Our last concert of the season was at Duke University, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months. We were last there in 2013, but I still remembered the amazing southern hospitality like it was yesterday. And this time was no different. All of us spent an inordinate amount of time just discovering all that the table had to offer. It was actually hard to tear ourselves away from the food to go do our sound check. Every time we had thirty seconds of break, someone would disappear and come back with crumbs all over their shirt. Gourmet chocolate, toffee, locally made cheeses, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, food bars we’ve never seen before, not to mention the craft beer and bottle of Laphroaig (okay, that’s on Will’s rider, but still) – I mean, it gives smorgasbord a whole new definition. And for those of you who are looking at the pictures and shrugging your shoulders, you have to understand, this stuff means a lot to touring musicians who have to eat crap on the road all the time and are at the mercy of presenters the day of a show when we’re spending all day tech-ing.

Baldwin Auditorium is no slouch, either. They had just finished renovations when we played there in 2013, and it’s still impressive. The hall is absolutely beautiful in its new state, with gorgeous acoustics and a fancy plenum underneath the perforated stage. I caught our presenter on his hands and knees in the green room inspecting some possibly loose baseboard, and it reminded me that last time we were here I saw him fretting over some other small imperfection that only he can see. I guess when it’s your home, every detail matters. We decided at the last minute to work up a couple more of Will’s songs as encores (it’s never too late) and we found ourselves wishing we had done that from the beginning. It really rounded out the evening and our season in a lovely way.

We’re done touring for the time being, but still working like mad behind the scenes as we prepare for the inaugural Blackbird Creative Lab in T minus 4 weeks and 4 days!

Nope, I didn’t spell it wrong. We just spent a couple days in Portland and got to observe what legalized marijuana does to a city. You can walk into a dispensary and buy edibles, vape pens, joints, what have you, just like you’re going into a liquor store and picking up a six-pack. You tell the budtender what kind of high you’re looking for and she makes recommendations. Like, it’s totally normal. There’s no looking over your shoulder or meeting a shady dude in a dark alley  or quickly putting out joints and holding your breath when you see a cop – not that I’ve ever done any of that, of course. As a visitor, all this makes you giddy, like the first time I walked into a casino and pulled a slot machine lever. But after about ten minutes of wrapping my brain around it, it ceased to be a thing and just became the new normal.

The day of our performance happened to be an unusually beautiful day, and we had a nice view of a park across the street from our green room windows. It was filled with Portlandians lying in the sun, having their dinner, taking a stroll after work, and, as Nick discovered, smoking pot. He decided to enjoy the weather after dinner; he wandered out and sat in the park to talk on the phone, and when he came back, he said he thought he might be high from all the second-hand smoke. So there’s that.

When we got to Seattle and found out it’s basically the same deal there, it was just shrugs all around. But now that I’m writing this from Durham, NC, far away from the potopia that is the Pacific Northwest, it all feels like a distant dream…

We just got back from a wonderful couple of days in New York (the state), where we visited Cornell and Syracuse University. Cornell is special to me because my little sister went to law school there. If you have ever known anyone that was in law school, you know that for three years, that person was basically in a black hole. She didn’t come home for holidays, she didn’t answer the phone, she didn’t reply to texts. All I know is that she came out of there with two desires: to live in a place that was flat, and to own a Subaru Forester. She has both those things now, and after our visit to Ithaca, I think I understand why. I decided to go for a little walk our first morning there to get coffee and explore a bit. The landscape is rugged but stunningly beautiful. I wandered around a bit and then decided to go up Buffalo Street  – and I do mean up. It was a sunny and not-too-warm day, but I soon found myself wondering if I was going to have a heart attack, not from exertion but from fear that if I tried to stand up straight, I would fall over backwards and roll down the hill to my death. When I told my sister this, she scoffed and said, “try doing that in snow and ice.” It all makes sense to me now.

We performed in Barnes Hall, which is a lovely brick and stained-glass venue that looked perfect for Shakespearean plays. How serendipitous that we had so much spoken text in our program with Composition as Explanation and Counting Duets. We did have a couple of compulsive texters in the front row (why are they always in the front row??) that I didn’t see but were right in Nick’s line of vision, so you can bet we heard him kvetch about that for several hours afterwards. But there was also a young couple in the front row dressed to the nines that were absolutely rapt the entire time, so it all evened out.

The next night we headed to Syracuse University, where we split up for some master classes with string players, a quartet, and a couple flutists. We heard the theme music to a Japanese shogun drama, as well as a really lovely string quartet movement by a student composer.  Then some of us decided to go back to the hotel to rest a bit before the show, and I decided to drive the half-mile or so because my glutes were so sore from Buffalo Street the day before. Big mistake. When I tried to drive back, what should have been a two-minute trip turned into a fifteen-minute curse-fest, as Google continually led me into dead-ends and told me to turn the wrong way down one-way streets. Steering with one hand and watching the blue arrow spinning uncontrollably in wild circles, I really started to panic that I might never find my way out of the forestry school (only Google knows how I got there, and she’s not telling). Finally, I threw the phone on the floor and looked for the high points, remembering that Hendricks Chapel was on a hill. I did eventually bushwhack my way back in time for the show, no thanks to Google. (I hereby warn you that Google is wholly unreliable on college campuses, which are in my experience designed to either trap visitors or scare them away. Navigate at your own risk.)

We played the show to a small but enthusiastic audience in Hendricks Chapel, which is a remarkable all-faith, including no-faith, spiritual and ethical center of the university. It’s the only place of worship I’ve encountered that has foot-washing stations in the public restrooms, which I thought was nothing short of amazing. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a visit…if you can find it.

 

 

There are tons of talented, driven people doing really interesting things right here in our own (big) backyard of Chicago, but not all of them have the resources we do to realize their art. We wanted to help, so we recently started a new initiative that we’re calling the Chicago Artists Workshop. We didn’t have to look hard to find three very different but equally cool artists to kick off this program: Cory Hills, Deidre Huckabay, and Parlour Tapes+. They all have different needs but basically we were ready to provide them with promotional, logistical, and production support; including use of the ensemble’s rehearsal space, access to a wide array of instruments and audio/video equipment, and use of the organization’s marketing infrastructure. Plus, it was cool to enter our Studio B space and see a shelf full of Deidre’s stuffed animals.

We had a flurry of activity during the first week of April.  Since Cory is great at working with kids, we helped him set up a performance at Chiaravalle Montessori School, which happens to be across the street from Matthew’s house and where he sends his own children. He also performed at Narloch Piano Studio and Ravinia School.

Both Cory and Deidre had a great performance at Comfort Station – check out the pictures in the gallery to see the stuffed animals in action! It was wonderful to see the fruit of their hard work and to know that we had some hand in helping them. Stay tuned for more news about the Chicago Artists Workshop and for the announcement of next year’s artists.

We are thrilled to announce the 30 fellows that have been selected for the inaugural year of the Blackbird Creative Lab, our new tuition-free summer training program. The Lab’s mission is to inspire the next generation of performers and composers to share in the ensemble’s vision: to champion a distinctive, dynamic and engaging performance aesthetic. Click here to learn more about The Lab and the uniquely talented group of artists that will take part in this wonderful new initiative!

> Read the NewMusicBox feature

Last night we hosted a little – or at least we thought it would be little – private event for our closest friends and fans. We ended up with over 40 people in attendance, but somehow it still felt intimate. The night was dedicated to non-Eighth Blackbird projects near and dear to our hearts, and we heard some performances of works from those projects. Matthew played a Burtner piece that will be featured on his solo MCA show in a couple weeks, Lisa played Vicky/Vicki by Andy Akiho, which she has been performing on other programs, and Nick played Angelica Negron’s Panorama, which he recorded for his solo album coming out on New Amsterdam very soon. Nathalie, Michael and I performed a movement of David Lang’s Composition as Explanation, and we capped off the evening with a performance of an old favorite, Doublespeak, by Nico Muhly.

We also had some other exciting news for our guests. They received a sneak peek of the 30 fellows, formally announced today, that are coming to the Lab! Nathalie put together a wonderful compilation of the fellows’ reacting to the news of their acceptance, which, after overcoming some technical glitches, we were able to show to our delighted guests. (Why is it that when you test something it works fine, and later, when you need it to work for real, it never does? Is there some kind of scientific law governing this phenomenon?)

We also gave our guests a little preview of what’s on the menu for our first ever online auction. We have some pretty great packages to see The National, Pitchfork Festival, and yours truly in LA and Chicago, some unique artisan items, the signed first page of the score to Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak, and so much more! Get excited, tell your friends, and CLICK HERE to head to the auction site.

 

Do you feel like a winner?

We hope so, because Eighth Blackbird’s very own online auction site is up…

…and lemme tell you, ebay’s got nothin’ on us! We have curated a very exclusive collection of experiences and one-of-a-kind items just for you.

Pitchfork, Eaux Claires, The National? We got it.

Shows in Chicago, LA, Portland? You’re going.

Signed manuscript? Find it here.

Check it out – we guarantee there’s something for everyone. We advise you to bid early and bid hard, because you only have until April 30 to get in on the action. And if you don’t wanna play the nail-biting last-minute game, you can always click that beautiful Buy It Now button. Ah, instant gratification!

Wait, what’s that you say? You already have enough travel, culture, and tchotchkes?  You can still donate at any time! Remember, all the auction and donation proceeds go toward Eighth Blackbird’s commissioning and educational efforts, including the inaugural Blackbird Creative Lab happening June 2017. Thanks in advance – we are so grateful to you because none of the work we do is possible without you.

Now go bid!

Only a short week after getting back from Australia and reuniting with our home city and our home people, we found ourselves in Ann Arbor reuniting with our Reich dream team, last together at Notre Dame at the end of September. This time the program included Sextet, with Matthew and Lisa joining newly Grammy-awarded Third Coast Percussion in a scintillating rendition.

It was all live-streamed on UMS’s website – check out the screen shots from our fans above. There was also a live interview backstage during intermission, during which I basically walked right through and in front of the cameras (sorry about that dufus move, UMS, and whoever was watching online at the time).

But I’m sure that was quickly forgotten as we embarked on the journey that is Music for 18 Musicians, a piece that is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, heart-pounding and meditative. It was on the very first program I ever played as a member of Eighth Blackbird, also with Third Coast Percussion, at Millennium Park for an audience of, oh, only about 9,500 people.  It was quite a frightening and very public way for me to start my tenure. And while not Millennium Park, Hill Auditorium is no slouch either. I was shocked when I heard that it seats 3500, because it looks much more intimate from the stage. Willie, the Front-of-House Coordinator, told us that they call it the Big House of the Arts (after the Michigan stadium, of course). And with about 2100 in attendance, it seemed a Big House indeed.

 

Painful as it was to leave Melbourne, we quickly set our sights on our impending visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, buying tickets online as soon as we landed in Brisbane. We shoved our luggage into our rooms and ran back downstairs to catch an Uber to the sanctuary. It was already past 2pm and koala cuddling ended at 4:30, so there wasn’t a moment to lose. I have never seen Nathalie so excited about anything. I mean, she was close to tears as we entered the car park. So when they told us that koala cuddling tickets (an extra $18 fee) were sold out, I was genuinely expecting Nathalie to chuck a wobbly at the employee. We would be allowed to pet them, but not allowed to hold them.  Apparently too many tourists had already come through and manhandled the poor koalas, who were all humaned out. You’ve never seen such disappointment. I wanted to cry just looking at Nathalie’s face.

We slowly came to terms with our disappointment as we meandered through the sanctuary. All the wonderful and unexpected creatures helped. We were first greeted by a bearded dragon, which we soon realized had compadres lurking in every corner. There were also wild turkeys running about. Our spirits lifted by these encounters, we made a beeline for the koalas. There was a mom and joey enclosure, a bachelor pad enclosure, a kindy koala enclosure, and the cuddling station. Adam made a valiant effort at talking them into letting us hold Buckley, the koala of the day, but Buckley’s handler wasn’t having it. We were allowed up only one at a time to pet Buckley – and only on the lower back portion, please – and his handler kept us to about 30 seconds each. I’ll be honest: I was only there because I have a young son and I have to be able to tell him I pet a koala in Australia. But as soon as I touched Buckley’s soft dense fur, I was charmed. And I’ll be damned if my heart didn’t melt instantly at the sight of koala moms cuddling with their joeys. And Nathalie? I think her voice went up at least two octaves.

After some quality time with the koalas, we moved onto dingoes, tasmanian devils, platypuses, kookaburras, snakes, monitor lizards and emus, among others. Then it was time for a refreshment in the cafe, where we were tortured by a wall of celebrities holding koalas. Nathalie immediately found Janet Jackson, and Adam immediately found Grover (yes, from Sesame Street). John Paul II and the Queen Mother also got koala cuddles. If only we were famous.

After studying other visitors in the kangaroo enclosure feeding the roos out of hand and surviving, we each bought packets of kangaroo food and tried our hand as well. Aside from the unavoidable roo poo, it was an exhilarating experience to walk amongst the kangaroos and feed them right out of your hand. They were extremely docile, but we still kept a safe distance from the moms carrying joeys. For the most part they were pretty small, except for one which was as big as a pony and was patrolling the enclosure from the outside, probably for obvious reasons. We basically closed out the sanctuary hanging out with the kangaroos as the caretakers made noises about locking us in. We made one last pass through the koalas and then had to say goodbye. They escaped our grasp this time, but mark me well: if we are ever back, they will not escape a second time.

 

If cities are like celebrities, Sydney is Beyonce. She’s the Queen Bey, enough said. Constantly in the public eye, she’s impeccable in performance, everyone loves her, everyone wants to see her, everyone wants to take pictures of her.

What about Bey’s little sister Solange? If you don’t know who Solange is, that’s because she’s been flying under the radar this whole time. Solange might once have only been known as Beyonce’s little sister, but the younger, hipper Knowles is now quietly emerging as a performer and creative force in her own right after years churning out hits behind the scenes as a songwriter.

Melbourne is Sydney’s Solange. We love and adore Sydney, but we really wanna hang out and be friends with Melbourne.

Melbourne doesn’t have a flashy harbor with a world-famous opera house and bridge. But it does have a river lined with hipster bars and daring architecture. Beards are oiled and coiffed, hemlines are asymmetrical, socks are colorful and quirky. Sydney is up to its eyeballs in luxury name brands, but Melbourne is where you’ll see someone walking down the street wearing something you’ve never seen before and you can’t help but do a double take because they look so effortlessly cool. Fitzroy, I’m talking to you.

We  logged over 15,000 steps exploring Fitzroy. Almost every window display drew us in, and I spent more money on Gertrude Street than I did on food in two weeks. I have no regrets. My sisters are gonna love their gifts, and they’ll be the only ones on their continent with them. (If you’re in the neighborhood, do not miss Design Dispensary, which has an uber-cool selection of curated items from all over the world.) We quenched our significant thirst with a cocktail on the rooftop of Naked for Satan, where we took in 360 degree views of Melbourne. Nathalie had the tasting menu at Saint Crispin one night, and we had dinner at Taxi Kitchen another. It was Matthew’s birthday on our last night in Melbourne, so we gathered at Gin Palace for some Negronis and their famous chicken sandwiches.

I do want to devote some space here to talk about the plumbing fixtures we encountered in Melbourne. Apparently no design element in Melbourne is safe from experimentation. I can’t tell you how many public restrooms I walked into where I didn’t know how to use the faucet. I stood supplicating in front of one faucet, waving my hands in every way I could think of to activate the sensor before realizing that the decorative metal “accent” on the tiled wall was actually the faucet lever. At Gin Palace, water came out of a giant pipe in the ceiling. And then there was the sink-toilet combo. I’ve never seen a sink on top of toilet before. The sensor faucet wasn’t rocket science to operate, but after washing my hands and flushing, the faucet wouldn’t stop running. Thinking I broke it, I backed out of the restroom slowly, wondering if I should confess to the staff. But then Michael, who knows all things, explained to me that the faucet water was filling the toilet tank. Duh.

All I want to do is head back to Fitzroy to storm all the stores that were closed on Sunday and drink every cocktail at the Everleigh and discover more weird faucets. But we leave for Brisbane today, which is sad for my inner shopping addict but probably very good for my wounded wallet. All is not downhill from here, though, because a koala sanctuary awaits us in Brisbane, as well as a reunion with our former flutist Tim Munro’s beloved mum. Stay tuned.

So it’s been almost two weeks since we’ve landed on this big island and we have been steadily picking up and incorporating the lingo. You know, to blend in. The accent is a bit hard to mimic, and words like “no” (which sounds to our American ears like “nawyeurooahooo”) really betray us. But in writing, we’re indistinguishable from native Aussies. Behold:

A great day in an Australian city such as Sydney always begins with a delicious brekkie, and we enjoy some smashed avo toast with poached eggs on top. Usually the sun is bright and reliable in the summer, but we happen upon the one day in Sydney when the harbor is obscured by clouds and a Seattle-like mist enrobes the city. Good thing our hotel is prepared with heaps of brollies. We grab a few and venture out to explore options for a quick cuppa. I’m partial to a long black myself, but flat whites and iced coffees are also very popular.

A trip to the dunny is usually necessary after too much coffee, and the boys look for a place to go for a slash. While the rest of us wait, we check out the tradies, one of whom is a ranga, and debate the appropriateness of their attire. I mean, no hard hats and above-the-knee shorts? Comfy, but definitely against protocol in the states.

No roos to be found in the city, unless kanga bangas at the Coles counts, but Sydney proper doesn’t concern itself with appeasing tourists’ appetites for exotic animals. There are fast ferries to Manly beaches and famous bridges and opera houses to gawk at, the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Rocks Market to visit, window shopping at the QVB, and, of course, concerts for us to play at the City Recital Hall.

Before we know it, it’s time for our arvo coffee, and perhaps a bikkie or two to accompany it. We discuss evening food options. There’s soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, Aussie burgers at Burger Project, or schnitties and meat pies at the local pub, an embarrassment of choices. Might as well start with cocktails at Opera Bar, where we can further discuss food and gawk at a bona fide reality TV star. After dinner, there will be a requisite trip to the nearest IGA to buy a box of Golden Gaytime. We barely step outside before devouring the whole box standing on the sidewalk next to the didgeridoo busker.

Driving in Australia, or should I say, being a passenger in a car in Australia, is utterly terrifying. Everything about it is wrong. As soon as the car pulls into traffic I’m convinced we will plow head-on into every car. Right turns in particular are heart-stopping. I try not to look but I get motion sickness easily so I have to look out the window. Just as I am getting accustomed to going the wrong way around in roundabouts, the car chucks a yewy and I think I might vomit.

Flying, on the other hand, is a real pleasure in Australia. I can walk on the plane with a full bottle of water brought from the hotel and no one blinks an eye. There’s always food included, even on measly hour-long flights. They board planes simultaneously from front and back*, and luggage comes out by the time you walk to the baggage claim. Watch out for those carousels, though. They spin so fast the bags literally come flying off the belt with the centrifugal force. Retrieving bags from our first domestic flight is reminiscent of the famous chocolates scene from I Love Lucy, only with more yelling and running as we chase our bags down the belt, shielding ourselves from the ones flying off it. Totes awkies.

Australian airlines don’t like cellos, however. Or, more likely, they just don’t like Nick. Our tour manager Michelle has hosted many groups with cellists and swears it has never been a problem. But Nick gets booted off our first flight from Perth to Canberra and has skirmishes with airline agents on every subsequent flight. Basically, Michelle has to crack the shits at someone every time we approach the counter. But once on the plane, everything’s grand.

After a long day, it’s time to relax in our rooms. We stay at a couple different Crowne Plaza hotels, some of which are attached to a casino. Though we are tempted to try our hand at the pokies, we all resist (as far as I know). The beaches are irresistible, however, and Adam is absolutely determined to introduce his toes to every beach he possibly can, no matter what time of day. Good on him. He needs a new cozzie, so Michelle points out a couple of stores where he might find some cute budgie smugglers. I promise him not to post any photos. At least not here…

*I’ve been told this is a Virgin Airlines thing, not an Australian thing.

Glossary:

Arvo = afternoon

Avo = avocado

Bikkie = biscuit

Brekkie = breakfast

Brollies = umbrellas

Budgie smuggler = Speedo

Chuck a yewy = make a U-turn

Cozzie = swimsuit

Crack the shits = get mad, throw a tantrum

Cuppa = cup of coffee or tea

Dunny = toilet

Flat White = basically milk with coffee flavor

Golden Gaytime = an ice cream bar with biscuit crumbles and chocolate coating

Good on him, also, good on ya = good for him, good for you

Iced Coffee = don’t be fooled, this is a milky, sugary treat

Kanga Banga = kangaroo sausage (see picture)

Long Black = espresso with water, but NOT an Americano

Pokies = slot machines

Ranga = redhead, as in “orangutan”

Roos = kangaroos

Schnitties = schnitzel

Totes awkies = totally awkward

Tradies = tradesmen

So, if you tell a Canberran that you think their city is beautiful and that you’re having a great time exploring it, they will undoubtedly look at you askance, trying to ascertain if you’re being sarcastic or if you’re truly uncouth. This is because Canberra, while truly beautiful and friendly to modern human civilization, was a compromise. It’s the half-baby that the government decided to create to appease Melbourne and Sydney, who both felt they deserved capital-city status. And as such, the city was very deliberately planned, which is why it is such a pleasant city to visit. But no, it has no sordid history as a penal colony or seedy gold rush boom town, it doesn’t have victorian buildings, and it sure as hell doesn’t have quokkas. So everyone here has an inferiority complex about it.

On the way here, Nick got booted off the flight at the last minute amidst some kerfuffle with his cello. Nevermind that we bought a seat for the darn thing, “regulations” said it couldn’t be on board. So rather than crack the shits (as they say here), nice Nick just got off the only flight from Perth to Canberra that day. He got rerouted to Melbourne, spent the night, and then finally got into Canberra the next day. Thanks a lot, Qantas!!

We performed in the music building of the Australian National University, which also houses a brewery called the Wig and Pen. Now I don’t know about you, but my conservatory days would have been very different had there been a brewery in the building.  Those Aussies have their priorities straight! We sauntered in after our 7pm performance to enjoy a few rounds of beer and a delicious meat pie or two. We were supposed to meet the US Ambassador there, but, well…TRUMP. 

We didn’t have much free time to explore the city, but our wonderful handler Michelle (and I call her a handler because what are we but a bunch of circus animals anyway??) is from Canberra and was game to whiz us around in her big rented van to show us whatever we pointed at. We caught the sunset up on Mount Ainslie, drinking in the gorgeous city lights and pleasing layout of the city, then ate like kings at Chairman & Yip. We chased down some kangaroos, which are as plentiful here as deer (and equally plentiful as roadkill, sadly), and also snuck up to a roadsign to Yass* after dark and posed for a silly picture like a bunch of drunk hooligans. Yes, it was a sign that said “Yass” so we couldn’t not do it. But man, Michelle must really be questioning her job right now.

 

* If you’re scratching your head about “Yass”, go here and here.

 

We just arrived in Perth yesterday, but have been looking forward to seeing quokkas on Rottnest Island for weeks. It’s the only excursion we actually planned and booked ahead of time for our one free day here. (Let me just apologize in advance for the next few posts, which will be replete with pictures of the gorgeous summer we are enjoying down under while our families freeze at home in Chicago. I promise you, we will be working hard as well.)

Wait, what’s a quokka, you ask?

I’m still not sure. It’s a marsupial with the tail of a rat, the body of a miniature kangaroo, and a face that’s cute as all get out. The only place on earth where they live is on Rottnest Island, except for the quokka who recently escaped to Perth on a garbage truck. That little quokka is now in a zoo. They kind of remind me of the Rats of Nimh (this is a deep cut, but we’re best friends forever if you know the reference). See?

The Rats of Nimh were really quokkas

They only live on Rottnest Island, which is accessible by a 45-minute ferry ride. Once on the island, there are no vehicles allowed, so you can rent a bike, book a Segway tour or hoof it to explore, all without worrying about death from cars. We opted to rent bikes, much to my horror because not only was I wearing a dress, but I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Well, there was that one time a couple years ago on Governor’s Island when I acquiesced to a tandem bike with my husband, but we all know that doesn’t count. The only thing I feared more than the bike was being left behind by everyone, so I took the plunge.

And guess what? It was just like riding a bike. Sort of.  I did need a lot of personal space to feel comfortable, and there were buses and service vehicles that occasionally passed us, which nearly gave me a heart attack. And a mean lady yelled at me (it wasn’t my fault, I swear). We rode until we found a little beach access area, and several quokkas came out of the bushes to greet us. They’re extremely friendly and unafraid of humans, so if we wanted to pet one we could have. In fact, I had to back up to avoid a quokka who was maybe getting a bit too friendly. There are warnings everywhere not to touch or feed them, but the rumor that they carry salmonella was quite enough for me, thank you.

After getting our fill of quokkas, Nathalie and I headed down to the picturesque beach, where she snorkeled a bit and I baked on the beach, having not brought my swimsuit (did I mention it’s really hot here??).  At one point, Nathalie motioned to me from in the water to look at something. When I looked over, I saw a GIANT bird looking for lunch in the water. I missed it at first because I assumed it was a dinghy or some weird inflatable water toy, it was so big. We caught a picture of another one on our way back to the ferry (in the gallery above). If you know what it is, please tweet us!

 

Last week, we had the pleasure of visiting Wake Forest University, where we performed as part of the Secrest Artist Series. We were so pleased to see so many students eager to share in the experience of new music. The Old Gold and Black, Wake Forest University’s student newspaper, recapped our performance, saying, “Eighth Blackbird puts forth the beauty of both individuality as well as unity.”

> Read the full story

We had so much fun last week in North Carolina! Well, full disclosure: we did start out the week in VA with a performance and recording session at Old Dominion University, which was lots of fun. But I also got a speeding ticket, which was not fun (thanks, Sergeant Peacock, you got me fair and square).

Young composers rarely get to have wizened old fogies like us read their music (for better or worse), let alone get a recording out of it, so this was a unique and hopefully valuable encounter. We gave some feedback and opinions about compositional choices, which is always a learning experience – both in what you hear and how you choose to internalize it. The student composers were awesome, and even humored us when we waxed philosophical about what 2/4 time signature really means. I always worry that we’re being too harsh, but then I remember that we’re not doing anyone any favors by sugar-coating what we say.

Then we headed to Winston-Salem. We made a stop at The Pit BBQ in Durham on our way to the hotel, and enjoyed some pretty fantastic ribs, chopped pork and sides. I don’t remember anything else from that night because I slipped into a deep coma soon after we got back in the car.

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity at UNC Greensboro, UNCSA, and a performance at Wake Forest University. We taught some masterclasses, held a few informal lectures and Q&A sessions with students, and were generally impressed and charmed by everyone we met. As it turns out, Nick’s wife Yasuko attended UNCSA as a youngster, but I don’t think she would recognize the school now. The addition of the “U” means university curriculum in addition to a complex of fancy new buildings. We were green with envy over their library, which has sweeping views of Winston-Salem.

After our performance, which was one of the best-attended this season, we headed to a beautiful reception in the home of Ralph Womble, who is a board member of Helen Simoneau Danse, who recently commissioned Nathalie. We ran into a few old friends and unexpected connections. We met the parents of a Chicago colleague, and I ran into best friends of a former colleague from my previous position with the Washington National Opera. Thanks, Ralph, for hosting such a lovely event!

Then it was back to Chicago for almost two days until we headed out to Richmond, where I’m writing this now. Next week to Chattanooga and then…down under for a month!

 

We just spent the last week recording a new album of music by Dan Trueman with guest artist Iarla Ó Lionáird. And while every album is different, there are some things that are necessary for any recording session to be successful. So here is our recipe…

Ingredients:

1 lb mixed nuts (Brazil nuts removed)

1 lb peanuts (hidden in the fridge until mixed nuts are gone)

7 boxes La Croix (assorted flavors)

5 lbs clementines

2 lbs bananas

5 boxes Nut Thins

1 family size Wheat Thins

1 box Jilz Crackerz (paleo)

3 lbs Pink Lady apples

2 lbs baby carrots

1 bag Tate’s Bake Shop ginger zing cookies (gluten-free)

1 bag chocolate chip cookies (gluten-free)

5 bags assorted “healthy” chips

1 bag chili jalapeno popcorn

1 lb dark chocolate covered almonds

3 lbs coffee, ground fresh

1 box Kind bars

4 pack of Siggi’s Yogurt

6 hard boiled eggs

1 container hummus

Directions:

Put perishables and La Croix in communal fridge, and spread the rest of the ingredients onto a counter along with several rolls of paper towels. Brew 12 cups of coffee prior to 10am. Brew another 12 cups at 2pm. Closely monitor amount of La Croix and replenish before it runs out. Make sure that there are Cheddar Nut Thins, or Nathalie might complain. Hide the Wheat Thins from Michael.

Make sure lunch orders are squared away 24 hrs in advance.

Notes:

Know that the chocolate-covered almonds will be the first thing to go, but do not replenish.

Remember to be flexible. Schedules are made to be broken.

Four 10-hr days might simply not be enough for 85 minutes of music, and that’s okay.

Technology is great, but sometimes things need to be turned off and on again.

Even if you think you got a great take, just do another one to be safe.

Don’t beat a dead horse.

Many thanks to Jesse Lewis, producer; Bill Maylone, engineer; Dan Trueman, composer and fiddler; and Iarla Ó Lionáird, vocalist and cheerleader. 

Super special thanks to Mike Sportiello of I.V. Labs, whose days were even longer than ours. He stayed calm amidst our insanity, fixing everything like a magician, and he brews a mean cup of coffee.