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View from the street: A New Fan of New Music

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I love music. All kinds of music, though I lack some of the language to describe and discuss what I hear. But I am a curious explorer with an open mind and a camera in hand and a lot of friends who connect me with the most delightful new experiences. It was in this happy circumstance back in November that I found myself engaging the players in Jeremy Bell’s NUMUS production called Disco Next.

I’m Darin White, photographer, storyteller, and I’m doing a little guest blogging for NUMUS. My goal here is to show you a bit of what goes on behind the scenes in a performance from this 30 year old organization. This was my first NUMUS show and if you’re short on time I’ll cut to the chase: you should definitely check out one of the shows in their 2015-2016 series. In fact, the next show is only three weeks away on January 29. If you’re new, like me, you can expect an intriguing mash-up of top notch talent delivering music that elevates us.

Conductor Eric Paetkau (above left) chats during a rehearsal break with violinist Jerzy Kaplanek.

 

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I dropped by a rehearsal the day before the main event at the theatre in the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. I love photographing behind the scenes because I learn a lot. I think I also get a deeper appreciation of the tremendous amount of work and skill that goes into the finished product.

Disco Next featured a mix of groups: the Penderecki String Quartet and the Perimeter Chamber Players with Glenn Buhr (former NUMUS Artistic Director) on piano and DJ Cyclist (not show above) hailing from Toronto.

 

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Jeremy Bell on violin. Jeremy curated the Disco Next show and is also a former NUMUS Artistic Director. It seems once people engage with NUMUS, they stay. I loved this video of Jeremy describing some of the motivation behind this show and the delight in “getting in touch with your own groove.”

I’ve photographed a lot of musical performances, though not one that had such a range of volume so I was particularly concerned about my shutter clicks.  Jeremy and the whole crew were very good sports and I tried to pick my shots during the louder bits of the rehearsal. I gather it’s a bit unconventional for those not playing (me) to have access to a rehearsal. I thought this was really important to show as we try to encourage new people to plug in to NUMUS.

 

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These are people in your community. Above is David Rose and Christine Vlajk, both on viola (and in the process of writing this piece I learned to distinguish violas from violins). Up to this experience, my notion of a string quartet was a dark theatre with everyone dressed to the nines. With the lights on for rehearsal on a Friday morning, the players look like they could be my neighbours. They stand in line at the coffee shop. They gas up their cars. They stock up on the loss leader at the grocery store. And they have this amazing talent to produce the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard.

 

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A view from the soundboard. It’s fascinating to listen to the short-form conversation tuning the performance.

 

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Sarah Fraser Raff (left) and Vanessa Mio form half of the Perimeter Chamber Players.

 

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At a break, I asked Sarah if I could photograph her violin.

 

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She confirmed my belief that every musical instrument has its own story. I love photographing them because they are so precious. Beautiful objects even before you get to the music. And through wear and tweaks they assume a personality.

 

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NUMUS General Manager David Mackay (above) brokered my photo shoot. It’s important to recognize the folks that don’t make it up on stage but who work diligently in the background to book venues, sell tickets, and keep the whole thing running.

 

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You only get this clear shot of the piano player on a break. Glenn Buhr (left) chatted with bass player Andrew Downing.

 

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Another shot of Jerzy and Eric chatting. I really got the sense that these folks like hanging around with each other.

 

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I have a personal fascination with the “every-day-carry” of others. Phones, keys, notebooks, glasses. It forms our pocket signature.

 

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Jeremy and Sarah

 

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Eric

 

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Watching Jerzy hold his violin during break made me think of all the questions I get about why I always hold my camera. Why no strap? I guess you’ve always gotta be ready to play, I’ll tell ‘em.

 

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Katie Schlaikjer on cello. Katie plays with Jeremy, Jerzy and Christine as the Penderecki String Quartet. Useful life hack: Katie had stacked a couple chairs to get to the right height for playing the cello. I’ve never seen that before.

 

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Jerzy back at it after break.

 

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This strap to capture the cello post is something else I’ve not seen.

 

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David spotted me.

 

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Glenn Buhr.

 

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I did some photographer’s “yoga” to get this stack-up shot of the violins.

 

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When people get in the flow of what they love to do, they positively glow. This is probably as true of musicians as it is of software developers, though I find myself watching the former a lot more than the latter in a sustained fashion. David on viola above shows that intense focus.

 

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Glenn watches cues from Eric. I think musicians have this whole unspoken language when they perform together. A look. A certain sway, and something has been communicated.

 

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Eric living on the edge. I awarded him best-in-shoe on this shoot.

 

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Baton.

 

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Andrew Downing with bass. Andrew performs with Sarah, Vanessa, David and Eric as the Perimeter Chamber Players.

 

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The day-before rehearsal seemed to involve mostly fine-tuning, because it all sounded amazing to me. It’s remarkable how musicians can pick up at certain parts of a larger composition.

 

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I caught this shot right before the full group broke for lunch and separate practice.

Still with me? Ok, you’ve seen jeans and plaid and cowboy boots. And you’ve seen everyone with the lights on. So let’s fast-forward to the performance the following day.

 

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Showtime! Photographers get special tickets. I came early to Perimeter Institute because we all need to allow a little extra time for road construction.

 

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Outside the Mike Lazaridis Theatre inside the Perimeter Institute. Right in the heart of Waterloo, bordering on Waterloo Park. Of course, the more you go, the more people you know. Nice to see friends Laura, Stefan, Patti and Sarah. NUMUS shows take place at a variety of venues in the region.

 

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NUMUS visuals by artist Julian van Mossel-Forrester.

 

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Totally reasonable ticket prices.

 

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Time to…

 

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Go in.

 

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Photography pro-tip: always befriend the sound guy. Here’s Roger

 

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and Roger’s view from the top. I asked him if this was a difficult show to mix and he told me the challenge was to balance the low and high ends of volume without making the music seem noticeably amplified.

 

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And it was Roger who noted that NUMUS founder Peter Hatch (centre) had just arrived.

 

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This was a keen audience. Full front row.

 

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Brochures all distributed.

 

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This could be you. There was a really diverse crowd across ages, gender. Good representation of university students.

 

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I found the Perimeter Chamber Players enjoying the show from the back before they went on to perform.

 

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Keeping the back row clear for overflow audience.

 

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NUMUS Artistic Director Kathryn Ladano welcomed us all.

 

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And Disco Next show curator Jeremy Bell

 

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told us it was time to…

 

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dance! Disco dance ball. Excellent.

 

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Jerzy, Katie, Christine…

 

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and DJ Cyclist look on while Jeremy explained that dancing in the audience was strongly encouraged and, in fact, prizes would be given away to the most enthusiastic dancers.

 

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It was a great way to kick off the show with a composition by Peter Hatch called “Once Upon a Time”, featuring a mashup of DJ loops and sound combined with the Penderecki String Quartet.

 

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Jeremy knew it wasn’t enough to encourage people to dance; you need to show ‘em how.

 

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He waded into the crowd to award the first dance prize.

 

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DJ Cyclist brought some awesome sound from a whole trunkload of gear.

 

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Composer Peter Hatch (left) was called up on stage to take a bow and then…

 

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Glenn Buhr launched us into the next part of the program by playing directly on the piano strings with his hands!

 

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There was more dancing and then we stepped out for intermission.

 

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Back for the second half. This looks like a night out with friends. That’s a great way to try a NUMUS performance: bring your whole crew.

 

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DJ Cyclist took a bow and headed out as the whole rehearsal crew took the stage.

 

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They performed a composition called “Arabesque” by Christos Hatzis and it offered a really interesting shift from the first half.

 

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This music is so powerful. It gets right into my heart.

 

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A bow from Jeremy.

 

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And then the composer himself, Christos Hatzis, was called out of the audience…

 

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for handshakes…

 

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and hugs…

 

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and a bow of his own.

 

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What a great thing to see the person who wrote the music with the talented musicians who performed it.

 

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You know you’ve had a great time when you don’t want the performance to end.

 

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I walked away with an even deeper respect for these composers and conductors and musicians who can draw us in and share part of their love for music.

 

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NUMUS is delivering something unique and amazing, right here in our region. I’m completely hooked. You should try this on for yourself. Check out the upcoming shows, grab a friend, and buy a ticket.

DW