What is the sound of granite? Of jackpine? Of the sky on a bleak midwinter’s day? Those are the questions Ottawa-area musician Terry Tufts and his Algonquin Ensemble have tried to answer in their suite Sonic Palette — Tom Thomson’s Voice Through Music 100 Years Later.
The ensemble is a sextet — with Tufts, his wife, Kathryn Briggs, on piano and bassist John Geggie as composers. They will début the piece this weekend, joined by Laura Nerenberg on violin, Lisa Moody on viola and Margaret Tobolowska on cello, at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont., on the 100th anniversary of the painter’s death in Algonquin Park.
The trio has spent 18 months on the project, but for Tufts, the obsession with Thomson goes back much further — to high school art class at Glebe Collegiate Institute in the late 1960s, when his teacher showed the class samples of Canadian painting.
First she showed pictures by the Group of Seven. Then Emily Carr’s painting from the Pacific Coast.
“Then she pulled out Thomson and said, ‘This is where it all came from’,” Tufts said. “That was it for me. Up until that point I was just drawing pictures of guitars in art class and getting away with it. Then, she showed us these paintings. Ever since then, there have been moments where Thomson has come into my life.”
Last year, Tufts was speaking with Almonte guitar maker Linda Manzer when the conversation turned to art. Tufts told Manzer he had a stalled musical project inspired by the Group of Seven. Manzer was working on her own project, joining with six other luthiers to build guitars to honour the Group of Seven, when she reminded Tufts that the centennial of Thomson’s death would be in 2017.
“He came home and his pupils were huge,” Briggs said. “He was just so excited. It completely fired him up. We spent 18 months after that conversation completely obsessed. It helped us see Thomson anew.”
Group of Seven project a labour of love for Almonte guitar maker
Tufts and Briggs live off the grid in a cabin north of Sharbot Lake in landscape similar to Thomson’s beloved Algonquin Park. Their winter nights are lit by candles and oil lamps. Like Thomson, they drew their inspiration from the landscape around them.
Tufts plays a custom-built, 50-string harp guitar called the Manzer Palette for the performance. The unique instrument even features Canadian 1917 pennies embedded in its two headstocks. Born near Owen Sound in 1877, Thomson flailed his way through life as a young man, working in a metal manufacturing plant, as a graphic artist, even for a time as an elevator operator. He was an avid woodsman and often travelled deep into the north woods to paint, either alone, or in the company of his artists friends who would later form the Groups of Seven in his honour.
Thomson disappeared on July 8, 1917 while canoeing in Algonquin Park. Whether he died by drowning, accident or perhaps even murder, has never been determined. The doctor who examined his body after it was pulled from the lake noted a wound to the side of his head. He was 39.
Tufts called Thomson the ultimate Canadian tragic hero. “He drank. He womanized. At 39 years old, he came home and wondered, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Well, Tom, you don’t have to worry about it. At 39, you’re dead,”
Tufts said. “But those last five years, 1912-1917, he got to the park and he got away from humanity and that’s where he found out what he really liked to do. It’s a tragic, tragic story.”
Composing music for Thomson’s paintings was a new challenge for Geggie, who is more used to writing scores for film or dance.
“In those situations you’re looking at a moving picture or a moving person,” Geggie said. “One of the interesting challenges is having to take static images and then try to use our imagination. They’re static, but it triggers something in you, something emotional. It takes you places. You can imagine the smell of the earth, the leaves. You can smell the dryness of the dead leaves in autumn.
“The challenge in writing is using your emotion, but respecting the imagery. It’s an interesting challenge. And a very rewarding challenge.”
The ensemble débuts Sonic Palette Sunday in a sold out show at the McMichael gallery in Kleinburg, northwest of Toronto. As yet, there are no Ottawa dates for a performance. firstname.lastname@example.org
McDonalds Corners, ON, June 28, 2017 – On Sunday July 9th at 2pm The Algonquin Ensemble sextet will deliver a world premiere performance of Sonic Palette – Tom Thomson’s Voice through Music 100 Years Later. It’s an immersive multi-sensory celebration capturing the spirit of the revered painter’s landscapes through original new music.
This very special performance in one of the nation’s most respected art galleries is a dream come true for Kathryn Briggs and Terry Tufts, who have journeyed across Canada for the last 18 months researching Thomson’s art, life, and times in preparation for The Algonquin’s Ensemble’s debut.
One of Canada's most revered artists, Thomson directly influenced a group of landscape painters that would come to be known as the Group of Seven. Knowing 2017 would mark both the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s mysterious death at the age of 39 on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, and also the nation’s 150th anniversary, the husband and wife team set out on their musical quest to capture the essence of the Canadiana they hear in Thomson’s canvases.
“We wanted to tell the story of Thomson’s amazing artistic journey the way we see it, and especially hear it as musicians,” stated Briggs. “The anniversary of his death inspired us to focus on his life, and all he accomplished to help paint the foundation of the Canadian identity. We are honoured to premiere this music at the McMichael Canadian Collection,” said Tufts.
Music veterans with extensive solo recording histories and two instrumental albums to their credit, Briggs’ and Tufts’ research culminated in a detailed storyboard of images by and related to Thomson – trains, log booms and canoes jostled for space with their favoured paintings. As the seasons changed the storyboard turned into pieces of music, and those pieces then took shape as a themed body of work spanning 70 minutes.
Their project has already attracted the promise of airplay on CBC radio stations across Canada and they were recently interviewed on the June 24th show of CKCU-FM’s Canadian Spaces, Canada’s longest-running folk music radio program.
Along the way, long-time friend and musical collaborator, double bassist John Geggie, lent his compositional talent to the project. Another friend, world-renowned luthier Linda Manzer, also got on board.
She marshalled support from the Canada Council to build a one-of-a-kind a 50-string instrument designed in collaboration with Tufts called the Manzer Palette. This new instrument emulates the tonal characteristics of five different instruments of the early 20th century including guitar, cittern, zither, bass harp and grand harp.
Juno-award-winning producer Ken Friesen opened his studio in Almonte, Ontario for several Sonic Palette preview recordings that includes a full sextet, with Briggs, Tufts and Geggie joined by Laura Nerenberg on violin, Lisa Moody on viola and Margaret Tobolowska on cello. Together they are The Algonquin Ensemble. (On July 9th Sara Mastrangelo is filling in for Nerenberg.)
As the instigator of the Group of Seven Guitar Project that is exhibiting at The McMichael Canadian Collection this summer and fall, Manzer opened doors for Briggs and Tufts to the Kleinburg, Ontario gallery that houses the world’s largest collection of paintings by Thomson and the painters he influenced.
As a result, in addition to their premiere with The Algonquin Ensemble, on Saturday July 8th, the exact day of the100th anniversary of Thomson’s death, Briggs and Tufts have been invited by the McMichael to play at a tribute to the painter. The 5pm event will include a talk by the McMichael’s Executive Director, Ian Dejardin, and readings by Murdoch Mysteries’ Yannick Bisson.
To learn more about The Algonquin Ensemble and support their ambitious artistic vision for a future CD and nation-wide tour of the Sonic Palette project, Briggs and Tufts have created an IndieGoGo campaign offering a series of imaginative musical “perks” in exchange for financial support. So far over $2,800 has been pledged online, and several independent donors have also contacted them to anonymously support their new music.
NOTE TO PRODUCERS: Briggs and Tufts will be available for on-air interviews across the country for the balance of June leading up to their McMichael debut, and for in-studio interviews in Toronto on the afternoon of July 6th and all day on July 7th.
For more information please contact:
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SONIC PALETTE WORLD PREMIERE PERFORMANCE (SOLD OUT)
Original music inspired by the art and story of Tom Thomson.
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection (10365 Islington, Kleinburg, Ontario) hosts live music for sextet composed, arranged, and performed by THE ALGONQUIN ENSEMBLE to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the drowning of Tom Thomson in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, presented Sunday July 9th, 2017at 2:00 pm. Performance is included in price of admission to the gallery. Adult – $18 Student/Senior – $15 Family - $36
MUST RESERVE SEATS at: https://mcmichael.com/event/remembering-tom-thomson/
Fifty years into Confederation, Tom Thomson became the inspiration for the first truly Canadian school of art (The Group Of Seven) and Canadian Cultural Ambassador to the wild. THE ALGONQUIN ENSEMBLE is comprised of Ottawa area performers:
Kathryn Briggs – piano
John Geggie – double bass
Sara Mastrangelo – violin
Lisa Moody – viola
Margaret Tobolowska – cello
Terry Tufts – guitars
POST: Jack Pine Productions
670 Robertsville Road
McDonald’s Corners, ONTARIO