Sunday, 29 June 2014

Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival 2014

It's been a crazy but extremely rewarding couple of weeks as we took in the 2014 Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, subtitled "In the Shadow of Bach". My own little Warhol-esque art-take on the festival above is actually a pretty apt representation of the wide-ranging character of this year's Musical Offerings (pardon the pun). There were 20 concerts offered, but really only 14 that any one individual could attend as some were at the same time at different venues; we attended 12 of them! We had to travel quite far for most of them, crossing an international border every time for all but one; average travel time was about an hour each way. Honestly, it was worth every minute in the car. Only one performance was disappointing, a combination of a composer I really don't like and a sub-par performance by one of the musicians. That's quite incredible when the sheer volume of performers and performances are taken into account! Rather than dwell on the one little negative, I'll share some of the highlights (for me). In order of performance:

1) Roberta Gary's complete "Art of the Fugue" on organ. This 80-year-old legend gave just the right balance of clarity, depth and wonder to the AotF (take that, LotR!). Entrancing!

2) Frederic Chiu's two "Classical Smackdown" performances (Debussy vs Prokofiev and Bach vs. Philip Glass). Chiu is one of my new favourite pianists! He's smart, charming and an amazing musician. The first smackdown was on our side of border (Canada), so we took one of Mike's 12-year-old piano students to it...he loved it! His mom said he didn't stop talking about it once he got home. The second one was performed in a stone chapel by candlelight as a monster storm had blown out the electricity. Serendipity, that - one of the most atmospheric concerts I've ever been to. The Glass was especially ethereal in that setting.

3) The Bach Chaconne from the partita No.2 in D minor. Originally for solo violin, this was an arrangement by Mendelssohn for violin and piano, a great performance by Tai Murray and Frederic Chiu. [As an aside, it was Mendelssohn who, in part, helped resurrect Bach's music from possible oblivion.]

4) The "prelude" to a concert at Temple Beth-El introduced me to my first classical saxophone quartet and I was completely blown away. The Donald Sinta Quartet are amazing (I'm running out of superlatives, LOL!). We would see programs by these guys twice more, both as good as the first.

5) Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in G minor (arr. Liszt), originally set to be performed by James Tocco (festival director and great pianist - he's also a very approachable guy!), performed by Woori Kim, a really strong, memorable performance. A PhD in music in her own right, she was also one of the two hard-working page turners for the whole festival, and a very nice person!

6) Poulenc's "The Story of Babar the Little Elephant", performed by James Tocco on piano and read by Rhoya Tocco Didden. This quite bizarre story (for those of you who have never read it, it really is quite avant-garde, funny, tragic and touching) was complemented beautifully by Poulenc's music.

7) THEN there was the incredibly fun, moving, jaw-dropping evening of music with Peter Schickele. This was one of the musical highlights of all time, I think. Many people are familiar with his alter-ego creation, PDQ Bach, but Schickele is also a composer of modern "serious" music of very great merit. Beautiful stuff. And, after this concert, not only am I convinced that the blues should only ever be played on bassoons, I have been singing "Howdy There" from Oedipus Tex.....quite the ear-worm.

8) The Telegraph Quartet!!!! They played the Britten String Quartet No. 1 in D (Op. 25) as the prelude in an UNBEARABLY hot church. It completely entranced me.

9) At the same UNBEARABLY hot church, 23-year-old Ivan Moschuk gave one of the best piano recitals I have ever heard. Bravo!

10) The world premiere of Sahba Aminkia's "Night and Fog"; so incredibly raw and moving at the same time.....

 The final concert held several treats: 

11) A really interesting piece by Joel Hoffman, "Self-Portrait with JS", in which he takes Bach's Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G major and by either subtracting notes, freezing certain unusual chords in time or "spinning the wheels" in repeating sequences gives a brilliant whole new look at Bach.

12) The Eisenhower Dance company interpreting the third Brandenburg Concerto. This was one of those times when you're watching with mouth hanging open and bated breath! The troupe of six dancers did nothing less than make counterpoint visible in three dimensions. Absolutely captivating.

13) James Tocco, David Buck, Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy and the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings presenting the fifth Brandenburg, performed on piano rather than harpsichord (upon which the other two Brandenburgs were performed). This was basically what could be called the very first piano concerto because, although written for a state-of-the-art harpsichord that Bach had acquired it really is best heard on piano (sacrilege? But no, my friend! The writing actually seems like Bach knew where the technology would or should go!).

At the end of the concert, there was a very moving tribute to James Tocco who would be stepping down as Artistic Director after 21 years! He will return as a performer, though. We said goodbye to our two page-turner friends whom we had come to know over the course of the two weeks and trundled on home.

This whole festival was every superlative I can think of.......

....I guess there's not much more to say!!!!!

[Check in tomorrow for my own little tribute to Bach....]

Saturday, 28 June 2014


We had another cutting class today at Sensei's house - it was beautiful but quite warm. We could only stay for the cutting and not the socializing afterwards as we have our last concert in the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival today (look for a longish overview post on the festival tomorrow).

I was able to cut double thin mats (limited cuts, but good ones), and got to re-connect with Stacia who will training at our dojo for the summer. Looking forward to that!

Here's the really cool thing - before the cutting began, just after a review of the rules for the cutting class, Sensei announced to the whole group that I had achieved my Shodan rank!!!!!! I can't tell you how happy this makes me!

Here are a couple of photos of the old lady cutting wara (bent back issues due to disability, but still clean cuts):

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Iaido Shodan Test

I can't believe it actually finally happened! If you had told me a year ago that I would be achieving this, I would have told you that you were crazy. Almost exactly a year ago I was in the throes of the first monstrous flare of RA, almost immobilized and certainly downhearted. Last night I did my first degree black-belt test in Iaido, and I'm thrilled to tell you that I think I did fairly well (results will be available soon). Last year I had to stop going to Iaido class just as I was training for my black-belt, among many other things that I had to stop doing. I have been pushing my physical envelope a bit lately preparing for this test, but I think my new meds are beginning to help as I'm not completely bedridden after training so hard. My Sensei is a wonderful man, and has allowed me to do all of the kata standing as kneeling is out of the question. I also use a smaller wakizashi rather than a katana for training due to range-of-motion issues in both shoulders and wrists. I did use a full-size shinken (sharp blade) for the tameshigiri (cutting) part of the test, though. However, the number of cuts I could do were limited to what my joints could tolerate. All of my cuts were clean, though.
The test has a lot of components: a written essay on one of the philosophical adages, a written test on the parts of the Japanese sword and gear, proficiency in thirty solo forms (with an unsharpened sword or iaito), 3 knife forms and 2 paired kumi-iai forms (two people with wooden swords, no contact; my husband Mike was my partner; he's a black-belt) and actual cutting with a sharp sword (rolled up straw mats or wara soaked for a few hours are the target). Of the thirty forms there are 12 basic seitei kata used at every testing level, two long ones specific to this test and then Sensei picks five from the rest so you have to know your stuff. 
I felt good, in the moment, in the zone. Everything seemed focused. Results will be forthcoming, so keep checking back. Regardless whether I passed or not, I feel like I've graduated to near-normalcy. That's a huge accomplishment!!!!!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Walk to Fight Arthritis 2014

I've been looking forward to doing this national (Canadian) event for a few weeks now, since I'm in a somewhat better place health-wise than I was a year ago when first diagnosed, struggling through 1 km. It takes place in many communities across the country on the same day.
When we awoke this morning, it was raining....this was after days and days of perfect sunny, cool weather. Off we went, nevertheless. Mike had registered as well so he could walk with me as my support personnel, so to speak. I had a lot of donations again this year, and ended up 5th on the individual fundraising roster for the local walk! That was pretty cool, and many thanks to my thoughtful contributors! The funds are put to very good use and I have personally benefited from some of the funded programmes.

The organizers did a great job and everything ran smoothly. Here's the really incredible thing - the rain stopped literally 3 minutes before the walk began and started up again directly after the walk was done, so it was coolish and cloudy for the walk, which was actually quite pleasant. I managed 3 km before my joints could take no more pavement walking, but I'm pretty proud of that after the year I've had and the damage that RA has inflicted on my body.
In addition to the shirt design which I shared in a previous post, I also made a hat with the "alien invader" theme:

Believe me, it took some work and fancy methods to get those eyes to stand up comfortably on that hat!
Here's the back of the shirt in action:

You can also just see the Martian wristbands I had made.

Afterwards, lots of good food and friendly people:

I'm already looking forward to next year when my goal will be the full 5 km, providing the meds continue to work and no nasty side-effects sidetrack me. Y'all will have to cross your fingers for me 'cause mine no longer work that way, LOL!