An intern's reflection on the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
A member of the trio Else, if Else reflects on their summer residency in Banff, Alberta.
For those of you who have not been to Banff National Park, in Alberta, Canada let me suggest that you plan a trip as soon as possible. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places in North America, famous for its turquoise-colored lakes, but is home to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
The Banff Centre began with a singular course in Drama in 1933 and has since expanded to a whole campus that hosts residencies and educational programs for all artistic disciplines. It was built on the base of the beautiful Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain and has multiple performance spaces as well as an art gallery and some tasty food! I am telling you about the Banff Centre because I was lucky enough to call it home for part of my summer.
This summer my contemporary music trio, Else, if Else was invited to be an ensemble in residence at the Banff Centre’s Evolution: Classical 2022 program. We spent three weeks with 24 other musicians/composers and an amazing group of mentors working to prepare a concert program. Everyone at Evolution Classical was pursuing a different sort of project, but we all had one thing in common – a desire to build upon our training as classical musicians and create something new.
My trio, Else, if Else was founded during my undergraduate degree when my two musician friends, Ben and Nolan, and I decided we wanted to gain more experience playing contemporary chamber music. Ben is a pianist and a composer who is currently on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship studying composition, dance, and exploring the role. Nolan is a percussionist who is finishing his MM in performance and chamber music at the University of Michigan. I am a double bassist pursuing my MM in performance with a certificate in arts leadership.
Else, if Else is a trio of double bass, percussion, and piano. Shortly after we began playing together, we realized this was something we wanted to pursue more seriously. However, it soon became apparent that although this instrumentation is used frequently in jazz, there is a significant lack of classical music for our trio.
Although all three of us share a love of jazz and enjoy playing it, we had a vastly different vision for our ensemble. We began searching for composers to collaborate with and started commissioning contemporary music. To date, we have commissioned more than seven new works, and are in the process of commissioning more. By commissioning music, we get to continue exploring our unique instrumentation.
We came to Banff to work on putting two of our commissioned pieces into a cohesive concert with a creative format, and we were able to achieve just that. We were given a studio of our own to work in with all the mics and instruments we asked for – that’s a big deal when you need a grand piano, marimba, vibraphone, double bass, several smaller percussion instruments, and many microphones – and time to rehearse with amazing guidance from mentors along the way.
Our work resulted in a concert that premiered two of our commissions; John Supko’s “Biloxi Anapanasati” and Nomi Epstein’s “Placing” interspersed with our own field recordings and improvisations. The Ensemble: Evolution program gave us the remarkable freedom to create, as well as guidance by mentors who treated our work with the utmost care and respect. What is even more incredible, is that these types of programs are happening year-round at the Banff Centre.