the same as being hard on yourself. You reach out for the music, for just the right voice or phrase…what if it’s reaching out towards you at the same time? That means you only have half the distance to cover.
I am reminded of that perennial quote by Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” What’s important to know is that our bliss is also skipping along half a step behind us, waiting for us to turn around and bump into it. When you approach your life’s work in this manner, you honor yourself, and you honor the source of that creativity. Now that’s one dance I don’t want to miss!

(Over)view from the rooftops of Paris

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I’ve just had the pleasure of spending a couple free days in Paris between performances with the OPL at the Opéra Comique.  Our Sunday show fell on my birthday, so Kerry and I stayed afterwards and indulged in an Ethiopian feast at one of our favorite restaurants in the Latin Quarter.  We found a very cute studio through the airbnb website (if you don’t know it, it’s a bit like Craigslist, but you are better protected from scams.)  The view out our window (7th floor, luckily with elevator, which is by no means a given here!) is lovely –  a double rainbow greeted us upon arrival, crowning the Jardin des Plantes right across the street.  Yesterday the master craftsmen at L’olifant Paris whipped my horn back into shape and gave me the opportunity to try some beautiful horns and mouthpieces.

It seems a good place and time to bring a little perspective to the goings-on of the past and future couple of months, especially because I haven’t written a blog for a good long while.  The “doing”/”being” ratio has tipped more to the “doing” side, as it often does when I don’t pay attention to seeking the inner stillness and reflection necessary to feel whole.  Mind you, I love pretty much everything I have been doing lately – playing great music with the orchestra every week, preparing and presenting concerts with the American Horn Quartet, taking Pilates lessons, going to plays and dance productions, and all the normal bits of everyday living.  A huge bonus lately has been to have so much time together with my husband, sadly lacking this time last year with all the traveling.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself walking around in a bit of a daze, not taking everything in.  Other than while playing music, when the habit of years of laser-like focus kick in, the edges seem a bit blurry to scenery, conversations, even the taste of food (for those of you who know me well, that’s a clear sign that something is amiss!)  Even this morning, I had originally planned to go to a museum but feared just drifting by the exhibits without appreciating them.  I go through this cycle often, not realizing it’s happening for a while.  This classic Far Side cartoon says it beautifully:

 

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The trick – the art – to living is in balance (being married to a Libra will teach you a thing or two about that as well!) – especially that between the inner and outer life.  The next few weeks are just as activity-laden as the previous ones, including more performances in Paris, an AHQ tour to the States, Götterdämmerung on Wagner tuba when I return, then brass quintet rehearsals and a Britten Serenade performance etc….  But I am going to do my best to find the inner stillness and perception to be fully present in the big and small moments, including the ones that don’t have a website link attached. But there just may be a double rainbow in the offering.

 

 

 

 

Modern-Day Traveling Minstrel

I’m heading home right now from 2 wonderful weeks as guest principal horn of the Beethoven-Orchester Bonn, performing and recording a CD of works by Gustav Mahler (Adagio from Symphony #10, the symphonic movement Blumine, and Das Klagende Lied.)  The train route between Koblenz and Trier winds alongside the beautiful Mosel River – forested hills rising from one bank, vineyards sprawling on the other.  The sun sparkling on the water’s surface is a welcome sight after our unseasonably murky May. Charming old wine villages with their tell-tale crooked timber frame houses compete for attention with castle ruins on the hilltops and tiny mountain chapels.  A few weeks ago, on my way home from another guest principal horn gig in Mulhouse (Mozart, Schoenberg, Webern, Schubert), my husband and I visited the Montagne des Singes (Monkey Mountain, hosting a colony of 200 free-roaming Barbary apes) and wound our way through the lovely countryside of Alsace.  Of course we had to stop for a delicious glass of Gewürztraminer and pot of creamy Bibelekäs.

One of the perks of this life as a traveling minstrel is the down time provided by the journey.  Though it’s a train that will have me home this afternoon, I feel a connection to the troubadours of old, slinging their harps and pipes and drums over their horses’ backs, or their own, traveling for days at a time in this same region of Europe to reach the next court, festival, or market town, singing for their supper.   One of my favorite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay, features itinerant musicians and artisans in many of his books, focusing on their personal journeys as great events unfold around them.  Sometimes the musicians themselves are the movers and shakers, even princes of lost lands.  But more often than not they are mere mortals whose talents take them into the fray of excitement and danger.  My life’s not very dangerous, really (unless you count the possibility of throwing out my back lifting suitcases over my head onto luggage racks, and working with conductors) yet I feel the sense of adventure when the next voyage approaches.  The coming 3 months include trips to Burgundy, Bonn (again,) Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Osaka, Tokyo, Oregon, Texas, England, Scotland, Japan (again,) Bangkok, and Dubai, many of these destinations for gigs.  I’d like to meet the horse that could carry my hornpipes and me on this itinerary!

Putting together the AHQ “Tour de France”

Geof, Charlie, Kerry, and I have just returned from playing concerts and giving master classes on our mini-France tour which included stops in Mulhouse and the beautiful Loire Valley.  The preparation phase for this tour was, by necessity, spread out over several  months, with the initial correspondence well over a year in advance.  It’s an enormous undertaking to assemble even a 1-week tour like this – since we don’t have an agent in France, Kerry made the initial contact with several potential venues and professors.  After we had received positive feedback, he and I worked together on all the details of dates, venues, contract negotiations, itinerary planning, etc.  Sorting through literally hundreds of e-mails in French and handling the ridiculous minutiae of French bureaucracy was a challenge, especially because we are both involved in so many other projects at the same time, often away from home.  Invoices, purchase orders, program details, stage setup, contact addresses, phone calls with bad connections in rapid French, a last-minute cancellation, the wrong personnel listed on the publicity for one venue, no street address for another hall, GPS programming, merchandise gathering… and that’s just the non-horn-related parts!  You either need the patience of a saint or a lot of extra hair to tear out during this process (I fall into the latter category.  Or used to.)

But of course, the reason for all this is the music.  The new jewel in our repertoire is Walter Perkins’ arrangement of music from Porgy & Bess (in four movements with a fifth, “Summertime”, as an encore.)  Walt sent the score, Geof made printed parts, and we had an initial reading last autumn – after which we switched a few parts around to fit the quartet better.  Then we met for 3 days in February and a weekend before the first engagement in the end of March to put the whole program together.  Finally, the fun part!  We generally start off by getting the general feel of the pieces and the program, making sure everything flows, then we dive into excruciating detail to make sure every chord is in tune, every articulation matches, every entrance is clear as to who gives what, every nuance has a chance to find expression.  Often, it’s me coming into a piece for the first time and the rest of them reviving something that has been in the repertoire and done a certain way for over 20 years, but in the case of Porgy & Bess, it’s fresh for everyone.  Here are two clips from our concert in Cholet:

On the road finally, we fell into the usual whirlwind of packing up the tour van, driving to the next location (with the invaluable assistance of Geof’s wife Sherry), meeting our hosts, being whisked off to give a master class, fitting in a nap when possible, having the sound check in the hall, getting a pre-concert snack, giving every ounce of concentration and energy during the performance, going out for large and late dinners afterwards with great wine, getting up the next morning to repeat the process again.  It’s an intense and beautiful experience.

On this particular tour, we planned in an excursion to Chambord Castle on our way through the Loire Valley.  This provided us with a backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot. Some of the shots were more serious than this one: 

and this one:

Here was our favorite:

It’s important to find time during the tour to relax and recharge before the next burst of energy.

Here are a few pictures of highlights from the tour:

Virginie Maillard, our gracious hostess in Mulhouse, led her students and the workshop participants in a horn choir at the beginning of our concert.  The felt hats she made for everyone were priceless.

After our concert in Cholet with the friendly and enthusiastic Prof. Jerome Percher.  Afterwards, Geof ended up literally giving him the shirt off his back.

Charlie imparts his wisdom about low chops to a student in Mulhouse:

Kerry is the MC for all of our concerts, and giving the whole presentation in French didn’t phase him one bit! 

My folder…

posing under an advertisement for our concert in Sainte-Hermine

After playing for the Journée du Cor in Mulhouse, the Festival des Veilées Musicales in Saint-Hermine, another Journée du Cor in Cholet, we ended the tour by performing the 1st movement of the Schumann Konzertstück with the Brass Band Pays de la Loire followed by a 30-minute program on our own.

After all the hard and often tedious work of putting together a tour, I have to say that the thrill of performing and the enthusiasm of our audiences and the students we teach make it all worth it.  (Remind me when I’m sitting here grinding my teeth organizing the upcoming 2013 AHQ tour in America :->)

Virtuoso Horn Duo – Dark and Stormy Night video

Wow, I never expected to let this blog lapse for so long!  There are many reasons for that, some of which I hope to address in an upcoming post.  But for now, I wanted to share this video.  The Virtuoso Horn Duo is in the middle of a project right now performing concertos with the Orchestre de Chambre du Luxembourg (OCL) and is also preparing for a Valentine’s Day recital with our fearless pianist, Lauretta Bloomer, at the Foyer Europeen in Luxembourg.  

 

Here’s my first attempt at iMovie, a little slideshow of pictures to accompany Kerry Turner’s “‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night” from our 2007 CD: