This post is dedicated to my dear friend Chris Stone, co-artistic director of Stringmania, band leader of The String Contingent and general mischief maker, who helped instigate my new musical lease on life.
Earlier this year I sat on a plane with a feeling that could only be described as a mixture of gleeful excitement, anticipation and terror. You may think it strange but I skipped the traditional long haul flight movie marathon and instead opted for oscillation between writing tunes on my new AKAI MPK mini synth keyboard, listening on those wonderful noise cancelling beasts to the likes of Edgar Meyer and the Punch Brothers, and getting lost in a sweet little magical book called The Night Circus. Sitting through a 14 hour flight to LA, a 9 hour (delayed) stop over and a final 5 hour leg, I arrived in Toronto, Canada, which was a balmy -18°c with a wind chill factor of -30°c.
But here’s the thing guys – it’s warm inside and musicians spend most of their time indoors obsessing over sounds, so the snowy crispness of Toronto’s extremes was simply another very nice inspiration source. Plus – I didn’t travel halfway around the world to talk about the weather.
Why and how an earth was I in Toronto? Simply: a human of the music variety and arrival via aircraft.
Over the last few years I had somehow moved away from a lot of the music I truly loved – life was obscured by a lot of goals in business I had set myself and things were just snowballing in a direction that I suddenly realised was not my own. This all dawned upon me in a very real way at, in my opinion, one of the best music camps Australia has to offer – STRINGMANIA. I was fortunate enough to be a tutor there in 2018 and as their website aptly describes – I was “surrounded by other eager and passionate musicians, all seeking out their own answers, and supporting you to find yours.”
I was truly in my happy place at Stringmania and it prompted a big shift of direction back into full time music making. I was able to spend time there with people I admire as musicians and humans, and who – let’s face it – are gloriously fun to be around. Once the week of bliss, learning and creation was over, I needed to allow it all to spill over and continue into ‘normal’ life. So I made changes. I ripped myself away from things I had spent years toiling over and building. Communities, people, dance, music. It was difficult, but it has been incredibly enlightening and now the snowball has been spinning rapidly in a more wholesome direction for my musical soul.
Once I opened my life again to the new/old ways of being me, opportunities presented themselves and I created them – one after another. Through this process I am constantly feeling myself exposed, out of practice with what it is to be a vulnerable musician, allowing myself to write new music, words and sounds to be shared and scrutinised by fellow musicians and audiences. As I described the feels in the beginning of this post, a mixture of glee and terror seem ever present.
Here’s the thing: It’s lonely if you don’t share your music making and existential musical woes with other musicians! So I have been seeking like minded and similarly musically inclined humans to create with. They have come in many shapes and forms over the past months, although I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking that hard when this Canadian-Australian collab opportunity presented.
This new music human that has appeared in the happiness tapestry is Canadian multi-instrumentalist and producer Jaron Freeman-Fox, whose music I had been aware of before attending Stringmania, and since he too was a tutor there, I was gladly able to get to know a little over the course of the week. Known foremost for his 5 string fiddle, he also plays viola d’amore, Mongolian horse hair fiddle, Bulgarian gadulka, Carnatic classical Indian music, hardanger fiddle, guitar, tuvan throat sings and strums a sweet banjo (one of my favs). So I suggest you check some of his scrumptabulous music creations out at https://jaronfreemanfox.com.
We both seem to inhabit the space in the musical sphere between folk, world, jazz and … other. Let’s be clear – it’s a large space to be in and there are countless incredible musicians, traditions and creations to discover and delve into. What sets Jaron apart from many, and what drew me to investigate his practices further, is the way he so comfortably seems to absorb and play an array of traditional folk, whilst producing music that fuses genres ingeniously and integrates digital technology and effects processing in a highly successful and seamless manner.
Lucky for me, accordion is one of his favourites (hold off on the accordion/banjo jokes friends!), so it didn’t take long until a hair brained scheme came together for me to hang out in Canada for a music experimenting-get to know you better-mentor/collab session. In true serious musician form I proceeded to write a grant for the initial beginnings of a hopefully fruitful collaboration and I would like to take a moment to thank the good people at Create NSW who approved my application which greatly helped facilitate the beginnings of this project.
Fast forward to actual Toronto hangs and I have to say it has been a long time since I felt this inspired and experienced a strong sense of direction in my music. I have also never felt quite so much out of my depth in the approach to music that Jaron has and I loved every moment of feeling challenged, at times lacking in areas I have been inspired to tackle and above all, a sense of joy to explore so many aspects of music with a like minded human. A couple of weeks was of course not nearly enough time to delve very deep, but it was indeed a generous and auspicious start!
So … back in Oz, I am working on a few key areas of my musical understanding to take me to the next new place I want to be. Namely: understanding digital effects processing and setting up a rig for my accordion, clearer competence in rhythmic complexities, and using better these wonderful things called ears over visual notation. Plus of course – continuing to write a whole bunch of new songs and tunes to collaborate on a proper album later this year with the venerable Mr Freeman-Fox.
I leave you with a sweet video created of a short moment picked from a 25 minute long free jam session from Jaron’s studio in Toronto. I felt it fits nicely with imagery of the long snowy ride we took with friends one day.
This Project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW