Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Banff: This Place is Exactly What I Needed

Endangered Species at The Banff Centre
photo by Gianna Lauren
One day into my Music Residency at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada I realized I should be journalling.  So I climbed into my bed in the old lodge-style Farrally Hall, picked up my journal and wrote everything I was thinking before I fell asleep:
“Journal 2/24 This place is exactly what I needed” 
I didn’t write another journal entry until over a week later which was significantly longer and more in-depth.  It contained far more questions than answers or statements: questions about leadership, composing music, playing the trombone (aren’t there always questions about playing the trombone!?) and singing.  The most recurring question was 'how can one place be SO BEAUTIFUL?' And what a nice question to get to ask.   
Vermillion Lakes at sunrise
Late night low brass recording session
for composer Ryan Sommerville
Daily routines were established early with room for flexibility from day to day. We had Endangered Species (my trio with whom I came for the residency) rehearsal at 3pm after we had our mornings to ourselves to exercise, eat, write music and practice individually. Often in the evenings there were recitals, performances or a fire. 

A cellist and a tubist talk Bach with
Maureen Kelly and Kevin Wass.
One thing that grew in frequency was deep conversation with the other participants in the residency. By my final week I found that  everywhere I went, whether it was in the Farrally Hall kitchen with a wise Halifax based singer-songwriter, in the Music and Sound building lobby with a Swedish born, London dwelling Cypriot pianist, on a run with the Texas Tech tuba professor or in a spontaneous voice lesson with a  fiery new music specialist, I was having deep and meaningful conversations on an hourly basis.  
Victor Cayres performs pieces by
Beethoven, Liszt, Bartok, Villa Lobos, Miguez.

Deep conversations and lots of laughter
with Kristin Sofroniou
These conversations happened in social situations as well as musical. Two of my favorite memories are from open studios (a time when participants invite each other into their studios to perform or present their work and are open to feedback) both focused on the Bach Cello Suites.  One on cello and one on tuba.  In each of the sessions there were long discussions of the placement of one grace note or ornamentation; “should it be on the downbeat?  here listen to this…. no, I much prefer it before the downbeat… how are you going to deal with the double stops on this one?” And it was fascinating to me not because of the grace notes but because of the time and attention that peers were showing at such a specific and engaged level. Perhaps a hundred times I wondered this kind of environment can be recreated in my 'real-life' and several times I thought the answer was more grad school.  But I don’t think that’s the answer, because undoubtedly there is still competition and haste when in grad school, two things that simply didn’t exist in this residency.

Emily Asher at Endangered Species
Open Studio. Photo by Kevin Wass
So much of the residency was self-work, truly independent self-inquiry and  challenge.  How could I be having so much intense community feeling while also having endless space to work individually and with the trio? Time to dig deep musically and personally? Perhaps that is the essence of why this program was so effective.  And because of the entire support of The Banff Centre, from the program coordinators who answered our every question and provided for our equipment and logistical needs to Community Services which provided everything from firewood to counseling.

Jazz pianist and faculty in residence
Andy Milne working with Autobahn.
Endangered Species rarely gets to spend time together because of busy lives and the continental bulk of North America between us.  Rob Reich, our accordionist lives in Oakland, CA and Tom Abbott, our bass saxophonist and I live in Brooklyn. After first playing together in March of 2014 I knew it would take a special arrangement for us to get together and begin to unlock the musical possibilities of the group.  I looked into residencies immediately after our first gig and recording session (Stream or buy EP Here) and it was a year later, to the day, that we were together in Banff writing and rehearsing new music. I remember Vern Sielert, my undergraduate jazz professor, telling the UW big band that outside of school almost nobody gets the luxury 10 hours of rehearsal a week. Almost 15 years later it’s only now sinking in how true that is and why he told us. While in Banff Endangered Species rehearsed 15-18 hours a week for two weeks and I feel like we could have done that for six months and still have more to discover about where we can go.

It’s been a long time since I’ve missed something as much as I miss being in Banff.  I’ve been back to ‘real life’ now for a little over two weeks and if I could go back this very moment I would drop everything and go. But I also know that if I went back it wouldn’t be the same— The magic dissipated when my new friends left, when I turned in the keys to my beautiful mountain-view studio and the credit on my all-powerful ARTIST card ran out: no more endless salad bar lunches, no more access to the sun-lit pool, no more free counseling services. And without my friends, no more long discussions about grace notes. Thankfully, I have photos, videos, recordings, new friends, insight and enough memories to last lifetimes. Or at least enough to last until I’m accepted to The Banff Centre again. 

At least I now know exactly what I needed.

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