Archive for the ‘stuff I think about’ Category

don’t think twice, it’s alright.

the pop songs we grow up with form our language of thought. It’s those lines we go to again and again round and round in the circle game of our inner dialogue.

are you gonna let me go there by myself? how many times has that line repeated and repeated in the agony of unrequited love?

Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Carole King…

it’s too late, baby

in Joni Mitchell’s fantastic interview with Jian Ghomeshi, Joni talks about how she insists that her listeners relate to the words. not to the singer behind the words.

the whole interview is fantastic. here it is.

I wish I had a river I could skate away on. is that great, or what?

great pop poetry becomes the iconic phrases, those go to comfort foods of the heart. powerful words that resonate long before we’re even aware that they’re there. The other night I put Court and Spark on my record player, lay down on the sofa completely overcome by the magnificence of that record. I only got up to change sides. remember that? My original vinyl recording still sounds fantastic! Besides Joni’s brilliant songs, great playing and arrangements, I was struck by how many of those words had become my own language. my own way to explain things to myself.

such power behind the popular song.

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yesterday I rode the storm.

there were at least two places I could have pulled into a kfc or tim’s right off the highway, but chose not to…what was I thinking?

on an adrenalin high as though I had injected it directly through my veins, every fibre of my being in sheer terror.

it was fight or flight. why did I choose to fight it out?

isn’t it time I learnt to respect nature?

once in a while we get reminded how powerless we are. no matter what we think, in the end nature holds all the cards.

nature, her beauty, awesome and terrifying will always win out.

When I was a kid, my dad and I raced our Rhodes 19 every Monday night during racing season. He skippered, I worked the jib. And when the wind came up he’d point us as hard as he could, with me pulling in the sail callous upon callous, my short petite body hiking out of the boat hanging on by my feet…and when the wind died down, we’d try to grab every breath of it. he by intelligent skippering, me by sensing where the wind was breathing through the sheet of the sail through my small hand. we had a parade of pennants to show for it.

Until I reached adolescence, I was a speed freak, and I was fearless. My dad threw me in the water under the age of two and after I emerged spitting and giggling, that became my home. I had a special badge at the pool where they had a strict height restriction for the deep end. It wasn’t until I took up racing and had a flip turn contest with my friends, that I actually experienced anything frightening in water. That day changed me. It may have been after 7 or 8 somersaults that I realized I had no idea where the surface of the water was. When I finally emerged, I was terrified.

Bombing down a hill snow skiing, slaloming in and out of the wakes water skiing, my love of adrenalin and sheer joy of abandon knew no bounds. until one day, and I’m not sure when and how exactly, it suddenly occurred to me to be fearful. wild abandonment turned to abject fear overnight, it seemed.

My first real experience of our powerlessness against nature happened while climbing a mountain in the Sinai desert. We were given very little instruction and no ropes. All that went through my mind was… 3 points of contact…two arms and a leg, two legs and an arm. Climbing up was easy. exhilarating and utterly riveting. I could always hoist myself up a little higher. But coming down was an altogether different story. That was where I began to see myself as just a tiny creature, no larger than an ant against the hugeness of the mountain. of nature. awesome.

I honestly don’t know how I got myself out the predicaments I found myself in that day. How I could reach down with a toe, hanging by a single finger on the side of a mountain with nothing but my own wits to guide me. In the height of the moment all that existed was the mountain and me. It may have been the single most focussed day of my life. Strangely, in the grip of the moment, I felt no fear at all. I was much too busy. fear wasn’t an option. In fact, what I thought was…I understand why people climb mountains. It was a feeling of euphoric joy, that feeling of oneness with nature. no separation between me and that mountain, and that as long as I stayed connected to it, I was going to be okay.

It was only after I finally returned to the ground that fear took over and I realized what a truly dangerous situation I had put myself into.

So remind me, next time you see me riding out a storm, that flight is in fact the intelligent option.

I should save abandonment for playing jazz.

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I recently returned to writing morning pages.

Morning pages are generally three pages of writing. just writing. allowing the pen and thoughts to flow where they will.

Morning pages are an idea of Julia Cameron‘s, which she talks about in The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book.

…and it’s been a few years since I deliberately wrote them.

My return to the pages was initially inspired by a recent trip to Boston to attend a friend’s wedding. I had arranged to meet a few friends for dinner and I decided to get to the train stop an hour early to sit and write lyrics. I’d been grappling with these words for a while now, and thought that an hour without my usual home distractions could be a good idea. no cell phone, internet, messes to clean up.

I never got to the lyrics. My pen decided that I needed to write more about what I was trying to say with the text, and I furiously wrote free verse prose barely remembering to sip my coffee. Images and half-baked idea snippets came hurtling down the tracks of thought – thought to hand, hand to pen, pen to paper. Stunning images followed by awful hackneyed phrases. As I wrote I kept thinking: wait. don’t edit. not yet. there’s time for all that later… why don’t I do this anymore?

Over the last few weeks I’ve made some feeble attempts to write, so I finally decided to return to morning pages. On the first day I asked myself: why morning pages? I have volumes of the stuff I never read. But I remembered that once in a while a great idea emerges from the rough– an idea for a poem or a project, perhaps.

So this time I’ve given myself a few guidelines:

write to mine for ideas – and when something emerges, try to shape it immediately.

write for therapy – I hereby give myself permission to throw things out.

…that’s what the pen does. it beckons the rawest form of thought. images great and terrible grappling for my attention in blurts and stops and starts and distracted non sequiturs. make it impossible to write it all down before I blankly stare at the page. and through it all rescue me from my initial intention of what I thought I wanted to write about into the world of what I need to write about.


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there is a rhythm to the road. a speed, density and distance that includes other drivers, the shape of the road, width and breadth of the vista and peripheral views. how much can I see?

I’m particularly aware of it on the highway, and I usually forget about it otherwise…

and it doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you’re driving.

If driving isn’t just a function of getting from point A to point B, it’s just so much more fun. especially going up the 400 on a Saturday (when you don’t have an early start)

We’re a bit haphazard here. I remember highways in France. No one sits in the passing lane. It’s for passing. But when the speed limit is 130, it had better be.

So going up the 400 on a Saturday getting perilously close to noon, there is plenty of time to reflect about driving. and here’s the thing:

It’s not about speed. It’s more about space.

simply put: I like to be around other drivers who have the same sense of space and proximity that I do.

We all have our comfort levels of distance until it feels like someone is invading our space. Of course, when we mutually consent to breach that with another person, it’s wonderful…

but not while driving.

So I like to surround myself by other drivers who don’t get too close either to me or to the car ahead of them. I try to move away from drivers who accelerate and brake practically up to the bumper of the car ahead.

It’s just not fun to follow those cars. I prefer to coast and accelerate, braking to slow down and change the kinetic energy, but the goal is to do it smoothly, and to maintain, if possible, my own distance comfort level to the car ahead.

and to minimize or avoid as much as possible complete stops.    stop.

I remember being in a car once with a driver who had one foot on the gas pedal and one on the brake. at least that’s how it felt. you know, that jerky jutting feeling. I felt seasick.

Also, I don’t like to be behind things I can’t see around. I like to see at least a car or two ahead. to see what may be coming up.

At the same time, I’m aware of cars behind me, and will deliberately try to get away from the ones who consistently come too close.

Yesterday, I was followed for a long time by a driver in a jeep who had the same internal distance meter that I have. It was a pleasure. even crawling up the 400.

but for a short while I was followed by a woman wildly gesturing in a subaru getting closer to me that I like. I moved away when I could.

And here’s the thing about cruise control. Yes, it has its conveniences, and yes, I do use it. I love it –

but I do believe that unless it’s a fairly empty road, not having the connection of foot to gas to brake compromises my awareness of the inherent rhythm of the road.

rhythm of thought, motion, proximity, pen to paper. the rhythm of the road.

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I love silent cinema. It’s a new love. It started with the opening of the Bell Lightbox in September, 2010. Just over two years ago.

A stork landed on my doorstep with a Buster Keaton film swaddled in a padded envelope.

Sherlock Jr. What an incredible entryway into the magical world of silent cinema. (I’ve written about it here)

Buster Keaton taught me how to write scores. Buster taught me about timing, about how to introduce a character. He taught me about how you can describe a character through their theme, about how to comment on the action.

But he also taught me to never reveal what was about to happen.

There is a difference between foreshadowing and giving it away.

The story happens in real time. Things happen to people in real time.

When Buster is about to be accused of stealing, the scene starts with him getting ready to save the day. Buster knows that, and we must know that too.

The music must know that, because it makes the reveal, well, so much more revealing.



The Bell Lightbox opened with a concert series of silent cinema gems with various live music scores, including my klezmer/jazz sextet playing to “Sherlock Jr”.

I attended as many as I could. It was my silent cinema 101 course.

I saw “The Passion of Joan of Arc” with Richard Einhorn’s breathtakingly haunting score

DJ Spooky’s “Re-birth of A Nation”- fascinating!

Andrew Downing’s superb and seamless score for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (you can find an excerpt here:)

and Gabriel Thibaudeau’s lush and beautiful score for “Metropolis”

This was my classroom.

I have since seen the incredible Bill O’Meara play on a few occasions, each time amazing me more and more by his ingenuity, respect for the tradition and his ability to tie it all together in a gorgeous package. Bill has taught me a lot.

Here are some other things I’ve learned:

A score, even improvised, still has shape and form. It has themes that develop along with the action on the screen. It should be able to stand on its own as a coherent musical work.

When the music is distracting to the film, it’s not working. The music needs to sound inevitable. Like it’s always been there. Even if the score is radical, when it can change the feeling of the film, it must never be a distraction from it.


Over the past few months I had the good fortune to delve into the surreal and fantastic world of Méliès and de Chomon and into an early horror film by Tod Browning – “The Unknown” starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford. These were all presented as part of Nuit Blanche at TIFF. There were 19 films in all, (some very short) and for each of these films I came up with some melodic, thematic or textural idea which I developed in each film. I made use of prepared piano, melodica and harmonium, thought about Mozart, Chopin and Bach, free jazz and traditional folk music.

For Charlie Chaplin’s “Circus”, my melodic material was Chaplin’s own score, which became the basis for my own improvisation. I mean, how could I possibly improve on Chaplin? His score is witty, clever. he understands irony and how to translate that into music. genius.

So here I am on my birthday thanking the stork for this incredible gift.

And while I’m at it, I’ve just discovered Ada Lovelace via today’s google doodle. She was born 197 years ago today. Mathematician, computer wiz (!) and daughter of Lord Byron. How lovely to share a birthday with Ada!


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there’s a point in the creative process where it clicks.

where I find my way in.

and when I do I realize that it’s been right there all along.

I just hadn’t found the phrase, motif, chord or tiny fragment of an idea that opens the flood gates.

sometimes it takes weeks. sometimes days. sometimes years.

sometimes I need to put it away for a while.

but I think that it’s important to remember that if I hang in there I will eventually find it.

because that is what I’m looking for. I’m always searching for my way in.


every new arrangement is born of this process

of trial and error of frustration of nearly giving up.

and I have to go through it in order to really appreciate when the germ of an idea just appears.

and I know it’s right because it’s so simple, so elegant and so deeply resonant.

and I feel like skipping around the room or whispering,

thank you.

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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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