Pianist David Braid performs solo in Qingdao on November 20.

Canadian composer/pianist David Braid scheduled to appear in Qingdao on November 20 at the Qingdao Concert Hall (1 Lanshan Lu, across from Zhan Qiao pier). Tickets are 50 yuan and are available at the door and from Yellow Rock (136 6886 7325). The following is an interview with David Braid that appeared in the OCT 09 issue of Arteffect.

How does China’s attitude/approach toward piano music and instruction compare with Canada’s?

I don’t think I have observed enough in China to be qualified to compare. However, in a larger sense, I have observed some tendencies of music instruction in China which could influence an approach towards performance: In general, the students I’ve had in China (and other parts of Asia) are excellent listeners, modest, respectful of tradition, and extremely hard working; their attitude makes the passing of information very easy. My impression of their music instruction is that it is well organized, methodical, precise, and naturally calls for rote learning. On the other hand, I think music instruction in Canada (and North America) is comparatively less methodical to emphasize more general (or abstract) music goals to which the student should invent their own method to reach. This freedom that the North American students have create the potential to develop their own unique attitude and approach, but students who are disciplined enough to fully explore that potential are rare in my experience.

Do you play any other instruments other than piano?

If I interpret your use of the word ‘play’ loosely, I would be able to answer yes.

Most of the brass and woodwind instruments were once available for me to borrow from my high school music room, so I familiarized myself with most of them. I never had any goals of being proficient on any of them but I spent enough time playing each one to learn the fingerings, and basics of breathing and embouchure. This experience became very valuable to me later when I started to write instrumental music since I could write idomatically to the instrument and sympathetically to the player’s physical limitations.

The only other instrument I play now (besides the piano) is the drums. I study the drums to deepen my experience of the expressive forces of rhythm. In fact, beginning to play the drums was easily the most profound musical revelation I had as a pianist originally trained in Western Classical Music.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t dare perform on any other instrument than piano… the piano is more than enough for me.

Whom would you most like to collaborate with among Chinese musicians?

I am always open to collaborating with artists who believe strongly in the value of art. As for specific Chinese-born musicians in jazz whom I relate to a lot, I’d include pianists Xia Jia, Bai Tian and guitarist Lawrence Ku. I’d like to learn more about other musicians too. For example, I’m curious about traditional Chinese instruments, especially after having a wonderful experience playing with a wonderful guzheng player, Chang Jing, based in Beijing. I’m motivated by opportunities where musical collaboration can bring cultures together and not compromise the integrity of their ethnic music.

In addition to collaborating with individual musicians, I would enjoy collaborating with larger ensembles, such as orchestras or other chamber ensembles in China.

Beyond that, I have become very interested in Chinese film and have envisioned a future project collaborating with some Chinese filmmakers. Besides admiring all the films by the big directors like Zhang Yi Mou, and Wong Kar Wai who’s films are easily accessible in Canada, I am intruiged by the works of a younger director, Jia Zhang Ke, who’s film “The World” really moved me.

What projects are you working on now?

In addition to the solo piano project which I am touring with right now, I am involved with three other projects:

I have recently recorded an album of music I composed for brass quintet and piano. This was commissioned by the Canadian Brass and I’m quite excited about the release scheduled for February 2010. Second, I recently finished a jazz recording in Los Angeles with a very soulful Japanese guitarist, Hideaki Tokunaga, which also included bassist Putter Smith, and a very special drummer, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath. Third, after I get home from China, I’ll begin a cello concerto commissioned for Shauna Rolston.

Have you ever played or recorded any traditional Chinese tunes on piano?

I arranged and recorded a folk song which seems to be well known to Chinese audiences, but I suspect it could be be Japanese in origin. I performed this particular piece with my jazz sextet in front of a large audience at Beijing University in 2006. I remember how the audience immediately errupted in applause after they heard the first few notes of the melody. I don’t know if this piece has a Chinese name, I only know it by the Japanese title, “Takeda No Komoriuta.”

In addition to that, I heard a very haunting tune in the movie “House of Flying Daggers” which I transcribed onto a popcorn box while I was sitting in the cinema. I’ve messed around with it at the piano and I’d like to do something with it someday.

What will you be playing on this tour of China?

I don’t like describing music by genre, so I prefer to avoid categorizing my work as classical, jazz, folk, pop.. My preference is for people to come to my performances with an open mind. Having said that, important aesthetics of my music include an emphasis on melody, harmony, rhythm form as well as spontaneous improvisation so that each performance is completely unique from the last.

Having said that, there are specific inspirations and themes for the solo piano improvisations and compositions which I will present in Qingdao:

I think music is an effective way to create cultural appreciation without saying a word. The programme I have prepared for this tour is inspired by the geographical and cultural diversity of Canada. Canada is very famous for it’s dramatic landscapes such as the Rocky Mountains, the Prairie flatland, The Great Lakes, and the high tides of Nova Scotia. One area of Canada which is not talked about much is the Canadian North, which has a surface area larger than Europe but only has a population of about 100,000 inhabitants (50% being native Inuit, who have their origins in Asia.) I will perform a two movement suite describing this cold, desolate, and mystical place.

Other works will express inspirations from Canada’s cultural diversity: Canada is becoming more and more like a world state in the sense that people from other countries are encouraged to maintain their own ethnic customs after they become Canadian citizens. My home city of Toronto is famous for its ethnic blend of people, so I feel I am influenced by that complex environment. I’ll be performing two pieces, Saudade, and Spirit Dance, which weave together scales, rhythms and harmonies from North American, South American, Central American, European, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. I feel these pieces are somewhat metaphorical to Canada.

Lastly, I have an affection for composer Jerome Kern, to which I will contribute two interpretations from the standard jazz repertoire.

When/with whom/what/where have you played in China?

2004: Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong : jazz concerts and Nanjing Jazz Festival
2005: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong : jazz clubs, theatre, teaching masterclasses. (with Darren Sigesmund Quintet)
2006: Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong: (with David Braid Sextet )
2007: Hong Kong: jazz concert, and guest teaching. (alone)
2008: Qingdao, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Hong Kong (with jazz cellist Matt Brubeck)

What are you looking forward to the most about coming back to China?

1. Sharing my music with kind people
2. Trying to speak some Putonghua
3. Eating!!

What’s your take on movies like The Pianist and Legend of 1900?

I haven’t seen either of them; with the exception of the movie, Ray (about Ray Charles), I usually avoid films about musicians.

Any advice for musicians in China?

I’m not sure I would give advice that is country-specific, nor would I feel comfortable giving advice to musicians who have more experience than I do… but to younger musicians (anywhere in the world) I always try to encourage them to increase their faith in the driving forces of music: that is, the expressive power of sound as it manifests itself in melody, harmony, rhythm, and form. I try to encourage them to see beyond the surface conventions of music, and to discern the tradition of music, that is, recognize its unchanging, timeless principals. I feel this pursuit will deepen the application of any musical language they choose.

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