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Banff Jazz Workshop 2012

I don’t even know how to begin writing about the time I had at this year’s Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. I’ve been back for about a week now and all week I’ve thought about the best way to convey the experience I had. My three weeks in Banff were some of the most creative, intense and emotional weeks of my life and my life is truly changed for having gone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those of you who don’t know, The Banff Centre is an arts institute and conference centre in Banff, Alberta. Year round it is home to hundreds of visiting artists who come to collaborate, research, and rejuvenate. Their catch phrase is “inspiring creativity” and it couldn’t be more spot on. The artists who visit are treated unbelievably well from the time we check in to our rooms, through all aspects of our life on campus, until the time we leave. There’s everything on campus including an incredible arts library with media booths and access to concerts recorded at Banff to a full gym with a swimming pool, rock-climbing wall, and basketball courts. There were 30 climate-controlled practice huts scattered through the campus where you could lock yourself away and practice for hours with a piano, a few chairs and a desk.

Then there was the Music and Sound building. This building is home to an amazing concert hall, 20 or so rehearsal spaces with the most amazing grand pianos, and hanging in the front hall is a giant mobile-type instrument called The Kinetoflux which is controlled by a wall-mounted switch. When activated it’s many parts interact to make a haunting electronic wailing sound. It was amazing.

Every year for three weeks in May and June, the Music and Sound building is turned over to an incredible program, the Jazz and Creative Music Workshop. 60 or so young musicians from around the world are carefully chosen to come and play together, to attend workshops together, to eat together, and spend as much time as humanly possible together. It’s difficult to describe what this program is like. This year was the final year the program will be led by Dave Douglas and the unofficial start for Vijay Iyer. The faculty were diverse and amazing, the compositions brought to ensembles by the students were new and invigorating to play, and the performances were all inspiring. Every week we were put in an ensemble with 6 or 7 other participants and different leading faculty member. I had the privilege of being in Rich Brown’s, Vijay Iyer’s, and Aoife O’Donovan’s ensembles. Each of these ensembles taught me something different. I learned about the technical aspects of my instrument, I learned about ear training, and I learned a lot about the emotional and intuitive side of composition. Of course I learned so much more in between those things and about myself but there’s hardly room here to talk about everything.

On top of the incredible facilities, the amazing program, and the freakin’ rocky mountains everywhere, were the dynamics between the artists at Banff Centre. I met people whom I can say with absolute
certainty will be lifelong friends. I had the opportunity to collaborate with literary artists, dancers, filmmakers, and tons of other musicians. Towards the end of the program someone made the comment that “there isn’t an asshole among us.” It was really a true statement, everyone was so kind, so loving, so encouraging. When it was finally time to leave it was a very difficult process.

Of course I’m happy to be back in my community and I’m raring to get started on my next recording project but I’m sure that for at least a little while, my heart will still be in Banff.

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Renée is a queer, non-binary, disabled, and chronically ill creator based in Montreal. They are a singer, songwriter, pianist, YouTuber, and Periscoper. They are currently a student of jazz studies at Mcgill University and a freelance vocal coach for young and emerging singers.

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