Carnival Band, samba & other adventures

The past couple weeks I’ve joined up with the Carnival Band, a really fun “marching” band/community winds & percussion orchestra.  In addition to absorbing the friendly vibe – a great find in the Vancouver sprawl – and the sense of joy in making music, it’s been a great opportunity to get back into reading charts and playing a little jazz.  Our “book” consists of 99% original music composed by two of the lead members.  The tunes are primarily light and groovy, latin- or funk-tinged jazz pieces.  I would say that, in terms of tradition, the band is a cross between a marching or processional band – without the pomp, circumstance and ‘regalia’ – a concert band (symphonic wind ensemble) and a jazz big band.  The instrumentation can literally be anything you can carry since, although we don’t march per se, we have been known to go on the occasional processional in the park.  Also, we generally play acoustically, i.e. without a PA system.  Outdoors we use a megaphone for the occasional vocal segment and, of course, for addressing the crowd of adoring fans. The group is made up of mostly saxes and brass and an array of percussion, mostly samba drums.  As the name suggests, this band is really all about having a good time.  I think my contribution is welcome, since several people have remarked favourably on my playing, particularly when it comes to soloing.  That feels good!

And speaking of samba, I’ve also joined up in a weekly samba workshop with Bloco Energia.  This is all percussion and all groove.  And things can’t possibly get groovier, trust me!  It’s been a wonderful experience so far this summer.

The adventure continues with my improv group – we are now called Ecstatic Waves.  It would be nice if we could get all five members out to all the weekly rehearsals.  That’s been a bit disappointing but what can you do?  The group is democratic and is meant to fun.  But, if we are to get into regular gigging, we need to develop our group sound more.  It’s still a huge creative outlet for me and I’ve been focusing on bringing in an increasing number of fun pieces that I think will balance out our more serious forays into structured improvisation.

My biggest news is that I’ve been accepted to the M.A. in Composition program at York University in Toronto!  At this point I’m about 95% certain I will accept the offer in turn.  I’m on the wait list at UBC.  Professor Dorothy Chang told me that they “liked my application a lot” but that they “didn’t have many openings this year.”  Oh well, that’s life.  In one way, it makes it easier to choose.  I think I’d have a hell of a time choosing really.  Both programs are great.  It would be more convenient to stay here, for one thing.  Also, UBC has a doctorate program, so there would be potential to continue on there.  In fact, I plan to apply there if I go to York.  On the other hand, an adventure in Toronto is super enticing!


Steve Reich documentary

I recently watched a 1987 TV documentary about composer Steve Reich called Steve Reich – New Musical Language.   Born in New York City in 1936, Reich is widely recognized as one of the key pioneers of musical minimalism.  He’s had a long and distinguished career with many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

Apart from the wonderful personal insights into many of his important early pieces, (that you might expect), a few interesting, more unusual ideas emerge in this film, perhaps, not even stated or portrayed outright.  Although I’ll give you a few teasers here, it is worth experiencing the more full discussion with commentary by Reich himself and examples of his music.

First idea: “where’s the drumming?”- after observing the dirth of drumming in the classical music world, Reich brings this art form into the forefront of new music composition.

Second idea: tape loops (e.g. in the piece Come Out 1966), are possibly an early influence on the art of sampling vocals, particularly as emerging in the hip-hop tradition to come much later.

Third idea: Reich spans both the world of acoustic composition and electronic music/tape music composition and seems equally at home in both.