A Manitoba Upbringing

We spent the last month or so in Manitoba, and now that I’ve had enough time to think about it, I’m struck again by where I grew up.

I’m really lucky.I grew up in a fantastic musical environment. From my earliest memories as a chorister to when I left, I got the best that Manitoba had to offer even when I didn’t always deserve it.

There is no shortage of strong choral programs. Throw a stone and hit a strong program. I’m learning about it as I go, and trying to pay close attention to attentively hear the choirs. I was really impressed with Camerata Nova at the NMF. They gave a nuanced, sculpted and attractive performance of a difficult work. It was a highlight and opened my eyes yet again to singer/teacher/conductor/composer/isthereanythingthisguycan’tdo Mel Braun. He is a total package, just amazing. It’s easy to see why he has gotten so much work there for such a long time. Amazingly, he was my first voice teacher. I was so lucky he found time for me, some 16 year old punk whose voice had barely broken and who didn’t listen too closely.

Also, I think what Prairie Voices has done in the last few years with Vic Pankratz has been extremely special. They have won international awards for their singing. That’s a huge accomplishment. I got to sing for Vic at Westgate where I went to highschool, and it was a great experience. Westgate is, to hear other people tell it, one of the strongest highschool programs in the province, and it’s a special musical environment. A culture, really. When I look at my own conducting, I can definitely see the resemblances in my work now to what I learned in those early years. Westgate is the incubator for so much musical talent.

I also sang at all saints church as a treble. So, I would practice violin for two hours a day, but practicing at all saints several times a week was where I found my love of choirs and found some pretty amazing friends. I befriended Ross Brownlee and Andrew Balfour and PJ Buchan. Ross is a real firecracker with a beautiful counter-tenor voice. He has so much energy and positiveness, I don’t know where it comes from but I hope he never changes. I think he is just amazing. And I’m really impressed by the creativity of Andrew Balfour. Sometimes the ideas just seem to flow so easily. He is really “tapped in” in a remarkable way, and he teaches music in a pretty special way. PJ is an expert on Icelandic music and culture, and teaches at the U of M. He is also an excellent tenor.

Where does this come from? Well, I think it’s about perspective. Each of the names I’ve mentioned are artists who educate. I’m so very much in my professional bubble of a musical world. In my life I think I’m educating, but I’m not, not like they do. I educate myself far more than I educate others. The difference is in the lives they touch, which is the element that gets so many of us going.

Those guys (and girls) are getting it done every day. Without them I maybe wouldn’t be in music.So thanks Vic, Mel, Ross, Andrew, and PJ, for putting up with a cantankerous guy. Much obliged for everything.

A wonderful (and busy) year ahead.

What a great musical year it is shaping up to be. I’m going back and forth across the country several times this year, which will add come challenging elements to my life to be sure. In addition to my musical life in Montreal with St. Matthias and Ensemble Bellechose, I’ll be guest conducting at the Winnipeg Symphony New Music Festival, and we’ve expanded Polycoro’s season to two programs and three concerts. There will be more details in about a week I think about something else that is on the way. Until then I’ll leave you in suspense about another major concert on the horizon. Suffice to say, guest conducting is a very good thing.

Check out the Calendar!

Adieu Christopher Jackson

I can’t believe that Christopher is gone. My condolences, solidarity, and love to everyone who knew him, especially his family and loved ones. Many, many friends are grieving today.

Since learning of the death of my friend, colleague and mentor, Christopher Jackson, I can’t think of much else. I sang my first Monteverdi Vespers, Bach B Minor Mass and many other works under his red baton at SMAM. The Canticum Canticorum of Palestrina. The Schütz Historia. Large scale works by Gabrieli, Praetorius, Victoria. Spem in Alium. Countless precious memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. I can’t really describe how thrilling it was to work with him, words can’t really do it justice. Everyone who did have that chance knows exactly what I mean.

I knew him principally as a mentor. For years we would meet fairly regularly to discuss scores and elements of early music. Those were very important times for me, a gift he gave me again and again without request for anything at all. A really selfless thing to do. It was a chance to learn how he put these musical puzzles together. The only thing he really asked of me was to be myself.

Christopher was always supportive of my desire to study and improve my approach to early music. He kept my eye pointed in the direction of performance, which has saved me a few times from going down the rabbit hole. He was a powerful musical presence in my life. Eventually in the last few years we became colleagues and friends.

Despite years of work together, it is the friendship that I will miss most of all. I’m going to miss us chuckling over Lassus, questioning Palestrina, discussing recordings, and especially drinking beer and discussing this strange business of music we live so personally. I will miss calling him up for drinks or watching SMAM in rehearsal or concert. I will miss him coming to listen to my rehearsals and concerts. I will miss his uncompromising nature.

Thank you for everything Christopher. I’ll miss you deeply.