On memory, music, and place - Benjamin Stuchbery

It is late. 11:13pm on Sunday, August 12th to be precise. I like these late hours. Everyone has gone to bed. There is very little sound save the hum of the dishwasher and the chirping of crickets coming in from outside. Late nights are times where I can let my mind wander where it wills. Usually I find myself running through the events of the past day: the accomplishments, the near misses, and the encounters which gave the day its texture. Traveling provides a rich palette of experiences to ponder at day’s end. Perhaps this is where travel derives its pleasure, at least for me. There are of course the new sights and sounds, in addition to the new faces and places which stimulate curiosity and wonder. There is also the pleasure of returning to a place that is familiar. What I notice in these instances is both the comfort of the intimately known, and the discomfort that arises from noticing disjunctions between my memory of a place and the reality that is before me. Perhaps the familiar house no longer resembles the one known to me from my memory. Maybe my friend has changed – or I have changed and so the ground of our relationship has shifted. I don’t mean that discomfort is an unwelcome reality. On the contrary, leaning into the discomfort of the no longer familiar is necessary for a relationship to continue to be living and thriving. If change is not acknowledged in the people and places that have informed my identity then the relationship is cut off. A refusal to acknowledge dissonance in my relationships with people and places would be a refusal to continue to engage, to speak another word, to affirm the goodness of the present reality. 

For me this tour brings all of these threads of travel experience together and, to paraphrase Nancy Holmes’ poem, ties them together with a love knot. Our Lost Islands program pivots around two pieces: “Okanagan Vignettes,” and “Algoma Miniatures.” The Vignettes are rooted in a landscape which I know intimately. Each time I return to this piece I have a clear sense of the physical geography which informs the music. I am transported almost immediately to the clay cliffs along the KVR trail overlooking lake Okanagan just outside Penticton. The colour of the cliffs is a soft brown, and they are dotted with turquoise coloured sage brush. The cliffs butt up against long rows of grape vines and fruit trees. I can almost smell the scent of sage, especially potent after a heavy rain. This is a place that exudes comfort and all the feelings associated with nostalgic remembrance. And yet despite my familiarity with this piece, each time I return to it I have found the experience of the unfamiliar waiting in the form of an unintended note or a new harmony as yet unnoticed. As in the music, so too in my lived experience of those cliffs. For you see I really believe what we say in our program notes about the places we have called home: they are in a sense forever lost to us. There is always a discord between my memory of a place and my present experience of it. Those cliffs were never the same each time I returned just as I was never the same each time I returned. And this is how it should be. 

The Algoma Miniatures by contrast are rooted in a landscape that is unknown to me. With this piece I am bringing a musical landscape crafted by all of us in the trio, and of Arie too, to a place that forms no part of my lived experience. I am approaching my visit to the Algoma region with curiosity and, hopefully, a healthy dose of wonder. I am eager to discover how knowledge of a place as yet unknown to me can inform my musical interpretation of it. This coming to know of new places is one of the gifts of this tour; that and the gift of returning to familiar landscapes and people to continue a conversation begun long ago and renewed with each new utterance.

 - Benjamin Stuchbery

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