MuzicNotez: First off, it’s an honor to be doing this interview with you Canary, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us again.
What’s your biggest muse when writing your music? What inspires you?
Canary Burton: Thank you so much Hallie Mae for having me in your Magazine again. Lets see. I just finished a piece I call Native Voices. A vocal piece inspired by a three day series on PBS documenting native American history but more, documenting what was happening in various Native communities now. I found my self humming the chants and rhythms and even dancing through my chores as if I was a participant in a powow dance. When I realized what I was doing I jumped right on my computer and just ripped it right out. Now, of course I have to polish, extend and cut out the dead wood.
In my younger years I wrote pieces, both classical and jazz, some singer songwriter music also, as a way to teach myself how to play the piano. Eventually the composing took center stage and was just one long learning exersize and is to this day.
This is a loaded question..I’m having loads to say!! Commissions, people have asked me to write music for them since maybe 1996. That always inspires me. Sometimes there’s money attached, sometimes not, but I love to write for other people and I LOVE to have my work included on a concert or two or three. Basically I just start writing. Even if I have an idea in the beginning it’s sure to be massaged and rolled and quartered before it becomes a finished product. I simply follow the notes around until I can see a pattern. As life never stomped the creative juices out of me, I trust the process fully.
MuzicNotez: What are some of your methods throughout your creative process? When you’re writing, do you use a pen, pencil or computer?
Canary: I used to use a pencil and during that time I had a wonderful teacher who told me to stop writing just what I could play. He said to write what I could hear. He said he would play anything I wrote and he did. Atlantic Sonata came from that direction and John Zielinski did play it in Saugus, and in Boston and New York City. It is on my “piano music from cape cod” album, the first I brought out. But in these online places like Reverbnation and MySpace, I cannot add them. MUCH too big, 15 minutes. I have quite a few like that as does any classical musician.
When I got a computer. A Mac Plus, and my first Finale music program. It coincided with my first commission. Row Twelve, a flute, oboe and piano trio from Boston asked me for a tune. I gave them one and they played it in Boston and Road Island and Connecticut. I asked THEM if I could do another and wound up with a poem narrated with the three instruments winding all around the words. I had to mourn no longer writing music by hand. And writing by hand and by computer is different. I notice I can’t play the music I’ve written by hand on a computer. I don’t know how to explain it. It just doesn’t work.
I was challenged to write a piece for a string orchestra. It took me a year to take the challenge. When it wasn’t performed right away, I asked the commissioner if there was something wrong with the piece and could I fix it. He said, there was nothing wrong with the piece except that he didn’t write it! Hahahahaha. I was elated as I knew this fellow to be VERY talented. OH I could write on and on. Each piece I’ve written for someone was different. I was asked to write a piece “after Chopin” so I did and it was first played in Russia! And then in Brussels and then on Cape Cod. I mean Chopin is one of my “brothers”. I have a couple of pieces that sound like Chopin. I love Chopin. In fact several trusted musicians say I fit in with people like Scriabin, Faure, Satie, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, the impressionists.
MuzicNotez: How has technology changed your creative process?
Canary: The computer changed my process because now I can hear the piece as I write it. I no longer have to labor through it myself or find a pianist to play it for me so I can tell if this phrase is long enough or that build up of notes doesn’t sound like manure. Although I write with my keyboard right next to me and I’d be lost without it, the computer is fabulous. I can experiment with different instruments, different dynamics (loud and soft and all between)AND put forth a beautiful printed score, THEN generate the parts for each instrument. That used to be a drag in the old days where you spent more time copying your work over and over with the parts and all than you did writing the piece.
MuzicNotez: What kind of venues do you play in and is it just you on stage.
Canary: Actually, when I performed it was solo in restaurants. I’d play a classical set and then three sets of jazz or jazz like. I started playing the piano when I was 31 years old. I never had a chance at becoming a concert pianist. And finally after many years playing in restaurants I let that go in favor of writing which is my long suite. Now other, way more competent, musicians play my music.
MuzicNotez: How does your brand of classical fit into the pop world?
Canary: I come from the pop world, a rock band was my first performance venue. Then a couple of jazz bands. I grew up on country and swing and even country swing! I listened to the Hit Parade avidly every week then I discovered Du Wop, Elvis and The Platters then The Beatles and The Mommas and the Poppas and it curved into Jazz. Very sophisticated jazz as I look back at it now. I absolutely loved John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, Miles David and Sun Ra. I discovered the Art Ensemble of Chicago a group that could charm you with total improvisation and not scream a note.
So. Fit in with Pop? Music is music to me. I still write in what is called “the short form” although I do have a few longer pieces. Mainly I play to my audience, not to the university, not to JS Bach or Beethoven..although I love them too. I figure if I can’t say it in 4 to 6 minutes….I’d better get off the stand! AND I am on MySpace, Reverbnation, RadioAirplay and such and the musicians there LOVE what I do. And I think about the occasional instrumental passing all through pop. That’s where I belong. Although I also rank in the classical world. I just won a prestigious award with $ attached.
MuzicNotez: You create your own album covers, what’s that process like?
Canary: It’s great fun. I have a program, it’s inexpensive, called audiolabel. I use photographs and drawings or paintings and get to play with typeface and color and paper. I use light card stock and make my own single or double sided covers. I only buy the templates for the CD label because I can’t cut round very well. The process is time consuming but then so is every facet of music making time consuming.
MuzicNotez: An artist was so inspired by a piece you wrote entitled ‘Dust Bunnies’ that it led to a work of art. Tell us more about the song, and how do you feel about it inspiring another piece of art?
Canary: Years and years ago I used to produce large and small shows. Anything from music to theater to poetry and stories both inside and outside, both short and long. I tried and tried to get artists, who are a solitary lot, to paint large pictures while whoever was was performing on stage. I could not quite get it to happen. Now it’s happened with no effort on my part.
I was asked to write a piece of music that was one minute long. I figured this event was to be a bunch of minute long pieces modeled after Robert Vosiey’s 60X60 performances all over the world with 60 composers with a minute long piece each. They would be performed one after the other for 60 minutes. I wrote the piece called Dust Bunnies, it’s a jagged little piano piece, and sent it off to Belgium to be performed. It happened that most of the other composers didn’t believe the one minute time constraint and played over time. The producer had to start over again with the three of us who did write one minutes pieces. Meanwhile a painter asked to paint while all the work was being played and here is what happened to my piece.
MuzicNotez: You have two sister albums ‘Classical Bird’ and ‘Bird Notes’. How do these albums differ, and what’s the inspiration for each?
Canary: When I first put these two together, I thought I had too much music for one album, so I split them. Later, after dickering around with them, I left off a few pieces that I didn’t care for the performances. I was dealing with 15 scores and 12 musicians during this time between rehearsal space here and in Boston so lots of things were mixed up. Later, had I been looking, I could have put all this music on one album. CD’s are no longer standard at 60 minutes. Duh. So, it’s two albums in the place of one. Backwards. As for the music, it’s all classical. Anywhere from solo piano to 6 piece ensembles. I graduated from solo piano long ago. On Reverbnation, one of the places I keep my music, Hip Hop artists LOVE my music. I figure they are so bumpidy, beep, that my serenity calms them down. I do believe I write like I do because I want to calm myself down.
MuzicNotez: Anything else you wish to say about yourself or your music? Any message for your fans?
Canary: The piece of music I’ve chosen for you to listen to during this interview is called Southern River and it received an award last August from the International Alliance of Women In Music in their yearly new music search. It will be performed at their Congress next month as well as in a concert to be given soon in the Pacific Northwest.
If you’d like to hear more, please go to http://www.seabirdstudio.com and click on Buy Music. Everything I have on CD, 8 albums, is there and you can hear the pieces all the way through. There is a carousel under the album cover with left and right arrows. You can push the arrows and bring all 8 albums up one by one. Or you can go to SoundCloud.com/femfleet2 but there is only a smattering of music there. Thank you for reading all of this!