Chris Donnelly

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Today's guest is Chris Donnelly, a Juno-nominated pianist and composer from Toronto Canada.

What you’re going to learn about in this interview.

  • ‍Really getting musical material into your playing and how to integrate it.
  • Restricting yourself intelligently as a composer and producer
  • The value of writing in different mediums (paper, piano, computer etc)
  • ‍The value of playing with other people early in your music education
  • Chris’s background and story of music education
  • The value of playing around and getting practical with what you’re learning
  • Rhythmic independence and the undervalued aspect of rhythmic studies
  • How to develop musical intuition and how to get material into your playing
  • How to develop your own exercises that improve your improvising
  • A short introduction to species counterpoint writing
  • Thinking about the specific characteristics of each key on your instrument
  • Finding flow with computers
  • The value of play when starting with a blank page


‘Nobody's really talking about hand independence. The number one question for a jazz piano player or jazz student is, what the hell do I do with my left hand?'
‘One way I've been trying to get my students to create their own exercises is if you look at [a] pattern and try to reduce it to a sequence... [for example, a sequence] of steps and skips and what you [then] do is you create your own sequence, create your own pattern. It's like an algorithm that you're going to feed into a computer and out of that is going to come this melodic pattern that you then have to repeat many, many times to get it under your hands.’
‘I think what makes a good composer... isn't that they can play the piano, but they just know how to manipulate form.’
‘There seemed to be the certain respect for the person who could sit at your desk and write it by hand... there's a little bit of charm about thinking… I've got my ink and, and a candle and I'm gonna write it this way. That's kind of cool. But, you know, I've been using computers all my life. I've been playing video games all my life. I can achieve so much better flow at the computer because the computer is also my instrument.’

Links & Names Mentioned

  • http://www.chrisdonnellymusic.com
  • ‍http://www.chrisdonnellymusic.com/videos/
  • Orf Method
  • Kodaly
  • Brad Mehldau
  • Sasha Rapoport at the University Toronto
  • Russell Hardenberger
  • Hand independence posts
  • Dave Holland


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Chris: 00:00:00 If you approach everything with a sense of play and experimentation and, and improvising, then you, it doesn't really matter what you start with as long as you start, if that makes sense. And I think that's, I think that's probably the hardest part is,, is just starting, is just go, just go, just jump off the cliff. It doesn't either. The first thing you write down is not going to be great, so just play with it., but if you say I'm going, do I start with a chord progression? Do I start with a melody? I don't know if that's the right question to ask. I think it's, it's just how do I start? And the answer is just, just start.

Jack: 00:00:46 Hi Guys. Welcome to the Lean Musician podcast, episode number seven with me, Jack Vaughan. That was the voice of Chris Donnelly, today's guest a pianist and composer from Toronto in Canada. It was a really long interview today and Chris and I really dug into some fantastic topics which personally I was really, really interested in., it's quite interesting doing these podcasts because obviously I'm the interviewer, so I end up taking these guests to places that I am naturally interested in, but this one, particularly today I was, I was struck just how much I shared perspectives with Chris on a number of things. We, , we get into a number of my favorite topics. One particularly, which is about how you actually really get musical material into your playing and your, your composition. It's one thing to be able to know about something, but how do you get that to naturally come out in your compositions and your improvisations.

Jack: 00:01:34 And it's quite nice actually because in Chris's studio where we were talking, the piano's right behind him. So he actually plays some examples, which is something that I've wanted to do on the show, , for, for a while. Some other areas that we talked about is the idea of restricting yourself intelligently as a composer and improviser and that being a very creative thing to do. We'll get into that. And then also the last thing, which has been a topic I've, I've thought about a lot, which is the different mediums that we write on or the different mediums that we compose in. For me personally, it's a piano, paper and the computer and the values of, of all three and rather than being only exclusive to one of them, if that makes sense. , it was really fun. I really appreciate it, Chris coming on as always with all our guests.

Jack: 00:02:20 But, I had a load of but we had a lot of laughs as you'll hear a very long interview. But, it was a Sunday afternoon so we were, we were sort of chilled out. As always do give us a review on itunes if you have a few seconds whilst you're listening to the show or something. It really helps us show up in rankings for podcasts and it gets people knowing about us and get in touch if you're enjoying it. It's really nice to hear from people., we are friendly and we went by enjoy the show and see you next time.

Jack: 00:02:59 So, Chris, thanks so much for coming on the lead musician podcast. It's really great to have you, especially on a Sunday afternoon. It's very kind of you to give up your time. How are you doing?

Chris: 00:03:09 I'm great Jack, thanks for having me. Looking forward to chatting.

Jack: 00:03:11 Wicked, yeah. So I was really keen to get you on, as I was saying just before we got on the show, just now that I discovered your blog about six months ago. I can't remember the exact post, but it was something about developing rhythmic independence, in your hands as a pianist you're a pianist, you're your composer and you have a wealth of experience it looks like because I've been since then getting into the blog and really think that you could, you've got some cool perspectives on things that our listeners would be interested in. But as always, I'd love to start at the beginning for you, when you, when you started music and what were your, kind of, how, how did you start in music and what were some of your early experiences?

Chris: 00:03:52 Well, I, I am from Toronto, Canada and, when I was, I'm, I'm, I'm 33, I'm 33, I'm 33 and so about 30 years ago,, my mom wanted to put me into music school and my dad wanted to put me in sports, so I did both. And, there was a school, , near near where I was growing up, called Humber College and Humber College, especially in the seventies and in the eighties, had a very innovative jazz program. And so what was happening was all these graduates were graduating from humber college and looking, looking for work. So they were playing, they were teaching, there were doing studio work and one of the graduates started a music school,, and the music school was early childhood music education, like the orf method and the Kodaly method., but these were being used to establish a foundation for jazz education.

Chris: 00:05:04 Not necessarily classical education, I mean really they were open to all they were open to music education, but her primary focus was let's try and get kids playing jazz music. So by the time I was in eight, nine or 10, I was playing in jazz bands, improvising, playing tunes., and at the same time while I was doing that, I was also studying classical music at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Toronto. So I, you know, when a lot of people start out with music lessons or when a lot of jazz musicians started with music lessons, I find that their story is, Oh yeah, I started out with classical music and I didn't really like it or I started out with classical music. And then I wanted to try something different. So I got into jazz, but I seem to have this parallel education happening where I was doing both at the same time I was playing jazz music, I was playing classical music. And then it wasn't until sometime in university where they both started to work together, if that makes sense. They, I, I found the common ground. And, and was able to see how jazz music is similar to classical music and vice versa.

Jack: 00:06:26 Right? Yeah. Yeah. It's almost like the way I kind of explained it to some people because it is about basically then rather than thinking of them as genres, really just approaches or skillsets towards, towards music, different ways of thinking about it because they are, well like lots of genres, but particularly when you say the word classical and the word jazz and refer to a genre. It's about the vaguest thing. You can kind of say really, it covers such a huge landscape. It's ridiculous. It's almost. It doesn't help really doesn't narrow it down. But yeah. Yeah. And, and throughout all of your work, , that I've, I've kind of looked at it does, it does. You do see that like, and particularly in your education. So I think today I'd really love you to kind of explore that with the questions that I ask about kind of, you know, how you teach your students we'll eventually get into and how you've taught yourself. But, just to go back to what you said right at the beginning about, was it the orf methods and , something else. Could you explain what those are?

Chris: 00:07:19 Yeah, so, I mean, I'm not a specialist in early childhood education, but they have these methods like the orf method and the Kodaly method. And they were, they're very focused on well the Kodaly method is very focused on the folk music of, of, you know, that your mother sang. So if you are from Poland than the Kodaly approach would focus on Polish folk music. If you're Canadian then it would focus on Canadian folk music and through all kinds of singing exercises, you, you're learning Solfeggio, you're singing with other kids, you're learning and there's integrated theory lessons and performance lessons and, with, with this particular method, traditionally it has been used to then establish a foundation for a classical music education from what I understand.

Jack: 00:08:24 Right. Okay. So it's like the internal map of, of the way music is constructed.

Chris: 00:08:29 Yeah. But everything is framed for, for kids at first anyways, it's a very linear system. So the, the difficulty gets progressively more difficult as the student gets older or as the student get increases, his or her skills. The Orf method, from what I understand is a little bit more, is a little bit more performance based, so it incorporates more movement and dance and play. What do I mean by play? Like games. A lot more, group play, group interaction, improvising games. And I mean all based, but all based around music and, and dance and movement and I guess I guess a little bit of theater. So I mean all, I hope I'm not misrepresenting these, these methods, but from this is just from what I understand from talking with my, my first teacher, her name is Kathy Metro and she did training in, in these methods for, for this, , the school that I was a part of.

Chris: 00:10:02 And from what I understand though, these methods are built in a way to not really work with other methods. So if you are a Kodaly instructor, you only teach Kodaly if you are an Orf instructor, you teach Orf, and there isn't meant to be any cross, , cross breeding with these, with these methods. But, from the conversations I had with Kathy, she said, Oh, well, forget that. I mean I can see how they work and work together. I see how they compliment each other. Let me see if I can get away to make them work together. And so she and she was also experimenting with these methods and finding new ways to, to educate kids through these methods because she was also exploring new territory and music education in the first place because she was, she was interested in, in getting kids to play jazz music.

Chris: 00:11:14 And in the eighties this was, this was, this is brand new stuff. Nobody is, nobody is in the eighties. Nobody's teaching kids how to play jazz. I mean, jazz music was going into universities and colleges and academia a little bit in the seventies, eighties. And then finally, probably by the nineties it was getting more and more accepted. But nobody was going the opposite direction and teaching kids how to do this. So, you have to find new innovative methods to, and use the tools that are out there and use them and combine them in a, in a way that isn't, isn't thought of or isn't accepted, in order to achieve your goals of, of trying to bring jazz education to, to younger students.

Jack: 00:12:15 So it sounds like you had a really good background from a fairly early age with, with these methods and also then playing with people. Talk us through some of the kind of really as you look back, the really useful things. I mean, you're playing with what professional jazz musicians quite regularly from kind of what age?

Chris: 00:12:34 Well, I mean I was always playing with kids. So, and I think that if I were to look back and, you know, pick one thing that was really, really important to my education, that was, that I was playing music with other kids all the time, from, from when I was three years old, in going to music class on Saturday mornings. It was with my friends and it was with other kids. And when, I mean when I speak with younger students now or when I speak with their parents and they ask me, you know, what can I do to get my kids interested in music and all these things. And I say, well, get them playing with other kids. When I, when I was doing my classical music education because I had my jazz music education on Saturdays, and then once a week I was going to see my classical teacher.

Chris: 00:13:30 My classical music lessons were always by myself. , I was in a room by myself with my teacher when I was performing. It was always by myself., when I was practicing, it was always by myself. And I mean, that works. This is important, you know, music can be a very individual thing, individual pursuit, but I mean if you look at all other activities that kids would be interested in, you play well in Canada, hockey, baseball, football, soccer, all of these things, the kids playing with other kids. So it seems to me that if you want to, if you want to get a, a child interested in music and playing music and get excited about it, put them in a group with, with, with his or her friends., and that's what I was doing all the time. I was, it was, it was normal.

Chris: 00:14:31 It was actually abnormal to be playing a solo you know, and from, you know, and it, it went from when I was three from singing and dancing and playing games and then you're playing a xylophones and you're playing folk songs and with xylophones and percussion instruments. And then, then we were playing on keyboards because everybody in the school knew how to play piano. So we were all playing keyboards that I would play the bass part and somebody play a chord part and somebody would play a melody part and then. But there was still percussion and drums and then she, and then Cathy, had encouraged students to take up a second instrument. So everybody played piano. But then some of my friends were playing drums, so my friends were playing bass, saxophone, trumpet. I never, I never played a second instrument at this school.

Chris: 00:15:29 I played low brass in, in high school, but this was much later. So you can see how there's this progression of going from singing, dancing, xylophones to then playing piano, bass, drums and saxophone. All of the, all of the skills kind of start, start working together. And we were forming small jazz ensembles. Oh, that's the other thing is that I'm not, when I say jazz bands and Jazz Combos, I don't mean big bands, but I don't mean a band of 20 kids. I mean a band of five kids.

Jack: 00:16:13 Yea, who each has to hold their own.

Chris: 00:16:13 Yeah, that's right. I mean, if in a, in a big band with 20 kids, that's not really much different than playing in a symphony or playing in a concert band. Where when you're in a, in a band of with five 12 year olds, the, the listening that needs to happen, the interaction, the, the, the leadership roles that need to be filled, it's quite a different, it's quite a different environment for music making for kids

Jack: 00:16:46 So you're kind of put into that situation early on so that you had to naturally kind of get used to that, that dynamic. Whereas whereas later on when you have to get used to the dynamic, it kind of throws you off and you think, hang on, what's going wrong? You know,

Chris: 00:16:58 Yea, people who start a students who start playing jazz later... well, let's say let's take a, somebody who's brought up in the traditional classical music education where they are practicing by themselves. They're, you know, they're studying by themselves with their teacher and they performed by themselves. Once they are thrown into a jazz band were in jazz music. There were, there were in any, I don't mean just jazz music is, it can happen in classical music too, but let's just say they're now thrown into a band where they need to listen and they need to respond and then they need to lead or they need to follow. Now there's this whole new skillset that is required for them to function in this context of how to communicate with your instrument to other people who are also communicating with their instrument. So, so I was really, really fortunate having, I was able to, I was part of that, those social dynamics and music from when I was really, really young.

Jack: 00:18:09 Okay. Yeah. That sounds, that sounds fantastic. I mean, yeah, I, I personally wish I'd had a lot more of that. I was, I was more a kind of, I was an only child and I ended up studying. I had to develop willpower fairly early on because I was really, really passionate about it, but I had no kind of major mentors around me. And that's not a hugely bad thing, but, it's, it's a really interesting point. What I'm interested in in regards to your development is because it was a, I don't want to say given because that makes it sound passive because it was there early on. Was there a moment where you kind of suddenly went kind of, I suppose more serious where you thought this is really my thing and you kind of, you can look back and say you stepped up your kind of efforts. Or was it always a natural thing that you were always going to do? Music?

Chris: 00:18:58 No, I don't think I ever thought I was going to do music. I started to. Well as as the, as you said, I started to step up maybe when I was maybe 16.

Jack: 00:19:13 Yeah, same.

Chris: 00:19:15 I was always playing music and I was always active and interested in other things. I mean I was playing music. I was playing lots of baseball. I played a lot of hockey. I played way too many video games.

Jack: 00:19:32 Well we're going to get into chip tunes in a bit.

Chris: 00:19:35 Okay. Great. But it was sometime in maybe a, I'm going to say 16, but for me I look at it more and in grade grade 11 and when I was in high school, which I think is around 16.

Jack: 00:19:51 Oh Wow. grade 11? We don't have that here. What's grade 11?! In fact English people don't even get that good, you know, they just stay at grade eight forever.

Chris: 00:20:07 Yeah. Well I mean we all just count higher I guess. So I would probably maybe around maybe around 16 where I just realized like, Hey, I really, really enjoy this music thing. And I was going to jazz clubs, I was going out to hear my teachers play all the time. I was playing and jamming with my friends all the time and I just felt really good about playing music, but I also felt really bad about doing everything else.

Jack: 00:20:43 What you mean?

Chris: 00:20:44 Well, all of my other courses in high school I just hated. And you know, I've had, I've had some really great conversations about with Kathy, my first, my first teacher that I mentioned. Yeah, she said that she, when, when I really disliked my high school experience, I didn't like any of my teachers. I didn't like any of the courses.

Chris: 00:21:16 All of the content was, it was just boring and it just wasn't of interest to me. The favorite, my favorite part of my week was going to music class classes on Saturdays and it was a full day, you know, I was taking piano lessons, I was taking composition lessons, I was taking trombone lessons. I was in two bands, I was in a big band and this was all happening at the, at this school outside of my regular education, my regular high school education and I, and I think because my music education was so good and the, the teachers I had were just so good and so committed and establishing that foundation for their students that when you look at, when I, when I go into my science class or my biology class and my math class, English class, it just, it was just so bad in comparison.

Chris: 00:22:18 And, and it's not, it's not that science isn't, it's interesting. It's not that math or English is an interesting now the other way round. It could have had it the other way, round of personality, personality to the approach, you know? Right., and so I just, I needed to get out of there is because I was just so positive about what was happening in music and my friends and my teachers and the scene, the local scene. So I just started practicing more and I was able to finish high school early. And I got accepted into the University of Toronto and it was, it was at that moment when I I mean I was serious about it before I got accepted into, into university. I was practicing more seriously, but once I was accepted into University of Toronto is like I, I pretty much just dropped everything else. I dropped baseball, I dropped all, all kinds of other hobbies or interests and I just wanted to play music because I was just like, yes, I'm in, I'm finally doing something that I want to do.

Jack: 00:23:34 What a great feeling!

Chris: 00:23:34 Yeah, it was, it was, it was liberating in that. So that first day of university where it's just like, wow, you mean I get to just studying music all day? You mean I don't have to go to physics class? Like what an amazing. What an amazing feeling.

Jack: 00:23:51 And you mentioned it back at the beginning about the, the two worlds of jazz and classical coming together. Describe to us how that kind of, how that started to happen and what you mean by that.

Chris: 00:24:05 Well I think it's, it's, I'll, I'll try. Yeah, I'll try to, I'll try to express it as it might be a little bit complicated. So, even when I was, I was listening to all kinds of jazz music all through high school. That's when I really started collecting records and buying records and, and listening really seriously. And I think there was, there, there must have been a few piano players that I was listening to or particularly like Brad Mehldau.

Chris: 00:24:41 Yeah. And I knew that what he, it sounded like what he was doing was okay, there's something more to his playing. He's not just playing bebop music or jazz music. There's some other style that's influencing what he's doing. Listen to the counterpoint that's happening when he plays, listen to his hand independence, when he plays, he's doing things at the piano that are that can't just be coming from the jazz tradition. So I always had had in my mind that there was something else, that, that piano players can do. Like, well, like for example, when I was in high school, I knew about this thing called a fugue.

Chris: 00:25:33 There's this thing called a fuge. And it's contrapuntal and it requires hand independence. And when I listened to some piano players play, like, like say Brad Mehldau or Fred Hersch, I can hear that they're also using this, this, these contrapuntal textures. So in my mind it's just like, well, that must be coming from classical music that must be coming from Bach for example. So I always had in my mind that there was something more, there was something else. And then when I was, when I started at University of Toronto, I was in the jazz performance program, but I had access to all of the classical music classes as well. I mean, I mean, I mean I was also the kind of student that, I mean by the time I'm, when I'm in first year university, all of that theory class and the ear training and all the ensembles, all of that material I had been doing already for like for like 10 years. So for me, I needed to take my education in my own hands and find a way to challenge myself because the jazz theory was not challenging. It's definitely challenging for other students who might not have had the background in education that I have, but for me it wasn't challenging.

Jack: 00:26:52 So what kind of stuff did you, in terms of your self study, did you get up to?

Chris: 00:26:56 So I, I wanted to take counterpoint. That was the, that was the first thing on my radar. I was like, I want to take counterpoint and there's this, they offer three counterpoint classes at u of t, so I asked how can I take these classes? And they said, well you can take these classes but you need to take classical theory first. And I said, well, I don't want to take classical theory because I don't have time because you know, I'm graduating in a few years, can I get exempted? And they said, Oh yeah, you can get exempted. You just need to take this exemption test. And I said, okay. So I over a summer I taught myself four part writing and, and, and the theory I like I, I, I took out the textbook that they use at UFT and I went through the entire book over the summer. I'm doing all the four part writing, playing them, playing them, improvising on them.

Jack: 00:27:52 Sorry to interrupt there. This is a key. I was thinking about this recently. You said playing them, which sounds obvious, right? But it's insane how much in education they don't get kids or anyone to play it through. Like I did it without playing it in school and I now look back and I'm like, that's not a musical experience and I can't remember when it was. It was in the last interview with umm, David Reed. There's a quote from that interview where he says, you know, I'm trying to create a musical acts, but I'm trying to create a music education that has the experience of playing music in it, which sounds hilarious, but it's so true. Like playing it is vital, isn't it? .

Chris: 00:28:28 Right. Well, and I was able to, because I had done for part writing before, you know, I was doing, I was still taking my classical lessons all through high school and so I was doing harmony, but I'd never played through it. I never made any kind of a sonic connection with what I was writing down on the paper or, or with any kind of physical connection with it because I was never playing it., so my, my jazz education was telling me, okay, if I want to learn four part writing, I'm going to need to play this stuff. I'm going to need to improvise over it. I'm going to need to play music that uses it, I'm going to need to able to hear it and sing it, all of. So all of these things came together and helped me teach myself how to understand four part writing. Not that, not that I'm an expert at four part writing, like, just make that very clear. I'm not, I, I'm not, I don't, I, I don't think I'm great at four part writing. You take what you need, but I took what I need and I got exempted from the tests so I could take counterpoint.

Chris: 00:29:39 And, those counterpoint classes were, were amazing. I mean the first one was just writing good, figured bass. and the teacher was phenomenal. He was, his name is Sasha rapoport. He's a theory teacher and composer in Toronto and at the University of Toronto and he was getting us to write dance suites, you know, in a, in the baroque style. So, and he would say, let's give, let's give us the first four bars of a minuet and we would have to compose the next four bars, but we'd have to write maybe eight different variations of the, of the next eight bars and modulate them to different keys, but Sasha could sit down at the piano and improvise these right and perfect, perfect little, responses to the first four bars. And so this guy was doing what I want it to be able to. Here's, here's a, here's a phrase in g major now improvise a perfect response that modulates to e minor or that modulates to C or modulator or, or wherever you want it to go. And this guy was doing it.

Chris: 00:31:04 And then the second counterpoint class was writing Fugues and studying fuchs. And, and the third counterpoint class was more traditional species writing. I'm like the Renaissance Music and I'm studying Palestrina masses and writing, writing a curiae and all that, all that kind of stuff. So that. So that was me venturing into the classical department at UFT. Oh, I was also taking classes in minimalism. Yeah. I was studying with this guy named Russell Hardenberger, who it was one of the original members of the Steve Rice. Oh Wow. Cool. So, I mean, if you look up early performances of Steve Reich's music chances are Russ is in there. So I got to hang out with Russ and he did a course on minimalism and then he put together ensemble to play music for 18 musicians and, and then I did an independent study with him on rhythm and rhythm from different, different cultures and from different styles of music and the theory behind it. And, yeah, so I mean, and that's where I got into some of the, the rhythmic ideas that I've, I've written about in, in some of my hand independence posts

Jack: 00:32:40 Because that's an area that I personally think is really... I mean, you know, I didn't hear much about it throughout my entire education, you know, talking about rhythm. Really. It's out of the three of harmony, melody and rhythm. It's most under kind of looked at. And, I remember a really exciting course I did. I didn't go to Guildhall but I went to the summer schools, they have the jazz schools and I remember one of the most memorable, memorable thing was, a kind of course taken by one of the Drummers there, and it was all about, I can't remember. I'll botch my explanation of exactly what it was, but I just remember him basically a transfiguring each bar. So you'd kind of move. Yeah, I really can't describe it, but it was a really, really interesting way of looking at rhythm from a kind of deeply inside a, drummers mind. It was great, but there's not enough of that. So did you continue that rhythmic study throughout your, that kind of in depth study of rhythm throughout your uni?

Chris: 00:33:33 Yeah, I was, I was, I mean, one of the reasons I, I started, I took that independent study with Russ was because I thought that it was lacking in the curriculum. I'm like, as you said it was, there's a lot of focus on melody. There was, a lot of focus in jazz music, a lot of focus on improvisation, but it's usually melodic improvisation, theory and ear training, so there wasn't a lot of rhythm, but as, as a playing jazz music in the, especially in the nineties and, and in the, in the early two thousands, there was a lot of music that was being recorded using odd meters. So I'm like Brad Mehldau and Dave Holland and all of these, all of these musicians were releasing records with these odd meters and it was in everybody's mind was blown because they couldn't understand how to, how to play in the seven out of play in five are and then how, you know, how to play another compound meters. And I didn't feel like that was really being addressed appropriately in my curriculum at uft. So I took my learning in my own hands and I said, no, I want to do a rhythmic study and actually try to get to the root of some of these problems.

Chris: 00:35:07 I mean, also a related is as a piano player is nobody's really talking about hand independence. The number one question for a jazz piano player or jazz student is, what the hell do I do with my left hand?

Jack: 00:35:23 I'd love to. I'd love to dive into that in... very, very soon. I, there was one little thing that I just wanted to ask about the thing. So for someone, I mean, there's so many questions I want to ask, but I don't think we're going to get it, get through all of them, but with the counterpoint thing, just to tie that off throughout, kind of since, since you started studying it in a kind of, a classic way of, of doing those three classes and then how have you taken that into your playing?

Chris: 00:35:51 Yeah. That's, well, I think, I mean, it started with, it starts with what in that first class that I took, which was, you know, writing good, figured bass. It was important for me that whatever I was studying, whatever I was writing, or any piece of music I was checking out, I that I was playing it. So if, if my teacher gives, it, gives me assignment to write a eight variations of four bars or write an entire minuet or write a Jig or whatever, I should be able to play it. And so there was always a. So when I'm playing it at the Piano, there's the, I always wanted to create that physical connection with the music. So that when I'm going through some kind of variation of one, five, one with inversions and stuff, it just kind of like just, it's, it's able to connect physically. I just know where it sits on the piano. I know where it fits under my hands.

Jack: 00:37:05 Would it be fair to say that it's almost like that then you allow the, whatever you call it, the unconscious or your natural ability to kind of take care of that stuff. Whereas when you're doing it purely academically sat, looking at you have to compute everything.

Chris: 00:37:19 Yeah. That's the. Yeah, I, I, I, I use autopilot, right? Yeah. There's some kind of autopilot mechanism that, that clicks and. But I think the only way to really turn on the autopilot is to, is by many, many, many, many, many hours of repetition and practicing and just over and over and over and over again. But other otherwise, it's going to be really hard to connect it to, to your instrument and, and, and for me being able to improvise on it. You know, to, to improvise contrapuntally or, you know, using more traditional harmony. I'm going to just have some intuitive sense of how it fits under my fingers and on, on the keyboard. So I came up with a lot of exercises. Could you take us through some of those just as some examples? Yeah, sure. So, well let, let's, let's, let's consider, like species writing. So you, so first species is note on note right now.

Chris: 00:38:42 So you, when you're writing species, you're usually given what they do, they, they call a Cantus firmus, which is like your melody and it's usually in, well, let's say it's an whole notes. So the first part of the exercise is to write a line above your melody. So let's say our Cantus firmus is a major scale ascending in c major. So I have to create a counter line in whole notes above the c major scale, but it has to follow very strict. It follows very strict rules like consonants, only consonants are allowed, no dissonance, so no seconds, no sevens, and, but in the melody has to follow a certain certain path. So I can't, I can't use very many large intervals,, or if I use a large interval than it has to be followed by some smaller intervals in the opposite direction.

Chris: 00:39:51 So there's all of these guidelines and how to write species. So, I, so what I did is I took some of these ideas and I tried to. Oh, part of that is another, another angle of that is, is if you can write a counter line on top of your c major scale, but then you also are going to want to write a counter line below the c major scale so you have to counter lines that will work. So I'm, so I started creating exercises with this idea of, of, of species writing. So can you hear my piano?

Chris: 00:40:35 So here we've got our c major scale so I could write a account as A. So I counter line that. I mean that's not really interesting. So just thirds. So it'd be, you could also write it in six. That's also not very interesting. So what if I alternated thirds and six? So that's what the counter line on top. If I put the counter line on the bottom than might sound like this six would be,

Chris: 00:41:34 I alternate them, then it would sound. So I started taking some of those ideas and trying to relate them to playing the piano. And I would play them over different scales. Maybe like the bebop scale, I kind of stuff and that's just, that's just for species. And then there's like second species where you write two notes for every one note.

Chris: 00:42:54 no, I mean, you know, these wouldn't, these patterns wouldn't work... they are breaking many rules in the context of these exercises. I'm sorry, but , but they were, that wasn't my, my, when I was relating them to the, playing the piano, my goal to follow the rules. My goal was to create certain exercises.

Jack: 00:43:22 So this seems, this seems like a really, really fundamental thing for, for, for piano players particularly coming up well with anyone actually coming up with your own ways to practice, you know? Yeah. Especially with jazz., I would say especially with jazz, I don't know whether that's true, but essentially you're trying to it, it's like you can know all the major scales, keys, arpeggios, broken chords, voicings, things like that. But if it's not in your playing, you're not gonna be able to do it easily. If that makes sense. So that strikes me as one of the many things that you've probably come up with over the years is how can I get this into my playing?

Jack: 00:43:55 So that I don't think about it is that if someone is someone who's probably got a good foundation and they're getting into jazz for the first stage, what kind of, is there any advice that you can give them about kind of coming up with those kinds of exercises? And I know that example would have given them an appetite, but how do you think about it?,

Chris: 00:44:14 I think about it. So let's think about, so we were all brought up to play our scales and we play them ascending and replay them to sending a. But nobody really plays music like that. Nobody improvisers like we use different combinations of intervals and, and different, different intervallic patterns that we will use in the moment when we're, when jazz musicians are improvising. So, so one, one way I've been thinking about it is, well, if you take, if you, if you take your major scale, Why not practice it in thirds, why not practice it in fourths, why not practice it in fifths six as, as, , as far as you want to go with it.

Chris: 00:45:13 But one way I've been trying to get my students to create their own exercises is if you look at that pattern and try to reduce it to a sequence of steps and skips and what your, what you do is you create your own sequence, create your own pattern. It's like an, it's like an algorithm that you're going to, you're going to feed into a computer and out of that is going to become this melodic pattern that you then have to repeat many, many times to get it under your hands. So, so this one in third is, is skip a sort of ascending or descending step. Repeat. And that's it. And then if you wanted to do something, , maybe at a, a sequence out of step to the sequence, maybe let's say,

Chris: 00:46:14 so that would be ascending, skip, ascending, step, descending, skip, repeat, and you can get as creative as you want with these, with these patterns.

Jack: 00:46:29 So kind of out of interest, what are you, are you, you, yourself doing it in the moment to kind of challenge yourself with this sort of practice? Can you any come to mind? I'm not going to ask you to play it.

Chris: 00:46:46 Lately I've been thinking a lot of the exercises I've been, I've been thinking of,, are all, they all have to comply with the shape of my hand, if that makes sense. So it's really easy to think of these exercises on paper and, and when we think and it can be a challenge to translate some of these exercises on paper too,, to the piano and it can be, it can pose some interesting physical challenges, but lately I've been trying to think of some exercises that, that don't pose physical challenges, right? So, so let's say,, let's say I'm going to take a major triad and I want to approach, I want to approach each chord tone, , from a semitone below. So it might sound like I'm

Chris: 00:47:50 um, no, that's in C major, but that actually poses some physical problems, , with fingering and hand position. But if you play the same thing in other keys, it's not as difficult, like if you played an f sharp,

Chris: 00:48:11 it's just, it just fits under the hands so much nicer. It's just more natural to the key that that particular pattern. So lately I've been interested in finding more of those kinds of patterns that fit with certain keys., and , it kind of poses an interesting question that if, if, if you're in a situation where you're playing and see a and you want to play chromatic approach tones to the chord tones of see it's going to post some interesting physical problems, it's going to be harder to play., so then the question is then why play it?

Chris: 00:48:56 Why not play something that's more natural to the key of c and why not discover those? Right. So it's not so much I must come up with this part and then put it through, you know, keys sort of thing. So it's very similar to the idea that was a gem and attempt to a German accent, by the way. I don't know why, sorry if anyone's listening to joe and it's. No insult them, just straight up, just let you know. I won't do any accents. I think that's wise actually failed., yeah, in the key is it's very similar to like if you are playing the trombone, why would you ever play in b major? Right. And I'm not saying, you know, there's very good reasons why you would play and be major, but there's also good reasons why you would never play in b major.

Chris: 00:49:43 Um, and , playing and b major on the trombone is so much more difficult than playing in b flat major. Yeah. Right. So,, you know, I'm, I'm being a little, , I mean I'm, I'm kind of challenging that, this, the, that thinking that you should learn. Exactly, yeah. That's the thing in every key. I mean, you know, there are really good reasons to learn your music in every key and learn your patterns and every key and learn how to play the trombone and b major. There's very good reasons to be able to do that. There's also very good reasons to not do that. You also know at that point, I mean, you've done that. You've done a whole load of that obviously, so that's, it's kind of different thing really, you know, it sounds in

Chris: 00:50:28 retrospect. Yeah, it's hard. It's hard to make though. Sorry. It's easier to make those, those kinds of judgments in or ask those kinds of questions., in retrospect because I have, I have done that work, but when my students know, asked me should I learn how to play things in 12 keys, you know, I give them both answers like a good teacher, a good teacher, right. I say like, will you, there are good reasons to learn them in 12 keys and there's good reason to not learn them in 12 keys. And, there's practical reasons there are why you would never learn how to play some bebop tunes in any other key than the key. They're written in like confirmation by Charlie Parker. Like nobody's going to call that in e major. Nobody's going to call that an f sharp major., I mean you might still want to learn it in f major.

Chris: 00:51:26 Any major for the challenge of learning how to play in those keys and for the challenge of transposing and, and as some brain extra as a brain exercise, but there's also this practical element of practicing as well that I don't think we can ignore as teachers. Yeah., totally., and, and, and part of, I mean, part of performance is there isn't a right answer. You know, there isn't a yes played music in 12 keys or no, don't learn tunes and 12 keys. The part of the excitement of performances, seeing how all those conflicts resolved themselves, you know, like,, a or see if they see if they do resolve themselves in a performance, they do resolve. They have, they, they kind of have to resolve in the moment. But, whether it's pleasing or not I guess is another question. But,

Jack: 00:52:22 so there was, there was one thing I wanted to jump back to briefly, , which was you talking about playing really getting the kind of stuff you were studying at university and before into your playing by playing it at the piano and you're a pianist. And this is the kind of thing about the kind of compositional approach, , or whether anyone who's wanting to be a composer. I found myself at the age of 16 a going, crap, I play saxophone, I want to, I want to compose. So, and that was quite painful moment because I realized I've got so much catching up to do it do. Would that be your perspective on things? Is it possible to, to be a good composer and not have facility at the piano or, and I'm kind of kind of referencing ahead potentially about your, your explorations and chip tunes and using computers and some really inspiring stuff that you say on your blog about that, which, which I really liked. But what's your thoughts on, on that?

Chris: 00:53:14 Um, well my, yeah, there's this, I think what you're hinting at is there's this idea that, when you're, when you're at university, all of the non piano majors have to take piano courses, but all of the non saxophone majors don't have to learn how to play saxophone. And yeah, I don't, it's a, that's a, that's a tough question because even if you are, even if you compose at the computer, you have such a leg up, if you can play a piano because the piano offers, a very good visualization of music theory. you know, it's not, it's definitely not necessary to learn how to play the piano, to compose good music. I think what makes a good composer isn't that they learn, isn't that they can play the piano, but they just know how to manipulate form. Right. And they have the confidence to be able to, to make certain changes that will make a better composition. It's not, it has nothing to do with them being able to play the piano yeah, that's, I mean, it's a tough question. I'm not sure where I can. I can see both sides of it.

Jack: 00:54:49 Sure. I think, I mean if the answer unfortunately, is that, yeah, from my experience anyway, I'm just talking for myself that, that is, you do have to really learn piano if you are serious about developing dexterity or kind of a literacy as a composer if you really want the big picture of it.

Chris: 00:55:08 Yeah, I mean, I mean I don't the thing with saying that, that as I don't want to do, I don't, I don't like to discourage people.

Jack: 00:55:16 Yeah. Okay. Good point.

Chris: 00:55:18 Same time because I mean there's plenty, there's so many different kinds of music making programs out there that are designed so that you don't have to play piano so that you. And sometimes it can be really refreshing for me to listen to something that has been composed., that is an interesting composition and they don't know anything about music theory and you see that a lot, especially in electronic music and team music where there's some really, really interesting sounds and compositions that are happening in and they don't know what they're doing,

Jack: 00:55:59 or at least let's talk about that because there's a, there's a whole series on your website which I'll link to your blog and I'll link to this series which is called adventures in chip tunes, which I haven't actually gone into., but, but tell us about that.

Chris: 00:56:12 So,, I was first, what, what is the chip? June as well. Okay. So, , , chiptune chip, the style tunes refers to the music and the sounds that come out of vintage music chips that were in old computers and, and game consoles like the second master system or a, the Nintendo or the Super Nintendo. And, when you write the early chip tunes, I'm have a very, very unique sound because they were restricted from the capabilities of the music chips that were being, , that we're, we're, we're being used. So when you, when you listened to the music from, , from Super Mario brothers, it has a very distinct sound and all of those sounds are being created within very, very tight restrictions., so that's Kinda, that's when you listen to old game music, the bleeps and bloops that chances are, it's, it's chipped in early, early video game music., but that scene, the chiptune scene started to, , it really flourished a underground through the eighties and the nineties through hacking communities. So there would be a hacker group who would be hacking a particular video game and releasing it underground and there would be a title screen before you play. Before he even played the game, there was a title screen that promoted the game and promoted the hacker group, but there will be music to this title screen. And,, this music turned into a showcase for chiptune artists to show off their stuff.

Chris: 00:58:20 And I mean, that evolved into the demo scene. And,, it's, it's a really, really interesting, , interesting story, interesting culture. But a year, a few years ago, four or five years ago, I was asked to play in a band in Toronto that required that required synthesis a synthesizer. And at the time I didn't know anything about electronic music five years ago, I was like, I'm a piano only guy. I only play piano. I don't have any gear, I don't have, I don't even really have any speakers, don't have, I have a keyboard, but it's because it has a piano sound.

Chris: 00:59:00 So that was me. That was me five years ago., but then, , I was asked to be in abandoned, really interesting band and,, I thought that this band needed a synth sound since sounds so I went out and I bought myself a Nord stage, which if you're a piano only player and you look at the stage and it looks like a spaceship, it's like a spaceship concept. It's, it's, it's crazy. So I'm faced with this, , this spaceship console and I have to figure out what all the knobs do. So I taught myself synthesis and, I wanted to try and imitate. So I'm looking at. So I'm looking at the menu for this stage and it's just like, saw sign square, this is, what's this? I was like, what the heck did these things mean? I can tell that they sound different, but what do they mean? So I just started doing research and what? Well, what, what kind of music uses square waves? What kind of music uses sine waves? Oh, well, chip tune music uses square uses these waves. Wind waves, chiptune music uses skyline wave. So, so why don't I listen to some chip tune music? Oh, and by the way, I've been listening to this stuff since I was a kid because I played like a way to reconcile the amount of hours. Just transcribing. It's fine.

Chris: 01:00:35 I was doing my homework all along. So I started digging up these, you know, my childhood video game soundtracks and trying to imitate them on the north, you know, trying to get the, the volume envelope just perfect. Trying to make the filter sound just right., and for the most part I was doing okay. Except on the Nord, the Nord has its own unique way of making the sounds. It's a square wave on the board is going to sound so much different than a square wave coming from one of these video game consoles. Yeah. So I said no, I want to get it exact exact, you know, this is just my mind. I was just like, no, I want to make this sound exactly right. So. So I went on the Internet and, and was looking up how to make it sound right. And there's a company in Montreal called plug and they have a virtual instrument called chip sounds.

Chris: 01:01:35 And the whole point of this instrument is to mimic exactly the sound of these vintage chips, but in order to use the two, in order to use these sounds, I needed to plug them through some kind of digital audio workstations. So I started messing around with garage band and logic and, and, , what was another one? Reaper. I ended up settling, settling on Ableton and that's how it started. And I was just started to make chip tunes this way. You have my, I had my nor beside me. I was programming it with chip sounds through Ableton., but what I really, really liked about this process compositionally was that, where before I was like a pencil, paper kind of guy. Right. I write at the piano when I have a good idea, I write it down and I just keep on writing and I craft through my writing with pencil. But once I started plugging things into Ableton, it's just like, oh, oh, you mean I can write something and then I can listen to it immediately.

Jack: 01:02:44 This is exactly, yeah, I was, I was, because it was a bit on your blog, which I will be paraphrasing, forgive me. But it was, it was something like you saying you struggled with trying to strive for like a seriousness that's contrary to the, it was like country to flow basically. So your approach, your original paper composition was a. yeah, you know, I mean,

Chris: 01:03:05 yeah, that sounds, that sounds, that sounds right. So there's some, there's something about. I mean, when, when I was at, when I was a student at University of Toronto, it was a, I mean they encouraged you to use finale and, and write your stuff. But, but, but there was a certain, there seemed to be the certain respect for the person who could sit at your desk and write it by hand or write it down at the piano and you know, there there's some, there's a little bit of charm about thinking about it by the piano. And I've gotten my ink and, and a candle and I'm gonna write it this way. That's kind of cool. It's kind of neat to think about. But, you know, I've been using computers all my life. I've been playing video games all my life. My flow, I can achieve so much better flow at the computer because the computer is also my instrument. No, I'm familiar with the interface. I know how a mouse works. I know how to keyboard works. I take typing lessons. I don't know. There's, I, I can get on the software really, really quickly, naturally, right. This is not a skill I need to know.

Jack: 01:04:15 And does the thing about validating this as well because we grow up in a culture where that's not treated as anything special at all because it's so normal. You know, I remember, I remember thinking this, that I always, I never found flow, I mean, whether it's dyslexia or whatever with the written page, even when I was conducting, I never found flow with it. I just had to work really hard to kind of build up a mental map in my head of it. but, but the flow thing, I remember just days and days of just spending time at my computer writing and producing from the age of 13 or 12 or something like that. Yeah. And it. And it just makes sense. But for some reason I don't know why I've, I've placed that not on a high. I haven't given that enough credit. And what I really liked about that article, I can't remember which one it was a I'll try and link to it, but you kind of validated it a bit more and I'm just interested in why, why, I suppose I need to hear it more than anyone listening.

Chris: 01:05:08 Why, why am I, why am validated, I suppose so. Well, I think, well, I mean I'm, you know, me writing it and validating, validating it for myself, but it's also kind of a message to my teachers, who were either purposefully or not purposefully giving these signals that, you know, pop popular music and all of the tools that are used to create popular music, are not good or they're not expressive or they're sellouts or they're cheating or something. You know, I had, I remember one of my, one of my teachers, he said, know he described producing pop music similar to just turning a Knob, right? Like, you know, and this is how some people actually think they don't, they don't see the craft, they don't see the composition and the flow that I'm, even though I might be sitting in front of my computer, I'm still hard at work, you know, I'm still a being creative. I'm still improvising, I'm still playing.

Chris: 01:06:27 I'm just not doing it in the way they like to do it. That's it. There's no, you know, the process is the same. The, we're still trying to achieve the same thing. We're still trying to achieve this creative flow, we're just using different instruments., so,, I'm not sure if this is happening more about your, your compositional side of things, your, your process because you said, I think it was about chips I a concert, I can't talk now and it's a Sunday afternoon this way about restriction, the benefit of restriction in composition. This is something I've always thought about. So restriction and intentionality. Like because there's different angles. I could ask a question from an, I suppose it's around the use of your, your classical background, your jazz background and your craft at the piano., the use of computers and then how those two come together because the convenience can be incredibly liberating let you say really good place to find flow to chance upon things to transfigure material and blah, blah, blah and endlessly.

Chris: 01:07:35 But it also can be slightly overwhelming. So I'm interested in, in how you start on a blank page, so to speak now or some of some of the many ways you start and generate material and move it around. , yeah., well I started, one of the reasons I liked the computer so much is because it wasn't the piano at the,, it, I, I mean when I'm, when I'm at the piano and I'm playing, I'm, I'm occupied with playing the piano so I might have a compositional idea or I'm working on some ideas, but I'm still playing it, you know, like I'm still thinking about the fingering, I'm thinking about

Chris: 01:08:16 the weight and the balance and, and, the boundary between composer a piano player and piano arranger is all mushed together when I'm sitting at the piano, when I'm sitting in front of the computer. It's like I'm a composer. So,,, I don't have to worry about the physical action, the, you know, the, the, the, my, my fingers hitting the key. I can just, I can think purely about the form of the composition about the sequence of ideas., so I think that, I mean that was probably the first thing why I liked the computer. I mean as far as setting restrictions,, yeah, I mean I found sitting at the, at the computer with all the software and all the instruments that are available can be really, really frightening., and I mean even though I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm producing my own music, like I don't have all the software, like I have maybe four things that I use.

Chris: 01:09:26 Virtual instruments or reversal? Yeah, like virtual instruments, like of interest. I'm here, I've got an open,, and most of them, two of them are from plugs. So I've got, I've got a chip sounds chip crusher, which is a rather than what, rather than a imitating the chips that make music there, they're imitating chips that or imitating speakers that compressed sound. So it's like a, it's like a, it's a really great bit crusher. I have massive. Okay, cool., and I have a micro tonic which is kind of like a drum electronic drum, a sound plugin. Not Very complicated setup. That's all I'm using, at least within ableton. I mean, I can talk about some of the trackers a in a sec, but within Ableton, I, every now and then I do use some of the built in ableton sounds, but as far as the stuff that I've downloaded a Bot, it's just those things., and I really liked the idea of, of, of composing just with simple way forms., what are all the things I can do with the pulse wave within massive,, within massive, you have all of these presets and you have all of these wave forms that you can mess around with. But I'm really, I'm, I'm really content just messing around with one.

Chris: 01:11:04 I mean eventually like I'll open my box a little bit or expand the box a little bit and maybe check out a few of the other things. But I would really like to

Chris: 01:11:14 master one of the, of the instruments. Right. That's why I only have massive for. That's such a great approach. The radios, my synthesis because I'm sure. No, I can appreciate that. Some people like to get another other instruments because there's something about the interface and there's something about the flow that's built into the software that can inspire them. , and do you ever used a omnisphere sorry, what's it called them? Nice. Fair. No, I haven't. That's my kind of massive or my Chin's one. That's the one for me that just totally inspired me from the beginning and it, and it mixes the two worlds of, of sample and synth in a kind of really interesting way., but, but even that can be overwhelming, you know, mean you look at that and it's just like what? It's just endless things to do it. And it sounds stupid that it's either.

Jack: 01:12:06 I say it's overwhelming, but I suppose it, it comes to this thing. I see it in my students as well as having seen it in myself for years, that you end up being just like an orchestrator, you end up thinking only vertically and you keep on adding things and like you're not thinking about the form development. And I'm wondering, one of the earliest pieces of criticism I got from my first conducting teacher, apparently compositions, actually, he said it's great jacket just doesn't go anywhere. Like, it's really nice. It just doesn't do anything. It wasn't minimalism, it was just, you know, I was really interested in sound and the visceral, visceral side of music. So yeah. So yeah, but, and gone,

Chris: 01:12:45 I can, I can, I can also understand that when you're talking, we're talking about all these virtual instruments, like some people just plug in massive and they have all of these, their list of instruments is just huge and they navigate, but they are still able to navigate through all of the options.

Chris: 01:13:03 So my idea is, you know, some people just open up massive and they click a preset and they edit it a little bit and that's it., and so, but they must be, my theory is that they must be restricting themselves in other ways., where you were, I, we might be restricting ourselves just within massive or with me just within like a few way forms. I'm not using presets, creating our own sounds. We've created our own box, but the people who have hundreds of plugins and hundreds of these instruments and they can just open up one and they pick one and they,, either it's a preset or they make their own, they're still, they're able to navigate these and not feel so overwhelmed. So they must be restricting themselves in other ways. Maybe the restricting themselves in time, maybe they only have five, five minutes to figure out what the sound is. Maybe the, you know what I mean?

Jack: 01:13:59 And that might not be a conscious process. I mean, it sounds like you and I think particularly carefully about like the, I didn't know what to call it. I suppose the Meta kind of looking at, at compensation and things like that. but my instinct is that with anyone who's, who's, who's good at anything, they are employing these principles anyway, whether it's unconsciously or not.

Chris: 01:14:20 I would, I would, I would agree with that and are part of me kind of wants to try it, you know, like just jump off a cliff and just get 100 instruments and just open one up and just spend five minutes finding one and that's it. And that's the one. Right. And then moving on because, you know, it's not that I'm restricting myself and my way is any better than the way other people restrict themselves. It's just like a new, a different skillset and a different flow and the computer and will for me, Ableton welcomes both approaches. I was like, oh, there was one, there was one composer, I was reading an interview where he, for most of his stuff, he takes a similar approach to me just like I, I like really tight boxes and I'm just going to explore that box really thoroughly. But then he had a certain project, he was writing music for a certain video game and he didn't have very much time. So what he said was like was I'm going to only compose using loops. Right. That's it. I'm definitely use Luke's. No, so I'm not going to worry about creating my own sounds or creating my own drum pallet is all going to be in loops.

Jack: 01:15:41 Just seeing the little demon inside of me that grew up in restrictive classical, I suppose environment says that's not composing, you know, like that's not allowed, that's cheating and whatever. And actually like what we're saying is that, that's completely just you just coming in and you're framing it from one angle, which is averaging one way to think about it. So I remember the. Sorry, we're going to go.

Chris: 01:16:03 Yeah, no, I, I was, I'm, I'm agreeing with you., there's, there's part in the back of my mind. Yeah. It's like, that's not right. You should be creating your own life.

Jack: 01:16:14 I mentioned at the beginning of this question that the level of intentionality like is a good thing to think about, but also you've got to, you've got to grade it. Like you don't have to have 100 percent intention. I think that's the weight that I feel is a composer sometimes is that I have to have expected the thing to have happened in the way that it's happened and I have to have foreseen it, you know, it's like hindemith at the beginning of his training is one of his composition books. He says something really lofty about like, you know, the composer should see in a split second the entire symphony and be able to fill it in, you know, and, and I remember reading that the age of 15 or something when I was trying to get serious and just being completely overwhelmed by it. I'll never do that and I never should. It's an awful way to think about it personally. But.

Chris: 01:16:57 Well I, I like to put, I mean just to challenge that always. I always try to put some kind of random element, even if it's some random effect or a random rained within an or something.

Chris: 01:17:10 Cool. Yeah. You know, some kind of randomness where it's just impossible for me to know. And there's a little bit of this a I'm getting. I guess the more I've gotten into a technology and writing for computers, I'm so much more into jumping off the cliff, you know, I dunno, I dunno what it is, where before playing the piano is very tightly controlled. I have to know what the form is. I need to know what's going to happen.

Jack: 01:17:38 But you must, you must bring in some of the material that you're like. I just remember the one of the best composition lessons I ever had when I was younger at guy killed a forgotten his name. I'll try and link to them again in the show notes. But , he, he on on day one he kind of said, you know, restrict yourself with three rules. Okay, I'll use seconds and forths and I'll use dotted notes on the, you know, from every apart, from every note in a bar. And then. But his point was not that you then write a piece like that. It's that you start generating material with the weight of I must write something good, taken off your shoulders and then, and then you break your own rules because it's that cliche of learn the rules. So that you can break them whether you've got to create your own rules first, if, and of course this is, this is, you're doing this consciously, if you aren't inspired, if inspiration isn't kind of flowing through you, it's a way of. So do you find that kind of when you start out in terms of musical material, let's talk like kind of melody harmony and motifs and stuff like that. Do you start out with that kind of thing or is it just you just hearing stuff in your head and you're expressing it?

Chris: 01:18:43 It's not, it's not really. I'm one or the other., I think it's mostly these days it's just play., I mean, I haven't,, I think it just starts out with,, I'm like, can I create the sound and what's going to happen when I make the sound? Does this sound sound more ambient and then responding to what you've created, I think is the, is the next step. So,, you mean in terms of development of a piece? Yeah, in terms of development of the piece or, or development of the next measure., and that can happen with one instrument, but that can also happen,, at the, at the computer, it can be much more organic. It's not not working on one line. You can work on the melody line and the drum line at the same time., and you can make them a, you can develop them together at the same, at the same time., you know, , you know, and you're, you're, you're going back and forth and I know it's not, it's not a, yeah, it's much more organic. But for me it's, it's all, it's all about the. Yeah. Because it sounds

Jack: 01:20:08 like you're in, you're in very much in flow with it. So it's a to, to even ask you about it. It's probably a bit unfair and annoying. But

Chris: 01:20:15 yeah, I've been, yeah, I've never, yeah, I might start with a, I mean, the thing I find with if I, if I decide, oh, I'm going to start with this melody or I'm going to start with this cord, I'm like, already, I've, I've, I've, I've imposed a certain structure that just might not make sense, you know, because, well, what if the sound that I produce, I'm doesn't agree with the cord. What if the sound doesn't agree with the chord progression or,, I think, but if you approach everything with a, a sense of play and experimentation and improvising than you, it doesn't really matter what you start with as long as you start, if that makes sense.

Chris: 01:21:08 And I think that's, I think that's probably the hardest part is, is just starting, is just go, just go, just jump off the cliff. It doesn't either. The first thing you write down is not going to be great. So just play with it., but if you say I'm going, do I start with a chord progression? Do I start with a melody? I, I, you know, yeah, I don't., sometimes sometimes it might start as a melody, but,, I, I don't know that's a, I actually find that when people ask about composition, that's the common questions. Like what do I, what do I start with, how do I get, how do I start with a cord and move a quarter around or do I start with a drum beat? And I don't know if that's the right question to ask. I think it's, it's just how do I start? And the answer is just just start. Yeah. Great. What's, what's the first note I write? I don't know, just write a note, just just start with that note, play it and listen to it back and, and,, and play and then just keep on interacting with it and responding to it and get feedback.

Chris: 01:22:23 I think., and that's more of the approach I've been trying to take is just jumping off the cliff. I'm, every time I, I'm starting something new. Great. Yeah.

Jack: 01:22:36 Well we should probably start wrapping up soon because I'm aware of where we were about at the hour mark and I will perhaps even more cool. But, , just before we go, I'd love to ask a few kind of quick questions if that's all right. Just, , we haven't really gotten into who you've played with and what you're up to, but there's a, there's a really special project that you're into. , you have been for awhile called myriad, or is it married? Had three. Sorry, three and three. Tell us a little bit about, about that project. So Mary had three is a, is a

Chris: 01:23:06 piano, bass and drum trio. We were all at one point, students at the University of Toronto, so we all have a backgrounds in jazz, but we also have lots of other interests. I'm like classical music and rock music and electronic music. And we started in 2010 and since then we've released a three albums, a four, if you include the chiptune album., we've toured all around the world,, Canada, US, Europe. We played at Ronnie Scott's a London., we were in Tokyo at the Tokyo jazz festival, just a,, about a few. Just a few weeks ago. But yeah. And that's kind of my pr lately. That's been my performing performance outlet. I mean, it's a composition outlet as well, but the other guys, right, for the band as well. It's a, it's a colette band. It's not my band. It's

Jack: 01:24:09 band. Hilarious. Actually on your website, which I'll, yeah, we all, we all, we all contribute to the workings of the bay. And you had immediately, as soon as you start listening.

Chris: 01:24:28 Yeah, we book, we booked the band ourselves., I, you know, we write grants, we do all the design and social media stuff and we all have different tasks. Like Ernesto does a lot of booking, I do a lot of grant writing, Dan does a lot of design and, and social media stuff., so we're kind of a, a team in that way. I'm a leader, a leaderless band., and that helps for, you know, for if you want to form a band, you know, make the, make a musical connection with your bandmates. But, it's really helpful. I mean, I'm not, I'm not sure what the, what it's like having a band in, in the UK or in Europe, but in Canada, , when all the, all the band duties, all the music, the business duties, it's much easier when it's all split up show. Yeah. Like the booking and the grant writing is our can be pretty overwhelming for one person. So this way I can be in a band, I can perform, I can tour and I can still practice

Jack: 01:25:47 where otherwise it would just be running a business all day. Cool. And then one last question, which is about really your favorite musicians on your site. You've got a number of world, quite a lot of transcriptions you put up there for Bud Powell and Doug and, and monk. Well,

Jack: 01:26:03 but none of of Mehldau, but he sounded like he was a favorite pianist as well. Who, who is some of the other players that you really respect and have listened to over the years? , well I'll just narrow it down to piano player. I'm a, I've done, they're not up on the website, but I've transcribed a lot of John Taylor. I'm a lot of Fred Hersch,, , actually when people ask me what my favorite players, , I'll mention this now., it's, I, I just caught myself. I caught myself doing it., you, we always go with the those superstars that people, you know, like Bud Powell, Oscar and Fred Hersch and John Taylor, but really growing up as a, as a student, my, the, my biggest influences were the musicians and the local scene., the, my team, the teachers who I was studying with. So like people like Nancy Walker and Kirk Mcdonald, Brian Dickinson, Gary Williamson, I'm like turn domain.

Chris: 01:27:19 There's like all of these people in the city that , you know, piano players and non piano players that I think are just as much part of the, , the education of students as the Oscar Peterson's are. Yeah, totally. So, you know, and I have a, , Doug Riley is one of them. I'm Doug Riley was a piano player from Toronto who's transcriptions are up on my site., he was also a really bad ass b three player, a really huge influence on, on the Canadian music scene. And, but these are things that people from outside of Canada and even some people from Canada or people from these people's, their hometown don't understand and they don't realize. And I think, , it's, it's important to have that, that balance of,, of local, national and international music scenes being a part of the education and influencing, influencing students.

Chris: 01:28:41 Um, and I mean, I partly say that because it was important to my, to my, my, , my education, like going to jazz clubs every, every Friday and Saturday when I was in high school and going to see my teachers play. It was the best. It was the best experiences., so I'm sure you can find, you know, similar, similar stories with other people and other, other scenes, you know, whether it be in Toronto or I'm in a cities in the UK or for, or other places in Europe. There's this, you know, there's this, a local scene that influenced the t, the influence the student. And then that student had this, , the foundation to learn or even to create their own business of touring and,, and get into the market in the music market., I, I had the, I had that, I haven't. Where, when, when a, when a student, when I, when I meet a student for first time and they say, Oh yeah, I'm from, I'm from the nine OBC.

Chris: 01:29:53 I, I kind of know who their teachers are, you know, it's because it's all, it's all part of the, I dunno, the garden, the garden, you know, the, that's a, that's supporting the community., sounds great. So what, that sounds like a great. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was great for me. I mean, it's always needs a tweaking here and there. I always encourage my. I always encourage my students to transcribe some bud. Yeah. Try and check out John Taylor., but. Oh yeah, maybe you should also check out somebody who's playing in Toronto. Not that I'm encouraging the transcribed me. They're welcome to do that. So many other piano players, local input rather than the logging in the globalized kind of a globalized world, right? Because those local, those local players whom they may, they may or may not be familiar with are I've probably influenced.

Chris: 01:31:00 They're playing in ways that they don't understand. Yeah, totally. So, you know, it's, it's going, going to, , going to the source in a way., and so,, and so what's next for you in your work?, well, next time I'm working on some, , myriad tours for next year, Europe in April and may we usually attend the Jaza had conference in brain and , in April we're hoping to do some jazz festival tours, , in Canada next summer, possibly a Tokyo Japan tour next year., and then there's a, I'm writing some music for a, for this video game to music therapy, video game for kids with motor disabilities. Right.

Chris: 01:32:00 So,, so, , kids with motor disabilities can't use traditional video game controllers, so they use, let's say, a shaker as their controller. So the xbox connect can detect their hand movements and the sound of the Shaker and that becomes their input and that becomes their controller. So we're designing a levels and games and music to fit these,, these music therapy driven, , games for kids. So that's also kind of an ongoing project

Jack: 01:32:39 for me. Brilliant. Well listen, thank you so much Chris for coming on. It's been really fun to dive into some of these products. Sorry, topics,, and really appreciate your time again on a Sunday afternoon.

Chris: 01:32:53 Yeah, my pleasure. There's, I, I don't have a weekends. Every everyday is the same for me, so I've

Jack: 01:32:59 been teaching all day. Great. Alright, well thanks again and take care. Thanks Jack.