• Sarah Kwok

Midsummer at Mountain View - August 4, 11, 18

Treesong, photo courtesy Brad Muirhead

The Little Chamber Music Series That Could presents Midsummer at Mountain View, a series of Sunday concerts at the Mountain View Cemetery. I had a fun interview with Mark Haney, LCM's Artistic Director, read on as he discusses the performances as well as how Oscar the Grouch was an important musical influence, instruments that make sounds unlike any you've heard before, and daredevil tricks.

Tell me about Midsummer at Mountain View

I like to have a summer event that happens every year that helps to animate the Mountain View space. We had been doing Summer Solstice events for the past 4 years but there were some things I was uncomfortable with. One of them is that in the time we were doing that event, another community event by Dusty Flowerpot has come to life and it's this huge thing on the solstice. We always put ours on the weekend and I started thinking that there’s going to be other years where we're going to end up competing with this great event, so maybe I should be looking to do something else. I would rather support than compete with at this point. Glen, the manager of the cemetery, and I talked about how Solstice was great but it was one big event on one day, and it might be nice to have a few more events over a few weeks. So that's how we came to the idea of doing a little series in August. 

The idea behind putting this together this year was collaborations with people I want to work with. Dory Haley, from Blueridge, we work together all the time, she's been part of so many little chamber music projects at this point, she really wanted to do Pierrot at the cemetery with dancers outside the window, so the performers will be in front of the big wall of windows and the dancers outside. So that seemed like a natural fit. 

Brad Muirhead had been talking to me about his Treesong project and it also seemed like a great fit. Brad was one of my hundred brass players on Remembrance Day. And the middle concert, Brought To You By The Letter J, I've been wanting to do a Joe Raposo concert since I took over Little Chamber Music seven years ago. I'm excited it's finally happening. We've collected this great group of musicians and we're going to really bring each one of these songs to life through a collaborative rehearsal process. It's exciting, it's all about working with people. 

Like all of our events at Mountain View, all of these performances are completely free and fully accessible. We welcome absolutely everyone to come out. There’s always tea and water, and we’ll probably have cookies at Brought To You By The Letter J because it seems appropriate. It’s very important to me that these events have absolutely no barriers to attend.

Why the addition of dancers in Pierrot Lunaire?

Dory and Olivia Davies, the choreographer, had been talking about this project for a while. I think it was originally Dory – she had an idea of these faces on the other side of the window adding to the macabre nature of Pierrot and it’s grown from there. Olivia and the dancers have been working hard, it’s going to be cool.

Olivia C. Davies and Dory Hayley as Pierrot, photo by Erik Zennstrom

While researching for this interview, I came across an article that referred to you as an 'avant-garde historical vignette specialist.'

Oh my god, I love it, what’s that from?

I’ll find it and send it to you. (Note: it's from this Vancouver Sun article)

Yeah yeah, I want to use it, that’s great.

So Brought To You By The Letter J doesn't quite fall in the same reign as your other projects, but it is similar in telling the story of someone from the past. In this case it's someone that may not have been well known but probably had a very profound impact on an entire generation.  Other than in our collective childhood memories, where do you see his impact in music? How has his music impacted you personally, and how will you bring your own approach to his music?

First off, the way he impacted me is that he is the genesis of my musical DNA. The two first records I was ever addicted to in life were Ernie’s Hits and Oscar the Grouch’s Let a Frown be Your Umbrella, no joke at all. As a kid I would sit in front of this little Fisher Price record player I had and just listen to one side, flip it over, listen to the other side, next record, and just those two records, back and forth. That also formed my habit of obsessively scouring over the all the album credits. I was probably in Grade 1 at this time, I was just a little kid, but I’ve had the name Joe Raposo in my mind ever since then. This year is the 30th anniversary of his passing, he died in 1989, so I thought this is a great time to pay tribute. I think for any artist, everything you take in, everything you see, and everything you experience has an impact on what you create, and the stuff from early childhood is especially potent.

I think Joe’s probably had a subliminal effect on far far more people than a lot of other artists. I have a book on the beginnings of Sesame Street called Street Gang, and the kernel of the idea for the whole show was these two families noticed that their very young children, like 3-year-olds, could instantly memorize and sing almost every jingle on TV commercials. So they saw the power of short, catchy melodies conveying one or two pieces of information, which in the case of commercials is generally just ‘buy this product.’ They thought there was something in the idea of using that format to teach basic knowledge, basic math, basic citizenship, just be a good person kind of stuff. And that is sort of where Sesame Street began, with that idea.

And a big part of their success of course was the music and the songs. There were a couple of main writers, but I think Joe wrote over 300 songs for Sesame Street. He’s a big part of that, and like my other projects this is about an interesting person and an interesting career that is not I feel as well known and recognized as they should be. We’re doing C is for Cookie at this concert because everybody knows it, but not many people know that Joe Raposo wrote it. He also wrote Being Green and my personal favourite, Would you like to buy an O? He also wrote a couple songs for Frank Sinatra’s landmark album Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back. We’re doing one of the songs from that album at the concert called There Used to be a Ballpark. It’s interesting, obviously it’s written for Frank Sinatra so it’s a little more complex and the melody is different, but you can hear the same voice in the Sinatra tunes and the Sesame Street tunes. And also he wrote some of the really early Sesame Street songs which we’re doing that I actually wasn’t that familiar with, I only have vague memories of them. Imagination and Everybody Sleeps are really cool late 60’s early 70’s Sesame Street songs, so there’s a nice mix.

As far as how everyone’s bringing their own thing to it, I don’t know yet, we haven’t started rehearsing! My creative partner in this concert is Ida Nilsen, we've been collaborating on every aspect and she also designed the poster for the Midsummer series, and she's going to be playing piano and singing. Our two main singers are Tariq Hussain, who does music of his own under just Tariq, and Patsy Klein, who's a really well known jazz singer. And then the mix of instruments: we've got Peggy Lee on cello, who's a great improviser; Ellen Marple on trombone, who can do anything on her instrument; and Mark McGregor, who is a monster flute player. I'm playing bass, and Barry Mirochnik is playing drums – people have probably seen him without knowing it.  He plays with Veda Hille a lot, he's done a lot of theater shows, and he's been in East Van Panto for several years. He's a great musician. 

Ida created lead sheets for all the songs. The approach we're taking is almost like playing jazz standards. You just have the melody and the chords and do what you want. And we're bringing that same approach to these songs to see what happens, and in rehearsal we'll see how they go and how they build. Ida and I both have a couple of ideas about a few songs, and I'm sure the singers – Tariq, Patsy, Ida, Barry, and Richard Newman, who is our MC and is singing C is for Cookie – will have ideas. The idea is just to have some fun, collaborate, and create a fun little show. We're going to do it twice – one is in the afternoon for young families, because young families are a big part of our audience at Mountain View. Our Remembrance Day events always have tons of young children, which is great, so we’re hoping they come to this. And one in the early evening for older children, like me.

For Treesong, instruments called Fuhorns have been built and music has been composed specifically for them, but what is this instrument and what does it sound like and what does music for it sound like? When I look at the picture I am fascinated and intrigued and have no idea what to expect.

So this has been a long term community art project of Dave Gowman. I’ve known of his work for several years and he’s worked in Fieldhouses as a Fieldhouse artist, like I did several years ago as well. He does so many things, he’s a fascinating guy, and one of the big parts of his practice is making these horns out of tree stumps. So there’s going to be seven fuhorns at the event and two percussionists. They each have their own unique sound – for some of them digeridoo is not far off the mark for what it sounds like but I don’t feel that really does it justice. I keep telling people these things are like nothing you’ve seen and nothing you’ve heard, so just come on out. And Brad has been working with Dave for quite a while, composing music for the fuhorns.

The performance is at 7:30 and they’re going to be spread quite a bit around the cemetery and doing a call and response thing, gathering over 20 or 25 minutes to a spot called the East Fountain, just south of the Admin Building. It’s this beautiful fountain surrounded by trees and there is a little cement area for people to sit, it’s a beautiful part of the cemetery. So they’re going to gather there and then there will be an hour long concert around the fountain with these crazy horns. It’s not worth trying to describe because it’s its own thing. The horns are their own thing, the way they look, the way they sound, and Brad is a very unique voice as a player and a composer, he’s a funky dude and he’s got really cool ideas. I’m not a hundred percent sure what we’re in for, but I’m so confident. And the players he’s assembled are great brass players from all the gigs around the city so it’s killer players, cool horns, cool composer, and a great setting. What’s the worst that can happen?

Mark Haney at Mountain View Cemetery, photo by Wayne Worden

What’s coming up after this for Little Chamber and for your personal projects?

For Little Chamber the next thing we’ll do is a Remembrance Day event, we do one every year. I’m not sure yet what this year will be, I’m tossing around a couple of ideas, but there will be something on November 11 at the cemetery. Then on December 10, which is World Human Rights Day, I’m collaborating with Mark McGregor and we’re putting on a concert in recognition of the 50thanniversary of the legalization of homosexuality in Canada. We’re doing the complete four books of madrigals by George Crumb and we’ve commissioned a queer composer to write a response piece for each of the four books – Justin Christensen, Annette Brosin, Patrick Giguère, and Leslie Uyeda. So it’s going to be a really interesting evening of music. The books of madrigals, like all of George Crumb’s music, they’re really singular works, so I’m curious what these composers are going to come up with writing a response piece to something so unique. And the reason Mark McGregor wanted to do these pieces was that, similar to Dory with Pierrot, these Crumb madrigals are a real passion project for him. And part of the reason for him was that the poetry in the pieces is all by Lorca, and Lorca was executed for being gay. In the spring there’s going to be another movie soundtrack at the Vancity Theatre – this one is going to be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a really milestone silent film. And we’re going to plan new things after that, I have a couple of ideas brewing.

And for me the big thing this fall is the Okanagan Symphony is going to premiere a bass concerto I wrote for Meaghan Williams, their principal bass player. That’s happening in November and I’m very excited about that.

One last ridiculous question: Your album Aim for the Roses (note: articles on Mark are always very interesting and often the writing is amusing, such as the review of this album which was headlined with Mark Haney, the Daredevil: An avant-garde double bass suite about rocket-powered funny cars. Finally!) tells the story of Canadian daredevil Ken Carter, so you must have spent a lot of time thinking about the topic of daredevils. If you were to do a daredevil trick, what would it be?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been really intrigued by the people that go over Niagara Falls. I would totally do that, like the old timey people that went over in barrels. A wood barrel with iron bands. And I would go over and then be fine, and I would float down the river popping out of the barrel, like a cartoon. And I think people still do it in fancier barrels, but yeah, that would be super cool.

Don't expect any daredevil tricks, but great musicians and dancers, Sesame Streeet tunes, and brand new instruments which are just as fun! So make your way down Midsummer at Mountain View, with performances of Moonshine: Pierrot Lunaire on August 4, Brought To You By the Letter J on August 11, and Treesong on August 18. All events are free and take place at the Mountain View Cemetery. I'll see you there!

More information: http://littlechambermusic.com/midsummer/

Mark Haney: https://markhaney.ca/

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