Goin’ Places That I’ve Never Been…

“Like a band of gypsies, we go down the highway. We’re the best of friends, and we keep insisting that the world turn our way. And our way is on the road again.” – Willie Nelson

The last month has seen me putting some miles on the odometer. I’ve been pretty lucky to be met by fabulous and appreciative audiences across Western Canada and the United States. I’ve been invited over for bison burgers, offered the use of hot tubs, joined in on curbside jam sessions, and been met with so many stimulating and fascinating conversations I’ve lost count. The gratefulness that I feel for all the kind and hospitable people I meet along the road cannot really be measured, but the amazing company you find when traveling and playing songs for folks is why I love to tour.

One of the highlights of the summer’s tour was the two weeks spent as an artist-in-residence in Val Marie, Saskatchewan where I spent my days wandering around Grasslands National Park recording the natural sounds and talking with people about their experience in one of the most amazingly beautiful places I’ve ever been. I wrote some music too, and I mashed it all together into a piece whose title riffs off the fabulous work of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. You can check out the video for Of the Last Quiet Places below.

Some exciting things are coming up this fall. Michael Murray will give another performance of my piece for solo organ, Panic at the Discotheque, right here in Vancouver. And over on the other side of the country, the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra will give the premiere performance of my piece Five to Nine to Five. Be sure to check out the Events page for all the details.

Gone Woolgathering

Summertime sometimes seems like a dream, and what a dream. Looking out at the haze of wildfire smoke that’s been covering western Canada for much of the last few weeks, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. I think I saw three bands who had never met before pull out a request of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” at a festival in Vancouver. Or maybe I was sleeping. I think I watched an intricate dance of children’s feet and frog legs at a swimming hole in Clearwater where thousands of toadlings turned the sandy beach a dark green. Then again, perhaps I was asleep. I believe that I recall the taste of the first peaches in the Okanagan, fresh off the tree in early July. Or did that really happen…

A few things, though, I can be sure of. I am absolutely certain that Elevate the Arts was a fabulous way to kick off the festival season. So many wonderful musicians and such a great group of folks in the Comox Valley to festivate with. I’m positive that I’m looking forward to touring out to Saskatchewan and down through the States next month. In fact, I’m already itching to get cracking on the electro-acoustic sound installation I’ll be making out at Grasslands National Park. And I guarantee that I’ll be making my fretless banjo debut at the Wind Festival, right here at home in Squamish.

The reviews are starting to come in about the new record. Invisible Ink says “Hill’s musicianship is unparalleled,” The Modern Folk Music of America says that it “slaps and thrums with old-time energy,” and Lonesome Highway calls it “a really enjoyable experience for roots music fans everywhere.” For more insight into the creative process, read this interview I did with Confront Magazine. If you haven’t checked out Old Paint yet, you can take a listen over at Bandcamp or get your very own copy of the CD at CDBaby.

I’m also very excited to share with you all a recording from a fantastic performance by the Erato Ensemble of a new piece from earlier this summer. What A Dream was written using a Shakespeare text and numerous Google translations of that text. It’s a pretty dreamy, meditative piece, so find yourself a good cumulus cloud to gaze at and crank up the volume.

New album, Old Paint

Front coverIt’s been a little while in the making, but my new album is finally ready to see the light of day. I’m so pleased with it and super grateful to all the wonderfully talented people who contributed their talents to the final product. This album is a little different than the last one; all acoustic, all new-timey traditional tunes. It was such a joy to create, and I really hope you all enjoy listening to it. You can pick up your very own copy at the click of a finger over at CD Baby.

And to get on to the celebrating right away, this weekend I’ll be boarding a ferry over to beautiful Courtenay, BC to play a couple sets at the Elevate the Arts Festival. Let the summer festivating begin! I’ll be touring all over British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington throughout the next couple months, so be sure to check out the Events page for more details.

In other news, the Erato Ensemble gave a fabulous premiere performance of “What a Dream” this spring. Stay tuned for some audio/video samples of that concert. Plus, the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble will be premiering a new piece later this year; I promise to keep you updated as the details emerge. And I’ll be working on a new string quartet commissioned by the University of British Columbia this summer, so if you need to find me I’ll either be in my studio, at the festival du jour, or at the nearest swimming hole…

Darkest Dark Sky

Dark SkyI recently read that eighty percent of the world’s population has never seen the Milky Way. It makes me awful glad to be able to stand on my front stoop and see the Pleiades on any of the few nights when this part of British Columbia isn’t covered in clouds.

And I’m extra glad to be spending a few weeks as an artist-in-residence at Grasslands National Park in southwestern Saskatchewan this summer, which has been designated as a dark sky preserve. And the darkest dark sky in Canada, at that! If you’re in that part of the world, be sure to stop by. I’ll be putting on a couple performances and installing a new sound piece that will address the idea of dark skies.

In other news, I’ve been really lucky to have received some fabulous performances of my music this spring. The JunctQin Keyboard Collective just performed “Tweets”  (the only piece I’ve ever written for toy piano and melodica) and Ashlee Bickley sang “Ride Along East Hastings” at the Manchester New Music Festival, giving the piece its International Premiere. Later this month, the Erato Ensemble will premiere “What a Dream,” which gives three singers Google-translated Shakespeare lyrics mixed with harp, piano, flute, and cello.

Also, the new album is nearly ready for the world. It’s been mixed and mastered, and now Laurel Terlesky is putting together some beautiful album artwork. Stay tuned for a preview track and expect to hear the whole album this summer…

Saving Daylight

IMG_4569The music outside my window is all Varied Thrush and Chickadee these days; I guess the birds are back in town. And while the leaves aren’t quite coming out yet, the moss around here is plenty green. But my favourite thing about this season is the lengthening of the days. Light out later and later. This is the time when we start to save up all the extra daylight for the dark times.

The music inside my window sounds like a different world, or at least a different part of the world. I’ve been hard at work on a new commission for the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble, and my head is deep into the pipa, sheng, erhu, ruan, and zheng.

Spring also gets me thinking about festival season coming up. I’m scheduled to be at the Elevate Arts Festival on Vancouver Island in June, and there are more plans in the works, so keep your eyes on the EVENTS page for the latest details. As a warm-up, I’m headed out to the Manchester New Music Festival later this month.  Plus, I’m just finishing up mixing my new album with Andy Schichter at OSW Studios this week. It’s officially got a title now — “Old Paint” — and you can expect to see it out this summer. Stay tuned for a few bonus preview tracks in the coming weeks. In the meantime, sit back and smell the salmonberry blossoms…

Days Gone By

It’s calendar change over season, time to pay close attention when writing the date, reflect on the last group of months and look forward to the next one. IMG_0525[1]And there are so many great musical adventures ahead, both old music and new music.

This month, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will present a piece of mine and later this spring another piece will see its International premiere. Check out the Events page for all the details.

Plus, I’m in the midst of writing a brand new solo viola piece for Sarah Kwok, a Shakespearean chamber piece for the Erato Ensemble, and a new commission for the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble. Let it be known that there are no shortages of papers littering my desk…

And my new album is getting mixed any day now, so you can expect to see it out in the world later this year. So far, it seems like 2015 is fixin’ to be a good one…

Pretty darn glad…

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – L.M. Montgomery

And I’m awful glad that I choose to celebrate a holiday that celebrates gladness in both October and November. There’s a whole lot to be glad about. The clouds have been dumping water lately, and I reckon the river’s glad to be full. I suppose the salmon are glad about river being full. The bears are glad about the salmon swimming, and the eagles are glad about the bears’ leftovers. Me, I’m glad to run across an eagle print in the sand the size of my hand.

And, I’m also thankful to be working on so much great new music these days. I’ve got collaborations with the Erato Ensemble and the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble coming up in the next year. Plus, I’ve finished tracking a new album and I’m working on the mix in the upcoming weeks. If you can’t wait any longer, check out a live version of one of the tunes that’ll be on the new record….

I Truly Understand…

new banjo

Wood is an incredible substance. And I’ve seen some truly incredible wood in the past weeks: thirty kilometres of charred aspen and black spruce up along the Yukon River, a seven hundred year old cedar just down the road from my house in British Columbia, and a hunk of walnut shaped into a banjo that arrived in my mailbox.

This fretless banjo was hand crafted in Watauga County, North Carolina by John Peterson, and it feels like a great privilege to make it sound. When I initially picked it up and tuned the strings, the very first tune that I plucked out was “I Truly Understand.” Now, I haven’t heard that song in years, let alone played it, so the magic of the moment seemed to be predicting a pretty good future for me and this banjo. My practice regimen is just beginning, so don’t expect to see this beauty out on the stage until next year, at best. 

You will, however, see me out on the stage this fall over on Vancouver Island and in the lower Mainland – check out the Events page for all the details.

And I’ve been working on a new album this summer, so expect to hear some new tunes out there and prepare yourself to put those new tunes into your hi-fi system in the near future. Until then, I’ll be shedding my banjo licks… 

These are the days, my friends, and these are the days, my friends…

The full stride days of summer upon us. Tomatoes fruiting, raspberries ripened. The festivals of the past couple months have filled me up with music and friends and dance-flattened grass under my blanket. And I’ve been working on a new album, too – a whole new set of songs, and a whole new new set of songs on top of that. It’s been a pretty awesome summer, so far.

For the next few weeks, though, I’m headed up north to visit some folks and find a quiet place or two. But in the meantime I’d like to share with you a piece I wrote earlier this year that was performed by the Erato Ensemble this summer. The way the piece addresses my fear that we won’t know what we’re doing to this world until it’s too late seemed to strike a chord with at least a few people (you can check out a review of the piece here). And the Erato Ensemble gave it a really fabulous performance. Check it out for yourself:

Life and Folks and Folklife

It’s officially summertime now that the first music festival of the season has come and gone. Memorial Day weekend in Seattle is always a good time, and this year was an extra good time because I spent it at Northwest Folklife. There was a light drizzle in the air, but that didn’t stop anyone from dancing to great tunes, running through giant fountains, or eating elephant ears. And I was lucky enough to play a set for a real lovely audience – quiet and captivated and fantastic to chat with both during and after the set. I think it’s going to be a great summer. Here’s a little taste of what Northwest Folklife was all about: