Archive for Writing (other)

Nu:BC Collective unmasks madness fit for a king

The following is a review written for publication in The Vancouver Observer.

Masque-19-VO

 

“I’M NERVOUS!!!!! If you want to know what is the matter with me I AM NERVOUS!!!”, quoted tenor Will George on his Facebook profile just hours before his title role performance in Eight Songs for a Mad King. Will was justifiably nervous: Eight Songs, based on the real-life madness of King George III, is a tour-de-force treatise of modern vocal techniques­ spanning a mighty range of over four octaves.

It’s not just for the madness I’d come. (Sir) Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs ranks, along with Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring,among the top twentieth-century works of contemporary concert music.

“Who has stolen my key?”

Sadly for UBC-based hosting ensemble Nu:BC Collective (flutist, Paolo Bortolussi; cellist, Eric Wilson; and pianist, Corey Hamm), the first part of the programme was arguably more maddening than the featured work. Like falling dominos, each of the electronic pieces fizzled making nervous geeks out of respectable UBC composers Bob Pritchard and Keith Hamel. While they strained over their laptops, the audience stared expectantly forward at idled musicians who for their part stood helplessly clutching perfectly functioning acoustic instruments. Finally, pianist Corey Hamm rescued the moment with a little Bach-Gounod arpeggiation and the audience filed out for an extra intermission.

“Blue-yellow-green is the world like a chained man’s bruise.”

On our return, the stage was set for the entrance of the king even though Diane Park’s inventive set design, a triumph of economy, looked as if she’d done it on a budget of no more than $75. I have no idea the actual cost but after the performance, Diane said how much she’d enjoyed the challenge of designing Eight Songs  because of how it sits in the nearly uncharted waters between chamber music (“No sets required if you please”) and music theatre (“My dad’s got a barn—let’s put on a show!”).

8Songs-cages

 

The trick in all this is making musicians—who in a strict sense can’t act—be part of the action. To accomplish this, Diane enclosed each of the four front musicians in bird cages and dressed up their formal concert attire with brightly coloured neck scarves and feathers making them look vaguely like late eighteenth century birdmen. There, they could go about their music-making business while doubling for theatrical purposes as sets.

The remainder of Diane’s budget was reserved for Will’s regal purple robe (with genuine thrift store ermine) and of course that extra violin that would later become pivotal to the action. At key junctures in the performance, Will disrobed revealing a little more of the history of the period—most effective was his recoiling horror on discovering the lining of his robe was sewn in with an anti-royalist American flag.

8Songs-costume-fitting

“Sometimes he howled like a dog.”

Singers, unlike musicians, are expected to be able to act and sing and all the rest. For this performance, singer Will George was at his best. After the performance, Will described his preparation for the role: “When I started preparing the piece, I wasn’t sure how I was going to produce all the sounds and extended techniques required. As I started listening to modern recordings and watching YouTube videos, I noticed that almost none of the performers were attempting these techniques, much less the pitches. This took a little pressure off, but I did want to be as faithful to the score as possible.”

Masque 16

During the performance, Will took some opportunity to interact with the audience and particularly with the musicians, but otherwise his actions all seemed to precipitate from his inner mental anguish. Perhaps the blocking was a little jerky but I hardly noticed for the fact that Maxwell Davies’s music is so endlessly interesting. From the opening chords, which disassembled from rhythmic unison into chaos to Corey Hamm’s rapid transitions from harpsichord to piano to play a few baroque flourishes here followed an instant later—and several decades musicological speaking—with corresponding flourishes in Mozartian classical style there. Even when referencing earlier composers, his music never sounded referential. Indeed, it provided us with the context needed to appreciate the unfolding drama.

“Poor fellow, he went mad.”

There’s a long tradition of on-stage musical instrument destruction but they’ve occurred mostly in rock and jazz circles, not so much on the classical concert stage. In fact, Eight Songs may be the only such work. Most audience members last Thursday would likely have known of this scene, so as Will George snatched Mark Ferris’s violin and then smashed it to pieces on the stage right there in front of us, there was an air of quiet that seemed downright pornographic. This sort of behaviour is to chamber music what CGI is to the movies—both for titillation and expense.

Sadly, there was only one performance of Eight Songs but, hey, if you’ve got an old violin you’d like to sacrifice, Nu:BC and company might be willing to mount it again.

Smash-violin

Masque

Nu:BC Collective’s performance of Eight Songs for a Mad King is part of a series of new music concert continuing throughout April. I can’t say for sure if any violins will meet their end, but the line up is otherwise very promising.

Upcoming in the Masque series:

  • Apr 17 & 19 – Turning Point Ensemble – featuring works by Benjamin Britten, jazz artist Tony Wilson, Bradshaw Pack, and arrangements of medieval and renaissance music by Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle.
  • Apr 24 & 25 – musica intima – featuring music befitting a Venetian Carnival – masks, theatrics, and salon-style seating, and vocal works by Adriano Banchieri, Orazio Vecchi, Giovani Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.

Vancouver Chamber Choir explores spring’s veiled splendours

The following is a review I wrote for The Vancouver Observer.

 

Vancouver Chamber Choir - Orpheum, 2015

When it comes to springtime, redemption is a less marketable commodity than, say, bunnies and chocolate eggs, so on a blossom-filled Good Friday, I was surprised to see that the promise of crucifixion, mortal sacrifice, and death was enough to pack the Orpheum with an audience enthusiastic to try a bout of the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s darker fare.

After the opening work, VCC Conductor Jon Washburn revealed his enthusiasm, “Isn’t it a gem?” he said. The gem, Heinrich Schütz’s Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (The Seven [Last] Words of Christ) was indeed a gem—hidden in a jewel box, shrouded in velvet, and encased in solid seventeenth century solid German cabinetry. I revelled how, with clockwork precision, it unveiled its beauty layer by layer.

Vancouver Chamber Choir

Photo courtesy Vancouver Chamber Choir

Next up was Schütz’s Italian contemporary, Giacomo Carissimi, who took us back much further to the early days of the Old Testament. Maestro Washburn told us the tale concerning the tragedy of Jephthah, an Israelite general who made a vow that if God would deliver them from their enemy, the Ammonites, Jephthah would offer up the first who greeted him on his return as “a burnt offering”. Tragically, that turned out to be his beloved daughter, Filia. Carman J. Price, tenor, sang Jephte and Catherine Laub, soprano, captured Filia’s fall from girlish innocence to condemned outcast in a way that to me felt as contemporary and horrific as anything on the evening news. Although her role was relatively small, Fabiana Katz, alto (historicus) also picked up on the horror in a way that made my ears snap to attention.

Even though the Requiem is sung in Latin (duh, it’s a requiem), there is something so innately French and nineteenth century about Fauré’s treatment of it. Fauré’s Requiem seems synonymous with Gustave Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris par temps de pluie, the way it portrays everyday life (and death) as a gentle thing.

"Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day - Google Art Project" by Gustave

Photo courtesy Wikipedia/Chicago Museum of Art

Fauré is masterful in his reduced orchestra, replacing violins with the throatier violas, decimating the woodwind section but for a couple of bassoons, and retaining only an echo of brass (2 horns, 2 trumpets) enough for one or two volleys, but more in the sense of Haydn and Mozart than the resources his contemporaries had at their disposal.

While the performance was fine and reverent and all, it didn’t really congeal until soprano Siri Oleson captured our attention with Fauré’s indescribably gentle Pie Jesu. With that, I think many audience members succumbed to very personal reflections and, in some cases, even tears.

For the Fauré, the Vancouver Chamber Choir was joined by the Pacifica Singers and the Vancouver Youth Choirand their inclusion added much to an already full programme. Now we see all the faces of Vancouver— many cultures young and old come together­—singing.

If you missed this concert, springtime is full of singing:

  • 24 April, the Vancouver Chamber Choir presents Youth & Music 2015 – New Choral Creators at Ryerson United Church in Kerrisdale
  • 1 May to May 3, The Vancouver Youth Choir participates in Canadian Cantando Music Festival up at Whistler.
  • Also, for those of you whose interest in choral music goes beyond mere listening, the Vancouver Chamber Choir is holding auditions for professional-level singers on April 25 and May 23. Contact Grant for an appointment at grantwutzke@live.com

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

HotelScribe

Somewhere in the back of my head, Ernest Hemingway cautions me to avoid excess. I’m usually attentive to the perils of excessive adjectives, and in fact, that’s mostly what gets cut in the first edit. I admire his terse style, although to write like Hemingway is to risk becoming a parody of brevity.

Last week, I wrote one of the longest sentences ever. In a story I wrote for Webtech Wireless, I needed to pull together several disparate ideas in as few words as possible. To reinforce the sentence, I put the punch at the end, echoing the point made in the title.

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

Read 2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

Another way I curb my writing is to search out the verb that most efficiently coins the action. As a rule, the verbs “to be” and “to have” describe action least effectively. Usually, replacing them with more descriptive verbs moves the story along nicely. In the sentence quoted above, I use “to be” like brakes on a train. “To be” only appears at the end to stop the forward movement of the sentence.

And then this week, I reviewed a concert for the Vancouver Observer and wrote an article with a series of long sentences. Here there was another reason for long sentences: Sometimes they give a sense of breathlessness to writing. Especially, when pierced with a few short sentences that once again stop the action dead in its tracks.

Pianist Anna Levy took a few moments to describe how the relative thaw in artistic expression in the Soviet Block countries during the 60s allowed for Fantasia’s creation. What’s all the fuss? Well. It has jazz in it.

Read Colin MacDonald’s Orchestra: A Pocket Full of Fun
PDF

On the First Day: The Importance of Planning

God knew nothing

I’m taking an IT course at BCIT loftily entitled, “Business Analysis and Systems Design”. It’s about project management for large enterprise systems, and with data coming in that such projects have a terrible track record—about 75 per cent fail or go way over budget—there’s a need to refine the planning process and train people better.

Some have postulated that the universe is really just a vast software system, but that idea always infers that it’s a successful system. What if God knew nothing of project management? What if He just jumped in and started making the cosmos with no clear plan of where he was going?

Here’s one scenario:

God Goofs OffOn the first day, God rested. He figured He had a whole week to create the cosmos so “hey, like what’s the rush?”

On the second day, God got up, made a cup of coffee, and checked His email. He had over 7 million messages.

Most were spam.

On the third day, God logged into Facebook and updated His status—28,000 times.

Then He tweeted about it.

On the fourth day, God realized that He had better start to seriously do something about creating the cosmos, so after lunch He created the night and the day. But then He realized that it might be too dark at night (even with the moon, which he hadn’t created yet), and people would get lost or fall down in the dark and would probably curse His name, so He revised His decision about creating the day and the night deciding that it might be a bit rash without considering all the repercussions of this cosmos building stuff before jumping in.

He resolved to sleep on it and start fresh the next day.

On the fifth day, God got an idea. He decided that He’d create the waters and the firmament. “Oh my God”, said God, “That would be so cool”.

But then He thought, “What’s the point of water and firmament (does anybody even know what the heck “firmament” is anyway?) with nothing to swim in it or fly through it? Instead, He thought it would be super fantastic to create all the birds, bats, insects and other flying things as well as all the fishes that swim in the sea.

He stayed up really late creating all that cool stuff.

The sixth day wasn’t a good day for God. On the sixth day, God woke to find that, without the water and the firmament, all the birds of the air and fishes of the sea had died horrible deaths. It was pretty depressing (and it smelt bad too).

God wasted most of the sixth day cleaning up from the fifth.

On the seventh day, God woke up in a cold sweat well before His alarm clock rang. It was dark and cold and He realized He’d done nothing useful to create the cosmos. He told Himself that He’d certainly tried—”but life can be so unfair, you know”—and now He didn’t have a prayer of getting the cosmos ready in time. What He needed was a miracle.

And just as he was about to curse His fate for the third time, God noticed a handbill from Wal-Mart and it was offering a ready-made cosmos for sale. At these double discounted prices, God knew this would cover His Ass perfectly. Sure it was cheap and made mostly of plastic and particleboard (probably in some country with dubious labour practices and no environmental regulations), but with all the plug n’ play features, it would do just fine as a last-minute solution.

God thought, “Hell, why not?”

wal-mart-smileyOn the eighth day as God checked out of Wal-Mart, He then noticed that, where His original idea for the cosmos stressed cooperation, this pre-fab version was built on the Darwin model of competition­–survival of the fittest. “Oh well”, thought God, “It didn’t matter really.” He was out of time and short on good excuses.

“Besides”, God said to Himself as He left the parking lot,
“No one would even know the difference.”

Simplicity

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

I spent the month of July this year in Paris. In summer, Paris is very exciting with the Fête de la Bastille parade, the Bal des Pompiers, the Tour de France, and many other festivals all happening simultaneously. The city crackles with excitement. Yet with two thousand years of history, what is a little missing in the summer sun are Paris’s subtler sides.

I have a deep love for the quietude and timelessness of Medieval thought. I’ve always admired the multi-panel manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry for its depiction of simple life…and that blue, blue sky that seems to bear witness to a timelessness now so rare. Part of the book depicts everyday life throughout the year (it’s a book of hours afterall). What I never knew was that in the October panel, the castle is a real one and that it still exists—in part. It is the original Louvre.

Over the centuries this old castle, with its many ardoise turrets, was gradually erased and replaced by successive regimes bent on modernizing it and putting their stamp on it. But in 1989 when excavations were made to build the Carrousel du Louvre (the pyramid), the original Louvre was rediscovered.

One bright and hot day, I followed the self-guided tour that takes you down to the foundations and origins of the Louvre. On the walking tour, you can now walk through the original moat and the substructure of the walls and donjon (keep). There’s nothing much else remaining, just simple stonework, yet my eyes set these stones high against that azure Medieval sky. And stared.

Upstairs, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and a thousand other art treasures awaited, and yet I stood mesmerized by these unadorned stones. It’s not what you’re looking at so much as what it evokes.

When is “is” a Poor Verb Choice? (My writing: Sept 10 to 17)

Like so many ineffective charitable organizations trying to come to a mutual decision, the “to be” verb can wring its hands and drain the life out of your writing.

Consider this example:

Our goal is to pave the way for sales to create and land opportunities. We will be delivering content for the next platform.

These two sentences have been robbed of their power by an overuse of the verb “to be”. Along with its only slightly more energetic mate, “to have”, “to be” is very passive.

As in life, sometimes “being” is perfectly acceptable. Other times, action is required. Being is important and is therefore important in writing, but only where appropriate. To improve passive writing, I check the vicinity to find other more powerful verbs stymied by the “to be” verb. In the example above, I found “pave”, “create”, “land”, and “deliver”—all excellent verbs that when set free, will transform your writing.

Here’s my revision:

Our goal paves the way for sales to create and land opportunities. We will deliver content for the next platform.

Read my latest posts:

Webtech-Wireless-Temperature-MonitoringCargo Temperature Monitoring Helps Reduce Hunger draws an interesting line between food security, food wastage, and the trailer temperature monitoring solutions Webtech Wireless provides in the transport of food.

 

http://www.disabilityclaimdenied.caAging and Accessibility Go Hand-In-Hand describes baby boomers create demand for universal design. September 23 to 29 is Active Aging Week, and Canada’s aging boomers are smoothing the path for people living with disabilities.

 

 

http://www.disabilityclaimdenied.ca4 Healthy Ways to Reduce Engine Idle showcase idling and its affects on health. As parents idle in front of the school, important lessons are being learned—and lost. Why not introduce your family to a few new habits and skills?

My Writing: What’s the most common grammar error? – (July 9 – 23)

It’s been a couple of weeks without an update, but the writing goes on (along with lots of copy editing of others’ works not mentioned here). This gives me an excuse to use a unit of measure almost unknown in North American English: the fortnight, British English for two weeks (fourteen days).

I recently heard that English doesn’t suffer from a lack of a clear second person plural, but in fact from a lack of second person singular. The classic greasy-diner waitress who asks, “Okay, what do yous guys want?” is not inventing a second person plural to distinguish from its identical singular form, but is in fact doubling an already second person plural form. “You” is plural; the singular form is “thou”. So, next time you’re dining alone, an informed waitress could ask you, “What dost thou want?” Or, maybe not.

Below are my corporate blog post for the last two weeks:

What Do Lawyers Cost? is overview of what you need to know before you decide to hire a lawyer to represent your claim. You want one who acts solely in your best interests, advises you to protect your rights, positions your claim to obtain a fair settlement from your perspective, and decides what compensation you deserve for your case.

 

Disabled, “Yes”; Unemployable, “No” describes the Government of Canada’s 2012 Economic Action Plan. By investing an additional $30 million over three years into the Opportunities Fund,  more Canadians with disabilities have the opportunity to become gainfully employed.

 

ICBC and Drunk Drivingdescribes ICBC’s aims in preventing drunk driving, which includes convincing drivers (demographically young men) that making excuses and rationales for why it’s “okay” to have a few before getting behind the wheel is part of the problem of drunk driving itself.

My Writing: Getting published and corporate blogging (July 1 to 8)

There must be some form of critical mass that, when reached in corporate writing at any rate, causes others to start publishing your work even without you knowing it (not that I mind). On opening the June issue of BC Tech Magazine (page 60), what confronted me was, well, myself. I could also see that a new and unseen hand had left his or her mark on my work, particularly around stylistic sensibilities such as changing our corporate branding (I would never do that). On the use of verbs, though, it still carries my thumb print. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to using verbs for maximum punch, and to that end have classed some as ‘weak’ or ‘vague’ while others as ‘strong’ or ‘descriptive’. I was pleased to see them unmolested by the phantom new editor.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, they say. That was the case for me this week as I discovered my article based on an interview with Troyer Ventures for a Webtech Wireless award application has appeared (in print) in the BC Tech magazine. How did I not know that?

 

Distracted Driving: Legislate or Implement? reveals the connection between the recent settlement by Coca-Cola to a Texas woman injured when struck by a Coca-Cola truck driver who was on the phone while driving. I created a new image for this because we agreed that, on a scale of one to ten for suitability, my “Telematics: It’s the Real-Time Thing” probably rated a nine.

 

Is Your Favourite Summer Sport Covered? advises you to, before undertaking a dangerous summer sport, consider whether or not your extended coverage includes extreme sports.

 

Summer Driving Tips describes some tips provided by ICBC to help keep the roads safer this summer for both drivers and cyclists. It’s a good news story.

 

A Week of Writing, June 11 – 18

This week has been much more about meeting people than being the scribe in the corner. I’ve got a fistfull of business cards after visiting the EMSCC (emergency services) convention and trade show at the Westin Bayshore. Then,  in the evening, I was wined and dined at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre as a guest (on behalf of Webtech Wireless) to the annual British Columbia Technology Association Industry impact awards (TIAs). In part to me interviewing our client, Troyer Ventures, and writing the award application, we were nominated and last night, we won! The following day was a mad montage of assembling all the copy including a news release, new Home page, and new blog post (listed below):

BCTIA-Award-Webtech-WirelessI wrote the content for the new Webtech Wireless Home page and photographed and photoshopped an image of our award. It, being glass, was quite a challenge, but eventually I prevailed.

 

Webtech Wireless WinnersI also slammed together a rather festive blog post describing the event for the Webtech Wireless blog. Our winners were holding their glass awards toward themselves, so I had to flip the image (and therefore some buttons on jackets) for the best effect.

http://webtechwireless.com/

A Week of Writing, May 14 to 20

Once again, this week has seen much work that is as yet unseen. I’ve been talking to project managers in Iowa, sales managers in Montréal, and managing editors in southern France, but none of that work is going to be published this week. Instead, I have several technical stories festoon my gallery of corporate blog posts. Enjoy!

Webtech WirelessI worked with Product Marketing Manager, Irtiza Zaidi at Webtech Wireless to describe his experiences at the Petroleum Safety Conference in Banff, Alberta a couple of weeks ago. The oil and gas industry is extremely dangerous and technology is one way to keep drivers (and those using the roads) safer.

 

Summer Driving in BC: How Safe Is It? describes how reduced truck inspection, increased highway usage, and distracted driving conditions, are making BC’s roads increasingly like a “war zone”.

 

How-Safe-Are-Your-Government-Disability-BenefitsHow Safe Are Your Government Disability Benefits? describes various ways public sector disability benefits are being eroded by government action and inaction. CTV reporting on this is quite revealing.

 

Watch out: Canadian(s) about…” is my homage to some great hiking trails I explored in the South of France (around Nice) last December. Le Magazine Azur, where its published, is based out of Antibes. While being an online magazine, it publishes every two months like a print magazine.