July 30, 2012


The 28th was my birthday.  And what better way to spend it than the most complicated and exhausting camp changeover of the summer?

Most weeks, the final band concert of the session takes place on Saturday afternoon.  The kids perform, pack up their stuff, and go home with their parents, leaving us staff a blissful (mostly) chaos-free evening to relax and regather our wits.  On Sunday morning we all sleep in till brunch at 10:30 and await the new batch of campers that show up for registration around noon.  That Sunday night is always a marathon of preparing music for the following morning's rehearsals--we might be up until midnight or later making sure everything is ready--but at least we would have had the evening/morning quasi break in which to recoup some energy.

On the 28th, however, the final band/orchestra concerts happened as usual, but THEN, adult campers arrived, were checked in, and sent to rehearsal sites at 4:30 expecting music, chairs, stands, percussion equipment to be there waiting for them.  The orchestra concert ran long, so the latter 3 items were still in transit when the first rehearsals were supposed to start (the equipment managers have the least downtime of anyone here).  After we got a start tearing down orchestra music, I had to run straight over to Rindt Hall with my crate of music for advanced band.  And of course, because many adult campers don't register till the day they come, there were a bunch of additional folders to be made, large-print copies to be provided, and non-standard instruments to be taken care of...I got a LOT of exercise running back and forth filling specialized orders right up until the final notes of the rehearsal sounded.

No downtime here!

Fortunately, after all the madness from the condensed changeover had subsided (around 8:00 that evening), I had the freedom to load up my little ipod shuffle (thanks Patrick:) with music, and take a restful stroll over to the peace gardens.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I did my final NU bibliography project on "sound art" (a provocative, philosopically challenging, and utterly fascinating topic), I have been dipping my toe into the "ambient music" genre.  By "ambient music" I do not mean the insipid, formulaic, dumbed-down grocery store/elevator music that might initially come to mind for you, but rather, serious compositions that explore (either musically or even just sonically) what can be done with sound in how it relates to space, and which employs a slow--often minimalistic--approach to how it evolves over long stretches of time.

When I go back and read that last sentence, my eyes roll.  It's vague pretension stems from the defensive stance I feel the need to assume when admitting I enjoy an oft-ridiculed and hugely misunderstood genre.  I'll stop apologizing for my taste and just give you a list of the specific selections I included on my playlist that evening:

Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works vol. II 
Brian Eno: Ambient 4: On Land
Vangelis: Alpha (not really in the same class as these others, but instead just one of my favorite--of the non-orchestral--selections from the Cosmos soundtrack)
John Cage: In a Landscape  

While indulging in this unconventional soundtrack (and drenched in bug-spray) I wandered up the road to the gardens--my steps keeping time with occasional rhythmic interludes, and my knotted attentions expanding into the surrounding woods.  It occurred to me that I should probably be enjoying the natural turtle-mountain soundscape instead of plugging myself in to an artificial experience.  From time to time I took out my earbuds and paused to listen to the whir of many dozens of dragonfly wings, bird calls echoing across the distance, and the hush of air rustling through the trees.

When I reached the road's final ascending bend into the garden proper, I got a whiff of fresh-cut hay.  Fields of wildflowers had been mowed into giant cylindrical bales.  They lay scattered over the rolling terrain and offset the geometry of the emerging peace towers to lend an air of surreality to the landscape.

With my mind under the influence of hypnotic soundscapes, my imagination came to life.  My senses seemed simultaneously heightened and dulled, and--lit by the glow of the setting sun--my ascent to the towers transformed and prolonged itself.  I felt as though I were living a dream of ancient childhood.  The age and space of things seemed tangible and I was reminded of similarly transcendent impressions I'd had while hiking alone in the mountains and deserts of Utah.

The sun was setting...

The loons were calling...

And I was definitely tripping!

No drugs required.

I know I sound a little over-the-top here, but I love moments like these.  Illusory or not, they feel eternal and deep.  I feel connected to the land.  I am lonely while blissfully solitary, simultaneously yearning and sated.  My spirit airs out like sheets on a clothesline.

With the sun firmly beyond the horizon I figured I should probably make my way back to camp.  

In the diminishing light Brian Eno's "On Land" sounded more sinister...a good imagination can take the mind in so many directions! A deer bounded across the road in front of me.  Bats soon joined the patrolling dragonflies for a feast of swarming mosquitos (thank GOODNESS my bug spray still seemed to be working!)

July 27, 2012


Sunsets here are regularly as spectacular as sunrises over Lake Michigan.  Tonight I went on a Wal-Mart snack run (yes, that's right...I actually drove over 30 miles to Bottineau in order to get munchies...and from Wal-Mart no less! What is my world coming to?!)  Anyway, it turned out to be a beautiful drive.  The setting sun bloomed through smokey air and well placed clouds, and I could not resist pulling off to the side of the road to capture the scene...

A couple weeks ago I was out after the evening activity chasing down missing band folders.  Normally this is nothing but a hassle, but that evening a storm was rolling in and the sunset-lit clouds were incredible...

The colors seemed right out of a Maxfield Parrish painting, and lightning strikes illuminating their shadowed underbellies added to the dramatic effect.  

July 25, 2012


After finishing "listener" yesterday, I was left feeling underwhelmed by the work and a little empty, but still itching with creative desire.  Faced with yet another blank sheet of paper, I did what I often do these days to distract myself and started playing with my camera and past photos I'd taken...hoping to ignite some sort of spark.

There are only so many things you can do to a photo in preview, iphoto, and Word (that's right...I'm so unwilling to spend money on a real photo-editing program that I just stretch the limits of these less exciting options), and because I was starting with pictures taken with a rather sub-standard camera anyway, my optimistic fiddling still seemed to come up short.  To me the results were contrived and kitschy--and even more so because achieving them took so little effort on my part.  What was even worse, in my mind, was that I just seemed to be endlessly rehashing my old works...stretching thin what substance those efforts may have once had into pallid attempts at depth and originality.

Somehow I still found myself liking these digital doodles...and then blushing with embarrassment because of it.  I felt I could see myself as another more authentic artist might: a zealous aspirant whose side-tracked talents had never progressed beyond the promise of mildly interesting juvenilia...an aging wannabe trying to pass off bored electronic fiddling as some sort of brilliance.

Though I've had a few public shows in the past, and I always love to hear that others appreciate works I've done, my prime creative motivation has always been personal expression.  I feel that the end results turn out better when I'm not concerned about how others view my works.  Such an attitude provides a safe stage upon which to experiment, fail, succeed, and try-try-again to my heart's content.  As I age, however, I find this unselfconsciousness is increasingly harder to maintain.

Still, the creative urge burns on: whether--at the end of the night--fortune smiles and I'm able to complete something I consider a personal masterpiece, or I only end up writing mediocre poetry superimposed upon old photos overlaid in Microsoft Word.

...Try, try, again...

July 24, 2012


It's my day off.

I finished a sketch I'd been picking away at for a few days.

Don't know quite what it's supposed to be, but I was listening to natural soundscape recordings and a Bulgarian Women's choir when I started...and then a few episodes of Selected Shorts and The Moth to finish up.

I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it's called "listener."

July 18, 2012

Peace Garden Photo Tour

Yesterday was my day off.  It was badly needed.  In the evening I went to the Peace Gardens with my cousin Alice (who works at IMC as an equipment manager), and spent a couple hours taking pictures together.  Her camera is MUCH nicer than mine, but I think I still got a few interesting shots.

The Peace Gardens straddle the border between the U.S. and Canada: the longest undefended border in the world. 

There are numerous fountains and well tended flower gardens...

...though a few weeds still manage to poke through here and there.  I loved the way this spider stretched out its legs in front and behind as if to mimic the appearance of his perch.

The soaring cement forms of the peace towers cap the westernmost edge of the gardens.  From a distance (as in the garden picture above), they remind me of the "two towers" of the old world trade center, while up close they are majestic and striking...

During sunset, they can be unforgettable...

Because the sun rises so early here I've missed my usual sunrise walks, but we were fortunate last night to be treated to one of North Dakota's spectacular sunsets...

July 13, 2012

2 little miracles

Underneath the eaves of the Alme Center--the building in which the brand-new-fancy-schmancy IMC library is housed--live a number of swallow families in their characteristically built mud nests.  About a week ago, Kaytee (one of the other librarians) found that three of the babies had fallen to the sidewalk.  She called me over with a distressed look on her face and pointed out their crumpled little bodies all huddled together in a pitiful lump of flesh and pinfeathers.  Though all were alive, they were young enough that none of their eyes had opened and one seemed severely injured.  It had been a long way for them to fall.  My heart broke.  I didn't think they had much hope of surviving, but to make sure they'd at least be able to avoid being carelessly trampled by choir-week campers, I carefully picked them up and moved them over to an inconspicuous spot away from the sidewalk.  If I could have figured out what and how to feed them I might have found a box or something at least moderately protected in which to house them, but I have neither the knowledge or the skill to care for baby swallows, so I just had to hope that their parents were still around somewhere and that they'd eventually find and care for their misplaced young.

The first night I left the babies alone I figured it was likely they'd be dead by morning--either from the effects of their traumatic displacement, or from the jaws of some nighttime carnivore.  The next morning brought mixed news.  The one who'd seemed more injured hadn't made it...but the other two were hanging on!  An even more encouraging sign was that their parents were furious with me!  As I picked up the babies and moved them to a more sheltered spot out of the sun, mom and dad swallow swooped around my head chirping furiously.  What a relief to know that they had not been abandoned and would at least be fed and moderately protected.  Another bit of good fortune was that the weather has been warm and dry all week--nearly perfect conditions for giving the little ones as good a chance as any.

Unfortunately, a few days after the initial fall, 2 more young swallows tumbled out of the unlucky nest. Neither survived.  I moved their bodies off the sidewalk and rested all my hopes on their two siblings.  With their eyes now open and mature feathers quickly coming in they were becoming more and more adorable every day.

Here's their progress as of yesterday morning...

The larger of the two has even started to flap his wings a bit.  It's only a matter of time before they're both strong enough to begin venturing out into the wide world beyond the library.  I am amazed by their will to survive and by the tenacity of their parents...though I do look forward to not being dive-bombed every time I leave the building!

July 11, 2012

Northern Lights

PLEASE Forget that it's been an eternity since I last posted.

A brief sum-up:

I graduated!!!!! (Miracle of Miracles!)  Here's my diploma.

I am currently working as a Music Librarian at the International Music Camp on the Border of the U.S. and Canada about 14 miles north of Dunsieth North Dakota.

There are 5 wonderful trumpet players on staff here (2 equipment managers, a dean, a concessionist, and a librarian...that's me!), and during the first three weeks, we teamed up with the 2 trumpet faculty members and performed some trumpet ensemble stuff before the annual Old-Fashioned "Ice-Cream Social" concert at the Masonic Auditorium.

Here we are enjoying a sweet reward after the show.  From left to right we are: me, Miles (from Winnipeg), Mark Boren (Professor of high brass at Minot State University), Dr. Tim Farrell (music dept. chair at the Univeristy of South Dakota...and an NU alum!), Anthony (from D.C.), Ryan (from Minneapolis), and Clayton (from Brazil).

Yesterday was my day off and Clayton, Anthony, and I drove down to Minot State for a group lesson with Mark, whose teaching time at IMC has ended for the summer.  We spent a fantastic afternoon learning trumpet together and then treated ourselves to a great dinner at the Alaska Alder Grill.  I really should talk more about our experiences here, but I have about 10 minutes before I have to get back to work, so must be brief.  Suffice it to say Mark is an outstanding teacher and we hope to return for more next week.

We didn't start heading back to IMC till about 11:00, but the sky was still glowing with the last vestiges of the northern sunset.  After about an hour of driving, darkness finally arrived. Even through a bug-spattered windshield I could see we were traveling under pristinely dark skies.  Though it was late and we were all eager to reach our beds at the camp I felt myself longing to pull over and bask under the starry vista.

Almost in passing I began to observe an interesting sky glow to the north.  We were out in the middle of nowhere farmland and I knew there were no substantial cities that would be radiating such luminescence.  I leaned over to Clayton and said, "I might be crazy, but I wonder if those are the northern lights..."  Once I noticed the shine changed shape over time I decided I had to pull over and get a better (and safer) view.  We were virtually alone on the highway--hadn't passed a soul in either direction for some time--and once out in the open air a chorus of insects was the only sound to be heard. Anthony stayed sleeping in the car, but Clayton and I stood at the side of the road and marveled at the spray of stars gleaming above our heads and that strange pale shimmer in its slow dance across the northern horizon.  There was no question now.  Though not quite as brilliant as in photos I'd seen, the waving sheets of light were unmistakably the Aurora Borealis.

After a few minutes of excited observing, we resumed our tired journey back to IMC.  As we left Dunsieth and ascended through the Turtle "Mountains" a pumpkin orange half moon rose in the east and Clayton speculated about whether or not Bigfoot might reside in the surrounding woods.