Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

The movement of the singers, stage hands and scenery was like watching the frames of a film. It reminded me of a Tai Chi class I once took. Moving as though space itself had body, weight, density, matter. We move through it frame by frame.

Nothing is harder than the repetition of one note. or a phrase. matching the tone, weight, balance, timbre. and then slightly changing the phrase one strand of hair at a time.

Music is architectural. It builds on itself. now 4-4; 4-5; 5-5; 5-6; 6-6. but what are numbers? 123123123123…they’re all 3’s and 2’s. the building blocks of time.

It’s not about the individual, though there were some who stood out – the vocal soloists, violin, tenor saxophone. It was about the whole, and taken from the perspective of the mezzanine balcony with lots of space around me was a transformative experience. It just wasn’t the same when I moved down to the orchestra for an hour. The distractions were too exhausting: people walking in and out, focussing on the individuals on the stage. It’s a different kind of theatre; one that could take in everything at once, building phrase by phrase, movement by movement, note by note.

atom by atom.

Einstein on the Beach.




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note: This piece is not intended to be a review of last night’s wonderful Soundstreams concert, The Gismontis at Koerner Hall, but rather a rhapsodic reflection.

Egberto Gismonti exists in multiple dimensions. Listening to him play the piano or guitar is an aural experience of a great mystery: the mystery of living in an exquisitely beautiful multi-dimensional world.

I would have gone home joyously happy after the first solo piano piece on the program, Anéis. The fact that the piano was unmiked and in an acoustically wonderful hall really highlighted the profound depth of his playing. Every aspect of his playing had layers upon layers of great beauty. From a whispering pianisissimo to a thundering triple forte there were always multiple dimensions of sound and clarity. A crescendo that could build and build over a very long stretch of time or a sudden switch: dark to light, joy to sorrow, divine, playful, absurd.

Polyrhythm, (how many meters can ten fingers play at once?) polytonality, polytimbre, polyeverything, really. but never intellectual. poetry in motion.

oh. and did I mention his virtuoso guitar playing? his incredible and fun to play compositions? his gorgeous duets with his son Alexandre and with Jane Bunnett? (bravo Jane!!) but this is not a review…

here’s a taste from a solo piano concert in 2009:

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commission me

ring my rotary
vibrate my cell
RIM me an SMS
(save my soul)
facebook, twitter –
the writing’s on the wall.
blog my space
shout from rooftops
send up a smoke signal.
semaphore me
send it in code.

give me a project
to put my creative juices
through the blender.
tell me like you told Bach:
we need a cantata for next Sunday
and hey, we only have three sopranos
(and one of them doesn’t sing very well.)

but don’t patronize me.
never, ever, ask me to sound like someone else.

tell me to research
settle on a score.
Buster my guts for a cabaret on halloween
or valentines at christmas on mother’s day.
give me a world series send-off
with hockey night in canada
played one hundred ways.
tell me to boogie my way through Mary Lou’s swing
or jazz my way
through a world music series.

a capella, tin whistle chase scenes
turn “turn of the century”
on Turner classics tracks
with Keaton as conductor.

give me a deadline
put a gun to my head.
tell me how many, when and where
and I’ll do the rest.

stimulate my economy of means
with a bulk-head of
leg room to stretch my imagination.
I’ll dissolve my limits
in the ether of jet stream.

give me a challenge
calculate the risks.
give me a slate to work on
a leg to stand on
commission me.

in return I’ll create,
imagine, dream,
learn, grow and entertain
the idea…
go to the ends of the earth
to begin.

and when it’s done
I’ll tweet, blog, facebook
video, newsletter, interview
press my release
plug you into my stream
of consciousness,
invite all my friends
and write you this poem.

dedicated to Ontario Contact and Ken Coulter (who asked the question)

Last October I attended Ontario Contact. The conference presents an opportunity for touring artists, presenters, agents and workshop presenters to get together. It consists of showcases, pitch sessions, a trade show, formal talks and informal round table discussions. At one of those discussions about investing in the arts, there was a heated discussion about whether or not you are compromising an artist’s integrity by “asking” them to do something – perhaps in addition to a performance that may be “riskier” to present.  I immediately began to think about Bach and Mozart and how integral the patronage system was to the history of music. This poem came out of those thoughts.

Some of my best work and most incredible musical discoveries have come out of commissions.

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this is the 3rd part to my essays on creativity. part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Several years ago I had an epiphany:

I had been granted an extra year of life.

It was around the time of my birthday and I was assessing what I had accomplished as a musician. Although I never doubted my musicality, I was wondering if it made sense to keep pursuing music. My career just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps it was time to switch gears and put my creative skills to use elsewhere. These thoughts continued for several days as I explored more and more possibilities and became more and more depressed. Then suddenly, the day before my birthday, I realized that I was a year younger than I had thought!

I felt that the universe had been given me an extra year. This would be the year to say yes to any musical project that came my way. This would be the year to get over being fearful of playing music the way I heard it and with the people I most wanted to play with. This would be my year of grace; my own sabbatical. Most of all, this would be the year to be open to any crazy ideas I had, to learn anything I felt I needed to know, to experiment, try new things and allow myself to fail.

It may very well be that allowing the possibility of failure may be the most crucial of these realizations. Without the possibility of failure growth is almost impossible. Safety and creativity do not go hand in hand.

Once I had committed to the idea that I had an extra year of life amazing things started to happen. Doors began to open that I hadn’t even noticed before. All kinds of performing opportunities came my way, many of which I might not have pursued or followed-through in the past. Some required endless games of telephone tag with club owners, some required taking on whole new areas of studying, listening and endless hours of practicing, and some required facing the scary “truth” of the recording studio.

Let’s face it. None of us know how much time we have. The notion of an extra year is a little bizarre. But I’ve found it to be profoundly powerful. Each day is a gift. You never know what is lurking around the corner. But if you can tell yourself that this minute, this hour, this day or this year is extra time that you’ve been granted to pursue a dream, it changes everything.

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“Like the very first title says, Sherlock Jr is a story about being able to do two things at once: move and entertain, dream and wake, negotiate between our real and our better selves – how we are all, in the end, projectionists and detectives. That art inflects life and vice versa is not a new statement, but a celebration of that fact perhaps bears repeating. Sherlock Jr is a testament to the imaginative impulse, the creative wish- the amount of ourselves that we put into the movies, and what the movies give back to us. For when the lights come up and we’re shoved rudely back into our misfit selves, we find we’re a little better off. Our ghostly flights sustain us. And then it’s time to kiss the girl.”

Edward McPherson, Buster Keaton – Tempest in a Flat Hat

(click to enlarge- Photos by Sonia Recchia/Wireimage for TIFF. This photo was taken at our performance of Sherlock Jr at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto)

a band within a band within a film within a film…

watching/playing, interacting/reading, composing/improvising, listening/creating

In a much broader sense, I have found that when two major projects overlap, particularly when one project is nearly finished and another is beginning, they both benefit. While I was composing the score for Sherlock Jr I was also in the final mixing stages of my CD project, Two Kites. It’s almost as though my creative imagination needed to take a day off here and there to think about something else and be engaged in a different type of brain activity in order to return with fresh ears and ideas. When Sherlock Jr was ending, my Halloween cabaret show, That Old Black Magic Cabaret, at the Young Centre for the Arts was looming, which I think really helped me get over post-show letdown. There simply wasn’t time.

Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on arrangements for my newest project, Forgotten Melodies. This project will have its world premiere at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Arts on March 29. Forgotten Melodies brings the exoticism of klezmer/Yiddish/Eastern European music to modern jazz. This project has also inspired me to be in serious practice mode. Right now, most of my days are spent writing, practicing, recording, listening to my playing, analyzing and refining my ideas.

At the same time, I’m also preparing for my Two Kites CD release on April 28. I signed off the final proof for the CD package this week! There are still tons of loose ends to think about for the release of the CD and for upcoming concerts for its promotion.

That’s all I can handle. Two things at once!

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Last summer I composed a film score for Buster Keaton’s silent film classic, Sherlock Jr.

I first heard about this project on June 8, received confirmation on June 23 and was booked for four performances on Sept. 26 at the brand new TIFF Bell Lightbox. In the meantime, I traveled to Barcelona from June 25- July 6, then was off to Halifax from July 14-18. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to start writing until the last two weeks in July. Even so, I had a few days booked in the studio to mix my new CD, Two Kites, plus three performances including a solo concert at the Burlington Jazz Festival.

I was told that TIFF wanted the score to have a lot of klezmer music. Therefore, I decided that I’d score it for a klezmer/jazz sextet consisting of accordion, clarinet/sax, violin, piano, bass and drums.

I had a deadline, a stylistic guideline, instrumentation, plus an absolutely brilliant 44 minute long silent film.

Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like real parameters!

I often think about the fact that it’s so much easier for me to complete a project when there is an external deadline. Internal deadlines are way trickier. I can slip, get distracted, abandon projects and leave unfinished compositions and arrangements buried in my notebooks or in my digital recording device. (I use a Roland Edirol R-09. Love it!) Or other external deadlines pop up which demand my complete attention, and as time goes by the urgency to finish an earlier project starts to diminish…

Deadlines are crucial for an artist. They really help focus creative energy, keep you moving forward, and give you something concrete to work toward. They also help you keep your priorities in place and say “no” when necessary. When I don’t have a clear goal in mind, I can waste a lot time.

I love deadlines!

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bios, bios!

I have more bios than unmatched socks. and I have a lot of those!

It seems that every few weeks I need another bio: grant proposal, promo piece, short festival blurb, update for my website, very short gig blurb, very long comprehensive essay, ad copy, etc. etc.

You can find one of my bios here on my “about” page. I was recently interviewed for a very long bio (2450 words!) to help promote the release of my new CD, Two Kites this coming April, 2011.

Who can read that much?

Going on the notion that people generally don’t like to read, I thought I could produce a name-dropping bio, which could start something like this:

Fern Lindzon once shared a sidewalk with Eric Idle in Toronto, Canada, followed Keith Richards down a street in Venice, Italy, and dined at a table next to Tony Randall in London, England.


I am currently reading a wonderful book called The Creative Habit by dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. I first heard about it on Christine Bougie’s fantastic blog. I highly recommend reading and devouring this book!

In her chapter entitled “Harness your memory” Twyla writes the following, “There are as many forms of memory as there are ways of perceiving, and every one of them is worth mining for inspiration…Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them.”

In this spirit, I thought I’d like to write my own “creative bio”. This bio could take place entirely in my mind, not have to move in chronological order, and have more to do with thoughts and feelings and perceptions.

Creative Bio (part 1)

I’m told that I was a face presentation. That is to say that I wanted to be born with my head facing upward. Already my sense of direction was askew. Or perhaps you could say that I was so excited to have a look around that I ended up choosing the more difficult path. Or you could say that I was afraid. to put my head down. to trust. to let go and relinquish control. This conflict between contol and letting go has dogged me my entire life…

As I went on to write about early memories I found it interesting to see how my early perceptions have played out in my creative life.

It’s a fun excercise.

Try it.

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I wish it was all fairy dust. I wish I could just wave a magic wand and create music. fully formed.

The weird thing is, in the end it really is magical. When it finally happens you sort of forget about all the hard work, the hours and hours of procrastination, the huge struggles, the frustrations, the things you need to give up, the dead ends, the awful ideas, the judgement that comes way before it’s supposed to, the hopeless feelings and the initial excitement that gives way to doubt much too quickly.

I honestly don’t know how it happens. All I know is that I need to stick with it, keep going no matter what and trust that even though it may feel kind of awful right now, I will eventually find something. And then somehow it starts to grow. Almost on it’s own. Because when you’re involved in a creative process and you’re at it every day, at some point your imagination takes over and works on it. While you sleep. while you eat. go shopping, wash dishes, take a shower or while you’re just out somewhere.

That’s why I always carry a small notebook in my purse.

Ideas are everywhere. they really are fairy dust.

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1.   space

The more I think about it, the more illusive it is. The ideas slip-slide faster than a fresh-caught fish. We’re in murky waters here.

When I think about creative thought, the first thing that comes to mind is space. You need space, and plenty of it.

Idle space, physical space, the look and feel of the brown wood on my finally-cleared desk. Psychic space. You need a place in the brain for ideas to float around in.

The brain as flotation tank.

I’ve become adept at filling in space, of occupying my mind with endless amounts of things to do. I’m addicted to keeping my mind busy. Occupied with clutter. Clutter is my way to avoid thinking. To avoid being creative.

But space is only something I get glimpses of now and then. And even given space, in an eye-blink all the clutter rushes back in faster than air rushes into an unsealed vacuum-pack.

Most of the time I forget about space. I forget about silence.

I suspect that silence and space need to be courted. It’s like I need to sneak up on myself and then coax my slippery mind. My fickle brain. Wait. Stay here for just a second longer. Long enough to savour this thought. Long enough to taste it, feel its saltiness, follow it through. Long enough to grasp it before it dissolves into the ether of the hubbub.

And if creative thought is so enjoyable, why do I avoid it?

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