The Holiday Season is upon us! I still have some availability for December 2022, and I'm really looking forward to playing Christmas parties and family gatherings. My holiday repertoire includes dozens of traditional Christmas carols as well as excerpts from The Nutcracker Suite.
Send me an email if you're looking for live music for your party!
It's been too long since my last update, so I thought I should post something.
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I have commissioned Eddie Healy to compose a suite of music for me called 'Astrolabe'. We're approaching completion of the suite-- the last movement to be composed is Virgo ♍︎, and then I'll have all 12 movements! It's difficult to believe that nearly a year has passed since we started working on this suite.
I've enjoyed learning these pieces as they have arrived, and I'm looking forward to recording them as part of my debut album! The idea is to record an album of music evocative of the night sky-- the 'Astrolabe' suite will have pride of place, taking up about half of the album, as well as Nocturnes by J. K. Mertz, and music by Vincenzo Galilei (the father of famed astronomer Galileo Galilei), Roland Dyens, and Frank Zappa.
Earlier this summer, I applied for some arts grants to help fund the project. I was awarded grants from the Greater Denton Arts Council and Friends With Benefits Denton to fund album artwork and recording expenses, and I am still seeking other sources of funding to help make this album the highest quality I can. I've also entered the Jarritos "JarriTODOS" grant contest, which will announce results on 9-9. If you'd like to see my video submission for the grant, you can find it here.
Last fall I purchased a new guitar built by Marco Antonio Alfaro Jimenez from Monarca Imports to take some of the burden of constant gigging off of my Rubio concert guitar, and I have been extremely happy with it. I have enjoyed playing on the new guitar so much that I commissioned a new guitar from Marco Antonio! The new instrument is nearly finished, and I can't wait to hear it! It is a 640mm scale length guitar with a cedar top and Palo Escrito back and sides. I asked for a 20th fret, an elevated fingerboard (to more easily navigate the highest frets), an armrest for the right arm, and, since I'll be using it on this album, I also asked for an inlaid star on the headstock. Marco Antonio has been sending me pictures of the instrument throughout the building process (below), so I am extremely excited to see the finished guitar!
I will try to share more frequent updates as I move from preparing for the album to the production phase.
inlaying the rosette
cutting the soundhole
marking the soundboard bracing locations
top, sides, end- and neck block joined
gluing center brace
top routed for binding
back routed for binding
a little tied up
dry fitting the neck
gluing the neck
gluing fingerboard and headstock veneer
finished gluing fingerboard and headstock veneer
fret placement template
headstock star inlay
I'll definitely be sharing more pictures and video when I receive the guitar!
If you follow me on facebook or Instagram you probably already know this, but Eddie Healy is composing a suite of music for me called "Astrolabe" and it will consist of 12 movements named for the signs of the zodiac. I've already received Libra and Scorpius, and I've really enjoyed learning them! Eddie will be composing each movement during its namesake sign, so I'll be getting new music about once a month. I'll be uploading videos as I get the pieces under my fingers. I'm excited to see what he comes up with for Sagittarius!
In other news, the Winter Solstice (12-21-21) is rapidly approaching. As part of the Astronomical League's 'Astronomy Before the Telescope' certificate, I will be taking a picture of the solstice sunrise through the arch of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas. In order to complete this requirement, I had to calculate the azimuth of the sun at sunrise using my new astrolabe from Jo at Wavytail. The sun will rise at 7:25 am on 12-21, at about 118° of azimuth. I'll be taking a camera and a compass to the Trinity Levee Trail near dawn. Hopefully, the weather will be clear and I can get a good picture!
One of my lutenist friends, Ryan Closs, recently suggested an interesting project. We're both homebrewers, and the plan is to brew a historical beer recipe and learn some music from the same period. We will be using a recipe that was written down sometime between 1679 and 1689 by the Carmelite monks at Dendermonde, and we'll be learning some music for the lute by Hieronymus Kapsberger. Once the beers are finished, we'll all be trying them. It's been a while since I had a chance to focus on some lute music, so I'm really looking forward to it!
As for the beer, the recipe isn't terribly different from a modern Tripel. The original recipe translates to:
Instruction to brew 16 barrels of good beer
12 vats of wheat at 24 stuivers per vat, that is 14.8 guilders
36 vats of barley at 20 stuivers per vat, that is 36 guilders
6 vats of spelt or ‘vorte avere’ [rotten oats?] at 18 stuivers, that is 5.8 guilders
40 pounds of hops at 3 stuivers a pound, that is 7.10 guilders
5 ‘waeghen’ of coal at 30 stuivers a ‘wage’, that is 7.10 guilders
50 pieces of wood at 6 guilders per 100, that is 3 guilders
for wear and tear and brewer’s work 8 guilders
For the most part, I'm following the advice given on Lost Beers, but I made a few small changes to the recipe.
Goedt Bier (by the Carmelites of Dendermonde)
8.8% ABV : OG: 1.091 : FG: 1.023 : 35.16 IBU : 7.57 SRM
(Actual OG: 1.087)
12 lb. (5.4 kg) Muntons Maris Otter (63.2%)
4 lb. (1.81 kg) Rahr White Wheat (21.1%)
2 lb. (0.9 kg) Best Malz Spelt Malt (10.5%)
1 lb. (0.45 kg) Briess Cherrywood Smoked Malt
3.5 oz. (98g) Hallertau Mittelfrüh (60 minutes)
1 oz. (28g) Hallertau Mittelfrüh (10 minutes)
2x Wyeast WY1214
2x Omega OYL-071 Lutra Kveik
Mash A: Step Mash 7 lb. Maris Otter, 4 lb. Wheat, 2 lb. Spelt.
1. 104°F for 30 min
2. 135° F for 15 min
3. 152° F for 60 min
4. 170° F for 15 min Mash Out
5. Room temp Sparge
Mash B: Single Infusion Mash 5 lb. Maris Otter, 1 lb. Smoked Malt
1. 140° F for 30 min
2. 150° F for 60 min
3. 170° F for 15 min Mash Out
4. Hot Sparge
10 gal. RO water plus:
8g Calcium Sulfate
6g Calcium Chloride
3g Magnesium Sulfate
3g Sodium Chloride
I chose to replace a pound of my base malt with a pound of smoked malt because during the 17th century all malt was dried in wood- or straw-fired kilns. I chose the Cherrywood smoked malt because it sounded appealing and it was available at my homebrew store. Because of the limitations of my brewing equipment (BrewZilla 35L), I will be adding a pound of rice hulls to the grist because the wheat and spelt could be very sticky, and I will be splitting the mash in two in order to work around the maximum capacity of the BrewZilla. This is called a "reiterated mash" and it will add at least an hour to Brew Day, but I think it will be worth it in the end. I've chosen a balanced water profile because I think it will compliment the beer well, and because brewers have been adjusting their water since long before the 17th century. I'll also be using Irish moss during the last 15 minutes of the boil to help achieve a clearer beer.
Fermentation will occur at approximately 72°F. I plan to leave the beer in the primary fermenter for a minimum of 3 weeks, so it will probably be going into the keg and bottles around Halloween. At 8.8% ABV, it will probably benefit from a little age so I will stick most of the bottles back for a few months. I expect to be able to taste the finished product around Christmas or the New Year.
As for the music itself, I've been reading through the pieces in Libro Primo D'Intavolatvra di Lauto by Hieronymus Kapsberger, and I'll be focusing on a few of my favorites like the Corrente 12a on the last page of the book. I'm not used to reading Italian tablature, which is "upside down" compared to modern guitar tablature or French tablature, but after a few days of practice it's not so bad. My favorite thing about this book is the doodles between pieces!
Rabbit and Dog!
As a child, I asked Santa Claus for a telescope a few years before I asked for my first bicycle. Growing up I owned several little telescopes which were great for looking at the Moon, but not very ideal for much else. Last September, I bought my first big boy telescope: a 10 inch f/4.5 Dobsonian. Don't let the designation of 10 inches fool you-- that's the diameter of the mirror; the telescope stands about 4 feet tall. Since getting that scope, I found my love for astronomy renewed. Seeing galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae with your own eyes for the first time will do that! So, I joined the Texas Astronomical Society and started taking my observations more seriously, keeping detailed notes and making sketches of each new object I pointed my scope at.
But what I had always really wanted was an astrolabe. I remember reading about them when I was in elementary school, and being amazed that there was a computer that could tell time and predict the times of sunrise and sunset for any day of the year without a need for any kind of power. It almost seemed like a magical device, especially since the very first computer I ever owned was a hand-me-down IBM personal computer with an Intel 8088 CPU. It was anything but portable, and all I really knew about it was how to give the DOS command to play "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" The concept of a computer that one could easily carry around with them was still the stuff of science fiction in my little 5-year-old mind.
Several years later, I was attending Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, TX when I discovered that a vendor carried brass astrolabes! I'd never actually seen one in person, so I asked the salesman to give me a demonstration. He proceeded to tell the time using the sun, and gave me a prediction for the time of sunset that day. I was blown away by just how impressive and beautiful the little device in front of me was, but at the time I couldn't justify the asking price. Still, it planted the seed and I kept thinking, "One of these days I'm going to buy one of those brass astrolabes," for the next several years.
One day earlier this spring I was aimlessly surfing the web during a practice break and found a website selling similar brass astrolabes, but the price was even higher than I remembered, so I started researching a little more seriously to try to find a cheaper (yet still functional) instrument. In the process, I discovered the Astrolabe Project website, which includes tutorials on the use of the astrolabe as well as a free astrolabe generator program which allows one to easily design a customized instrument. I also found an Instructable on how to build it. At this point, I decided I had to go for it. I got a subscription to Adobe Illustrator and started working on the design I had created in the generator. Eventually, I sent the files to a laser cutting service to finish the project. Under normal circumstances I would have taken the files to my local makerspace and done the cutting/engraving myself, but with COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders those options were not available.
After about a month of designing and editing the plans, I finally received my astrolabe. It has all of the usual scales, plus a few specialty scales I thought it would be nice to have. Most of these scales are historically accurate, but since we now have an accurate equation of time, I included a scale for that. The result is an instrument that can tell the time to within a minute or so of clock time. On the day it arrived, I fell in love with using it and set about learning everything I could about its capabilities.
As it turns out, membership in the Texas Astronomical Society comes with a membership in the Astronomical League. The AL has over 50 observing programs and certificates to help give structure to one's observations, and it occurred to me that there might be a program that included the use of an astrolabe. I was right, and so I began working on the Astronomy Before the Telescope Observing Certificate. The certification requires some fairly intense effort as the observer is limited to using instruments that were available in the 16th century-- but that is right up my alley, and smack dab in the middle of my favorite period of lute music!
So that's how I got involved with all of the astronomical activities I have lately undertaken. I'm not limiting myself to just the Astronomy Before the Telescope program, but it is, without question, the most challenging of the programs I've decided to pursue. As I work my way through the requirements of the certification I will continue to share updates on my progress.
"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
--Sir Isaac Newton PRS, FRS
It occurred to me recently that I have not shared a blog post in two years. Therefore I have decided that I will invest more effort in my blog, and I plan to post on a (mostly) weekly basis. I'll still write about music, but I would like to introduce a few new topics and will be categorizing my posts accordingly. Namely, I have lately been practicing state-of-the-art astronomy-- circa the mid 16th century. I have constructed several astronomical instruments, some of which may appear in cameo as I make a return to regular blogging. This might seem a little out of place in a musician's blog, yet without invoking Boëthius we would do well to remember that Galileo Galilei came from a family of lutenists (and would no doubt have been a fine player himself), or that Johannes Kepler published musical models of the solar system based on the data which he and his teacher Tycho Brahe had collected.
This Monday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jenny Inzerillo at High Plains Public Radio for an interview and in-studio performance during her show, High Plains Morning. We talked a little about the lute and its history, and I played a few pieces on the air.
It was my first radio interview so I was a little nervous, but I had a great time and I'm looking forward to stopping by HPPR again sometime in the future!
If you couldn't tune in on Monday, make sure to check out the interview here. When you get done, check out some of the other great musicians she's had on her show!
As you may have read in my last post, I left in late July for Colorado-- the first stop on my summer concert tour. From 23rd through 29th of July, I was in Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado for the inaugural residency of the Collegiate Peaks Guitar Retreat. I stayed in a mountain cabin at an elevation of approximately 9,500 feet, and I had lessons or audited with the "Guitar Guides": Will Douglas, Emma Rush, and Kevin Manderville. It was an honor and a privilege to spend a week with such great musicians!
Buena Vista, CO
In Buena Vista, the focus was not always on the guitar: we visited the Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy farm and I got to milk my first goat. We also climbed a mountain trail up to the "Lost Lake" at 11,800 feet. I've never considered myself much of an artist, but between the beauty of the place itself and mild oxygen deprivation, I decided to do a very quick sketch of the lake. I had only brought a blue and a black ink with me, so I set to work with my fingers and wasted a few ounces from my water bottle.
'Lost Lake' in Buena Vista, CO (above) and my sketch (below)
Over the week the Collegiate Peaks crew performed several times around Buena Vista, including shows at local restaurants, Deerhammer Distillery, and The People's Stage. As the only lutenist, I got to provide audiences with an introduction to renaissance music (and early music in general).
My week in Buena Vista passed all too quickly, and I soon found myself bidding our mountain cabin ,,auf wiedersehen" as I headed north and east to Denver.
Colorado Sunrise (above) and I don't recall what reservoir this is (below).
You might remember Russ from my review of the CD "Eyes to the Future" by his duo, Derelict Hands. It was good to see him, and we got to play a concert together for the first time in many years. A thousand thanks would still be insufficient to Russ and Taylor-- the trip would not have gone nearly as smoothly without their efforts. Special thanks are due Duain Wolfe for opening his beautiful home to us for the concert.
While I was in Denver, I had the opportunity to visit a gamelan orchestra's rehearsal... and to play the bell-tree for them! It was my first time to ever see and hear a gamelan in person, and it was amazing!
Gamelan Rehearsal (above), Bell Tree (below)
After spending a few days in Denver, the time came to drive out to Salt Lake City, Utah. I stopped in Estes Park on my way out, and obviously, I had to see The Stanley Hotel!
All work and no play at The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
the aptly named "U.S. State Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog-Post"
I was to perform a concert for the Utah Classical Guitar Society in Murray, UT with my SLC-local friend Susan Price. The drive took a bit longer than I expected, and I arrived in SLC with just enough time to drop off my things at the hotel and get a quick shower before the concert.
The next morning, I got up early and drove to Sacramento, California. Along the way, I stopped to stretch at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Bonneville Salt Flats (above), Emigrant Gap (below)
When I got to Sacramento, I had the better part of 2 days to relax and enjoy seeing my family before my next performance, for the Sacramento Guitar Society in El Dorado Hills. I got to meet my nephew Max for the very first time, and spent time with my neice Sammy, my brother Mark and my sister-in-law Michelle. I don't often get to play the doting uncle that spoils the kiddos, so I really enjoyed doing my best to make up for lost time.
Sammy and Max
Special thanks go out to the Sacramento Guitar Society, Daniel Roest, and Lili Williams for their help facilitating the concert, and to Don and Mehri for hosting my concert in their beautiful home.
Due to a scheduling issue, I had to cancel my concert in Eugene, Oregon, and was unable to meet up with my friend there. Instead, I drove directly from Sacramento to Port Angeles, Washington, where I arrived just in time to catch the day's last ferry to Victoria, B.C.
California Sunrise, Sweet Calcutta Rain, Honolulu Star-rise--- The Song Remains the Same
As tight as the scheduling was, I did take a few minutes to stop to play a few notes and take a selfie at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's theatre, which is based on Shakespeare's Globe.
Above: Rascal fiddler, twangling Jack
The week in Victoria for the LSA's WestFest was amazing: I had lessons with Robert Barto and Sylvain Bergeron, and I got to meet some incredible people!
With Robert Barto (above), Sylvain Bergeron and Elizabeth Kenny perform an encore (below)
I did take a little time to explore Victoria and Vancouver Island, though I look forward to seeing even more of B.C. in 2019! One morning I got up very early and hiked out to the "other" Niagara Falls in Goldstream Provincial Park. Sure, they're narrower than their namesake, but at 47.5m/156ft they are almost as tall!
Niagara Falls, Goldstream Provincial Park, British Columbia
At the end of the week, I bid farewell to my new lute friends and boarded the ferry back to the U.S.
See you later, Canada!
I spent a few more days with my family in Sacramento, and spent a day in San Francisco where I finally got to meet the luthier who built my lute, Mel Wong. Mel gave us a tour of his workshop and taught us how to bend lute ribs. After playing on his instrument for the last year and a half, it was nice to finally shake Mel's hand.
My Sister-In-Law, Michelle, learning to bend lute ribs under the tutelage of luthier Mel Wong
Of course, I also had to get pictures of Alcatraz, sea lions, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Golden Gate Park.
My brother and I, and Alcatraz.
The Pier 39 Sea Lions!
The Palace of Fine Arts (above and below)
chillin' with Lemmy on the beach at Golden Gate Park
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay forever-- I had to get home to resume my teaching and gigging duties in the Dallas area, and my Texas family wanted to make a trip to view the solar eclipse, so I left Sacramento and headed south toward Los Angeles. I stopped at Sequoia National Park and hiked out to see the General Sherman tree to stretch my legs.
Sequoia National Park (above), Gen. Sherman Tree (below)
From there I continued to L.A., but I arrived too late in the day to do much other than get a cool picture of L.A. at night.
Los Angeles at Night
Still, I hiked up to Griffith Observatory hoping to get the ultimate tourist photo: the Hollywood sign.
The Hollywood Sign
No one told me that they don't illuminate it at night, though. Oh well, maybe next time!
I then turned east and drove through Arizona and New Mexico. My last stop before arriving at home was at the Meteor Crater in Winslow, AZ.
Have Gut, Will Travel
I got home and had a night to relax before we all piled into the car to drive the 12 hours to Illinois to watch the solar eclipse. We visited my Great Aunt at her farm, which fell right on the path of totality. It was amazing! I tried to get a few pictures, but a cell phone camera just doesn't cut it.
As totality approached, the sky became as dark as it is at twilight, the rooster got confused and crowed for a half-hour, and the birds went to sleep.
The Solar Eclipse at Totality
The Twilight of Totality
It feels good to at last be settled in at home after a solid month on the road, but I definitely miss all of the breathtaking views, all of the giggling silliness of my niece and nephew, and all of the music-making and learning. I'd like to thank the Lute Society of America and Collegiate Peaks Guitar Retreat for helping me out with scholarships, everyone who donated to the trip, everyone who hosted me and my concerts in their homes, and my family for being so supportive along the way. I can't wait to do this again!
As you probably know, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Lute Society of America's Summer Seminar in Victoria, British Columbia in early August. I have been fundraising for several weeks now to raise the funds necessary for the trip, and I have raised nearly half of the goal amount. I was also recently offered a scholarship to attend the Collegiate Peaks Guitar Retreat in Buena Vista, Colorado from 24-28th July. Denver was the first stop on my trip anyway, so it works out really well-- but it does mean I have to leave a week earlier, and increases costs overall.
All along I was intending to give concerts at each city I stopped in for the night-- Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and Eugene-- but I didn't have a contact in Salt Lake City to help me out. So, I reached out to Utah Classical Guitar to see about setting up a concert while I'm in town. I'm pleased to announce that I will be playing a solo recital at 8pm on Wednesday, August 2nd, at Cottonwood Coves Clubhouse in Murray, Utah. If you know anyone in the Salt Lake City area that might be interested, please pass this information along! Guests are asked to RSVP through the event page on UCG's facebook.
I hope to see you there!
In this second installment of the New Release Spotlight, I am pleased to recommend the new disc from Canadian classical guitarist Emma Rush, Canadiana. From Emma's website, "Canadiana features the music of iconic Canadian songwriters Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Stan Rogers arranged for solo guitar by Floyd Turner, and Appalachian Colours, dedicated to Emma Rush, by Toronto-based composer William Beauvais."
I met Emma at the 2015 Lone Star Guitar Festival and Competition in Weatherford, Texas. I really enjoyed her program, which featured quite a bit of music inspired by folk stories from around the world. I remember being really taken away with Garuda and the Suite del Recuerdo during her performance. I picked up a copy of her album Folklorica, and it's been on heavy rotation in my daily listening ever since. We've kept in touch, and I'm honored to call her one of my friends. She is not only a refined and expressive player, but she's also a great teacher and an inspiration to my own teaching and playing.
I was talking with Emma a few months ago about our mutual love of the work of the Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, and she mentioned that her next project would include a few Lightfoot tunes arranged for solo guitar by Floyd Turner. I was so excited to find a copy in my mailbox yesterday, I rushed into the house and immediately put it on the stereo. I'll admit I broke my own listening rule (first listenings are SUPPOSED to be 'cover to cover'), but in my defense "Pussywillows, Cat-tails" and "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" are two of my favorite songs by Gord. The arrangements are nothing short of wonderful. In fact, I enjoy Emma's playing of Canadian Railroad Trilogy more than the original-- I wish that that quality of rubato and sensitivity to the text was present in Gord's version.
There is a big difference between a straight transcription and an arrangement-- an arrangement implies a level of invention that approaches the song as a composer might. While a strict transcription might be more faithful to the source material harmonically speaking, a great arrangement utilizes the strengths of the instrument to create a new experience, and we see the piece from a new perspective. Mr. Turner's arrangements on the disc do this very well. I'm not as familiar with Joni Mitchell as I am with Gordon Lightfoot, but I really enjoyed "Blue" and "Marcie". Stan Rogers is a brand new name for me, so I had never heard "Northwest Passage" before this disc.
Another new name for me was William Beauvais, whose "Appalachian Colours" suite is dedicated to Emma. The piece is cinematic, and its titles alternately evoke for me the changing leaves of autumn, an early summer drive I once took through Acadia National Park in Maine, and my first sight of Lake Michigan after climbing the dunes at Saugatuck. Green is probably my favorite movement from the suite, though it's a tough call. **Edit: Wait, no, it's Red.
The whole album has a great feel for those long, introspective summer night drives, and I'm really looking forward to taking it on the road with me to Victoria next month!
I'd also like to take a moment to comment on the artwork-- if you've been following this blog, you'll know that one of my biggest pet peeves in the classical music world is the ubiquity of lazy artwork and boring album titles like "Guitar Recital" (not to worry, Naxos; we still love you). In the last "New Release Spotlight" I said I hoped to see more classical artists bringing the same mindfulness and attention to detail to their album art that they bring to the music, and I listed off a bunch of non-classical albums that have what I would consider to be great cover artwork. Had I not been limiting myself to non-classical musicians, I would have cited Emma's Folklorica as the exception to prove the rule and a great example of how artwork can elevate the listener's experience of an album. I don't have my copy of Folklorica within reaching distance to double check, but I believe Richard Talbot is responsible for the artwork on both albums. I really enjoy the unity of his design-- on the inside of the sleeve we are given some liner notes over a background composed of an almost abstract closeup of the bark of a Paper Birch (the same species of tree featured on the front cover), and the disc itself bears a cross section of a log showing the growth rings.
You can get your copy at Emma's website for $20. Stop by, snap up a copy for yourself, and listen to the pictures flow-- across the room, into your mind they go.