Mixing Kids and Touring

This week marks our saying good-bye to our caregiver Ginny of 15 years as our youngest child also turns 12. Some reflections on touring as Duo Concertante while trying to raise two kids seemed timely somehow.

In 1998 we’d just gotten our first agent, were starting to do showcase events, had some good reviews in our newly developed press kit. It was an exciting time and we could feel our career gaining momentum. One day that year we also – to our immense surprise – found ourselves to be expecting. Our doctor, the bearer of this shocking and ultimately of course wonderful news, took about an hour to talk through how our lives could work as performers – continue to tour, for example – and have a baby. We basically (and gratefully) followed all her advice, hiring Ginny shortly after our daughter’s arrival.

Until our oldest was five years old, we always toured with our kids. When we could afford it, we took Ginny with us. This helped enormously in terms of being able to practice easily, not worry about the kids while on stage, etc.  We remember a trip to NYC with our baby daughter.   As Nancy warmed up in our hotel room, we recall watching out the window as our daughter and Ginny happily but with some trepidation headed for Macy’s. There were lots of good times touring as a foursome, then as a fivesome – eating good meals together, visiting interesting and beautiful places. But, even with a sitter, touring with young children was difficult.  Sleep was in short supply as both of our kids didn’t sleep through the night until they were 2 and a half (That equals five years of being a zombie. Clara Schumann: how did you do it?). Drinking lots of coke before concerts helped but sometimes it, apparently, wasn’t enough. One reviewer wrote that the violinist “seemed asleep in the first work but woke up for the Bartok.” That was probably an astute comment.

Often it just wasn’t possible financially to take Ginny along and we would make arrangements with local presenters to find us a caregiver. Most times this worked out (as far as we knew!). But once a presenter arranged for herself to be the sitter.  Nancy had described the needs of our baby son over email before we arrived – he was happy if he was pushing his stroller or, when he got tired, being pushed in it at a fairly quick tempo.  The lady over email said that that would be no problem. When we arrived at the church where we were to give the concert, we discovered the presenter/sitter was very elderly and had major mobility challenges.  Her plan was to keep the two kids near us in the church nursery; she assured us that she could push our son around in the stroller.  We played our concert, thankfully (sort of) oblivious to the two hours of howls of a strapped in baby being pushed slowly forward and backwards over just two feet. Obviously he survived.

Of course, travelling with babies and toddlers does throw a wrench in the image of the jet-setting glamorous touring musician.  A trip to BC for just one concert with baby translated into hours of feeding on the plane, much to the exhaustion of Nancy.  The end result was meeting our lovely presenters at the airport, dripping wet with regurgitated sour milk.  Another memory is trying to wash our baby in a Pearson airport sink – his/her (identity withheld) head, tummy, arms, legs, face, you name it, after a massive diaper malfunction.

The most difficult moment in all of this was when we had to start leaving our kids behind with either our parents or with Ginny.  Our first such trip was to China for two weeks when our kids were just two and a half and five.  It was the longest two weeks of our lives and in those first few hours in particular Nancy felt like she’d lost a limb.  The lump in her throat was the size of the grapefruit and during interminable, jetlag induced sleepless nights in a land that felt like another planet we pined for our children. (That lump in the throat is still always there whenever we take that taxi ride to the St John’s airport without our kids.) When you feel this immense internal conflict and miss your family so much, you end up walking on stage telling yourself, “You’d better make this really matter.” Somehow, the music part does really matter. It’s who you are. But you’re never really sure that performing is not a ridiculously selfish act somehow.

Our next blog will be about our tour in England, Scotland, and Germany. Happily, our kids are along for this one.

Recapitulation and Prelude (2013 and 2014)

There are some things we’re always going to remember about 2013:

– The thrill of playing in Carnegie Hall and the hair-raising few days before! (Read bottom of our blog for the blow by blow if you haven’t already). We know we’ll never forget that!

– Releasing the Beethoven album. Of course, we’ve written about this already but as part of saying good-bye to 2013 we want to thank the team that made this album possible – David Jaeger, producer; Dennis Patterson, engineer; Francine Labelle, publicist; and Earl Rosen and Dinah Hoyle at Marquis. We owe them much. We also want to share a lovely review we’ve gotten since the album’s European release in September– from the Wiener Zeitung.

– Premiering Vince Ho’s Maples and the Stream at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Evelyn Hart was truly extraordinary. She memorized the entire 30 minutes of text, always knew exactly how it fit with the complex score (what a musician she is!), staged and directed the entire piece, and ultimately mesmerized the audience with her intensity, energy and authenticity. Vince’s evocative and masterful score communicated the depth, subtlety and subtext of the words by Lein Chao, but also provided a large-scale structural arc to her seven lyrical poems. Audiences both in Ottawa and Barrie were transfixed.

Maples and the Stream at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, Ontario

Maples and the Stream at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, Ontario.

– Creating some new videos. Thanks to Rich Blenkinsopp and the School of Music at Memorial University for their expertise and assistance in this. We’re especially proud of the Bach Sonata no. 4, Sicilienne. (I first studied this with my wonderful teacher and the great violinist Masuko Ushioda, who, I am very sad to say, passed away in May. Playing it always makes me think of her.)

– Playing double concertos. We got the chance to play the Andrew MacDonald Concerto and the Mendelssohn Double. Always a thrill to solo with an orchestra. Here we are before and after the performance of the Mendelssohn with the NSO.

Walking on stage in St. John's to perform the Mendelssohn Double.

Walking on stage in St. John’s to perform the Mendelssohn Double.

With Marc David.  The final chord!

With Marc David. The final chord!

Which leads me to the Prelude section of this entry, or, what we’re looking forward to in 2014:

– Recording the MacDonald and Mendelssohn concertos! This was supposed to take place in December 2013 but our engineer unfortunately broke his hand! The sessions will take place in September 2014, and we expect the disc to be ready by Feb. 2014.

– Playing concerts in Germany, England and Scotland. Between April 26 and May 12 we’ll be touring in Europe, playing as a Duo but also as a trio with cellist Heather Tuach of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. In addition to the regular evening concerts, we have school concerts in Germany, which we’re excited about too!

– Learning and performing all the Schubert violin and piano works. Our next big project starts next fall with concerts featuring the 3 Sonatinas, the Duo, Fantasy and Rondo.

– A new commission or two… more adventures with Evelyn… another recording (Bach Sonatas)… but we’ll leave these for another entry!

June and Beyond….

Being part of a larger creative team is wonderful. June began with a three-day workshop in Toronto of the new work Maples and the Stream with composer, Vince Ho and narrator Evelyn Hart. Vince has created a moving, dynamic, and intense 30-minute work and which embodies and enlightens the dramatic narrative arc of Lien Chao’s beautiful text. Together, the music and lyrical poetry trace one woman’s journey from China to Canada over four decades and her struggle and search for freedom and for free artistic expression. Evelyn Hart is an immense creative force who performs with such passion, conviction and honesty. Her musicianship and timing astound us every time we work with her. It was an inspiring 3 days and we look forward to the world premiere on August 3 at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Here are some shots by the gifted photographer Christopher Manson from the sessions:

Evelyn Hart

Evelyn Hart

Nancy, Vince, and Tim

Nancy, Vince, and Tim

"This is where things begin to unravel," says Nancy, "in the second bar!"

“This is where things begin to unravel,” says Nancy, “right here in the second bar!”

"You're pretty good, Tim," says Evelyn.  "You must have had lessons as a kid!"

“You’re pretty good, Tim,” says Evelyn. “You must have had lessons as a kid!”

Back in St. John’s we started work on a video project for our Youtube channel. We decided to record and shoot two of our favourite movements – the Sicilienne from Bach’s Sonata in c minor and the Presto finale from the Beethoven “Kreutzer” Sonata. Thanks to Rich Blenkinsopp and his team at Memorial University for their hard work on these so far. The videos should be completed in a couple of month. In the meantime, here is a still of Nancy from the shoot:
Video still of Nancy

We look forward to the summer for many reasons. One of the most meaningful of these is the chance to work and play with exciting young talent at various festivals, concerts and workshops. First in July, Nancy goes off to Domaine Forget for a week of teaching (July 14-20). Following the Ottawa Festival where we play 3 concerts and give a master class (August 2-4th), we go straight into our Tuckamore Festival (August 5-19th). This year there will be 21 young artists from across Canada and the US studying and performing chamber music by Shostakovich, Smetana, Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann and Dvorak. They will be joined by two emerging composers who will take part in the festival’s newly added Young Composers program under the mentorship of award-winning Andrew Staniland. Following Tuckamore, we perform and give masterclasses at the Indian River Festival in Prince Edward Island (August 23rd and 24th). At the end of August we are thrilled to be soloists with the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra (one of the country’s very best young orchestras!) in Andrew P. MacDonald’s wonderful Double Concerto under the direction of Dinuk Wijeratne. Concerts are in Lunenburg (August 29) and Halifax (August 30th). Good times!