The Non-Genre Now

by Leanne Zacharias    ¦   May 11 2017

Performing musicians often keep a quiet house. Some will confess, apologetically, that they listen to far less music than one might expect. I tend toward the quiet, though without apology.  At any given moment in the academic year, I may be preparing ten to twenty works for performance while I simultaneously have, rolling around my mental space, twenty-five cello works (for teaching), five-ten orchestral scores (for conducting), five-ten chamber music scores (for coaching) all being processed and memorized in close proximity to each other. Fascinating elisions and overlap of aesthetics, histories, and geographies emerge in waking life and cacophonous dreams. Intentional sonic respite throughout the day is essential.  As an experiment for the purposes of our omnivorous listening blog, I catalogued a sonic snapshot representing my last forty days – it is far from quiet.

Like most of us now, I listen across an array of formats. On my laptop, streaming newly released albums by Aimee Mann and Solange.



In my car, mostly to podcasts to keep up to date. At home, to vinyl: new and old treasures that find their way into our collection: Kurt Vile, Giant Sand, Steve Earle, Otis Redding, Lightening Dust, Daniel Romano. All the while, steeped in old music that is constantly fresh: Beethoven cello sonatas, Bach cello suites, Brahms trios as played by young music students playing their hearts out – old gems with new faces. As a teacher, my role is to hear each work anew, allowing students to acquaint themselves to these works personally – to develop their own interpretation and meaning. My history with each work registers on a tacit level while the student develops their own. I conduct Tchaikovsky, Bottesini, Rachmaninoff. Old works are new to me in full score format, as opposed to the cello part only. I visualize rehearsal techniques, imagine each student working to execute parts that are challenging and expanding their technique. I go to touring shows: John K Samson, Veda Hille and follow friends making amazing new music: Robert Honstein, Bearthoven, Nicole Lizee, Vicky Chow, Kate Soper. I plan repertoire for 2018, 2019, 2020. Cello technique exercises, scales and etudes are in constant rotation.


Next week I’ll be listening to Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra perform in the court of Versailles. Last week I heard an epic group recital of young Suzuki –method violinists and cellists playing together by memory. I heard student auditions, final recitals, and performance juries. And every Thursday, there is karaoke; where strangers and pals cheer each other on, croon along at a forgotten gem, an overplayed groaner or a new discovery. The space is inclusive and some call it church – sacred space for nostalgia. Most recently, it included The Beach Boys, Taylor Swift, Portishead, Paul Simon, Tegan and Sara, Fleetwood Mac: an endless playlist through personal history. This week I’m immersed in the soundscape of Grasslands National Park: songbirds, bison breath, wind, coyotes, horse hooves, artist Peter Morin singing to the land, spontaneous collaborations with students into the Badlands – where Sitting Bull once took refuge and the end of the Cretaceous Period is visible in rock.


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Photo Credit: Dianne Oullette


A recent project illuminated the direct overlap of musical histories and styles ongoing in the 2017 musician’s mind.  In the Bach Tatami Mash-up collaboration, artist Kevin Deforest spun vinyl of cellists Pablo Casals and Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi while I performed live –three cellists (one deceased) simultaneously playing Bach’s Solo Suite #1 in G Major.  Individual tempos accelerated or dragged behind, articulations differed, vibrato choices were radical in contrast. If Casals and Tsutsumi had been in the room, I’m sure they would have laughed along with us.


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Last week, I reviewed a student composition recital online, having been sick on concert night. Composer Luis Ramirez sent links and program notes via email, which I appreciated given the circumstances.  Outlook email alert dings and text boxes interrupted my screen lower right, iMessage pushed notifications upper right, and a phone call overrode the music altogether. The medium, in this case, verified the message of this recital, aptly titled “Reflections of the Internet”.


My father, a retired medical doctor, took violin lessons in Winnipeg as a boy, guitar lessons in England as a young man, and sings in community choirs. Each day, he emerges from sleep with music in his head. It’s an extreme jukebox: a Tchaikovsky Symphony horn solo one day, Joni Mitchell the next. He can never predict what it will be from day to day, nor does he ever fail to remember what the day’s tune. His musical brain developed in an era before constant, instant access to recorded music was possible – he deeply internalized his preferences. I pray my seventy-year-old brain will have the musical vitality his does, with the ability to recall not just excerpts, but uninterrupted spins through a personal history playlist that is decidedly post-genre and decidedly unquiet.


Leanne Zacharias

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