Tag Archives: Music

“Do Not Say We Have Nothing”: importance of storytelling

I kept seeing Madeline Thien’s book Do Not Say We Have Nothing seemingly everywhere I went (well, where I went online), so I felt that I had to read it. It was shortlisted for the Ban Booker Prize, and it won the Governor General’s Literary Award. It has to be good!

Do+Not+Say+We+Have+Nothing
Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-do-not-say-we-have-nothing-cements-madeleine-thien-as-one-of-canadas-most-talented-novelists/article30385361/

This novel is an epic saga. It looks at the lives of generations of a family during the cultural revolution in China. In high school, I did one of my major research projects in one of my History classes on the Chinese revolution and Chairman Mao. It fascinated me that a single idea could change the lives of millions of people in such a short amount of time. Also, that protecting culture and banning the influence of others, especially the West, was carried out. I knew the dates and names of the campaigns and leaders, but Thien’s novel made that time period come alive through the tragic stories of families torn apart, and innocent people’s lives being destroyed by judgmental neighbours. It’s one thing to read a textbook with facts, but it’s another thing to see how those facts influence people.

I read this book on a trip up to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. I carried this library book with me to the coffee shops in town, up to the Bush Pilot’s Monument, and to the picnic tables at Frame Lake. I was caught-up in the stories of Thien’s characters. I wanted to know what would happen to them and if they would reunite. I wanted to know if they would survive the re-education camps and the daring protests. At the same time, I was also caught-up in Yellowknife culture. Here is a place where communities and cultures live together and support one another. The Dene community, the Inuit community, the Metis community, the Filipino community, the mining community, the construction community, the crafting community. What a difference in culture! People fighting to stay alive and be seen to tow the party line, and that contrasted with a city that actively tries to bring cultures together to celebrate differences.

coffee

Truthfully, I feel like this book was a little too ambitious. There was a lot going on, yet Thien does well at connecting it all together. But sometimes the details were a bit overwhelming (and exhausting). It’s clear that either Thien is a musician or is interested in music because the characters in her novel love music. Several are composers, music professors, or performers. Like a good Canadian (and fan of Bach), she writes a lot about Glenn Gould’s recordings of Bach. In fact, Gould’s name shows up throughout the novel, not just once or twice. I’m curious as to why she chose this eccentric Canadian performer. Bach’s music is so structured, which is why I think Gould loves Bach. One of my cousins loves Gould and often sends me YouTube videos of Gould. These are a few of my favourites:
The Chair
Animals
Piano skills

Overall I enjoyed Thien’s novel. I was on vacation and was able to linger on the story and find time to read it. And the stunning views helped for sure.
yk4

Thien reminds us of the importance of hearing stories. Not just facts, but stories. I think stories are the success behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. And I hope that the stories of families and friends makes the inquiry into Canada’s murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls just as healing. We need to listen to each others’ stories in order to find justice, healing, and a way forward. In the novel, the characters find each other through a novel written chapter-by-chapter and through the story in music. There is power in a story. May we have the patience and the heart to hear.

yk7

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“Half-Blood Blues”: music will save the world

I just finished reading Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan and I understand now why it was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Governor General’s Award.  At first I was concerned that the style of the voice might get in the way of the story, but it didn’t.  This book is beautifully written!

halfblood

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/02/living/esi-edugyan-author-interview/

As a teenager I found learning about the World Wars worked best for me through story, through fiction.  For my final ISU (Independent Study Unit) in Grade 13, I chose to compares And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat and The Wars by Timothy Findley.  I was fascinated by the real, human experiences of war and the different points of view.  Reading fiction helped me to better understand the effects and the consequences of the facts I was learning in class.  I truly wish that Esi Edugyan had written her novel Half-Blood Blues 14 years ago!

I love jazz and I love the blues.  I remember in while I was in high school I wouldn’t let my Dad listen to the smooth jazz station because I told him it was imitations, weak imitations, or something real.  Instead, I made him listen to the crackly jazz station from Toronto that played REAL jazz.  I also loved the blues.  I ended up taking a guitar class my last year of high school to fill some open credits.  For the class, we had to research a famous guitarist and I chose Eric Clapton, Slowhand.  To this day, I still love listening to jazz and blues and any band that throws back to these classic styles I enjoy as well.

clapton

Source: http://www.last.fm/music/Eric+Clapton

Throughout the novel, Edugyan moves slow.  The narrative is smooth, yet there are moments that shock you and pull you back into the slow unwinding of the story.  Sid, Chip, and Hiero are jazz musicians during World War II and somehow they end of playing together in Europe.  Other members of the band disappear because they are Jewish or forced to stay in Germany while these three flee to Paris with the help of Louis Armstrong.  It seems surreal, yet Edugyan shows the pain and the suffering, the uncertainty and the fear through not only their interactions with each other, but also through their music.  As we learn more about these characters, we start to understand more of this period of history from a different angle: Hiero’s father is an African soldier brought up to Germany, and so he is a mixed-race German.  Sid and Chip are Americans, over in Europe touring and happen to get caught up in the war, yet are paranoid that they will disappear next because of their skin colour.

jazz

Source: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/music/index.ssf/2008/05/a_jazz_party_to_remember.html

Edugyan is able to share some insights into Europe at the outbreak of World War II from a different angle and I truly enjoyed her style.  She took something horrific, and brought it into the world of jazz, much like America was doing to protest against the Jim Crow Laws and extreme racism.  At one point in the novel, Louis Armstrong wants the guys to play a German song as a show of defiance.  Armstrong feels that it is necessary, and something that he can do to protest and bring attention to horrors of what was happening in Germany.  Like in every generation, it is the artists who stand up and bring truth to the public.  It is the artists who risk everything to share what is right.  As I reflect on the US election and the pain and division in most of the Western world, I can’t help but believe that it will be the artists who bring us back to our humanity.

freedom

Source: http://digital.inplaceofwar.net/various-political-messages-through-art

“I guess mercy is a muscle like any other. You got to exercise it, or it just cramp right up.” (Esi Edugyan)

“Do no be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)

music

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/SaraRivers13/music-saves-lives-33/

 

Summer Festivals: seeing the old in the new

This was a summer of music for me! I was at the Calgary Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I love going to these festivals. I love the atmosphere of the parks as thousands of people gather to relax and listen to great music. I always know a few of the bands and look forward to seeing them live and the magic of Folk Fest is finding new bands to support and appreciate.

There were several highlights this year: Andrew Bird, Matt Anderson, Great Lake Swimmers, Jill Barber, Deep Dark Woods, James Vincent McMorrow, Michael Franti and Spearhead, 100 Mile House, Leeroy Stagger, Daniel Lanois, and Blue Rodeo.

I also found a few new artists to get excited about: Nick Sherman, Yamantaka / / Sonic Titan, Leonard Sumner, Hudson Taylor, Elephant Revival, Bear’s Den.

After two weekends of glorious music and sunshine, I am left in a bit of music withdrawal. The power of music always amazes me. I cannot go a day without listening to music. Yet I know that I am not alone in my love of music. People have loved music for centuries! Musicians have been big-time celebrities since the Romantic era when pianists like Schubert and Chopin stole the hearts of many women.

Thinking about past musicians got me thinking. Who are the parallels of those musician’s today? Please humour me as I compare a few of my favourites from my Folk Fest experience with some of my favourites from history!

1.) Furniture Music: James Vincent McMorrow = Satie.
I first heard James Vincent McMorrow on CBC’s The Signal radio show. I heard this song: “Cavalier.” As soon as I heard the song all I could think of was how similar it was to works by Erik Satie. Satie was an Avante-Garde musician living in Paris in the late 1800s. He works closely with Picasso, Debussy, and other famous artists. His music is slow and dreamy. On his scores, he is notorious for his bizarre performance directions. His specialty was piano music. He was a minimalist and his work became known as “furniture music”; you can listen to as background music. Like Satie, James Vincent McMorrow has some beautiful piano elements, especially in the song “We Don’t Eat.” Yet most notably, McMorrow’s music is also sparse, leaving space for escape and imagination, meaning it is furniture music. Both Satie and McMorrow have an artistic element to their music. Satie worked with artists to create unique works, especially his ballet Parade where Picasso designed the costumes and sets. In his set at Edmonton Folk Fest, McMorrow used lighted pyramids to enhance the artistic appeal to his show. So although both men are a century apart, their concepts of incorporating art into sparse furniture music is very similar.
satie.james
Source: http://www.elite-view.com/Music_Classical_Music/603461.html / http://www.wfuv.org/audio/archives/fuv-live/james-vincent-mcmorrow-fuv-live-2014

2.) The Bridge: Blue Rodeo = Beethoven.
I like to think of Beethoven’s music as the bridge between the Classical and Romantic periods, just as I like to think of Blue Rodeo’s music as a bridge between rock and country styles. A perfect example is my favourite Blue Rodeo song “Diamond Mine.” Country or rock??
b.and.br
Source: http://www.whudat.de/beethoven-made-of-his-own-musical-notes-beethoven-gebastelt-aus-eigenen-noten-7-pictures / http://acrossthebridgebandb.ca/wordpress/?p=713

3.)Experimental: Daniel Lanois = Berlioz.
Daniel Lanois is a genius. Hector Berlioz is a genius. Lanois put on an amazing show at Edmonton Folk Fest by blending a set with rock music and some amazing electronic songs (mixing human and animals noises together). Like Berlioz, Lanois loves to experiment with sounds and instruments. Lanois’ rock music is also amazing, yet it was his new electronic works that had me standing at the end of his set at Folk Fest. In his Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz included a lot of experimentation with the instruments and even included some new instruments in the orchestra. Things like playing the strings with the back of the bows, a harp, and a cornet. Berlioz changed the way music was performed because he added people into the orchestra to make the number of instruments 100. Just like Berlioz, Lanois is very involved in the production of music. He is best known for his work with U2, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.
ber.and.lan
Source: http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/hector-berlioz/ / http://victorindrizzo.com/artists/

4.) Show Stopper: Michael Franti and Spearhead = Chopin.
If you ever have the chance to see Michael Franti and Spearhead live, you must see them! He spends most of his time in the crowd interacting with his fans. I feel that is the way that fans of Chopin felt as they saw him in person. Chopin took folk music from his country and wove it into his work. Michael Franti, although he doesn’t take traditional songs, uses ideas that are from the masses and writes about them in his songs. Another similarity is both men are amazing at improvisation: Franti with his lyrics and Chopin with his piano runs. As I said, both men are extremely capable of engaging the crowd!
c.and.m
Source: http://chopinwithcherries.blogspot.ca/2014/03/chopin-and-polish-race-part-2.html / http://nocountryfornewnashville.com/2013/08/27/review-photos-live-on-the-green-w-michael-franti-spearhead-the-delta-saints-luella-the-sun/

5.) Heart Throb: Nick Sherman = Schubert.
Schubert died of syphilis. I feel that’s all I need to say about this Romantic performer. Women swooned at his shows. His music was poetic and pleasing. He created Lieder, vocal works, that were very popular hence his cause of death. Although I’m positive that Nick Sherman will not die from syphilis (that is totally a romantic era thing to do), I can say with certainty that Sherman is definitely a heart throb! Sherman’s music is also poetic and lyrical. Just as Schubert uses instruments to minimc the sound of hooves in his song “Erlkonig” to create suspense, Sherman uses the sounds of a fire crackling in his song “Drag your Words Through” to create a cozy/homey feel. Needless to say, I’d swoon for both men. Such beautiful music!
franz.and.nick
Source: http://music.cbc.ca/music/artist.aspx?name=Nick-Sherman&permalink=/artists/Nick-Sherman / http://www.artsunlight.com/artist-NK/N-K0001-Gustav-Klimt/N-K0001-089-schubert-at-the-piano.html

6.) Political: Leonard Sumner = Verdi.
I really wanted to use Shostakovich here, yet Verdi is the better fit. Verdi wasn’t exiled for his works, yet people did storm out of his operas! His operas even inspired people to take to the streets in protest, espeically with his opera Nabucco and the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.” At the time people in the area wanted to become a unified country and they used Verdi’s music as a means of communicating their longing for unification. Similarly, Leonard Sumner writes political music. He calls himself the Rez Poet and sings a lot about Aboriginal rights in Canada. He is a part of the Idle No More movement and even sang his song “They Say” at an Idle No More march in Winnipeg. Both men create music which inspires those around them to create a better world politically.
v.and.l
Source: http://www.montegrappa.me/verdi/index.php?r=site/about / http://www.aboriginalmusicweek.ca/read,post/134/leonard-sumner-george-leach-to-join-a-tribe-called-red-at-junofest

As you can tell, I really enjoyed the Calgary Folk Festival and the Edmonton Folk Festival. I found new bands, I saw some of my favourites, and I just loved being around fellow music lovers and sharing the experience of seeing amazing music performed live. I cannot wait for next year!!

Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God! (Psalm 150: 2-6)

‘“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”‘ (Dumbledore, J.K. Rowling)
music
Source: http://www.layoutsparks.com/pictures/music-19