Skip to main content

Interview with Countertenor Scott Belluz

Scott Belluz and Subiksha Rangarajan (as The Woman)   Photo courtesy of Domoney Artists. Used with permission.

In March, countertenor Scott Belluz starred in The Man Who Married Himself, a production by Toronto Masque Theatre in their penultimate season, which the Crow’s Nest website described thus: “Unwilling to marry a woman, a man fashions a lover from his own left side. He’s enraptured by her perfect beauty—a mirror of his own—until he discovers that this new woman longs for freedom and wildly desires another. South Asian and Baroque music and performance traditions meet in a stunning new masque based on a traditional Indian folk-tale. Powerful and timely, The Man Who Married Himself is an allegory of the female and male warring within as told by 2 dancers, 3 singers and 6 musicians.” The show was very engaging, with lots of gestural and sensual stimuli, as well as unexpected humour. As someone in the talkback said, unlike most folk-tales, which in general have a moral, the ending in this one is more fluid and open-ended.

Scott was good enough to spend some time answering my questions about his part in this event. (To read my first interview with him, please click here.)

VW: Why did you move to LA?

SB: I’m currently living out my dream of working in music supervision/licensing for the TV and film industry in Los Angeles. I took classes at UCLA to understand the legalities of music copyright, publishing and licensing and ended up landing a job with a music licensing company called Lip Sync. We represent a diverse roster of bands and solo artists whose music we pitch for placement in TV shows, films and commercials. As a self-diagnosed music junkie with catholic tastes, this job allows me to do what I love best: discover amazing new artists and align them with opportunities that will get their music heard. I’m really enjoying pursuing this work alongside my singing career.

VW: Wow, you are versatile!

I think TMWMH hinges on themes surrounding duality: LGBTQ identity comes to mind; also two-spirited Native views re: gender; Janus facing both the past and future; our fascination with amphisbaena (animals born with two faces) and with conjoined twins (I think the earliest record is from 1100 AD in England); even our language around deceitful people being “two-faced”: we are fascinated with the dual nature of humanity. My view of The Prince was as Alex Samaras said in the post-show talkback: that the newborn woman wasn’t really separate from him but still a part of him. How did you approach the role of The Prince?

SB: I try to approach the rehearsal process with few preconceptions regarding the character.  Gradually, during rehearsals, I make discoveries with the creative team and in relation to my fellow cast members which shape the character.  I’m not concerned with psychologizing the character as part of my preparation; my focus is on learning the music and text. While [composer] Juliet [Palmer]’s score took full advantage of my vocal range, I wasn’t preoccupied with duality or whether I was using my baritone chest voice vs. countertenor falsetto—for me it’s all MY voice, not two different voices.

VW: Did your portrayal change as you worked on the piece?

SB: It  evolved. The Prince often narrates his own story in the third person before jumping into the first person. While it’s a common trope in Indian music dramas, it was my first time encountering this device as a singing actor. The ambiguity of voice imposed by this device within the densely metaphorical text was an interesting challenge. Once I embraced the fluidity, it was liberating to move rapidly between points of view. Acting, for me, is just playing situations (not characters) and stringing together states of mind or being. My performance in this piece was underlined by that philosophy. By the time the show opened,
I was more concerned with showing universality than any specificity or minutiae which often defines a character. For me, The Prince transcends duality in [librettist] Anna [Chatterton] and Juliet’s treatment of the folk-tale, “The Prince Who Married His Own Left Side.” I began to think of him as post-gender and post-sexual, which allowed me to credibly traverse the story’s arc, and the wide vocal range as well!

VW: I think it’s also about greed/desire/need for control in our sexual relationships and, more broadly, in our lives; fashioning another to be an “improved” or desirable self/ partner: like Dorian Gray’s desire to avoid aging, the creation of a perfect beauty in Pygmalion, and the drunkenness of creating life in Frankenstein. Am I reading too much into this, or did you note these rattling around in your mind when you were moulding(!) your performance?

SB: Upon first reading the libretto, I was of course struck by the sheer number of familiar thematic references it evoked: Adam’s rib meets Pygmalion meets Narcissus. It’s difficult to say to what degree any associations with these stories may have filtered subconsciously into my performance. From the original folk-tale, Juliet and Anna fashioned something truly unique, layered with with meaning and metaphor, and resonant for today.

VW: I sort of felt, looking back on the other interview, that things haven’t changed as much as I’d thought or hoped. Eight+ years ago, we talked about internet dating etc., and it’s interesting how unsavoury aspects of love and marriage are present in TMWMH too, but now there are more expansive applications if we consider how things have changed, such as with Tinder and the mainstreaming of porn: there still remains this sense of men being unsatisfied with real women (and women still feeling like that, perhaps exacerbated by social media). We also talked about a sense of discomfiture around gender issues and male/female ascriptions to the countertenor voice. I thought it was interesting that someone else also brought up  social unease with the countertenor voice because of it straddling (our ideas of) the two sexes.

SB: In regards to discomfiture around gender issues, I agree that things have not changed as much as I would have hoped in the last eight years.  As a gay man who was bullied and harassed in my youth because I played piano not baseball and worshipped figure skaters not hockey players, I am deeply concerned by the number of people who daily live with undue “minority stress” as members of any marginalized group. 
It feels good to be making art which is contributing to this discussion and perhaps encouraging the eventual eradication of discrimination and inequality. If the countertenor voice challenges people to confront their unease and re-examine their notions of gender, so be it.

VW: I love Indian food, aesthetics, Bollywood and Bhangra, but my myth education never included any Indian stories. What’s something interesting you learned about Indian culture?

SB: I learned that the traditional Dhoti pants worn as my costume are still worn by men today in the villages of India. I never would have imagined that 4.5 metres of unstitched fabric wrapped around the waist, passed through the legs and tucked at the back could be so comfortable!

VW: Thanks so much for your time, Scott. I was pleased to be going to TMWMH, but I wasn’t expecting to be as moved as I was: this production was entirely charming and your performance was integral to that.

What’s up next for you?

SB: Next is Unsuk Chin’s Cantatrix Sopranica with Soundstreams Canada as part of this year’s 21C Music Festival! See you there!

More information about that event can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Scott Belluz.  Used with permission.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Ensemble Scholastica’s Ars Elaboratio

Ars elaboratio Ensembe Scholastica ATMA ACD2 2755

These days, the kids call them remixes, but in the hands of musicolo­gist Rebecca Bain, the music on Ars elabor­atio is the product of taking plainchant and adding tropes from other sources to create new versions. This was not unheard of in the millennium that was not litigious about intellectual property and it was common because of a more flexible and oral, rather than notated, tradition of handing music down. Think of this as more serious Mediæval Babes repertoire with scholastic­ally informed liberties, which in that era were called elaborations.

The result is litanies, antiphons, poetry and scripture that are often mesmerizing and calming, especially with the addition of symphonia or, in the instrumental version of Claris vocibus, of organetto, a portable precursor to the pipe organ, played with one hand on the keyboard and the other working the bellows. The medieval pronunciation charmed this Latinist, although I may have heard some elision, as in spoken Latin poetry recitation, which may throw some listeners. And there are spots in the CD booklet that omit the original liturgical text that is discussed (e.g. the melisma on “mulierum” in Velox impulit) so that only the tropes can be followed, if that is your wont.

The fascinating background to some of the elaborations contains some ballsy feminist stuff (praise of the chastity of innocent virgins aside), such as the one in Dilexisti iustitiam, in which St. Catherine of Alexandria kicks some male philosophical-debate butt. The approachable narrative in Sancti baptiste of “amice Christi Johannes” ([O] John, friend of Christ) reflects the presumed (relative) egalitarianism of the coeducational abbey of St. Martial de Limoges in the 1100s.

The acoustics of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Old Montreal lend them­selves to a lovely presentation of the organic nine-voice Ensemble Scholastica. Hildegard of Bingen must be pumping her fist in coelis.

This article appeared in the print and online version of the March 2017 issue of WholeNote Magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Voces8’s Winter

[pdf-embedder url=”https://wellsreadediting.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2205-TheWholeNote-February-2017-Winter-review-pg-1-Copy.pdf” title=”2205-TheWholeNote-February-2017-Winter review pg 1 – Copy”]

[pdf-embedder url=”https://wellsreadediting.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2205-TheWholeNote-February-2017-Winter-review-pg-2-Copy.pdf” title=”2205-TheWholeNote-February-2017-Winter review pg 2 – Copy”]

My CD Review for WholeNote of Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry

ctua14zwyaacqah

Arvo Pärt – The Deer’s Cry Vox Clamantis; Jaan-Elk Tulve ECM New Series ECM 2466

A mixture of the new and old recorded here by Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, this CD includes the world-recording premiere of Habitare fratres in unum and the largely plainchant And One of the Pharisees, which had its world premiere in California in 1992. There is a variety of Pärt’s music here: from the innocence-evoking Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima to the ode to a gittern, Sei gelobt, du Baum. (Google the latter via leones.de!).

Serendipitously, I started my day reading St. Patrick’s fourth-century prayer, The Deer’s Cry, and the title track contains a purity I would compare to David Lang’s I Lie. The Alleluia-Tropus is different than my recording by Vox Clamantis with Sinfonietta Riga: at a decade’s distance, this a cappella version is 25 seconds longer and less dance-like, perhaps the liturgical pace being more fitting for the intercession of St. Nicholas of Myra. Most notable to me, however, was Summa, a tintinnabulous piece containing the Apostle’s Creed in Latin. While it is recorded here a cappella, as originally written, I only have the string versions of it, which convey swells of movement (indeed, I made a little film with it accompanying a murmuration); the choral is more plodding and deliberate in its affirmation of belief – I could picture Joan of Arc reciting it defiantly, atop the pyre as she awaits the lighting of the wood. The CD ends with Gebet nach dem Kanon, a fitting closing prayer to the collection.The liner notes are Pärtesque: sparse, multilingual and presuming knowledge of his work and litur­gical music history. But if you enjoy looking up information (e.g. the Russian scriptures have different versification at times: Drei Hirtenkinder is about the West’s Psalm 8:2), there’s a wealth of enlightenment available. Artistic director Jaan-Eik Tulve has applied the 81-year-old composer’s personal tutelage faithfully, and Pärt devotees will be enrap­tured, the faithful and secularists alike.

 

This review originally appeared on page 80 of the December 2016–January 2017 issue of The WholeNote magazine. You can watch the murmuration film to Summa here.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Symphonies by Artyomov

25144
Vyacheslav Artyomov – Symphony Gentle Emanation; Tristia II Russian National Orchestra; Teodor Currentzis; Vladimir Ponkin Divine Art dda 25144
Artyomov – Symphony on the Threshold of a Bright World; Ave Atque Vale; Ave, Crux Alba National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia; Vladimir Ashkenazy Divine Art dda 25143 (divineartrecords.com)

Vyacheslav Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets, unless you think of them as uber-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de coeur. My initial reac­tion to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode – which is apt, since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis, the composer said “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twin-released CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of a Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation, they are both accessible, and while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara.

The orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba, a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta, returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spiritu­ality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration; the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over.

Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer’s friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes.

This review originally appeared on pages 84–85 of the December 2016–January 2017 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

CIVA’s post of my piece on grief

Making a Way with Grief

By Vanessa Wells

I spent the day deliberating the posting of this personal commentary; it’s not something I do. But I’ve been feeling depleted lately (physically, emotionally, spiritually), which has been complicated by feelings of grief for which I still haven’t attained closure.

wells-1
The best information I’ve read on this topic tells me that it’s not linear, it’s individual in its course, it doesn’t adhere to a particular timeline…and it often doesn’t make any damn sense. I’ve come to accept that. But there are moments—they tend to strike in the early morning—when grief hits me like a Mack truck. This is both unexpected and annoying. I tend to be a morning person (to clarify, I don’t actually want to talk to anyone in the morning; that’s just when I have all my energy and optimism for the day) and then, wham, I’m suddenly crying.

To back up: I’m essentially an only child (I’ll spare you the long version of that story), and my dad died ten years ago. He’d been a private pilot in his retirement, so every time I see a small plane flying overhead (which is, fortunately, often), I say thank you and turn into a puddle. It’s dumb, but it makes me feel he’s close.

wells-3After my dad died of brain cancer, life’s next blow was for my mum to develop Alzheimer’s. She moved back to Toronto to be near me, and I spent the next four plus years interacting with, and daily caring for, her “not-self.” I’m sorry to say I was not always patient (anger=fear), but I did all that a daughter could do and kept her reasonably happy despite the insanity of that miserable disease.

Mum threw out and lost expensive items (including an engagement ring) and was difficult with me and everyone else trying to help her navigate what she would not admit was happening to her. Long story short, Mum’s plan—and her vow—was that she would “just go” {snapping of fingers} when she wanted and would not linger. Social workers and I tried to explain the drop-dead-on-demand scenario was very unlikely, but didn’t she do just that on Thursday morning in October of 2013; a massive stroke cut her down and she was gone within a day.

Fran: 1
Vanessa: 0

Anyway, as I said, I get hit with the whammies about my ten-year-gone dad and three-year-gone mum a lot. A LOT. It’s rough. I burst into tears at certain pieces of music, yet can’t bring myself to turn them off. It feels as though I must will myself through the grief yet again.

So, in an act of self-care, I resorted to the best cure-all: a purge and reorganization—ironic for someone whose total belongings fit into one room. I’d recently purged 20 years of teaching resources, but my 20 years’ worth of photography was crowding me, and I needed to unload. I planned to discard some art I had deemed unworthy but retrieved it in the end. Some was good, some purely emotional, but I decided to keep it to honor myself. Maybe my kids, in their own future mid-life crises, would be interested someday?

That was yesterday. This morning, feeling despondent, I was drawn to review a more difficult portfolio. Flipping aimlessly through the pages, I noticed some hand-written notes by visitors to an art show where I’d exhibited photographs a decade ago. I remembered a few of the notes, mostly complimentary. I even remembered one that said, “A little cold. I didn’t feel the tenderness.” (Funny then and funny today because I’ve never been much for portraying tenderness, tending more toward austerity and starkness in my work.)

wells-2As I continued flipping through, I uncovered a dear note from my daughter, and then I spotted a note that made my heart stop. It said, “I’m so proud of you. M.” (M. was my mother’s signature for “Mum” on notes.) I’d forgotten she had even been there during a visit from her home in British Columbia, let alone left me a note. Of course she would have written that, even though she never did understand my photos (which, God knows, she told me often enough!). I was on a huge purge and wouldn’t have taken the time to check each of those hundreds of papers, but I couldn’t believe I’d almost thrown those notes out!

wells-4I had been looking for a continued connection with my mum for almost three years, and here was this unexpected gift. It was exactly what I needed. I had just been reading five minutes earlier about spiritual development, and then this jumped out at me. My mum never really got “modern art” yet, with that note, she was validating me. That’s what parents do. They may not “get” their kids but they never stop loving and supporting them. No matter what.

With this bit of serendipity, I felt vindicated in reinstating my art and re-fortified for going forward without my mum and my dad. I’m not sure what this vignette might have to offer you, but I wanted to share my small story of grace. Grace is an undeserved and unexpected gift. And if this isn’t a time when we all need gifts like that, I don’t know when is.


Vanessa Wells is an editor and blogger in Toronto, Ontario. When she isn’t sweating over which camera to use, she’s watching films, reading or . . . reading. For more on Vanessa, go to Wells Read Editing or Beautiful Feet

 

 

My DVD Review for WholeNote of The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ a choreographed opera

gray

Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen – The Picture of Dorian Gray Radley; Best; Bobby; Thiele; Hansen; Vinther; Skarby Riddell; Chorus of the Danish National Opera; Aarhus Symphony Orchestra; Joachim Gustafsson Dacapo 2.110415

The ideas behind this DVD made me curious because, as a longtime operagoer, I wondered how you could have an opera choreographed and with the singers offstage. The Picture of Dorian Gray succeeds on both counts and throws in more appealing aspects to boot. The Oscar Wilde story is rife with juicy themes around secrets, corruption, the role of art and, of course, the Mephistophelian premise of Dorian Gray selling his soul in exchange for eternal beauty and youth. The production of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s opera has plenty of eye and ear candy that doesn’t discombobulate the viewer with unstaged singers as much as highlight them. Cutaways to singers in the orchestra pit are as intriguing as Met in HD backstage entr’actes. The transformation of the picture of Dorian Gray is effectively conveyed with video art, replacing the need for extensive set use, and the costumes range from modified period pieces to something out of Cirque du Soleil. Although I don’t have much knowledge of dance, I could appreciate this non-literal interpretation of the tale, which shared the dual role of representing the characters’ sung parts, which was stage director/choreographer Marie Brolin-Tani’s goal. Surprisingly, spoken lines and frequent Broadwaymusical-like interludes did not make me protest that this was not opera. The entire production somehow coalesces into a new multi-art genre, and whether that is due to the direction, choreography, score, artists or all of those, it was the type of offering CanStage might co-present. Hmm – must text Matthew Jocelyn…

This review originally appeared on page 75 of the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky Choral Works ~ Mass and Cantata

backgroundcd

This CD comprises works Stravinsky wrote after he was Orthodoxically reborn in 1926. The discretely composed parts of the Mass run from celebratory to sparse, and even the two Credos are contradictory: one is stalwart and modern, the other urgent and sounding slightly more like traditional English church music. The Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral is joined by youngsters from the dedicated choir school, as the composer had intended the Mass to be sung. The blend is wholesome.

The Cantata is based on Middle English songs on Christian themes but likely with secular origins. Soloists Ruby Hughes’ and Nicholas Mulroy’s voices complement each other and so in turn do the choral Versus refrains of A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which recount the voyage of the dead from Earth to purgatory. The setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was new to me, as was the controversy of the inclusion by Stravinsky of the anti-Semitic middle verse, which is outlined in the liner notes. The a cappella Tres Sacrae Cantiones, some of the partially lost pieces of late-Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, were “finished off” by Stravinsky, at a safe remove of 300 years!

Duncan Ferguson deftly conducts  soloists so that the two larger pieces are accompanied in the truest sense of that word; they go alongside their singing companions rather than merely support them. This would be a lovely addition for collectors of Stravinsky, jack-of-all-eras.

This review originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

01_stravinsky_bartok

Park Avenue Chamber Symphony/David Bernard. Recursive Records #RC2057001

 

Did Bugs Bunny ruin the Barber of Seville for you? How about Merrie Melodies’ The Three Little Pigs with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #5? I have a particular eye/earworm of The Rite of Spring: I can never unsee the gorgeous choreography of Pina Brausch when I hear this piece. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s recording is bright and clear and complements the rather dark storyline of the ballet. The First Part is a vital description of nature and leads with some urgency to the undeniable corporeality of the Second Part. The backbone of the piece, however, is Track 2, although I prefer my Augurs of Spring to be a little more heavy-handed than David Bernard’s version, such as the Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez’s take on it; I think this reflects Bernard’s interpretation, though, and does not make Stravinsky an inappropriate choice for this orchestra. (The Augurs of Spring always strikes me as a misplaced climax, though.)

The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, known as a soloistic piece, also has a pure sound, which emanates from the musicians themselves and is perhaps also enhanced by the fine recording engineering. Again, the chamber symphony easily handles the piece’s gravitas with aplomb. Apparently, the movements’ tempi listed on the back cover differ from their historical provenance and this made me curious to hear it live under another baton: fortuitously, this will be possible when the TSO performs it on May 4, 2017 in a matinée, led by Peter Oundjian.

This CD offers two excellent examples of early 20th-century eastern-European composers who still captivate us technophiles with these elemental pieces that were based on European folk song.

This review first appeared in the October 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

 

My CD Review for WholeNote of The Far West

9466_cover_rgb_large

The Far West opens with music evocative of Macmillan and Brickenden’s Celtic Mass for the Sea; in fact, not since that album have I heard a choral work that captures its subject with such well-curated and gut-punching text. This Choral-Canada winner is an homage to victims of AIDS, and it’s both achingly beautiful and horrifyingly vivid in its imagery as it paints portraits of Tim Dlugos, its post-humous librettist, and stricken friends.

Dlugos’ divinity training interweaves references from Bergman to AZT, so textual allusions to liturgical music and the Divine Office still match the different musical styles, such as the funereally resolved first movement, October, the expansive choral chords of Note to Michael, and the baroque-ish Heaven, latterly with lyrics from the Renaissance by George Herbert. Several times, the work evokes English staples, such as Parry’s I Was Glad or Fenton’s Veni Sancte Spiritus, and made me want to run back to my days of church choir with Tom Fitches.

Themes of reconciliation, despair and resignation are conveyed alongside word play with homophones and synecdoche. The first two tracks, settings of poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Christina Rossetti, are complementary introductions to the cantata. If this review is more about the texts than the music, it’s because the poetry absolutely slays the listener but, while the words are the stars in this piece, Zachary Wadsworth has composed a votive in The Far West, and Lawrence Wiliford and Luminous Voices shimmer throughout.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Interview with Larry D. Sweazy, author of the Marjorie Trumaine murder mystery series

2016-06-16 22.44.03

I met with Larry on the eve of the ASI/ISC 2016 Indexing Conference in Chicago, just before the conference’s official reception. Just like in his novels, my walk to our meeting place was blustery and foreboding, but the welcome I received from him and his lovely wife, Rose (whom I recognized instantly from one of her accessories as a fellow cat-lover), could not have been more reassuring. After warning him that I was not attempting to stalk him (since I was also writing a review of his second book for EAC’s Toronto Branch blog, BoldFace, and summarizing his keynote speech the next day for the ISC’s upcoming edition ofThe Bulletin newsletter), we sat down to talk business: that of writing and indexing and how the two connect.

In the first book of the series, See Also Murder[1], there had been mention of a magpie, so I started by asking him if that had been a total coincidence: indeed, it was only by fluke that he had used a species that is the mascot of theIndexing Society of Canada, since he lives in Indiana and didn’t know our connection to the aviary collector.

I also was interested in his attention to detail about the prairies. My mum was a Saskatchewan emigrant, and many of his references seemed straight out of her life: hating the wind, a Mountie hat (my grandfather was in the RCMP), and people who keep their problems to themselves (I’m definitely stiff upper lip as a result of her influence). He did live in North Dakota (the series setting) for a time, so the environs had permeated him. A strong sense of place is pervasive in his writing and features in his other historical, western and thriller novels and short stories.

One of the most interesting aspects of Larry’s writing is his ability to create a credible female protagonist voice. I mentioned having heard a radio interview of Clive Greave (author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven) in which he was praised for his successful treatment of the same choice. It is remarkable to do this so convincingly and in an ongoing way (i.e. a series, not just a one-off book). The details Larry captures were striking: for example, in See Also Deception, he mentions the wind coming up and the women all grabbing at their skirts automatically. So real! The purse contents, menthol cigarettes, McCall’s-pattern dresses—it all works. While Larry did have strong women in his life as a youngster, he also credits good communication with his wife as another source of empathy for things he couldn’t initially know as much about, and he says it has made him a better person for that development: but, he adds, you have to have empathy for humans, not just women, and then you have to carry that empathy out into the world via the writing. Well, he’s got that down.

Another thing he has down is humour. As I said in my BoldFace review, I have no experience with the murder mystery genre, so I was surprised to trip across some laughs in a dark storyline. But what appealed to me was the subtlety as opposed to being hit over the head with guffaws. Larry was pleased that this was evident and said he felt it was important to respect the reader’s intelligence. Sometimes these were comments that just sounded like a conversation with your friend, others were funny because I heard myself in them. Apparently a laugh’s okay—perhaps necessary—when you’re talking murder, and while I don’t particularly enjoy reading humorous books per se, it was another thing that made my introduction to this genre easier.

I and others at the conclusion of his keynote talk asked about the writing and indexing process, their connection and how they affected Larry’s stories. There are clearly commonalities: you can’t very well expect to get repeat contracts if you procrastinate on getting (good) writing or indexing done. Both require discipline, which is helped by an organized approach. I could relate to his separating tasks into parts of the day, suitable to his psychic energy and his abilities, and to his being very literal in dividing up the time available by the pages required to achieve personal and work deadlines. A curious mind is facilitated by an orderly approach to life, and the ability to break things down into discrete elements and re-group them by their connections works for both key entries and key clues. He acknowledged the unravelling of the mystery with the process of indexing for Marjorie, too. Upon reflection, I’m sure my experience in private investigation was good training for my inquisitive mind and honed the skills I need for effective and systematic editing and indexing. We may love order and classification, but as indexers we need to be detail-oriented and able to see the big picture simultaneously.

Speaking of parts of the whole, I asked Larry what he envisioned the scope of this series to be—a trilogy? More? He couldn’t say for sure, but there’s at least one more coming: See Also Deadline, available May 2017. That’s good news. But the problem with discovering and glomming on to a new-to-me author is finding the time to go back and read the other stories they’ve produced. Social media and the advantages of the Information Age expose us to new pleasures more quickly and easily. The fallout means less time for other stuff; in my case, that usually leads to letting cooking go. Based on my Wine and Cheese award system (see blog sidebar), Marjorie Trumaine has caused a fair bit of order-in. Although not for too many days, since her stories are hard to put down.

 

13260249_1694539707474468_8021019371631081466_n

[1] For those readers who are not familiar with indexing, “See also” is a conventional indicator to cross-references in back-of-the-book indexes; it tells readers that other closely related and additional information is available under another key word. “See” plus a key word indicates that the reader should look up a synonymous term that is actually used in the text, in case they have not chosen the indexed word to start their search with. Larry’s titles are little homages to the indexer’s work.

Book review: See Also Deception, by Larry D. Sweazy

(Released May 2015)

By Vanessa Wells

Book review: See Also Deception, by Larry D. Sweazy

Full disclosure: I have never been into murder mysteries. No early Nancy Drews, no later Agatha Christies—frankly, I just felt like I would never be able to figure the mystery out and would feel kinda dumb, so I never embraced the genre. The only reason I was interested in the Marjorie Trumaine books by Larry D. Sweazy was that I’d heard they were written by and about an indexer.

I was a little skeptical about how the second book of the mystery series, See Also Deception, could pick up with a new murder only months after those of the first, but this fell by the wayside once I cracked open the book. In a nutshell, our newbie-sleuth heroine cannot accept that her librarian friend has committed suicide, and her indexer-character tenacity leads her to work the details of the case that are missed by the police. Fortunately, foreshadowing is well handled and carries the reader’s interest rather than handing over the solution to the murder on a silver platter. This is perhaps due to Sweazy’s writing habit of working organically and without complete pre-outlining, which lets the story unfold for himself as much as for his audience.

In his acknowledgments, the author says, “Indexing, like writing, is a job best done in isolation.” In See Also Deception, he has again succeeded in creating an atmosphere that highlights the protagonist’s isolation, both physical and psychological, despite the constant presence of her invalid husband and her community of Dickinson, North Dakota. The bleak feeling also works for the character and plot development that he tantalizingly creates for the reader.

Of course, the fun part for those of us editors who are also indexers is the author’s use of the indexing career and practices as a plot device. I could relate to his reference to Marjorie’s appreciation of the order on her desk and the issues involved in creating an effective index. But fun aside, his inclusion of partial indexes as her way of making sense of the case is absolutely essential to the story: a thriller featuring a doctor could hardly work if medicine wasn’t part of the plot and character development. I think it must also do the indexing industry good to have this kind of work introduced to and described for the general public, since we indexers are all too used to the “What’s that?” and “They still do that?” questions about our work.

On the more serious side, See Also Deception also examines the issue of assisted dying, which is very topical in Canada at the moment. Sweazy handles this difficult topic deftly, but in the interest of not providing any spoilers, that’s all I’ll say.

Finally, my husband (of an arts and advertising background) saw the book and said, “That’s a great cover!” Cover graphic design is not just a consideration for marketability; the visual appeal of this book (and the first in the series) did keep me returning to it—well, I fib a bit: it affected me only twice, since I finished the novel in two days. But it’s a nice little bonus.

Good fun: definitely put it on your beach reading list or, if you want to really immerse yourself in the atmosphere, save it til those long, dark winter nights.

 

This book review appeared on EAC Toronto’s BoldFace blog.

Freelancing: Dressing Up for the Occasion

14150816244_b1789dc517_o

Two years ago, Whitney Matusiak offered some good advice on BoldFace about wardrobe considerations for freelancers. Today I’m going to sing the praises of dressing up for working (mostly) at home. I am amazed at those who work in their jammies. Amazed in wonder, not judgment. The only things I can accomplish in my nightwear are scrolling through Facebook and drinking my first coffee.

My POV is about preparation, discipline, and focus. I am hyper-organized. I love lists. They are my modus operandi for life and work. In order to be productive, though, I must be “ready for my day,” and the physical must precede the psychological. (See the first point on Emma Gannon’s blog post about being self-employed.)

My dressing up for work at home is admittedly facilitated by having a largely neutral (read: black and grey) palette of similarly styled clothes: no hemming and hawing about what to wear. Once I know the forecast for the next day—our old apartment isn’t climatically smart—it’s easy to select tomorrow’s outfit. Boom—done!

My days-off wardrobe is what my husband would call urban bohemian, and my work clothes also focus on adaptable comfort. I even have a uniform that consists of a little black dress, a grey cardigan that was my mum’s, black stockings, and lace-up Doc Martens. This is my gettin’ ’er done go-to. My morning toilette includes hair product, eye makeup, and some jewellery.

If I dress as if I will be meeting clients and online colleagues in person, I find that I approach my at-desk work with more discipline and tenacity. Feeling pulled together allows me to interact with clients, even electronically, with confidence. It helps my presentation of self in everyday life as a business owner and not a hobbyist—as many of us freelancers are so often (annoyingly) characterized. Some days, I am only interacting with the snail-mail carrier, but if I am suddenly called out to an onsite client meeting or am needed for a Skype consultation, I’m ready.

And what about work at a client’s office? I might out-dress some folks in my formality, but with my walk-forever oxfords, some funky earrings, a scarf, and a hobo bag, my style keeps me approachable, comfortable, and adaptable to any curve balls the day might throw my way. I’d rather look overdressed than convey the wrong impression about my business practices. And I don’t leave the house without a purse-sized lint roller.

Of course, there are days when my work wardrobe model goes out the window, like if I’m feeling sick or have an appointment or a volunteer commitment requiring other types of clothes. But generally, if I show up to my desk in my uniform before nine, I’m likely to have a productive and satisfying day. If nothing else, my self-imposed sartorial strictness mirrors my ridiculously neat desk and organized office supplies. Minus the cat hair, that is. (See lint roller note above.)

Uptight, inflexible, over-the-top? Perhaps. That’s what 12 years in a school uniform will do to you. I wish I could still wear a St. Trinian tunic, but that might inspire literary shenanigans, rather than editorial clarity, consistency, and correctness.

 

This article appeared on the EAC Toronto Branch’s blog, BoldFace.

CD Review: Noravank

02 Shoujounian   Noravank: Petros Shoujounian – String Quartets 3-6     Quatuor Molinari     ATMA ACD2 2737

Composed to mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide, Noravank’s title is derived from a homeland monastery that was Petros Shoujounian’s inspiration. Its 14 sections, divided into string quartets of three, three, three and five movements, are symbolically named after rivers and are based on liturgical chants.

Quartet No.3 was the most affecting for me, through its tiny echoes of melodies and treatments heard in Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe and Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel; it concludes with the provocative Dzoraget. The contradictions of Quartet No.4’s depressive second movement, the energetic third and Quartet No.5’s lamentoso first movement brought to mind the power of nature and the current plight of evacuated Fort McMurray folks – if that’s not the musical equivalent of theological proof-texting. The balance of Quartet No.5 and all of No.6 more overtly reflect the influence of eastern folk songs, both in the keys and the lilts they comprise. Another memory of song, from Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in D-Flat Major No.15 Op.28, is heard in the onomatopoeic burbling waters of the Vedi.

This CD was suggested to me, a Pärt fanatic, as a possibly similarly contemplative recording. While these aren’t tracks for mindful meditation, there is an introspective quality to all the movements. Maybe the invoked theme of migration is apt, after all: fires, oppression, the liturgical life – these all involve movement and change. But this introvert was soothed rather than discomfited via the talent of the Quatuor Molinari, who commissioned this work that is ultimately about renewal. Fine liner-note editing and the eponymous cover photograph round out a very marketable product.

 

This article appeared in the June-August 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Tom Allen At JMO/ NYOC Benefit

Tom_Allen_1.jpgJeunesses Musicales Ontario (JMO) and the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) Canada have orchestrated Raise the Bar, a fundraiser on June 8, as part of their continued support of the next generation of professional classical musicians. Tom Allen will be hosting the intimate evening of music, cocktails and hors d’œuvres, and he’ll be joined by fellow alumni James Ehnes, Russell Braun and other award-winners in performance in the elegant Great Hall of U of T’s Hart House.

Since 1979, Jeunesses Musicales Ontario has provided emerging Canadian artists with concert tours as well as educational concerts for young audiences. Since 1960, NYO Canada has held an iconic reputation as Canada’s pre-eminent orchestral and chamber music training institute, providing the most comprehensive and in-depth training program available to our best young classical musicians.

We asked Tom Allen to comment on the organizations’ shared values, both as an observer and as the recipient of many advantages as a result of his involvement with them as a youth.

He noted that “…the work being done by Jeunesses Musicales and the NYO Canada doesn’t only nurture musical talent – it nurtures a benevolent and caring and enlightened society.”

His own experiences included the honour of being bass trombonist in the NYO in 1982 and 1985, and part of a resident brass quintet in 1984. That quintet went on to a professional career as the Great Lakes Brass, which he toured with from 1984 to 1990. He notes that “during those years we were helped considerably by JMC, who sent us on a couple of tours and helped us find rehearsal space in Toronto, as well” and that there were other benefits to him as a young musician: there was generosity in support and career guidance, as well as lessons not only in artistry and musicianship but also the universal and transferable life skills needed by emerging professionals.

He is still grateful for the connections and experiences he gleaned. Despite a climate of arts-funding restraint, he didn’t miss out on invaluable recording and performance opportunities. JMO and NYOC still nurture high-level playing and professional development. The NYO offers that experience and, likewise, “…because of those same economic forces, classical musicians in Canada (and everywhere else) must be more adaptable, more flexible, more inventive and quick-on-their-feet than ever before, and JMC supports and nurtures that approach. The two are both sides of a (more and more hard-to-come-by) coin.”

For more information visit raise-the-bar.ticketleap.com/gala

 

This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.