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 :->)

Looking back, looking forward

It seems appropriate that in a decade of my life with such a heavy emphasis on travel, I should be writing this blog from a cafe in Brussels-Midi train station, fresh from Luxembourg and on my way to a project here and in Lille for the rest of the week. It’s also the day before my 40th birthday. This blog originated in the desire to chronicle in some fashion the many “indulgences,” the rich abundance of experience my life has brought me, in these first four decades. On the train, I was reading a book that a friend recently gave me, about the four principles of creation, the four things we came to Earth to experience: love, health & well-being, abundance, and creation, especially the knowledge that we create our own reality, “not some of it, or most of it, but ALL of it!” as the author of the book proclaims. Sometimes this seems a ridiculous idea, especially in challenging times or in the instances when we don’t feel we are in the right place doing the right thing. Yet, when I examine the events of my personal history on a deep level, I see how true this has proven to be. The times that have felt the most tumultuous, the beginning of my 30’s for example, have since revealed themselves to be key in the direction my life took in response to those challenges. It is a lesson I have continued to learn, over and over again.

One of the greatest joys in my life is the journey that playing the horn has provided me – especially in the way my ensembles have enabled me to travel around the world and spread the vision of healing through music, through performance and teaching master classes… accessing a level of emotion and symmetry, gently bringing my soul into harmony with the best within me… striving, through discipline and focus, through listening closely and being open to new ideas, to create beauty and go beyond what was possible even a few concerts ago… moving from a place of idealism and enthusiasm, even when tired or under the weather or in the presence of cynicism… I’m not saying I always live up to these ideals. I have experienced much self-doubt and anxiety, even when things seemed to be going their best. But I have always tried to keep this vision before me, to remind myself and surround myself with reminders for the times when I lose the flow and sink into negativity. The greatest tool I know for remaining positive is gratitude, constant and profound gratitude. That part comes easily to me since I feel so very blessed, especially through the amazing people who are a part of my life.

I was going to do a little list of some of the moments that stood out for me during my 30’s, and maybe I will still do that at some point, but as I write at this moment, I just feel overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness for the gifts in my life and a sense of open curiosity for what the next year, the next decade will bring.