Musician Interviews 2005-2012

In 2005 I developed the website PhiladelphiaClassicalmusic.com; I maintained the site until 2012. That site gave me access to great music and the great musicians that made it. Below, in no order are interviews I conducted with truly amazing people. PCM is PhiladelphiaClassicalMusic.com is me.

Interviews include: Pianist Dan Grigore, Annie Haslam from Renaissance, Flamenco Guitarist Paco Pena, Joan Armatrading, Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron, Carmela Greco, Classical Guitarist Linda Cohen, Pipe Major Derek Potter, Piper Will Colguhun- the Black Watch, Playwright/Author Ntozake Shange, more being added.

Pianist Dan Grigore

Special thanks to Valentin Radu for translating.

PCM: You are a very distinguished artist in Romania but here in the United States there is very little information about you. I understand you were a child prodigy. What age did you discover the piano?

Dan Grigore: I was three and a half.

PCM: How did you discover it?

Dan: We had an old upright piano in the house. I started by reaching up and playing the keys. And then I heard waltzes and romantic songs on the radio and I would start to reproduce them on the piano and then I would make up my own compositions.

PCM: Your parents recognized this?

Dan: My mother was a very gifted amateur violinist, my grandfather was very gifted painter and musician. He found my first teacher. After that I started to study harmony.

PCM: Was it hard to study in a communist regime?

Dan: There was a teacher named Mihail Jora who recognized my talent and helped me to get approved not to attend daily school but to have special schooling. Because of that I was kind of spared some of the hardships of the communist regime.

Twice a year I has to have exams to show I was learning the regular disciplines including sports. For my physical education test I had to jump over a hose. (laughter).

Then Jora’s wife got arrested and jailed for a year because her sister’s husband spoke on Radio Free Europe. There were no trails, two guys in leather coats would just show up and many times you didn’t know what was happening.

When my grandfather was 80 years old, he wrote a letter about the conditions in Romania at the time and threw it over the fence of the American Embassy in Bucharest and the KGB people saw this and he was arrested and put in a hard labor camp for seven years. His family was trying to get him out and said he didn’t mean to do this and that he was irresponsible and crazy. He said, “No I’m not! I am responsible and I know what I am doing!”.

PCM: How old were you when that happened?

Dan: Fourteen or fifteen.

PCM: Did it affect you in your musical career?

Dan: My family and I were suspected after that. You have to understand how paranoid these people were. Remember I said my teacher’s wife was arrested too.

After my grandfather got out of the camp there was a regime change and there was another leader named Nicholau Ceaussescu. He was the one everyone knows but we had bad leaders before him as well.

When he came to power he stared a nationalistic attitude of freedom. In 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Romania was the only communist country that didn’t sent troops. Ceaussescu received a lot of international recognition for that, even in the West. My grandfather wrote a letter to Ceaussescu praising him for his nationalist attitude and standing up to the Soviet Union. Ceaussescu got the letter and asked his assistants about this man. He was told that my grandfather was an old man who spent time in jail and that he was very poor and didn’t have a pension anymore. Ceaussescu ordered his pension to be restored, all including from the time he spent in prison.

I speak a lot about my grandfather because he was my hero. He is where I got my moral core from. He is my inspiration and thanks to him I got the power to endure what life was like at that time. 

PCM: When did you make your concert debut?

Dan: My concert debut was in October 16, 1957 with three pieces by Enescsu.

PCM: You also taught at the University of Bucharest?

Dan: I was head of the piano department at the University of Bucharest from 1967 until 1969 and then after the revolution 1991-2002. I left the position five years ago because I wanted certain reforms in the education and administration. I had no help or support.

PCM: What would the government do to control your career?

Dan: I was not allowed for many years to leave Romania to perform. I was not even allowed to go into other communist countries. They would invite me but the state agency that organized concerts for every Romanian artist without my knowledge would write the promoters that I broke my arm, I broke my leg or was sick otherwise. I didn’t even know about that until after the fall of Ceaussescu. They would mix up the hands they said I broke. Sometime they would say it was my right hand and sometimes they would say it was my left.

At one point I was allowed to go on a tour of Western Europe. The only reason I was able to do that was because the official government pianist got sick and the organizers in other countries said they would not allow that program to be changed. They wanted somebody that could play that repertoire. There was a lot of money invested in that tour for the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. It was right after the big earthquake in Romania in 1977. There was a woman from the state agency that told the promoters not to cancel the tour. She said “you have to take my word for it, I have a man that can play these pieces.” Then the press came out and the front of the Soviet papers said, Joy and Jubilation for the Replacement.

The year 1996 was a very bleak year for the revolution in Romania. The Palace of Congress in Bucharest where Ceaussescu held the party Congresses, was a huge hall that seats about five thousand five hundred people. I had to play a big concert there with the Bucharest Philharmonic. We played the Beethoven Emperor Concerto and at the end I played two encores. The first one was a little Beethoven minuet and the second encore was a rag time by Scott Joplin. Everybody stood up and started to clap and cheer
The next day Ceaussescu forbid any musical activity in that palace again because he was so paranoid. Secondly, the American Embassy made arrangements for me to be invited to America for a month (all expenses paid) to be part of a cultural because it was clear that it was a message, not just a piece of music. exchange program. Of course, Ceaussescu did not allow that to happen. I used to do these encores in other concerts too. I wanted to show the Ceaussescu regime how out of touch with the times it was.

PCM: Was it dangerous for you?

Dan: Somehow, they never put me in the gulag but I was prohibited to play anywhere. I constantly got threats. They threatened to fire me from all my jobs and I dared them. I said, “Fine, please. I will wear a sign on my chest that says, “Romanian Pianist Hungry, Needs Job” and I will walk in front of the central committee of the Communist Party.

PCM: Are you married?

Dan: I have a wife and a son.

PCM: What was your wife’s reaction to this?

Dan: She told me that if there is any possibility or occasion that I have to defect to the West to be a free artist please do it because she would be fine in Romania and we’ll find another way to reunite and some point. I knew my family would never be fine if I defected. So, I never did.

PCM: Did you worry about students like Valentin Radu who played jazz?

Dan: I didn’t know he was doing that like he didn’t know what I was doing in my concerts. It’s like don’t ask don’t tell.

PCM: Were your students in danger for being your students?

Dan: Yes, they were under the scope because of the connection.

PCM: Did anything happen to any of your students?

Dan: I don’t know about many of them. But one of my best students won a scholarship to study in Boston and the Ceaussescu regime wouldn’t allow him to go and, as a result, he was in Bucharest at the time of the earthquake in 1977 and died very tragically.

PCM: Before Valentin came to the United States in 1978 was, he able to tell you he was leaving?

Dan: You wouldn’t announce to anyone that you were leaving until you are already where you were going out of fear that something might happen to you on the way to the airport.

PCM: How did you stay in touch with Valintin after he came here?

Dan: We lost touch for many years. Valentin didn’t return to Romania for many years. When he did, he would visit me at the University and bring me American cigarettes. I smoked then. Then he stopped coming back to Romania again for many years.

We lost connection for almost 8 years, 1985 -1993. The first time I played in the United Sates was in 1993 in Plainfield New Jersey. The Romanian ambassador in Washington DC drove up to see my performance. He told me that he made a sacrifice to see me because Valentin Radu was performing in Philadelphia that same night. He didn’t know we were teacher and student and I didn’t know they were friends. He said that you can hear Valentin in Philadelphia anytime. I said, “Valentin is in Philadelphia? You must give him my best”. That was how we rekindled our relationship.

PCM: The concert this weekend is a celebration of your fifty years on stage. Congratulations!

Dan: Thank you! There is a celebration in Romania and Philadelphia.

(Valentin Radu has been translating)

Valentin Radu: This is a jubilee concert of fifty years and a very significant event. I am very proud that we are doing this to celebrate Maestro Grigore and he joined us. Last year we marked ten years of collaboration between Ama Deus Ensemble and Dan Grigore. I am very humbled that he is doing this. It will be the first time we perform the Grieg Piano Concerto. This is the first actual concert that Maestro will do fifty years after the date of his debut on October 16th 1957 in Bucharest.

Anniversary Gala with Dan Grigore was performed on Friday, November 2, 2007 at The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia.

Annie Haslam

The band Renaissance I would have to say has been one of my biggest musical influences. I still binge listen to their recording non stop days at a time. I was thrilled to be able to speak with Annie Haslam. This interview is from 2014.

www.anniehaslam.com

Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield has stated about Renaissance ,”They had a very big influence on me in my young years -the classical/rock cross-over, which I’m still drawing from in my own compositions”.

This conversation picks up right after I introduced myself.

Annie Haslam: Did you ever get to see Renaissance in concert?

 PCM: I saw them on the Song for All Seasons tour.  I was upset when I missed the Camera Camera tour.

Annie: Camera Camera is one of my least favorite albums.

PCM: Really?

Annie: Unfortunately by doing that we really screwed ourselves up. Instead of progressing with the music that we made that was so unique, we went in a completely different direction and we lost our style. That was the downfall of the band.

PCM: Did the record company put pressure on you?

Annie: A little bit. Jon wanted to take the band direction in a different way. We all followed. I am such a strong person now. That would never happen now! It was meant to be. If everything didn’t happen I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and I am very happy doing what I’m doing.

PCMDo you think that the band was growing? If you kept doing the same stuff as Renaissance..

Annie:We could have carried on doing the same thing but we needed to take it into the future. We needn’t have gone so radical. We took away all the classical feel of that lovely lush orchestral feel. It was gone. The five of us in the band at the time had a way of making magic doing that kind of thing. Once we changed it we sounded like anybody. They were ok songs but they weren’t great like the old stuff. Anybody could have sung those songs.

PCMWhen Jon sang the song Only Angels Have Wings was there a lot of arguing in the band about having it on the record?

Annie:I was suppose to sing that but I was ill and couldn’t get to the studio. I had the flu so Jon did it. I though it was dreadful. As much as Jon was a great bass player he wasn’t a singer. I was very upset, I wish I wasn’t sick but there was nothing I do about it.

PCMWere you on that tight of a schedule?

Annie: Yes, but it was something that was going to take weeks to get my voice back.

PCMI was surprised to learn that you started singing at twenty-two. How did you develop your voice?

Annie: I think it was always there. My brother was a brilliant singer. He was a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. There’s a song on this new album with him. It is the only song we ever recorded together. I had a boyfriend who realized I could sing because I would sing at parties after I had a few ciders. Then I went to voice lessons with an opera trainer and that is when I learned I had five octaves.

PCMDid you consider a classical career?

Annie: My teacher wanted me to. I didn’t know what I wanted at the time.

PCMWho are some of the singers you listed too?

Annie: I listed to Anna Moffo and Maria Callas. I use to listen to Barbara Streisand, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.

PCM: Have you met Joni?

Annie: No, but I have met Joan Baez and I was shaking when I met her. She knew who I was. I was thrilled.

PCMHow about Joan Armatrading?

Annie: I like her. We were managed by Miles Copeland at the same time. We did a European tour together in 1973, early days as a band.

PCM: Did you expect to make a career with music?

Annie: I was hoping to. The first job I had was in a cabaret group in a dinner theater in London for six months. The guitarist said, “Annie you’re wasted here”. We were a cover band. He saw an ad in Melody Maker for a girl singer for an international rock band. They didn’t say the name but when I called them I found out it was Renaissance so I went out and bought the album and learned the songs. I went for the audition.

PCMWere you still taking vocal lesson at the time?

Annie: No.

PCMDid you have concerns about damaging your voice?

Annie: No, because it wasn’t rock. My voice isn’t delicate. It’s not like I felt it was a delicate instrument. It is a strong powerful instrument that I developed by going to a proper trainer and learning how to breath correctly. I think you can damage your voice if you don’t know proper training.

PCM: Are there any singers that make you cringe when you hear them because their technique is so bad?

Annie: There’s a lot out. Do you remember Paul Young?

PCMYes, I liked him.

Annie: He has a fantastic voice. From what I was told he sang from his throat and strained his voice. Rod Steward sounds like somebody who completely abused his voice to me. That’s not my kind of voice. I like voice with melody in them.

PCM: Who do you listen to now?

Annie: I haven’t bought any cd’s for a long time. I love Mary Fahl she was in a band called October Project. She has the most incredible voice. You should pick up their first album its fabulous. Kate Bush was always a big favorite of mine. Tori Amos is a copy of her, I don’t listen to her.

PCMI don’t get the Tori Amos thing eitherWeren’t you also a fashion designer?

Annie: I did fashion sketching. I wanted to be a designer. I went to a company in London  called *******. I was taken on temporarily and I was there for a couple of weeks. The man who owned the company was there and saw my work.  They gave me a sketch book and asked me to sketch outfits they brought into the room. The guy who owned the company said,” I like your style. I look forward to seeing you when I get back from my holiday”. Basically saying I got the job on a permanent basis. He went away and his girlfriend was left in charge. They gave me a book and said we want you to come up with as many ideas/ designs as you can in your style. So I came up with whole wad of ideas and then they took the book from me for two hours and then they fired me.

What they wanted was new ideas and they stole my ideas and then got rid of me. That absolutely broke my heart. I’d already done many thing to work my way up to be a designer, I worked for Saville Row Taylor, Jeager Clothing who is a big company in England and then I got the job at ******** . I remember I called my parents and they said, “As you know we are going to Canada for a month, we will take you with us”. I went with them and while we were there we went to a pub in Toronto and they were having a talent competition and I got up and sang Those Were the Days who Mary Hopkins made famous. Her husband is Tony Visconti who later went on to produce some of my albums. Then I started to go into more competitions and then I got my job with the show boat.

PCM: So you never had starving days as an artist.

Annie: I didn’t. I have been very very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of upsets, a lot of tragedy in a short space of time. Renaissance was already touring they didn’t have a record deal. We had a sort of manager but then we got an agent with the John Sherry Agency. The band changed, different members came in and out then Miles Copeland came on the scene. That’s when we got the record deal with Sire Records and Seymour Stein and the rest is history.

PCMThat was such a different time and it was all new. Do you think that exists now for artists?

Annie: I’d like to think it was. It’s very different now. The music business is very different now. There’s very few record labels. The ones that there are, are big. There are many brilliant musicians out there, where do they get played? It’s not the same anymore. It’s wonderful having (((XM))) radio. (((XM))) still plays Renaissance. It’s not the same, that’s for sure.

Who knows how much longer they will be around they stick with the big artist who they know will sell. And with the advent of bootlegs which is another thing that is so heart breaking, its so wrong. It make a lot of artist feel why should we bother, somebody is going to steal it.

PCM: I remember in one of your newsletter’s you wrote about a bootleg  DVD. That was on ebay from one of your shows.

Annie: It’s not there’s to sell. Its poor quality, people are ripped off and they take the money and run. I don’t know about you but I am a heavy believer in karma. In this life time!

PCM: Are you familiar with yahoo group and the CD tree’s?

Annie: The yahoo groups?

PCM: They are absolutely dedicated fan clubs. Somebody will have a recording from a concert or radio program and they will send it to one person who will make copies and then send it on to the next on the list. There is no money is involved.

Annie: They do it within themselves? I have heard about them but how do you know they’re not selling it down the road.

PCMI have a lot of stuff from the tree’s. These are dedicated fans who share your feeling. I think there is a difference with that and ebay.

Annie: I guess I am jaded. People will send me emails about stuff and there is nothing I can do. There’s a bootleg out of Still Life. It has a white cover. I don’t know why but I was searching the other day and I though why should I look there’s nothing I can do. It would cost me a lot of money.

PCMI had read one that you would never over dub your voice. What made you change your mind?

Annie: When I started to live with Roy Wood who is a musical genius. I learned a lot from him musically. When I did my album Annie in Wonderland. He was the one who talked me into doing over dubs for the album. Song for All Seasons was already written and Northern Lights, I remember the guys coming into the studio one day, why don’t we try putting three voices I know they recorded more than one voice why don’t we put them together to see what it would sound like in the verse.  That’s where you have the triple tracking. That’s what made it special, why it was such a hit. So it was Roy Wood, he turned me around. He was a brilliant man.

PCMDo you think it was your classical training that initially prevented you from over dubbing?

Annie: Possibly yes, I was also one of those people that was a little afraid of change. The older I get the easier it is to change. It a hard thing to do, change something you know.

PCMWas it easy getting Annie in Wonderland out? 

Annie: It was wonderful. It didn’t get enough publicity.

PCMDo you think it was because of your voice and people didn’t know how to market it? 

Annie: I don’t think so. Seymour Stein was really behind us. Maybe, I don’t. Know. I’m not sure . A lot of the details I have forgotten or put behind me. The thing is with my music I’m trying to let it go and just don’t remember things because I don’t want to. I’m a different person now. When I do interviews I don’t want to go on about my past because everybody knows it. I don’t mean that against you. I was just making a point about why I didn’t remember things.

PCMdidn’t take it that way. When I called you I did have a different idea for this interview. I wanted to talk you and classical music and your painting. I figured you must be tired of talking about Renaissance. But we have gone in a different direction.

I read that you used a different technique when working with David Sancious on the last tour

Annie: Yes, David probably is in the top five session musician on this planet for keyboard and guitar. I was asked to do a benefit last year and it was to much time and money to get a band together for five shows so I asked David. He improvises everything. He doesn’t play a song the same way twice. I really had to have my wits about it. I had to watch him, have eye contact. I didn’t get it together until the third show.  It was completely alien to me. I had to face him. On stage I couldn’t stand like I normally do facing the audience. I had to do it side on facing him. It was brilliant once we got the eye contact. We did a couple pieces we wrote together. We didn’t record it for cd. Nothing is going to happen with that.

PCM: I did see you a few times and I was at the show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Do you remember that show?

Annie: Yes. Most of my solo career I didn’t have a proper manager or agent.

PCM: Is it hard marketing you?

Annie: Yes, definitely, it’s unique music. It’s not commercial. I’m not that kind of commercial entity. I guess if somebody like a really brilliant manager came said OK, right let do this. Like what they did with Enya. Enya’s music puts me to sleep. I don’t want to be judgmental. I’m making a comment. It’s amazing what they did with her. They’ve made her a huge star. It’s what you can do with money.

PCM: I think they put the same album in a different sleeve for soap stores.

Annie: I shouldn’t say that, she has a wonderful voice.

PCM: You don’t sing anymore?

Annie: I did the thing with David Sancious I did a guest song on an EP with a band called Magenta from Wales, I worked with Jon Wetton and Jeff Downs last year. I did demo work for a film called Roger in California. I needed to move on from music. I doesn’t give me pleasure anymore. It’s to stressful, the business is different now. I do have something in the back of my mind that I won’t get into now.

PCM: You have a CD Woman Transcending coming out soon?

Anne: I felt time is going by so quickly and with the state of the world now, If I get any ideas I just want to go with it. We have to seize the day everyday. I was going to leave this album a few years down the road. One reason is the publishing end of this is so vast to get it all together but I thought, you know I’m going to do it now. So I got all the songs together that I had on cassette and DAT for several years, since the seventies from my solo career that were recorded as just really great demos that never saw the light of day. Songs that never made an album because there were to commercial, like the Bee Gee’s song. There’s a Mike Rutherford song a Carl Perkins song, two Perkins songs. One by Carl and Family and one by his son and daughter. Two country songs! And then I sing with my brother Michael, and a song Reaching Out that was with the Intergalactic Touring Band, that’s the last song on the cd with the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s just gorgeous. There’s also a song I wrote with Steve Howell called Lily’s in the Field that we wrote for a benefit concert I put together in 1995 that for kids of Bosnia.

PCM: It’s think this is a good time for it, not in a couple of years.

Annie: That what I felt. Why wait? I’m gad I did it. The art work is a painting I did the Essence of Leonardo de Vinci. It came to me at the end of the day. I had these paints left over and something took me over and I ended up with this painting with this white dragonfly in it. I don’t know where it came from. I had no intention of putting anything in it. I feel a strong connection to him. He was a good man, he was a vegetarian and a singer. They also called him the Renaissance Man.

PCM: Would you ever write a book?

Annie:I get asked that a lot. No, I would have to live my past again why do that. I have already made my money from my past. Why go through all that again. I don’t have the time anyway I am busy painting now. I love it with a passion as much as music if not more.

PCM: Do you still practice your voice?

Annie:I never did. We practiced as a band before a show or tour. I didn’t have the patience to practice. I’m singing at the Sellersville Theater on January 26th. It’s a show called Wine, Woman & Song.  I will be performing with guitarist Bob Miles. I will only sing three songs and it will feature some of my art work. It will be fun. What I will do is put on some cd’s a couple of days before the show and sing along to get my breathing back because I haven’t sung for a while now.

PCM: Can I ask some really dumb questions that only a fan can ask?

Annie: Go on.

PCM: You recently sold your tambourine on ebay, why?

Annie:I didn’t want it in my house anymore. I don’t need it anymore. I’ve a pair of maracas I might be selling too. The ones I used in Prologue.

PCM: What did you think of the Michael Dunford’s cd The Other Woman? Did  you know it wouldn’t work?

Annie: I thought the title would doom it. It was that and it said Renaissance.  People were expecting to hear me and were disappointed when they didn’t . Many people complained to me about that.

Did you think it was bad?

PCM: Yes, the title was bad. I would have listened to it differently if it was called Dunford-Adlington or something.

Do you still have the Annie necklace?

Annie: Yes, I have two now. I had one made for my mum whose name was also Annie. When she passed away I inherited it. They’re rather big and bulky but I guess that’s what the rappers wear now. Look at that, I started a trend.

PCM: That should be your new line of jewelry, “Annie Bling 

(Annie laughs at that. It is the great five octave laugh that all Renaissance fans are familiar with.)

Carmela Greco

Special thanks to Julia Lopez for translating during the interview.

PCM: I understand you have a very special work in progress for this program.

Carmela: Yes! It is the farruca rhythm. The farruca was my fathers signature piece. I will be incorporating some of his steps with my own. This will be the first time I have used his steps.

PCM: You will also be dancing with Julia Lopez and guitarist Carlos Rubio along with their dance company Flamenco Ole, how did you start working with them.

Carmela: We met for the first time at his memorial service in Lancaster, PA. It was important for me to stay in contact with the people he has worked with in the past to keep his legacy alive. From Spain I had contacted Julia with an idea for a program I wanted to do with her and Flamenco Ole. Through a grant from Dance Advance we were able to present it at the Painted Bride a few years ago.

PCM: When you get an idea for a dance are you seeing shapes in your head?

Carmela: No, flamenco is different from the ballet. It is an emotion. I am presenting an emotion through my hands, the way I move my arms what I do inside a rhythm with it. We have traditional steps. It is what I do as a dancer working closely with the guitarist that define who we are as individual artists.

PCM: When you were starting work on the farruca how did it come to fruition.

Carmela: We started with the rhythm. I would tell Carlos were I wanted a falseta and he would have ideas. It is a total collaboration between the the two of us.

PCM: What is your rehearsal schedule?

Carmela: We rehearse three hours everyday.

PCM: What was it like growing up with Jose Greco as your father?

Carmela: He was my father, he was bigger than life. He was a beautiful statue to me. I didn’t see him as the world did -as a dancer. I saw him as my father. I am one of three children. My sister is a famous classical Spanish dancer in Spain and my brother is also a famous flamenco dancer.

PCM: What is the difference between classical Spanish dance and flamenco dance?

Carmela: Classical Spanish dance is similar to the ballet and danced while playing castanets. It is a very difficult form of dance.

PCM: Do the three of you ever perform together?

Carmela: We have in the past toured with my father. It is very hard for us to schedule anything together now because we all have very busy careers.

PCM: Is there a particular tour that stands out the most to you?

Carmela: A few years ago, I along with another dancer were invited to perform in Russia. We were in St. Petersburg, Moscow and few other cities. It was a breath taking trip.

PCM: Were you surprised to find Flamenco in Russia?

CarmelaNot at all. Flamenco is everywhere!

Paco Pena


January 29,2006 – 3:00 PM – Kimmel Center
www.kimmelcenter.org 
Artist web site: www.pacopena.com 
PCM: What was the first rhythm you learned?

Paco: The first rhythm was Soleares.

PCM: Was there ever pressure on you not to play the guitar but do something that would bring money?

Paco: That is a very good question. Well, the thing is, we were nine children in a very poor family and certainly the concern, particularly my mother’s was that everybody had a basic education and be good enough to get a decent job and so on. So I did go to school. I was into that and I eventually got a job in an office to soon, but never the less it was a job. My mother, wisely never objected to me going with other friends She made sure that the friends were good people. I was very young and they wanted me to go with them to play. I always played all day, everyday. She did realize it was a social connection with the world for me. It’s a very good question, I never thought about it. She never did object to me doing it. On the other hand she wanted me to have the skills to do something else, “a proper job”, like a job in an office. I suppose my love for music, for the guitar became strong and I left the job and I just decided to be a guitarist.

PCM: Did you put pressure on yourself to make money?

Paco: Not to make money but to be able to survive. If you imagine a family of people who do manual work, my mother use to have a store in the market selling vegetables to feed us. She only had my older brother and me and seven girls. It’s a matter of necessity to make sure you are able to look after yourself in some way. It’s not making money as such, but being able to be alright in life. The pressure was never to strong, it was always wishing that I would be alright but never demanding strongly that I take a job.

PCM: Was there a particular time when you took a deep breath and said, “I’ve made it” and what was the recording that was from that time.

Paco: That’s a good question, I suppose one could look at it and analyze it. It’s difficult, I’ve never said “I’ve made it” in that way. There are significant landmarks. I always loved playing with flamenco dancers and flamenco singers, particularly with singers. I was never interested in being a soloist as such, I wanted to be in the background but one day I decided to be a soloist because I needed my life to be more interesting than it was. I don’t mean interesting artistically but more demanding on myself to achieve more, to go much further. So I decided I was going to be a soloist. Example, playing for my debut concert in the Wigmore Hall in London was a magnificent feeling , when the audience reacted to me, God forbid, who am I? When they reacted so nicely, so well to what I had to offer. I think that was a revelation and it was saying I want to do something, I have to continue to work and project this image.  Soon after that I played with Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Festival Hall in London. There were four different guitar acts, but to play with Jimi Hendrix was a fantastic event, really. So you could say those little things make you realize you made something of your life. They are little steps in becoming human, becoming what you are. I’m not one to say, “Oh you’ve made it“. I never felt that way.

PCM: Where you familiar with Jimi Hendrix?

Paco: Yes of course. Not enough, I was to much into my own thing but I was aware of him as a fantastic artist.
PCM: Have you ever played an electric guitar?

Paco: Well I tried now and then, it’s to difficult.

PCM: When are you coming out with your new cd, Requiem for the Earth?

Paco: It’s being done at the moment. I’ve done it live, I have to analyze it and do it in the studio, I want to do it soon.

PCM: Do you have artistic freedom with your record company?

Paco: Oh yes, I can do what I want.

PCM: Was it hard getting Misa Flamenco out?

Paco: Not at all. They were really delighted to get something different out at that time. For me it was a bit of an experiment. I don’t like the word experiment, it was a trip, an adventure to combine two strong musical cultures like classical and flamenco in that way. It fascinated me and when talking to the record company they got excited talking to me because I was excited. So the same applies to the Requiem. It’s a very intense work, but it has a comment on what is happening to the Earth in a negative sense but it also has a positive theme like looking to the future and calling to our awareness so that we may learn to protect the future for our children.

PCM: How much time do you spend practicing?

Paco: Really quit a lot, particularly if I have my responsibilities. If I have to do things then I need to practice. I suppose when I was younger I practiced more.

PCM: Do you have a favorite rhythm?

Paco:  I guess it is still Soleares, the rhythm is fascinating. You drift into it. It’s wonderful, expressive, not difficult but demanding in wanting to get right into it and do more with it.

PCM: It there one you think is difficult?

PCM: Well yes, in flamenco there are rhythms that have great complexity and you always try to find new bits of expression within them. The Buleria for example is so exciting and fast. Each rhythm has a moment. Sometimes you feel you’re doing something and everything happens right and sometimes you don’t.

PCM: I remember driving to Connecticut to see you and then the next tour a club in New York, then Town Hall a few times and then Carnegie Hall. This is your first time in Philadelphia and there is another city you are playing in for the first time. Do you feel like you are conquering the United States?

Paco: No, its not a matter of conquering. I do what I do, it is what I believe. Therefore any people who feel that they want to experience it, I am delighted to go there and take the challenge and convince them. It’s not a matter of conquering. I’m connected to this tradition. I love it, so I do it with love not aggression.

  
   

Joan Armatrading -The Goddess of Change

I have seen Joan 97 time in concert since 1977, 15 cities and 6 states. This interview took place January 19, 2011 and for me became a testament as to my wife’s love and dedication to her family. My wife (Tanya) passed away 36 days after this interview from a hard battle with ovarian cancer. The interview with Joan took place at 6am east coast time because of our time difference. Tanya was in a lot of pain and we had been up for almost 24 at this point. She knew I had the interview coming and was more concerned that I was not going to leave the room. A few minutes before the interview was to take place she closed her eyes wanting me to believe she fell asleep. She would not change her position. I quietly went into the other room awaiting Joan’s call. The interview lasted exactly 15 minutes, as soon as I hung up the phone Tanya called out, “I am in so much pain”. When I sat next to her she asked if the interview was what I dreamed it would be. My wife saw Joan 6 times with me. Even in her high level of pain she demonstrated an extraordinary level of self other differentiation.

joanarmatrading.com

David: You will have your third live recording Live at the Royal Albert Hall released in February in the United States. Your last live CD/DVD Live All the Way From America from 2004 was produced, directed and edited by you. Will you have the same role in this release?

Joan: Yes, because they are all songs I’ve written. I do that with everything I do even thought I haven’t been credited.

David: Why are you releasing another live CD/DVD on the heels of Live All the Way from America. It was almost fifteen years between your first live recording and the last.

Joan: No reason, I get asked a lot by people who come to the shows for many years to do another live album. I did Live All the Way From America and Into the Blues; especially after Into the Blues people were asking for a live recording from that. It was a great live sound and I was into it myself obviously.

David: How did you discover Anderson Guitars?

Joan: I went hunting for guitars and I took my tour manager at the time to a shop and came back with a stack of guitars and the one I chose was the Tom Anderson. It sounded great. It was clean. I took that one and I needed two more. At the time I played a Strat that I couldn’t take on the road anymore it was very buzzy.

David: Do you collect guitars? How many do you have?

Joan: David, when have you known me to answers questions like that. I will answer any question about my music. I don’t tell people how many I have. I have quite a few.

David: Do you have a dream guitar?

Joan: Not Really. I look at guitars all the time because I’m looking to see if there is anything new. It doesn’t have to be a new guitar per se. I just found a Strat and it’s really really good. It sounds very different, quite chunky. It was nice to get something that plays really different and works. I’m always looking for guitars in all the countries I go to.

David: Do you have a nylon string guitar?

Joan: I have one I don’t play on it much.

David: Who made it?

Joan: It’s a Gibson.

David: I understand why you don’t use it.
           Are you working on a CD of new material?

Joan: I’m writing now. I will give myself a year it will be 2012 when it comes out. I will be sixty-one.

David: Your tours are always extensive. Does touring get harder as you get older?

Joan: It’s tiring anyway even when you’re young. I’m a healthy strong person so I do all right. So yes it’s a tiring thing and I am busy all the time with interviews and meeting people. While the band is on a break I have a lot to do. I’ve been doing this for forty years I’m use to it.

David: Speaking of healthy and fit you ran in the New York Marathon. I heard you didn’t train.

Joan: I did do some training. I couldn’t do as much as I would have liked. I did do some. A few days before the race I hurt my knee but I finished the marathon and I got my medal and raised 175,000 Euro’s for charity.

Part Two

David: Your last recording with A&M Records was Square the Circle in 1992. That Album was just dropped in the market. What happened?

Joan: That’s up to the record company to do what they wanted. There were changes within A&M. Life changes that’s how it goes, people move on. My records do well.

David: Then you went to RCA and did What’s Inside.

Joan: There again, there were changes as well. That’s what I mean, things change all the time. I just generally don’t have control over how a company moves in and moves the artists. You just have to work with what’s there. What are you gonna do? It affects a lot of different people. You can get wrapped up and held up in things. I’m not that kind of person. I’m a very positive person. I take what comes and do the best with what I have. It’s a simple philosophy for me. I’m not a complicated person when it comes to how to be happy. I think the record company has to have the freedom to do what it has to do to be a record company. You have to accept that to do the things you want to do. That’s how things work. You have to understand that.

David: Do you have a favorite CD?

Joan: Usually the one I’m writing. I wouldn’t be able to answer that one. It’s like when people ask what is my favorite song I wrote. I can’t answer that because I’ve written so many. If I had to say it would be Love and Affection because that’s the one I came in on, but it’s very hard to answer.

People will ask what is my favorite gig. We do this all the time and we might come off the stage and say that was great like when they would sing Best Dress On from the last tour. That worked very well. We would think that nobody else would sing that loud or that many times but then we go to the next place and the people are as into it.

David: Speaking of the song Best Dress On, where did that come from?

Joan: I don’t know. I should know but I don’t remember.

David: That song seems to be speaking directly to people who are dealing with the fear and uncertainty of cancer.

Joan: It’s definitely for healing, for people who are trying to make things work. As I said to you before I’m a very positive person and write about the good in the things we make. When I write I try not to write positive stuff all the time. It takes me longer to write something that isn’t positive.

David: Where is Ma-Me-O Beach?

Joan: It’s in Canada. It’s not a beach I went to I saw the signs for it on the road from the tour bus. I didn’t write the song there it came about later.

David: Was Secret Secret a freeing album for you?

Joan: Secret Secret was the record I decided that I would say exactly what I do on the record. All of the members of my band said I should be taking credit for what I do so yes it was freeing for me because it was when I started working on my own. I didn’t have producers in the studio with me. Not that working with producers was a bad thing. I’ve worked with fantastic producers and learned a lot from them.

David: Was it freeing vocally for you? That was the album you started vocal phrasings like the line where you sing, “ Bap par dap……..ah”.

Joan: Right, that was from Persona Grata. Not really because again on my records I sing what I want to sing and I write all the harmonies. Whatever vocals I did are things I write like the low voices on Down toZero. Nobody is there to say why don’t you do this.

David: Have you been asked to produce anybody?

Joan: Yes, but because of time I haven’t been able too. It is really a lot of work to produce.

David: Do you ever see yourself only producing and not writing?

Joan: It would be nice to produce somebody but I kind of have to write and I want to write

David: Why did you write about the Goddess Oya?

Joan: That’s a real goddess. I was thinking of change and I wanted to write about it. I wanted to find out if there was a goddess that would guide you safely through change. I did a search and found that there was a goddess. I wasn’t surprised to find out there was a goddess of change.

Beatrice Jona Affron

Music Director and Conductor
Pennsylvania Ballet
www.paballet.org

PCM:What instrument did you study?

Beatrice: Violin.

PCM: Did you always have an interest in conducting?

Beatrice: No, I came to it late actually. It wasn’t until I was about to graduate from college that I started to think about conducting. Some people know from a young age that they want to be conductors. I was not one of those people. I thought I was going to be a chamber musician or play my violin somewhere. I started to take an interest in it in college and by the time I was done I was pretty certain that is what I wanted to do. The thing is most conductors decide to be a conductor before you have much experience. Where do find an orchestra? You can’t take an orchestra home and practice everyday like you can an instrument. So you kind of make this decision without really having had that much time in front of a lot of players. That comes later and then I went to graduate school and have been working ever since.

PCM: Is there a difference in the education of a dance conductor compared to a non dance orchestra conductor?

Beatrice: Yes, they don’t talk about dance conducting in conductor programs or at least in any of the programs I was in. They do talk about operas more. When you’re conducting opera of course you’re conducting musicians on stage, you have the singers on stage. I had hardly been to the ballet before I became the assistant conductor which is how I began there in 1993. For me it was an education from scratch in terms learning the language of classical ballet, understanding the relationship between dance and music and dancers and conductors.

PCM: That was the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1993?

Beatrice: Yes, my whole professional life has been spent at Pennsylvania Ballet.

PCM: That’s a great place to grow up.

Beatrice: It is a great place to grow up. That’s exactly what happened. Anything I’ve learned about conducting I’ve learned with the help of that orchestra. I’ve conducted other places but that was my first real professional engagement as assistant conductor. I was the chorus master of the Bronx Opera soon after I graduated from graduate school and I conducted youth orchestras but this was different.

PCM: Then does it become your child?

Beatrice: It’s the other way around. I was the child. I was really green both as a conductor and certainly as a conductor for ballet.

PCM: You said earlier that they don’t teach conducting for the ballet. Why do you think that is?

Beatrice: I think a lot of conductors haven’t had a lot of experience with dance. I’m not sure how they talk about it. That’s an interesting question because now I have to think what would I say to conducting students if I was teaching them. I think one of the things I might say is conducting for dance has some significant similarities to conducting for opera (which I also do) in the sense that in opera you’re really paying attention to the singers’ breath, in dance it’s not that different. You can not only see them breathing but you can see in their gestures they do something analogous to breathing. When they prepare for a step, that is their breath. As it turns out that is probably the most critical piece of information in both genres for conducting. What I had no idea about when I first started was the terminology of what distinguishes this step from this step. That for me was really an important education.

PCM: When you are conducting and watching the dancers and sense a dancer might not be preparing right do you make adjustments?

Beatrice: There are two major concerns. The first any dancer will tell you is tempo, not too fast not too slow and these are things you work out in rehearsal. I work with the dancers starting about ten days before opening night. I go to Philadelphia, I conduct the piano rehearsals with the dancers and I study a video tape before that and I work with them to understand what the tempos need to be, what the tempos need to be for one cast vs. another cast. Most dances are at least double cast and the Nutcracker is quintuple cast. I work on that for each cast. Tempo is of course a huge concern for the dancers. The other is phrasing, those are the two things I’m looking out for. Yes I do make adjustments, hopefully imperceptible to the audience.

PCM: Flamenco rhythms are counted in twelve’s and fours- what do ballets dancers count?

Beatrice: Eight. Most classical music is eight so the really classical stuff goes by 8ths and 16ths. We do a lot of Stravinsky and other music of the 20th century which is not always organized according to 8th’s or even four beats in a bar. Stravinsky has a lot of mixed meters. That’s pretty fascinating to me. For musicians learning to play the music that has mixed meter it is harder when you’re a kid and learning it. When you get to be more experienced it is easier to play music with 7/8 and 5/8 time signatures. When you’re a dancer, it doesn’t’t really make a difference. They have no problem counting nines, sevens, elevens, and thirteens.  Sometime they count these odd numbers even in an eight bar phrase with a 4/4 time signature because the phrasing might fit into an odd number as opposed to the notation. They naturally count hemiolas instead of beats.

PCM: My introduction to the ballet was Franklin Court two seasons ago. I use the term introduction because that was the piece that make me realize how amazing the Pennsylvania Ballet is. It was at that time that I heard a very interesting story about a performance that the PA Ballet did with a conductor who had no understanding of dance and performed the piece at a non dance tempo.

Beatrice: They went to the Edinburgh Festival and danced with a Russian Orchestra. The poor guy had never conducted for dance before. I would never wish that on anyone: to do a piece like Swan Lake, a full length work which is so well-known and so tricky. The more classical a ballet is, usually the trickier it is to conduct. In real classical ballet like Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, there tends to be more variation of tempo within a given number then in something more contemporary. That’s where the collaboration between conductor and dancer, especially a female dancer, is so critical. The conductor in Edinburgh was a very good conductor but he had never conducted for dance before – he had a crash course. It is more of a credit to our dancers because they did so well under the circumstances.

PCM: That brings up something I wonder about. Do you think it is a marketing challenge to find new audiences for the ballet. I’m surprised by the response of people, some who are even in the arts when I mention that I really like the ballet. The ballet is like “extreme art” to coin the phrase from extreme sports.

Beatrice: They are in fact athletes, they are artists but they’re using there bodies in such an athletic way. People don’t see that. This brings up something I found problematic when I was starting. When they dance they are always in character so usually they’re smiling or they’re acting in some other way. From where I am, I can see their faces because I have the best seat in the house. In the early days all I saw were smiles.  I did a lot of Nutcrackers in the beginning. I could never tell from the expression on their faces if it was going well or if they felt comfortable with the tempo. You can’t tell because they have this smile and they’re trained to make it look easy. It’s not like football, where the players are grunting and the sweat is flying off them. That’s because that is the demeanor of a ballet dancer. They are either acting, as in Romeo & Juliet or smiling, as in the Nutcracker. They make it look easy and people might have the misunderstanding that something impressive isn’t going on.

PCM: Do you work primarily for dance and opera orchestras?

Beatrice: Actually, these last few years I’ve conducted exclusively for dance and for opera. Not because I was on a mission to do so but I love working in a pit, being in a show.

PCM: How about your work with Philip Glass?

Beatrice: Conducting Philip Glass’s music is such a great treat for me, whether it be dance or opera. I had a great experience touring with him in 1997.  We did an eleven-week tour of a piece which was called an opera but which was directed Susan Marshall, who is a choreographer. There were dancers and singers on stage and Philip Glass performed in the pit. It was amazing to us that he would even do that.
Why would he schlep for eleven weeks with us?  Certainly he didn’t need the money.  His explanations was, “this is how I get to know my music”. This way he relives it and experiences from a whole new perspective as a player. It says so much about him as an artist. He was such a good colleague, never bossy at all. When I went into it I barely knew the man and I thought, how am I going to conduct the composer?  He was so easy to work with. Of course I should have known that, since he’s spent most of his career collaborating with musicians from all over the world and genres. That attitude extended towards me.

 
   

Classical Guitarist Linda Cohen

Linda is only related to me in name. I first saw Linda open for Tracy Nelson at Penns Landing in 1977 and knew that I wanted to be a classical guitarist. Over the years Linda was one of my teachers and eve before that we had become friends. 

PCMA few years back I bought a really nice Silver Tone guitar from a woman who turned out to be your cousin. She was selling it because she was moving to Florida.

Linda: That would have been Betsy. Did she give you a good Price? (Laughs)

PCMWhen I found out who she was and I told her what your music has been to me, she pretty much gave it to me and made me promise that I would never sell it to a collector, it must be used by a guitarist.

Linda: That is Betsy!

PCMIn my Bio, you are Linda Cohen (no relation). In 1977 I saw you open for Tracy Nelson at Penn’s Landing. That is what made me pick up classical guitar. Do you remember that concert?

Linda: That was a great day! I love Tracy Nelson!

PCM: When did you pick up the guitar?

Linda: I played the drums first. I was in high school when I started the guitar.  

PCM: Did you start learning classical guitar?

Linda: Well, my boyfriend at the time was a classical guitarist and wanted me to do likewise. I resisted because I was a percussionist and happy being a percussionist but by happenstance my Aunt Rita married a guy named Sam who had a son that had a cousin who opened the Philly Folk Workshop. So now I had a connection and my Aunt Rita and Uncle Sam said I should learn the guitar. After the first lesson that was it.

PCMWhen did you start teaching/making a living? Was there a transition period?

Linda: I guess I started showing up places, like the open mic at the 2nd Fret. At the time I was playing this fancy finger picking style and the folk boom had just begun. At the time there weren’t a lot of people who were playing that fancy. So I got a reputation for being very fast. They put me TV when I was in high school. I was on public television, I was on Chief Half Town. (laughs)

PCMDid you ever have a job outside of music?

Linda: For a brief time when I came back from a big motor cycle trip and was broke. I worked at my fathers office checking peoples credit ratings.

PCMWhere were the places you taught?

Linda: The first place I taught at was the successor to the place I learned how to play. The owner sold the business and moved it from Hunting Park to Center City. It was at 19th & Samson next to the R&W Delicatessen. They hired me to teach there. After that folded and the owner moved away I taught at Esther Halpern’s School of Guitar on Walnut Street. I remember being very desperate for a job when I finally went into Esther’s. It was right across the street from where I lived. After I went in I realized I was dressed wrong. I had a very mini skit and leather jacket on. I tried to cover my skirt but Esther just looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I saw your skirt it’s nice”. I told her I needed a job and she told me she just hired someone. I told her, “I really need a job and I am better than anybody else you can hire”. She thought I had hutzspa so she hired me.

PCMWasn’t Esther the woman who ran the Gilded Cage with her husband? Did you ever play there? (The Gilded Cage was the first coffee house in Philadelphia Opening in 1956 and closing in 1969)

Linda: She wasI didn’t play there as a regular gig but I played at the round robins.(jam sessions)

PCMWho were some of the other teachers at Esther’s ?

Linda: Let’s see, Jerry Ricks whom I’ll still friends with and John Oates.

PCMWow, John Oates! Can you verify any rumors that have circulated in rock & roll history that could possibly bring many hits to my little ol’ web site?

Linda: (Laughing) I know which one you are talking about. I saw no evidence of that. But in terms of the rock & roll history, I do remember a time when he was so broke Esther had the staff chip in enough money so at Christmas we bought him a giant salami. I mean it was really huge so he would have something to eat for awhile.

PCM: What kind of guitars do you use?

Linda: Well I have my Menkovich that I absolutely love and my Lo Prinzi. Since I am performing with an electric harpsichord I need to have pick up not just mic’d so I use a cut away Alvarez with pick up .

PCM: What were the clubs you played in?

Linda: 2nd Fret, Main Point of course. There was place that didn’t last long called Folk,There was The 2nd of Autumn, there weren’t that many clubs then, I guess I played them all.

PCM: Did you ever come across Joni Mitchell at the 2nd Fret or Main Point?

Linda: Oh, Many Times.

PCM: What was she like?

Linda: She was an extreme talent. I do think she played the on the “I’m so frail act”. But sure! If you’re that good, so what! She was a very talented, look what she’s done.

PCM: I’m pretty sure you were the last act to play at the original Main Point. I remember seeing your show that night and looking at the schedule and seeing no acts after your show and the following Saturday it just said closed. I asked the lady who ran it and she said, “We’re closing”.

Linda: Yeah, I shut down a lot of places. (Laughs)Remember Stars?

PCM: Who were some of the people you were billed with?

Linda: Well, Procal Harem, Buffy Saint Marie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Van Ronk, John Fahey, there’s re so many people I can’t think of them all.

PCM: When the clubs starting closing in Philadelphia in the late 70’s, where you worried about the arts in Philadelphia?

Linda:  I was worried about it but not in a benevolent way for the arts.(laughs) I was worried about making a living.

PCMWhere do you place your music?

Linda: No category it’s an amalgam of the good music I learned to play plus what I add to it.

PCMIf you play instrumental music and don’t play straight out classical , jazz, blues or whatever, you’re called new age.

Linda: In a popular mind yeah.

PCMHow do you respond when people called your music new age?

Linda: Watch out for the vomit! I might ruin your microphone. Well, what was new age was form less, morpheus noodling. It was noodle soup. It was messing around with no particular thematic matter so it created a spacey mood without any content. They don’t say that much anymore. What they use to call new age they call it world now.

PCM: You don’t think what they call world music is world?

Linda: It’s as close as you get. I think it’s a lot of things thrown in and new age is one of them.

PCMI listen to world music, I never thought of it as the new new age.

Linda: Yeah but all the instruments you play, you have something from china….. You are playing world music.

PCMI have to change the title on the World page of my site. I don’t want anyone to get a new age impression.

PCM: Do you think there are a lot of outlets for us (classical musicians) in Philadelphia?

Linda: It’s tough. There are a lot of places for up and coming rock bands for sure.

PCM: Do you get a sense of there being an artistic community in Philly?

Linda: Yeah. Maybe not the way it use to be it’s more fragmented now. It use to be that everybody knew everybody else.

PCM: That’s what I meant by artistic community.

Linda: Its more fragmented, like the way radio stations have gone. Now stations play this tiny segment of music and this station plays that tiny segment. It use to be with progressive radio you would hear some jazz some classical some of everything but now with play lists it’s much harder. I use to be played on WMMR all the time. Imagine that, a classical guitarist playing original music on the radio all the time. You never get that now.

PCMDo you listen to a lot of music?

Linda: It might sound weird but I don’t. It messes up the sound track I have going on in my head.

PCM: Speaking of that, do you have favorite piece that you wrote?

Linda: I wouldn’t say favorite, but the one I identify the most with I would say is Wisteria.

It’s definitely the most romantic.

PCM: My favorites are Oh Susanna and Tommy Troller.

Linda: I was very proud of Oh Susanna when I write that one. Tommy Troller I am playing at this concert.

PCMWell speaking of this concert you will be at the Tin Angel with Michael Kac. supporting the CD, Naked Under the Moon on August 17th.

Linda: Yes. We have been friends for a very long time and always played together. We finally decided after so many years to record together and that is the cd, Naked Under the Moon. It was produced by Craig Anderton and it was a great experience.

PCMDo you get nervous before you perform and regret every decision you’ve make in your life that has put in that moment.

Linda: Absolutely! I want the stage to open up and swallow me to the bosom of the Earth but once I start playing that changes.

Pipe Major Derek Potter

PCM: You opened your tour last night. (1-9-08)

Pipe Major Derek Potter: Yes, we played at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Everything went well and it was a good show.

PCM: How many shows will you have done by the time you get to Philadelphia?

DP: We will have done four shows so Philadelphia will be our fifth show.

PCM: The bands will be much tighter.

DP: Over the Christmas break we actually did our tour rehearsals which seems quite a long time ago back in November. The main thing with that was the heavy schedule for both the Cold Stream Guards and our band with other engagements. We didn’t have much time for rehearsal. So as you see we’re running under the gun over the past few days to get good rehearsal days. The other thing as well is we have to slightly alter the show as it depends on each venue. Each venue is different in its makeup.

PCM: The history of the Royal Scots Dragoon goes back to 1640 but the pipes band became official in 1971?

DP: Actually we became official in 1946. What happened was after the demobilization of the British forces there were six pipers who went across to the Scots Greys. As it was at the time they started a pipe band. Then what happened in 1971 the regiment amalgamated with them and we became the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. At that point that is where we took the title, but we always had a small element of pipes & drums in the Scots Guard.

PCM: How long have you been the Pipe Major?

DP: I’ve been Pipe Major for five and half years, I took over in 2002. I’ve also done service of 20 years within the British military all in the pipes & drums and I worked from being a piper through the ranks to become the rank of Pipe Major.

PCM: What are the steps to become a Pipe Major in the British Army?

DP: There’s certain criteria, first and foremost for us is time accruement with the main battle tank the Challenger Two. Our role there is how we enter the course. Each member of the pipes & drums will be part of a crew as a driver or gunnery commander and will work through his career. We have to continue courses at the army music school. There are five courses a piper would complete and five courses a drummer would complete.  The emulation of that is the Pipe Majors course which is seven months long and the Drum Majors course which is slightly shorter. It is three months long.

PCM: What gets you elevated into the position?

DP: Normally what happens is the pipe major enrollment is a three year period and that Pipe Major might be at the end of his career or he may well be moving into another role with piping or another role in the battalion. The previous Pipe Major was moved up to Captain after he left the pipes & drums.

PCM: Your new cd The Spirit of the Glen is your fifth cd as Pipe Major and the first with Universal.

DP: This is the first cd that has been recorded and marketed in a classical classification. All of the projects we’ve done before have been for the pipes & drum market. This cd through Universal was made specifically with larger arrangements and to have pipes & drums on arrangements you would usually never hear them on.

PCM: Where you involved in the negotiations?

DP: Yes, myself and the band president were the people who sat down with Universal and had shown them what we did previously through various albums and DVD’s.

PCM: Did they give you freedom in the studio?

DP: It was a collaboration between us our and producer Jon Cohen when we went into the studio. It was by no means that they told us what to do.

PCM: You recorded the cd between two tours in Iraq?

DP: When operational tours come out for the pipes & drums we would go as first line soldiers and we had come back from one tour and started to work on the collaboration while we were out and we returned to Iraq and when we came back again we finished all the elements of the project.

PCM: That is two extremes. Is that psychologically difficult?

DP: They are. That’s the day to day diversity of our job. The pipes & drums have always been an integral part of regiment and the British Army and the pipers and drummers have marched into battle with the soldiers. So we use it also as a tool for morale and to make sure of that we play at Christmas, Bums Night and other festive events. We play for regimental parades which we still carry on in any operations. So the focus of the pipes & drums is still there. Sometime these experiences bring more emotion to the music as well. The musicians observations have been through compositions from their emotional experiences that have been recorded on previous albums.

PCM: The band is grade two are the pipers individually graded?

DP: We are in the top six bands in Grade 2. The pipers will be graded individually with the courses within the army school of piping and the standards within the band. Many of the members have played with top civilian bands before they came in so there is a wealth of experience between the pipers and drummers in the band.

PCM: There are no guarantee’s in a musical career but does being in The Pipes & Drums of Royals Scots Dragoon give you a secure feeling towards a good future as a professional piper?

DP: I don’t think it guarantee’s it, I would agree that it can elevate you outside of the army with the high esteem that our band is associated with.

PCM: How much time does the band practice?

DP: The time varies between the musical roles and the military roles. In any year it can be 60% piping & drumming and 40% military. Normally on a day to day basis all twenty eight members of the pipes & drums are together within the pipes & drum building and practice but within that is our military duties. We don’t have the luxury of practicing with each other every day.

PCM: How do you train beginners?

DP: When someone comes to the band we work with them to bring them up to the required standards of the band. So we work one on one with a lot of people and we have the piping class and drumming class within the band which the experienced corporal and senior members take the new members through.

PCM: Are the pipes military issue?

DP: We actually play silver and ivory bagpipes and we bought several sets that were made for us from the time of our Amazing Grace Album and those have been carried on since then and are very good bagpipes made by Hardy. We have several members who buy there own sets like myself. I have a  ull silver set by David Naill.

PCM: Who makes your band chanters?

DP: We use R.T. Shepherd pipe chanters. We use different chanters depending on whether we are going to competition or whether the whole of the army comes together for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Currently on the tour we are using the new Shepherd orchestral chanter which is pitched specifically for playing with a military band. That is the chanter we used on The Spirit of the Glen.

PCM: Do you use Shepherd reeds?

DP: Yes we do, that’s a personal preference, we like the combination of the fact that he makes a good reed for his chanter. For us it’s a working relationship between chanter and reed and that’s what we prefer to use.

PCM: Do you come from a musical family?

DP: On my mothers side my uncle, and great uncle and grandfather all played the pipes, fiddle and accordion so there was always an element of Scottish music in the family. My great uncle was in the 57th Scots Highlanders so there was a military connection there with the Scottish Regiments. On my fathers side there were guitar players and keyboard players.

PCM: When did you start playing the pipes?

DP: I started at eight years old playing coronet and trumpet. I played in the Scottish Highlands National Youth Orchestra. I started the pipes when I was twelve years old. When I picked up the pipes I was playing with the McKenzie Caledonia Pipe Band in Dundee. When I became eighteen years old I decided that I wanted to take piping full time from a hobby to a profession. So my goal was to get a degree as a  Pipe Major. At that time universities didn’t offer the piping classes that they do now.

PCM: In an earlier interview you said with the new cd The Spirit of the Glen you want to convert everyone to the pipes.

DP: There are people who wouldn’t normally listen to bagpipes so I wanted to show people there is more to the make up of the bagpipes. I think most people are surprised that there are only nine notes on the bagpipes. It is a very difficult instrument to play and there is so much music that comes form those nine notes.

The Black Watch- Interview with Piper Will Colquhoun

Special thanks to Piper Ray Spengler for his assistance. Visit: www.pipesalot.com

PCMThe pipers are all on active duty?

Will Colquhoun: Yes, basically the Black Watch is a British Army Regiment. We are soldiers first and musicians second. The last three -four years we have been busy with the operations in Iraq. So piping has taken almost second place. The last six months of the year we’ve had a revival as we have had time in the U.K. away from Iraq.

PCMHave you even been on a piping tour and then called into action?

Will: No, we would have some warning and wouldn’t organize a piping tour. For example, the three months we are in the U.S. the rest of the Black Watch is in Northern Ireland and they don’t need us now. If they needed us we wouldn’t be here. We’re fairly safe.

PCMWhen you say they don’t need you, is it like they’re running out of guys lets get the pipers in?

Will: Not at all it’s just that the Black Watch is not particularly busy for the next three months. When we went to Iraq, and we’ve been to Iraq two times, we had some warning before we went. You get more than three months notice as a rule. If the Black Watch was deployed somewhere the pipes and drums would be part of it. We’re in retreat right now, that’s why we can afford to take three months off to do this, which is great.

PCM: Do you like this kind of touring?

Will: It’s awesome! It’s great! This is fairly unique. The three months in America happens every five years. It’s the biggest event on our calendar in terms of musical performance. It’s very exciting.

PCM: One of the original members of the Black Watch was Sir James Colquhoun in 1742. Was he any relation?

Will: To be honest I haven’t looked into my family history. The whole Black Watch is based on huge family ties. You can trace through the generations, the different names that keep cropping up. Colquhoun is actually not a big one even though my brother tells me there are two or three Colquhoun’s in the Black Watch. There are a number of other big names which have been in the Black Watch through out history.

 PCM: What kind of bag do you use?

Will: We just moved onto a new type I can’t remember the name.

PCMCanmore?

Will: It’s not Canmore. I use to have a Canmore bag. We use to go with hide but it caused all sorts of problems with moisture. The best way to avoid moisture changing the timbre of the chanter and the drones is to use a synthetic bag. Not so much for playing solo, but when you’re playing with a group you want to get everyone’s pipes sounding the same so you get one noise instead of many.

PCM: I was wondering how the Scott’s felt about the modern equipment.

Will: The biggest problem we have is moisture. Moisture can set off the drones and it will make the chanter reed wobble. Anything we can use with technology to help with that is great. We also use  dehumidifiers and water traps. Anything we can do to control moisture.

PCM: Tone enhancers?

Will: We call them cut offs because they help aid a clean cut off at the end of every tune. One thing we are keen on is at the end of a tune your drones don’t drag on.

PCM: Do you like them?

Will: I’m not sure, I’m not convinced they work well. The only thing they do is limit the air going through the drones. You do want to have a constant pressure of air going through the bag and drones. Maybe they do work, they don’t do any harm put it that way.

PCMSpeaking of sound consistency, who makes the band chanters?

Will: They are Shepherd. I have gotten use to talking to people who don’t know about piping.

PCM: Waxed hemp?

Will: Waxed, it lasts longer that much longer. It doesn’t degrade, un-waxed tends to.

PCM: What type of reeds?

Will: Soutar.

PCM: How many sets of pipes do you have? I have one set, at home we have the family set but it needs work. The smart ones have a few sets. A few have the fireside pipes, they are popular. You can play them in a pub and not deafen everybody. The other thing that picked up this past year that we are keen on are the electric pipes. It’s got a practice chanter like thing which you can plug yourself into and it’s quite useful for practice and not annoying your wife. 

PCM: Isn’t that part of the fun?

(Laughter)

PCM: Who are some of the people you listen to?

Will: Gordon Duncan, as far as civilians. For military bands, the Black Watch of course.

PCM: How do you select material?

Will: The Pipe Major, Scott Taylor is basically running it. He has been the pipe major for the past two years. The pipe major does this job for two or three years and then the next person comes in. He’s an excellent piper. He will be doing the solos. He’s written a number of tunes and arranged the more popular traditional tunes to fit with our performance and also to fit with the Welsh Guard Band that will be supporting us. It is pretty much his show, his chance to show it.

The Welsh Guard is the military band that is playing with us. Their musical director has also done some arrangements for the military band to fit the pipes. He’s had a lot to do with the music too.

The best bit of the show for me is when the two come together, it’s quite unique hearing the brass coming together with the pipes. The way the show works, the Welsh Guards will do a number of solo tunes which gets everyone going. The pipes will be through out the show with their number of solo works- marches, jigs strathspeys, basically showing what we do. We will also have some sword dancing to our piping. It’s quite rousing.

PCM: How much time do you spent with choreography?

Will: Quit a lot. It’s marching basically it’s what we do anyway. We’re soldiers that what’s drilled into us.

PCM: What’s the tuning process for the band?

Will: As quick as possible, but it does take a long time. The pipers will tune up themselves. One will do a basic tune for everyone. We have one person go around checking the drones another checking the chanter. It helps we all have the same reed. It’s about half an hour to get the band tuned up.

PCM: Does the band teach or do you have to be in the Black Watch to get into the band?

Will: The way the Scottish Regiment works, they have an exceptional school for the bagpipe that is a six month course and then you come here and the rest is on the job training and learning from elders in the band.

PCM: Is this your first time in Philadelphia?

Will: Yes, It’s a shame we will be there such a short time. I’ve heard there are many things to do and see in Philadelphia. We won’t even be spending the night there. It’s like a whistle stop tour. The key thing is that anybody going to the performance will have a great time. It will be an outstanding two hours. It’s a great display and the people will enjoy it.

Ntozake Shange and Men Hahadr

This interview was conducted on December 3, 2010 with both Ntozake Shange and Mem Nahadr on their way to Philadelphia for an honorarium being held for Ms. Shange. The event was held on December 4th hosted by Art Sanctuary in North Philadelphia. Ntozake Shange ia one of my favorite authors, it was an honor to speak with her.

PCM: When were you first notified that Tyler Perry wanted to make the movie of For Colored Girls?

Ntozake: I guess one year and three months ago.

PCM: Did it come out of the blue?

Ntozake: It came of out the blue in the sense that I had never associated Tyler Perry with the project. I was working with Elaina Steward, who is a very talented young director and screenwriter in Los Angeles. She had taken the project to Lions Gate and they gave her the option to do the screenplay and direct it. Next thing I know I get a call from Lions Gate with Mr. Perry on the line and said he was interested in writing and directing the show. That came out of the blue!

PCM: Did you think the film could have the same impact as the play?

Ntozake: No.

PCM: Why was the role Janet Jackson played written into the movie?

Ntozake: I don’t know you would have to ask Mr. Perry that question.

PCM: Did you have any input in the movie?

Ntozake: My assistant and I tried to contact them about six times. We never heard back from them.

PCM: Why was the title shortened to “For Colored Girls”?

Ntozake: Mr. Perry wanted to shorten it so he could make the story shorter.

PCM: Mem, how did you first meet Ntozake Shange and how did your involvement in the movie soundtrack come about?

Mem: We meet about three years ago through a mutual friend. I greeted her coming to New York for a honorarium on her behalf. She moved here and we also became neighbors. When the opportunity for the play to become a movie came about Ntozake asked me to write something specifically for her, for the movie, for the work.
I was thrilled. I took my time, took great effort and gave it my full attention at heart and created the piece, I Found God in Myself Ntozake’s Song based on the poem Laying of Hands, which is the last choreo-poem of the play and the last poem of the movie.

PCM: Have you worked on other projects together?

Ntozake: We worked on a number of pieces. Mem invited me to work with her on a documentary as well as I asked her to work on a piece called Lillianne: Resurrection of the Daughter. My sister and I worked with Mem on a performance piece of the novel Some Sing Some Cry. I also worked with her on a piece called Dangling Particles. We’ve been busy for the last year.

PCM: Mem, you also have a CD

Mem; Actually, it’s been pushed back to April.

PCM: Who are some of the people you listen to?

Mem: I listen to beautiful. So that would be highly opinionated according to my taste and preferences. It spans the spectrum from the music of the street to the greatest of classics.

PCM: Ntozake, you have credited your daughter with being a source of strength for you during your healing process form your strokes. What did she do and how did she push you?

Ntozake: I think it was joint effort of us pushing each other. I didn’t want to become a burden to her. I also needed my privacy when I was feeling that vulnerable.

PCM: Do you have any writings about that period of your life or do you plan on creating a work about that period?

Ntozake: I have no idea.

PCM: I hope you don’t mind me saying this, a work like that with your insights, conquering such an issue would be amazing with so much healing power.

Ntozake: That would be something I would consider.

PCM: Is there talk of bringing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf back?

Ntozake: Yes, they will be bringing it back to Broadway in 2011. The Dream Team is the production house