The Apple Tree

 Composition, Recorders, Piano, Mixing: Racheal CoganRecorders by Geri Bollinger - alto (F or G), tenor, bass, cbass, and contrabass.

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I wrote this piece for an instrument that Geri Bollinger made for me from the gorgeous, elderly apple tree in his photo above.

This tree brought a lot of happiness. It is hard to not be drawn into the red hammock to lie there daydreaming, listening to the birds, and imagining the ants crawling over your feet or the book you might be reading. The tree stood in a vacant lot behind Geri's house until the day that the owners of the land decided to build a house on it and the apple tree was cut down to make room. Now the wood from the tree has given voice to three G alto recorders (and a wooden spoon that I use for cooking).

All of my instruments come from different places, and the wood that made them has often travelled several times around the world before the instrument is in my hands; from heavy cold grenadilla and ebony, boxwood that yellows darkly over the years (and that on one recorder has warped into a beautiful crookedness), to lovely light maple, pear and apple. Often the first question a person asks me about my instruments is: "What wood is that?" Usually I know, but sometimes my head muddles into a frown and I have no idea. This beautiful G apple alto is the first time that I have heard a story of the tree that made it: photos and histories as it was still growing, how much joy it brought to the maker, how he was sad to lose it, how he later found the wood abandoned, aged it carefully, and then the story of the making.

 

In this composition I weave together a melody rising up from the apple alto that had been creeping slowly into my days, buoyed by a mosaic of repetitive motifs and large swathes where people aren't just playing together but overlapping different ideas and coming together often just in pairs with their own threads. The piano part is holding these otherwise disparate lines together and bringing rhythmic impetus and color; sometimes hinting at morning fog, or  rhythmically shivering as if reaching its limbs outwards. The contrabass plays a very simple role in the music - lots of held low notes because I just love how rich they are, and the use of an occasional octave pedal to bring in hints of some super low frequencies; because I am a bass-junkie. The cBass plays this role some of the time sharing with the contrabass, but it also brings its own stories - especially in the opening  where it joins the piano.


Because it also takes a village to make a piece of music, I couldn't have composed, recorded and scored The Apple Tree without all of the timely suggestions and advice from Geri, Susanna, and Andrew. Thank you so much for listening; and for your patience, time, and generosity. I couldn't have dreamed up a better support team, and the music is better because of you.

The Apple Tree is written for piano and five recorders:- alto (F or G), tenor, bass, cbass, and contrabass. For those who want to try playing it, the score will be published by Edition Tre Fontane in 2018. All of the recorders used in this recording were made by Geri.

 
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Tsivaeri

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Jonathan Lewis - violin, recording and mixing; Allen Baekeland - guitar, vocals; Lincoln Frey - clarinet; Nick Diochnos - bouzouki; George Iosifelis - bass; Racheal Cogan - recorder, vocals.

It has been almost 6 months now that I left Calgary and moved to Montréal.

When I first arrived in Calgary I was very eager to perform and work with some of the great creative people that live there. I found some really interesting people and reached out - through email, or a chat after a concert. I researched each person carefully before making contact; though mostly we are all pretty caught up in our lives and it's not the time to think

about adding a complete stranger into an often hectic creative schedule. So I wouldn't hear back from them, or I'd get a brief hello and 'I'm busy right now'. Which is fair. I think it's more about serendipity than trying too hard and being disappointed when somebody doesn't respond in the way that you thought you wanted.

A few people that became key to my life in Calgary however did take the very cool (for me) step of inviting me into their lives. From our very first meeting, the Rembetika Hipsters took me into their lives in a way that helped me call Calgary home for the three years I lived there. Joining a band that has been around for as long as they have (20 years!) is a little like being born into a family. You don't know quite what you are getting into, they don't know either - but you all do your darnedest to somehow make it work: quirks and all. It was Jonathan Lewis who first invited me in. Jonathan is a rare musician - you should hear him play: his outstanding virtuosity combined with immaculate taste is simply breathtaking. Sometimes he would play a solo and I'd be so blown away by the beauty that I would strongly feel it wasn't necessary for any of us to play a single note more and that we should just silently pack up and go home. If I were Leonard Cohen I would have thanked the audience and either gone home, or made 30 minutes of silence to allow the music to reverberate inside.

Each person in the group, in their own time, invited me into their lives and histories, passions and difficulties in our musical worlds.  20 years of performing together and this group is still going. That in itself is remarkable. My biggest challenge was learning a very large repertoire of music, many original compositions, and being ready to play any of those pieces (and remember their names!) at any time during any of our gigs. Nick, one of the founding members, liked to go along with the flow, and was well known for abruptly announcing an unplanned piece (often something I'd never played before) during one of his endearingly comic and long introductions, spinning a completely new story into a song whilst playing the bouzouki and changing the lyrics to fit. (It's challenging when you are the victim singing harmonies with him.) When Nick was feeling particularly inspired he had the most awesomely unusual bouzouki solos. He is one cool dude and it was never boring playing in a band with him around.

Allen the other founding member partnered Nick perfectly with a slight smile or a grunt or a frown, and would immediately be there with him as I fumbled for that other recorder I didn't have ready for each new turn. Allen is steady as a rock on guitar, bass (not with the Hipsters, but other groups in Calgary), and singing in much better Greek than I can possibly muster up. Allen is the mortar in the group and one of the kindest, most gentle of people you will have the pleasure of meeting.

left to right: Nick Diochnos, Allen Baekeland, Lincoln Frey, Jonathan Lewis, Racheal Cogan, George Iosifelis, Jon May.

left to right: Nick Diochnos, Allen Baekeland, Lincoln Frey, Jonathan Lewis, Racheal Cogan, George Iosifelis, Jon May.

Just before leaving Calgary we found the time to record a couple of pieces together. Here is one of them. One of my very favorite songs in the world - Tsivaeri. I love the clarinet in this recording - it is understated for sure but adds a texture and sound that perfectly reflects the sadness and gentle acceptance of the lyrics. You can hear Lincoln shining in some of the other recordings of the Hipsters on Spotify.

Lincoln released his own album last year. He dresses immaculately for performances, with crisp bow-ties, caps, and jackets;  his quiet watchful demeanor occasionally opening up into a hilarious raucous character. There was a memorable solo one night where the clarinet was being being slowly taken apart alongside an uncensored dance. No more needs to be said!

And then there is George, underpinning and supporting the entire group with humour, humility, and his bass, pretty much singing along to all of the songs, frowning momentarily whilst I mangle my Greek pronunciation, and enjoying every moment he has to make music.

Jon May isn't playing on this recording - but he's another person I really enjoyed making music with in both this group and with Amy Thiesson. He is an awesome percussionist as well as a great person to have in a group for his insightful and sensitive comments and musical view.

I hope you enjoy this piece with this wonderful, idiosyncratic group of people as much as I enjoyed having them as a part of my life. Many thanks to them for making Calgary a home rather than another brief stop on the long road.

Oh, foreign lands are taking happiness from him, My Tzivaeri (my treasure), My flower, Gently and humbly.

Ah! It was me who sent him there My Tzivaeri With my own will. Gently I walk upon the earth.

Ah! To be damned foreign lands My Tzivaeri You and your good things Gently and humbly

Ah! That you take my little child My Tzivaeri And you made him yours. Gently I walk upon the earth.

Le Septième Nuage

 by Racheal Cogan and Pasha Karami

Pasha Karami: udu and tombak.

Racheal Cogan: mixing and recorders (tenor, CBass, and Contrabass recorders by Geri Bollinger, ganassi recorder in G by Michael Grinter, pvc Futujara by Nadishana).

I started imagining the melody to this piece at the very end of our epic move from Calgary to Montréal. I had finally made it to Montréal and I just had a couple of instruments with me until we moved into our next 'home'. This project really began on the day I met percussionist Pasha Karami at a concert he performed at. It was great music, and afterwards I learned two things: Pasha was leaving for the Netherlands the next day after living in Montréal a few years, and he wanted to work on some projects with me.

I started making this melody and hearing tombak and udu as a part of it. As I continued working my way around the melodic ideas, we moved into our new place, and finally I could record what I had and I emailed the music file to Pasha in the Netherlands. When Pasha wrote back to me he was in Iran, but would be in Montréal for a few days - soon. So we decided to record his part at my apartment.  I had started a fairly intense full time French immersion course not long after arriving, and my time for music has been really constricted! I was lucky I was able to take some time out from the French  to spend a day with Pasha talking music, listening to music and recording the percussion parts.

Pasha played me some great recordings he had made with the Win-Bang Trio and three Lithuanian singers. I'd already been listening to his music on soundcloud and particularly liked this piece with Hang Drum, Tombak, and Udu:

Pasha also introduced me to the music of his teacher, Navid Afghah. Take a listen to this beauty:

The recorder part of Le Septième Nuage focuses on the scale and sounds of the tenor instrument when the bell (the very end of the instrument) is covered up by placing it on the leg, or a small piece of plastic/vinyl on a chair or the ground. This creates a very cool low note and a beautiful scale with awesome overtones and a covered, cloudy sound, rather than the bright sound we often expect from recorders. I also use some overblown recorder sounds (multiphonics) that sound like bells chiming when they are enhanced with a bit of reverb and  pulled back from the mix (Listen at 3:00 - 3:25). The big bass recorders are subtle in this piece and mainly come in for layering and to underline moments.

Mixing this piece was interesting. I'd be thinking I had a great balance between the recorders and percussion, and then I'd turn the general volume up and the volume of the recorders seemed to increase more than the percussion, it worked the other way when I turned the volume down. Also, the further away you move from the speakers the percussion gets softer, but the recorders carry really well. In my headphones everything surrounded me perfectly, but then I miss the lower frequencies from a sub woofer! It's always a big multidimensional puzzle, where the pieces aren't meant to fit together perfectly, and there are sections missing but you have know idea what they are, and then there are those seemingly random bits that really don't belong to the puzzle, but just add that something magical.

I really love Pasha's work on the percussion parts for this piece and I'm looking forward to continuing our collaboration together.

Thanks so much to Geri for your always insightful comments on the mixing and making me work harder; and for making recorders so amazing :)

Photo taken halfway between Calgary and Montréal.

The Hildegard Project

O Virgo Ac Diadema, Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179). Cello - Christine Williams. Arrangement, vocals, recorder, production and recording - Racheal Cogan.

This music was written by the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179) - almost 1,000 years ago. It is from the Symphonia Armoniae Celestium Revelationum, andthese pieces are set to her own text. Hildegard was known to have had visions throughout her life and these formed a significant part of her body of work.

This music is different to read than most common modern notation - the staves here tend to have 4 lines (rather than the 5 we are more accustomed to) and the clefs move around, so you read it more as a linear pattern than actually looking at a note and knowing what it is. I hadn't ever played or sung any of this kind of early vocal liturgical chant, so I began by listening to a lot of versions of this piece (particularly from the album Symphoniae by Sequentia). As I was working through the idiosyncrasies of reading the notation, I didn't feel ready to learn it from the facsimile (as above), and instead chose a version published in James R. Briscoe's Historical Anthology of Music by Women (see below). It's more of a tidied up version with training wheels for reading early liturgical notation that preserves the four lines for a stave and all of those neumes; so I still had a sense of the original notation and ideas of phrasing to inform our interpretation:

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I took my time learning a way around the notes, struggling with the Latin and, because I am me, feeling uncomfortable with the religiosity and lack of, I don't know - humor, and, um, the sheer grandiosity and damn seriousness of the translation of the words. I tend to gravitate towards a more modern sentiment of humility in the grand scheme; Kings and Guilt and Races seem puny compared to the geological epochs that our planet has moved through, dinosaurs and all. (Oh crafty serpent of Eve, where would we have all been without you?) So, big breath - the text:

(Translation from the Latin by Clifford Johnson in the Historical Anthology of Music by Women)

O virgin, as well, the diadem of the crimson royal purple of the king who in your gate like as a breastplate

You, becoming verdant, bloomed through all the changes which Adam brought forth in every race of man.

Hail, hail, from your womb all life proceeded which Adam had stripped from his sons.

Oh flower, you were not to put forth from the dew, neither from the drops of rain, nor from the air which flowed from above, but the divine clarity brought you forth a most noble virgin.

O Virgin, God foresaw your flowering in the first day of his creatures. And from the word he made your golden matter.

O most noble virgin, oh how great it is, in his strength from the side of man God produced the form of woman, which he made a mirror of all to his adornment and an honour to all of his creatures.

For that, the heavenly sounds celebrate and all the earth wonders, O most laudable Mary, whom God has certainly loved.

O how certainly it is to be bewailed and lamented because the sorrow from the guilt through the craftiness of the serpent has flowed in women.

But now, a woman alone whom God has made mother of all, has expelled through her womb the disaster of ignorance and has manifested the full grief of her race.

But, O morning star, from your womb a new sun has exploded, banishing every guilt of Eve and has brought through you a greater blessing because Eve harmed man.

Whence, O Salvatrix, you have brought forward a new human light, gather together the limbs of your son to heavenly harmony.

 

 

 

 

 

My idea was to write an arrangement to perform with my friend cellist Christine Williams. Working out how to notate it so that it didn't diminish the power of the music that has been left to us was challenge enough, I was also reluctant to bind the notes to a strict rhythm, but I had to work out an efficient way for us to learn the piece together. Then, we patiently rehearsed, working our way through the ideas. I'm sure that we both thought it would never work, but slowly the sounds came together and we started playing together as one in what was becoming a cohesive piece of music.

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Just after recording this piece with Christine, I was walking through a big leafy park in the early summer and I started to hear it in my head a little differently: A door creaking open with a gust of wind taking us into another space from a very different time, a wooden floor creaking and a person's footsteps leading us through. I love the idea of creating music spatially, surrounded by fragments of sounds from a particular time and space telling a story. But then, I then had to take a break from all of these ideas for a couple of months to make my own journey moving our home 3,600 kilometers from Calgary to Montreal packing, cleaning, driving, and crazy adventures. Finally after arriving in Montreal, as the cracked ceilings of our small rented apartment were being plastered and painted, I spent some time working through these additional ideas at the same time as unpacking, repairing, and cleaning up bits of plaster and flaky paint whilst moving furniture out of the way and back again. This is what I came up with for now. Put on some decent headphones and enjoy!


 Thank you Christine for the time you spent with me working on this music, your beautiful playing, friendship and support; I already miss you.

Thank you Geri and Susanna for your comments and for listening!

Swirling Leaves is published!

 
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I am very happy to say that Edition Tre Fontane have just published the score to my music Swirling Leaves. It is for two tenor recorders, bass recorder, and contrabass recorder.

If you play the recorder with other people and have the great joy of having these lower instruments to play AND feel ready for a fun rhythmic challenge: this is the piece for you!

It is available on the Edition Tre Fontane website here.

My original blogpost about the music and Geri Bollinger's inspiring tenor recorders is here.

Push play to listen to my recording of it with Geri: