Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor, passed away on January 5 at the age of 90. It is said that conductors live long lives due to their intense mental and physical activity during performances. His compositions are still considered by many to be avant-garde due to their complexity. Composer Edgard Varèse has attributed this attitude to the fact that composers aren’t necessarily ahead of the times but rather audiences are behind the times.
I was incredibly fortunate to have played under Boulez’s leadership twice. Both times were when I was 20 years old and a student at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Boulez conducted the student orchestra in a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The timpani part in the Rite is one of the most difficult and rewarding in the repertoire and I was honored to be able to play that role, so to speak. Boulez knew the score like no one else. He conducted not only the performance by memory, he conducted the rehearsals by memory as well. He knew all of the rehearsal letters and the intricacies of interaction amongst all the players. I remember him sorting out the piccolo and contra bassoon that were part of a very thick orchestral texture in one section. He had them play alone to correct a slight intonation concern that most people would have never even heard.
The Rite of Spring is a seminal 20th century work that literally caused a riot during its premiere early in the century. It is now standard repertoire for orchestras throughout the world. The other performance I participated in was with the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall. I was one of a few extra percussionists in addition to the percussionists of the orchestra to play an early Varèse work entitled Ionisation. This is another amazing work that greatly influenced the percussion writing of composers who followed.
Several years after these experiences, the Blackearth Percussion Group, which I helped co-found, performed several times in Paris, including a performance at the beautiful contemporary cultural center, IRCAM, which Boulez helped create, as well as at the American Cultural Center. To this day, I still prefer the Cleveland Orchestra’s recording of the Rite of Spring conducted by Boulez. Check it out. While it is available on compact disc, a vinyl recording sounds amazing if you can find one and have a turntable (they have resurfaced!). Call me old-fashioned but ironically I still like the avant-garde.
From Chimalong Junior to Chimalong Panacea, it’s all about children and music. In the early 1980s when Diane and I started our family, there were no high-quality musical instruments on the market for children that I was aware of. So I had an idea to take the musically tuned tubes from our line of Woodstock Chimes and turn them into a playable instrument for kids, which we called the Chimalong. With great serendipity, I was able to show this prototype instrument to Jim Henson of the Muppets and he was impressed enough to offer his endorsement.
Thirty years later, the Chimalong is just as popular as it was at the beginning, and now we have built the largest Chimalong ever and installed it in the Healing Gardens of the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Austin, Texas. This is an amazing place—a state-of-the-art and aesthetically wonderful facility located in the open sky area north of Austin. They even have one of George Rhoads’ famous audio-kinetic sculptures in the lobby called “Carousaball”.
“Carousaball” by George Rhoads
Someone had the vision to create a beautiful outdoor environment that allows children to play and heal while temporarily forgetting where they were. The gardens are full of fun things for the children to do, as a result of donations from many companies and individuals. Hundreds of volunteers from athenahealth, a national insurance company with a big heart, spent an entire day installing the exhibits and manicuring the gardens. The Healing Garden includes a few musical instruments, art projects, a fun maze and little nature trails with a beautiful pond in the center.
Garry and the Chimalong Panacea
The Chimalong Panacea is an eight-note playable metallophone with resonators and activator balls for each tube. We used our best materials to create a real musical instrument. There is a color and number coding system on the tubes, which relates to music that is mounted on a rail so children can easily play recognizable melodies such as “Amazing Grace,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Happy Birthday” and many, many more.
Panacea means “something that will make everything about a situation better.” It’s a universal cure. I firmly believe that music has that capability and hope that this instrument brings joy and healing to the children at this medical center.
Everyone at Woodstock Chimes is very proud to have been asked to donate to this exciting project. If you ever get to that area, it’s worth a visit. The Dell Children’s Medical Center has won many awards for its mission of building green and sustainable facilities. Athenahealth encourages their employees to participate in community projects such as this on company time. The entire project was skillfully managed by a Colorado company called The Art Connection. Woodstock Chimes loves beautiful sounds and takes pride in its charitable mission.
NEXUS recently performed in Toronto with the Toronto Children’s Chorus. The concert took place in the magnificent St. Anne’s Church, which was founded in 1862 and reconstructed in 1920 in the style of the Byzantine Revival. The church interior is decorated and painted with murals by artists who were members of Canada’s famous Group of Seven. The acoustics are absolutely fantastic for both the audience and performers, a rare dual achievement. I was energized by this concert, which was an afﬁrmation of the devotion of many who encourage young people to not only make music but to appreciate it. My guess is that not many of these young people will pursue a career in music but their involvement in the chorus will ensure a lifelong love of the arts. This is a huge organization with many wonderful conductors, organizers and participants. After several sub-groups of the larger chorus performed individually, NEXUS closed out the program with a few arrangements by Russell Hartenberger of the music of Moondog, one of which involved some of the older singers.
We then performed “Sky Ghost” by Russell with a larger group and ﬁnished the program with everyone performing an arrangement by my brother Rick Kvistad and Baird Hersey of “Amazing Grace.” I suspect that everyone in the audience had the same feeling of overwhelming joy that I had while hearing these angelic voices. All of the conductors were exceptional and it was clear they had the respect of these young people. The preparation for the concert was also exceptional. We rehearsed only a few hours before the concert with the groups since they were so well prepared. While I am dismayed that not enough music is being taught at early ages in our school systems, it’s great to know that after-school programs like this can be extremely successful. There are so many studies available to support the connection between artistic endeavors and learning. Singing, playing an instrument, drawing, painting and writing, to name a few, are so important to the development of our youth. It’s all about priorities. Can we straighten those out?
Right here in the little village of Woodstock, NY, a major film festival is now in its 16th year: WoodstockFilmFestival.com. This season, I am happy to report that our 8-minute film, Chimes for Autism: Tyler’s Story, was accepted in the short documentary category and had two sold out screenings during the festival. There were five other great short documentaries shown in the same time slot. I have seen our film dozens of times but this was a new experience to see it on a large theater screen before and after other films.
It held its own beautifully and I was very proud of the message it conveys. We received many compliments after the showing, as people were sincerely moved by young Tyler and our giveback program for this windchime that supports autism research and treatment through the donation of profits from its sale. You can view it at: chimes.com/autism.
While the festival attracts filmmakers, movie stars and audiences from around the globe, there are many films that have a regional relationship such as ours. The movie about Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a wire between the top of the World Trade Center towers, was premiered at the festival this year. Philippe lives in the Woodstock area. This film by director Robert Zemeckis is about to be released throughout the US in commercial theaters. The festival is affiliated with the Hudson Valley Film Commission, which promotes film production in the region. hudsonvalleyfilmcommission.org/index.html
This region, which is the home of Woodstock Chimes, is known for its beautiful environment, its history and its culture. There are almost too many things to choose from, such as the many wonderful festivals of all sorts.
I recently played in the orchestra for the Festival of the Voice in Phoenicia, NY. This is a five-day event in its sixth year with extraordinary singers and musicians performing many styles of music. This season featured music by American composers from the revolutionary period to the present. The Cambridge Chamber Singers treated us to early American music from the 18th century, while the opera night gave us a performance of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, based on the Steinbeck novel. This is a challenging work that major opera houses around the world would find difficult to present. We also performed Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical A Little Night Music. The creators of this festival are stars from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and the festival is world class. One of the highlights for me was seeing Jack DeJohnette and Sheila Jordan (soon to celebrate her 87th birthday) performing a set with Jack on piano. They were amazing! Next season, the Festival of the Voice will feature music and theater incorporating Shakespearean influences.
Shortly after this festival ended, the three-day Summer Hoot in Olivebridge began. This festival takes place on the grounds of the Ashokan Center (ashokancenter.org), a place dedicated to environmental and music education, featuring performances by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. The Hoot is the brainchild of their child, Ruthy Ungar and her husband Mike Merenda, who host this semi-annual event (there’s a Winter Hoot, too). Diane and I camped for the weekend at the center so we could catch all of these fantastic performances. This was funny considering the center is only a five-minute drive from our home. Jay Ungar is known for writing and performing the tune Ashokan Farewell, which filmmaker Ken Burns used for his Civil War documentary. PBS is rebroadcasting a restored, HD version of The Civil War, featuring Jay’s tune, starting September 7th. This coincides with the 25th anniversary of the original broadcast. Jay and Molly were among the performers at the Hoot. They bring great things to the community and the Hoot is one of them. I was pleasantly surprised to hear many of these performers at the Hoot incorporating throat singing techniques in which several sounds are made by one person at one time.
Of the many spectacular performances, I especially enjoyed the quartet led by Amy Helm (daughter of Levon Helm of The Band) called The Handsome Strangers, with wonderful music and terrific playing / singing by all.
The last performer was Loudon Wainwright III, who, besides being a folk legend, fathered several well-known performers including Rufus Wainwright. Loudon’s music was refreshingly rude and socially pertinent. The finale of the festival included many of the performers from the weekend singing along with Loudon in a group rendition of his famous 1972 hit song Dead Skunk.
The next festival I will be attending and performing in is my own production called the Drum Boogie Festival, which will include a performance by NEXUS, the percussion group of which I am a member. Jack DeJohnette, Joe Locke, Valerie Naranjo, Dibyarka Chatterjee, I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki (renowned Balinese dancer with gamelan orchestra) will also be featured, to name a few.
This is an all-day event scheduled for September 12th from 11 AM to 8 PM here in Woodstock, featuring world-class drummers, singers and dancers, and admission is free. Check out the website for a complete list of performances, directions and times (drumboogiefestival.com).
In October, the Woodstock Film Festival (woodstockfilmfestival.com) is happening, which this year will be screening our film Chimes for Autism: Tyler’s Story. This film is about an eight-year-old autistic boy named Tyler Doi who is a true expert at identifying Woodstock Chimes by sound. As a result of meeting Tyler, we developed the Chimes for Autism, and donate the profits to autism programs. Go to http://www.chimes.com/t-autism.aspx to learn more about this.
There are too many festivals to mention all of them here but I urge you to check out our local tourism site each month to stay in touch. ulstercountyalive.com
I have been producing a free, one-day, world-class percussion festival every other year since 2009. While I try to mix up the offering, four groups have participated in each of the three festivals and will appear in the coming festival September 12th of this year. They include NEXUS, Jack DeJohnette, POOK and The Great American Fife and Drum Band.
NEXUS has done a variety of repertoire in each festival, from major works of Steve Reich to the ragtime music of George Hamilton Green, whose gravesite just happens to be across the street from the festival site in Woodstock, New York. Jack DeJohnette has brought some amazing musicians to the festival each time and this year will not be an exception. Jack will be joined by bassist Matt Garrison and Gambian Kora player Foday Musa Suso. NEXUS will be joined by Prana, a vocal overtone singing ensemble, performing arrangements of the music of street musician Moondog. NEXUS has just released a new CD of these pieces (nexuspercussion.com). POOK and The Energy Dance Company are youth programs of the Center for Creative Education, a not-for-profit arts education organization based in Kingston, NY. These kids always blow the audience away with their exciting drumming and dance. The Great American Fife and Drum Band, led by Dominick and Therese Cuccia, is one of the leading interpreters of innovative rudimental drumming. Dominick and Therese have been training their four children to play rope drums and fife and will include them in the performance. The whole family is spectacular and is joined by the veteran, award-winning Nick Attanasio on the rudimental bass drum.
Returning from the last festival are the super-charged Taiko drummers and dancers of COBU, led by Yako Miyamoto, one of the stars of Off-Broadway’s Stomp. Also returning are Mandara and NYU Steel. Mandara is a wonderful African influenced jazz group led by Valerie Naranjo, a member of the Saturday Night Live band and the Lion King orchestra on Broadway.
NYU Steel is a large group of Trinidad and Tobago style steel pan players led by Josh Quillen of So Percussion. Returning from past festivals is Gamelan Giri Mekar All-Stars, performing authentic Balinese music on a collection of traditional instruments, accompanying dancers from Bali. New to the festival this year are the great vibraphonist Joe Locke, the East Indian tabla ensemble Aanadhha with Dibyarka Chatterjee, and The Big Takeover reggae band with Jamaican lead singer NeeNee Rushie.
While my mission in producing the Drum Boogie Festival is to present the diversity of world percussion to the general public, I must admit my selfish motive is to hear these incredible performers, one after another, in a beautiful setting of the Catskill Mountains of the Hudson Valley. The festival has always been free to the public as a result of the generosity of the esteemed Kevin Cahill, our representative to the New York State Assembly, who gave me the idea in the first place to put the festival together back in 2009. The legendary marketing genius, Milton Glaser, a Woodstock resident, suggested the name of the festival and created our cool logo. Local businesses have chipped in to make it a reality. This year they include Bread Alone, Luminary Press, Ceres Technologies, Markertek.com, NYS Parks and Recreation, Walters-Storyk Design Group, Woodstock Chimes, First Niagara, Ulster Publishing and Radio Woodstock.
We also have a hidden agenda each time, supporting the local advocacy organization, Family of Woodstock, which serves the homeless of our region. We give a significant donation to Family at each festival, this year supporting their domestic violence programs. I am proud of this effort, which helps to bring awareness to this national issue within our community.
If you are within range on September 12 (rain date 13), please come help us celebrate percussion, rhythm, the fight against domestic violence and the joy of life. Check out our website www.drumboogiefestival.com to see the schedule of performers, get more information and see video of past performances.
“Garry [Kvistad] has created a unique festival that celebrates the art of percussion from around the world. It has been great fun to participate in Drum Boogie and I really enjoy seeing, hearing and meeting such a diversity of major talent from all over. I consider it to be very successful and look forward to its ongoing cultural contribution to the richness of the Town of Woodstock and the Hudson Valley.” – Jazz great Jack DeJohnette
Drum Boogie Festival Board of Advisors: Kevin Brady, President, Ceres Technologies Jack DeJohnette, world-renowned jazz musician Milton Glaser, Principal, Milton Glaser, Inc. Graphic Design Holly Green-Emerick, granddaughter of the late George Hamilton Green, composer / xylophone artist Michael Lang, 1969 Woodstock Festival producer Pat Metheny, award-winning jazz musician / composer Steve Reich, prominent American composer Alan Steel, CEO, Jacob K. Javits Convention Center John Storyk, Architectural Acoustician and Partner of Walters-Storyk Design Group Ruth Underwood, former percussionist with Frank Zappa
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived for only 35 years, creating I some of the most incredible music during his short stay on this planet. Amy Winehouse lived for only 27 years, also creating a wealth of music, albeit quite different. In 1984, the movie Amadeus offered the public a fictionalized account of Mozart’s life based on information known to musicologists and historians. Recently, a documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse was released, simply called Amy, which, due to the availability of a large volume of videos and recordings, showed us an in-depth and personal look at her life.
I was struck by the many similarities between these two musical greats. My background is mostly in classical western music and I have a very limited relationship with pop music. I was quite familiar with the music of Mozart but only knew of Amy Winehouse from her duet recording with Tony Bennett. Tony compared her talents to those of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Besides being a fantastic jazz-pop singer, Amy was a prolific songwriter. She has six Grammy Awards, while Mozart’s music has brought in even more. Mozart and Amy Winehouse were both fairly short: Mozart was 5’4″ while Amy was 5’3″ tall. They both had fathers who pushed them hard to become successful. They both had spouses who, it seems, took advantage of their special talents. They both drank heavily, which ultimately killed them. They had their ups and downs with public opinion. Mozart was buried in a communal plot without any fanfare. Amy was the brunt of many jokes at the end of her life as a result of her often bizarre behavior. They certainly didn’t look alike and I doubt that Mozart had any tattoos or body piercings. However, they both had a huge effect on the world within their short lifespans. One can only imagine what they could’ve accomplished had they lived longer. I have always been a big fan of Mozart’s and now I can add Amy Winehouse to my list of admired artists. Oh, and yes, they both enjoyed flamboyant hairstyles.