Among the ambitious works staged at the 2016 edition of Toronto’s Luminato festivalSong of Extinction struck a particularly powerful and timely note, due in large part to the emotional musical journey through geological time created by composer Rose Bolton.

Described as an immersive visual and sonic exploration of the Anthropocene era (the newish buzzword many now use for our current epoch), the 50-minute, multi-media production encompassed many of the forms Bolton has been engaged with during her impressive, productive career: chamber music (performed by Music in the Barns Chamber Ensemble); vocal music (Tafelmusik Chamber Choir members, and VIVA! Youth Singers); pop music (“using a popular song format, with lyrics and vocals front and centre,” she explains); and live electronics (executed by Bolton).

Song of Extinction evolved out of a collaborative back-and-forth between documentary filmmaker Marc de Guerre, Order of Canada-inducted poet Don McKay, Music in the Barns director Carol Gimbel, and Bolton. It continues the exploratory method Bolton’s enjoyed since age nine, when she played every instrument she could get her hands on (from piano to violin to Salvation-Army brass instruments) and started to write music.

“I wanted to be more like painters, who create a work and then it exists, and they don’t have to give it to someone who renders it.”

Awards and commissions came early to Bolton, who received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Western Ontario in the early 1990s, then took a couple of years off to study privately with Toronto composer Alexina Louie and write. She then earned her Masters in Composition at McGill University, which she completed in 1998. Bolton had relished her creative adventures in the electronic-music studios of Western and McGill, but she kept getting commissions for instrumental work and picking up accolades along the way, such as the Toronto Emerging Composer Award in 2001.

Rose BoltonIn 2005, after a busy year that included the world premiere of a major commission for Esprit Orchestra, she took a step back. “I started to look at my body of work up to that date and realized that I wanted to have control over the future of my own writing,” she recalls. “In those early years, I allowed commissions to guide me. I also got involved in traditional Irish and fiddle music, I played in a country band and folk ensembles, wrote orchestrations for pop bands. It was all about being part of a scene – playing gigs, then being a composer. It was great, it kept me busy. And I didn’t have to think about what I should be doing.

“But I wanted to be more like painters, who create a work and then it exists, and they don’t have to give it to someone who renders it,” she continues. “So I got serious in 2005 and started building my own studio. [Graphical modular software music studio] Reaktor started to happen, so all I needed was a better computer. I got an early version of Logic, and a digital recorder to collect samples. By 2007 I had a commission.”

Bolton now spends half the year composing score music for her partner Marc de Guerre’s artful social-history-themed docs, such as Who’s Sorry Now (CBC, 2012) and Life After Digital (TVO, 2014), and the other half writing concert music (both commissions and personal music). Her studio light is pretty much always switched on.

When she started working in film eight years ago, she would create early sketches. “But often you don’t know what the mood is going to be before the film is edited, you might only have a few minutes of footage,” she explains. “For the documentary genre, Marc likes electronic music, and I often end up blending in instruments. I’ve developed my skills of how to produce and mix – the whole process has really changed the way I think about music.

“As a concert composer, if you’re commissioned to write music for a string quartet, once you know who you’re writing for… that’s it,” she laughs. “But when I’m doing a documentary soundtrack, sometimes an instrument won’t work, so I try different sounds – try a horn, try a synth, try a sample, let’s try bells! But with a commission, well, you can’t fire your horn player!”

Bolton says de Guerre, who was a visual artist before turning to film, had the idea for Song of Extinction a few years before they met. As they began to discuss his ideas, Bolton knew she wanted to use a chamber choir and instruments, but the music didn’t take shape until she began working with McKay. “I had music sketches, he would write a poem and send it back – poetry and music were happening simultaneously,” she recalls. “Don would say, ‘You can do what you want with the words,’ so I would turn his poem into something more like song lyrics, boil it down to its essences, which he was fine with.”

The ideas for the instrumentation kept changing until Music In The Barns came on board, but Bolton always intended to use a chamber choir. “My idea was to have humans singing about extinction,” she says. “In the end, we had singers from Tafelmusik and 30 singers from a youth choir. So they would sing together, as opposed to having a soloist, and the two choirs would sing back and forth, similar to human discussion among friends or on the news.

“There’s always a back and forth,” she says. “It’s the way that ideas take shape.”


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Myles Goodwyn’s rock band April Wine has sold millions of records worldwide. He’s won six SOCAN Classics Awards, and earned the SOCAN National Achievement Award in 2002, as well as the East Coast Music Awards’ Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. April Wine were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the JUNO Awards in 2010. In 2009, at Canadian Music Week, the band earned the Lifetime Achievement Award and were inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2009. Here, in an excerpt from his 2016 memoir, Just Between You and Me, Goodwyn describes the band’s decision, taken at its origin, not to perform any cover songs.

With April Wine, the idea that we would play only original material and not other bands’ tunes right from the get-go is true, kind of… at least, I think so. Jim [Henman, bass] remembers that we wanted to do only originals. He said he didn’t think I would want to join the new band otherwise. I believe Ritchie [Henman., drums] feels the same way in that we decided to do only original tunes and no cover tunes. But David [Henman, guitar] remembers things a bit differently.

David recalls that we had our first rehearsal in his mom and dad’s basement in Lower Sackville [Nova Scotia] and that our plan was to be original, but to play it safe and still do cover songs. The decision to go entirely original happened – or at least was put forth – when they heard me play a riff of a song I was working on. He says they were floored by how heavy it rocked, and that was the inspiration for the declaration by all of us that we would, henceforth, be a 100 percent original group.

Myles Goodwyn Book Cover“We sat down and Myles started playing a riff he was writing, and right away, the four of us looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, that’s it… no cover songs! This is what we want to do.’ We were so excited by this riff; it opened up all the doors.”

This is the way I remember it – David’s version. As a new band, April Wine needed to build a repertoire from nothing, so doing a mixture of original and non-original songs made sense. That was the initial plan, but that changed after I played an idea I had for a new song at that early band rehearsal.

The bottom line is that April Wine decided to perform only original material, and therefore, in the beginning, we didn’t have 90 minutes of original music for a concert, or even enough for several sets working in clubs. We needed lots of songs in order to make a living as a live band. We didn’t have lots of songs in the beginning, but we did have some.

Ritchie Henman says the band was pretty clearly defined from the start. “David and I were the avant-garde side of things, Jimmy was going to contribute the folky aspect, and Myles was going to keep us grounded in rock ’n’ roll.”

I thought of April Wine as a rock band. I wanted to play music that was rock, and it didn’t matter to me at the time whether it was a fast tune or slow tune, heavy or otherwise, as long as it was in the rock vein. But I think I was the only one who felt the direction should be that simple.

I thought this new band was worth a try, as I wanted no part of a cover band. In my entire career, to date, I only spent approximately one year playing in a cover group professionally, which I consider an accomplishment of no small claim. I wasn’t great at learning other people’s material, I don’t think. I didn’t mind giving a song I liked a new arrangement, but re-creating a musical piece, note for note, was not my cup of java.

April Wine played original material all right, and the new material was the result of the diverse influences and writing styles of David, Jim, and me. Ritchie would later recall in an interview with Music Express magazine that “the sound of the band then was very heavy, very complex, a hybrid of a dozen different styles filtering through three very different songwriters. Definitely a band with no direction.”

I disagree that early April Wine was really heavy, although I concur with Ritchie that we were without a unified direction. We never really did find common ground during our short time together.


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Rachel TherrienWe reach Rachel Therrien, the 29-year-old trumpet and cornet player, in Brooklyn for this interview while the Rimouski native – who’s part of the Emi R. Roussel and Jérôme Beaulieu generation – was paying her dues in the jazz capital of the world before hooking back up with her Québec quintet in a few weeks.

“There are a lot of people in Brooklyn, but not many tall buildings,” says Therrien. “It’s very cosmopolitan. There are two or three jazz clubs just a stone’s throw from my pad. The Cats, in Manhattan, is my favourite, I just can’t afford the admission fees in places like the Blue Note. I like more relaxed spots where we can jam. Going to live shows is always inspiring, but being part of a community is when it becomes really rewarding.”

The New York community has clearly welcomed her. On New Year’s Eve 2016, she had been invited to play the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington alongside a big band. Quite the way to conclude a year that was rich in projects of all kinds. Chief among them was the release of her third album, Pensamiento: Proyecto Colombia, an immense opus of Afro-Colombian rhythms recorded there with 12 local musicians. Home Inspiration, her previous record, came out in 2014, three years after her debut, On Track.

“What really gets me going is challenges,” says Therrien. “I chose the trumpet, which is far from an easy instrument, it’s very physical. You can’t go a day without playing, otherwise you regret it for a week! Why the trumpet? I started high school late because we moved, so when I got to the music class, everyone had picked their instrument, all that was left was a trumpet and a trombone. I had to look it up in an illustrated dictionary, I had no idea what a trumpet looked like!”

“I think it’s regrettable that the Toronto and Montréal jazz scenes don’t mingle; we barely know each other.”

Unapologetically curious, Therrien has the mind of an explorer. She’s spent a lot of time in Havana and Banff, among other places, where she took part in various workshops alongside about thirty mentors – such as the erudite Dave Douglas, which inspired her in a series dedicated to jazz composers.

“I want to make not just jazz accessible to my generation,” she says, “but everything else that’s in the margins: Latin jazz, African music, Eastern European music… Jazz is the philosophy of conversation. I hope to synthesize all that and turn it into my own music. If I could go back to school, I’d study ethnomusicology!”

In 2013, and for the next three years, Therrien received a SOCAN Foundation grant to support exchanges with other musicians. Held during the Montréal Jazz Fest, a partner in this project, these meetings happen every night at 11:00 p.m. at Bleury Bar à vinyle. Therrien invites American and Canadian musicians from her contact list, most of whom don’t know each other. Each of them plays two of their own compositions., which are are rehearsed before the show. “What matters most is the dialogue between the musicians,” she says.

The winner, alongside her quintet, of the 2015 TD Grand Jazz Award is very optimistic about the next generation of local jazz players: “The new generation is eager and highly creative,” she says. “I look at the younger musicians coming out of university and their level is impressive, but I think it’s regrettable that the Toronto and Montréal jazz scenes don’t mingle; we barely know each other.”

Her favourite trumpet players? “Chet Baker, Ambrose Akinmusire, Miles Davis, depending on the period, Douglas and Blue Mitchell, whom I’ve stolen many a solo from,” says Therrien. “They all have a signature sound. But maybe it’s a paradox, I’ve always preferred being told I play well than being told I sound good. I think I have good ears, so I prefer doing my own research and create my own music.”

Therrien will soon export her talent to Spain, next spring, where she self-booked a mini-tour of jazz clubs on her own. Networking. Contacts. Full speed ahead.


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