Telling Petr’s story

Hello!  Carly here, writing a personal post about our upcoming interdisciplinary project, Petr’s Moon.  The performance takes place on April 25 at 8:00 p.m. in Tanna Schulich Hall.  We hope you can join us!

Last December, I had the privilege of visiting Israel for the first time.  I was joined on the trip by my sister, and together we shared a journey through our Jewish heritage in a country that is beautiful, ever-changing, and immensely complicated.

Me and my sister at the Western Wall, Jerusalem.

While in Jerusalem, we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Centre.  We walked along the brick paths of the Warsaw Ghetto, learning about the events leading up to Hitler’s Final Solution. We experienced the mind-numbing Children’s Memorial — a pitch-black underground cavern harrowingly lit by thousands and thousands of candles, some real, some reflected in mirrors, each representing one of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.  And — in a glass display case containing a young boy’s portrait and a drawing of the Earth as seen from the moon — we met Petr Ginz.

Moon Landscape

Moon Landscape by Petr Ginz. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem.)

Petr was only 16 when he was killed in Auschwitz, and spent two years in Theresienstadt before that.  Throughout his internment, he kept a diary — succinct, straightforward accounts of day-to-day events, as though he knew he was archiving details for the eyes of history.  At 14, he drew Moon Landscape, imagining escape from a planet he had watched wither into war and hate.

Petr’s story deeply moved me, and when I returned to Canada, I began some research.  I read Petr’s diary, lovingly preserved by his sister, who survived; I learned about Theresienstadt, where Petr and hundreds of other children created art and poetry in the darkest of times — and where famed Czech composer Pavel Haas was interned before meeting his fate, like Petr, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  Haas’ Wind Quintet, Op. 10, then, seemed the perfect vehicle to allow us — as a chamber ensemble, and as humans reflecting on an important history — to tell Petr’s story.

Petr’s Moon is structured in the style of a stageplay in two acts, BEFORE and AFTER.  Throughout the performance, we recite from Petr’s diary, poems, and stories, accompanied by projections of archival footage and images — all tied together by a live soundtrack of solos, trios, and quintets that capture the mood and history of Petr’s narrative.

Conceiving and executing this project has been emotionally draining, time consuming, yet immensely rewarding.  I couldn’t have done it without my intrepid colleagues in this quintet, who supported the idea from the very beginning, and have been tireless in their dedication to bringing it to life.

Projects like Petr’s Moon are important, because they frame classical music — so often locked in an ivory tower — in a context that is socially informed and deeply relevant.  My greatest hope for Petr’s Moon, is that the audience leaves having learned something new, and having experienced a story that, though 75 years old, engages with contemporary issues.  I hope you’ll join us for this performance that has become so meaningful to us.  We can’t wait to share it with you.

Staying healthy, staying happy

This time of year, skies are grey and tensions are high, as exams and final performances rapidly approach.  With our own Mini-Recital next week and rehearsal time limited, we’ve found some strategies for managing late-semester stress.  Here are some tips:

1. Look at a doggo.

Find puppers and doggos on Google Image Search or YouTube, and ogle at their adorableness.  100% guaranteed strategy to improve your day.  Bonus tip: Don’t schedule rehearsal during the small window of time that there are actual doggos on campus!  So many regrets…

2. Eat things that are green.

Running low on energy and free time, the temptation to eat pizza for every meal is constant and all too real.  Save yourself the calories (and the cash) by dining on veggies — can’t beat the produce prices at Supermarché PA!  Prepping a large salad at the start of the week saves you time in the long run, and when you’re knee deep in recital prep, you’ll feel better for it.

3. Friendship is magic.

Even though it feels like you have zero free time these days — trust us, we’re in the same boat — don’t neglect your social networks!  Make time to say hi to a good friend, or grab a cup of coffee together.  You can commiserate and kvetch, and put a bright spot in each other’s days.

And if you’re lucky enough to be part of a badass wind quintet?  You’ll never be short on friendship.


Snow day

When Montreal decides to snow, it really commits.

We cancelled rehearsal today because Jaena was literally snowed into her apartment. Carly has a trip planned to Toronto later this afternoon for a job interview — praise be to Megabus for not pulling a Downwind move and cancelling that, too.

Behold, some scenes from the mid-March blizzard that will go down in history:

carly blizzard

The snow is as tall as Carly!  (Photo by Kate Gordiychuk.)


nick blizzard.jpg

“Same.” (Photo and caption by Nick Walshe.)


ryan blizzard

“Greatest email McGill has ever sent.” (Screenshot and caption by Ryan Garbett.)

Wind quintet goes to the movies

In honour of Sunday night’s Oscar excitement, let’s learn about the cinematic history of one of the staples of the wind quintet repertoire: Milhaud’s La cheminée du roi René.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) counted among the famed Les Six — France’s six top-dog composers of the early 20th century — and rose to fame with his high-energy, jazz-inspired compositions.  La cheminée du roi René, however, is a mellow throwback to the Middle Ages.  Though the harmonies bear Milhaud’s modernist penchant for polytonality, each of the work’s seven movements recalls an image or mood straight out of Medieval legend — from a courtly procession to a lively joust, a rustic hunting party to a nighttime madrigal.

La cheminée was actually adapted for wind quintet from a larger, orchestral score, composed for the 1940 film Cavalcade d’amour. Director Raymond Bernard (1891-1977) tasked three composers — our man Milhaud, his Les Six colleague Arthur Honneger, and composer-conductor Roger Désormière — with composing separate scores to accompany an epic plot spanning three centuries of drama and romance.  You can catch Milhaud’s winsome, old-timey themes — which would later become the bulk of  La cheminée — in some of the film’s earliest scenes:

La cheminée du roi René received its premiere in 1941 at Mills College in Oakland, California, where Milhaud held a professorship — his Jewish heritage preventing him from living safely in Europe.  The work’s title refers to the court of King René I — the historical setting of Cavalcade d’amour — and to the French expression se chauffer à la cheminée du roi René (“to warm oneself at King René’s fireplace”).  The King’s fireplace, in fact, was the warm sun of Provence — René was known to take naps out in the sunlit countryside — a familiar yet distant countryside that our homesick Provençal composer dearly missed.

Milhaud never received an Academy Award for his score to Cavalcade d’amour — though, if Warren Beatty had anything to do with it, he very well might have — but the jaunty, tumbling tunes of La cheminée du roi René, a wind quintet classic, have certainly won our hearts.

The Downwind Quintet guide to scheduling

As every student chamber group knows, balancing the coursework and practice time demands of 5 separate human people with the rigours of high-level chamber rehearsal poses a sizable challenge.  Luckily, over our three-and-some-odd semesters working together, we’ve found some tools for success in getting all 5 of us in the same place at the same time for a few hours of productive music-making.  Here are three things you should know:

1. When2Meet is always better than Doodle.

Always.  When2Meet ( is a scheduling tool that allows participants to highlight their individual availability on a calendar grid.  The program then automatically compiles all 5 calendars into a single, colour-coded schedule showing the times where participants’ availability overlaps.  This system is far superior to Doodle, which requires that a predetermined (and often lengthy) list of days and times be provided, from which participants may then select their availability.

2. Week-to-week scheduling allows flexibility.

At the university level, chamber music is considered a course, so it might seem intuitive to schedule rehearsals at the same time each week, much as courses are run.  However, it is important that chamber rehearsals remain productive and stress-free, and that all musicians in the group are able to prepare effectively before each rehearsal.  As group members’ workloads and obligations vary week to week, make a flexible scheduling plan that allows for weekly changes, while working toward a set goal of weekly rehearsal hours.  In this way, the goal hours are still prioritized, while flexible scheduling invites healthy, unfettered rehearsing.

3. Stay in touch!

Confirm that all group members are aware of the week’s rehearsal plan, including date, time, and location.  If a musician is ill, injured, stressed, or double-booked, they must communicate this as soon as they know!  That way, meetings can be rescheduled responsibly.  The first person to arrive at a given rehearsal location only to find — inevitably — that it lacks any chairs or music stands, can ask the others to track down chairs and stands en route.  Facebook Messenger is an ideal tool for group communication (and also for group goofiness).

What are your tips for defeating chamber scheduling mayhem?  Tell us in the comments!

Camel emoji 🐫 = “Sounds good!”

Downwind takes on 2017

Another year has come and gone — reeds have lived and died, notes were learnt and forgotten, all while Montreal construction remained steadfastly unchanged.

2017 will be an exciting year for the Downwind Quintet, culminating in a composer collaboration and world premiere.  It will be a bittersweet year, too, as we embark on our final semester together.

Now that the Winter term is in full swing, we’d like to share some of our resolutions for the new year!  Think we can stick to them?

• • • • • •

Jaena: New Year’s resolution: to be earlier for every commitment!

Carly: I want to dedicate myself more to healthy practicing and body use in 2017, so I can play oboe comfortably for years to come!  Non-musically, I resolve to allocate less of my downtime to Netflix, and more to my creative writing hobby.  Also, I recently adopted a pet fish, and intend to keep him fed and alive, this year and beyond.  (His name is Argo, and he is a most splendiferous fish.)

Nick: I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to improve oneself!  After last year’s gym resolutions never really got off the ground, I thought I’d try and keep it simple this time round.  This year I’d like to get out of Montréal more often to explore some of the cool places that Québec and Canada have to offer.  I’d like to read for pleasure at least a book a month, as a way of disconnecting from music every now and then.  And finally, I’m resolving to spend more quality time with my tuner — a must for any musician really, but something I know I’m guilty of avoiding!

Ryan: This year I resolve to eat less, exercise more, and hand my assignments in on time!

Kristy: 1) All scales, in every mode of limited transposition, every day; 2) Not wait until I have an overwhelming amount of laundry to do laundry (i.e., be a functioning adult); 3) Be able to walk up to the fifth floor of the Strathcona Building without breathing heavily.

Happy New Year from the Downwind Quintet!