“Birds of North America” (Third Avenue Playworks) Original Soundtrack Release with donation links to Door County Environmental Organizations


click album art to play the soundtrack!


BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA

BY ANNA OUYANG MOENCH, dir. Jacob Janssen

OCTOBER 2 – 30, 2022
at THIRD AVENUE PLAYWORKS (TAP) in Sturgeon Bay, WI
Donate to TAP! → here

John and his daughter Caitlyn are birders. As they scan the skies over their backyard in a suburban Maryland looking for elusive birds, years go by. Relationships begin and end. Children grow up and parents age. The climate and the world change in small and vast ways. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA takes a close look at the relationship of a father and daughter over the course of a decade as they struggle to understand the parts of one another that defy understanding.

Anna Ouyang Moench is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been produced at the Geffen Playhouse, the Playwrights Realm, East West Players, InterAct Theater, and many other theaters across the country and around the world. Anna is a 2020 Steinberg Award winner and the recipient of a Gerbode Special Award in the Arts commission for a new play that will be produced at Magic Theater in 2022. She has been commissioned by NAATCO for a new play premiering in 2021.

CAST
John played by C. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Caitlyn played by DEKYI RONGE

ARTISTIC TEAM
Director: Jacob Janssen
Assistant Director: Doug Clemmons
Production Stage Manager: Kelsey Brennan York
Set Design: Maddy Yee
Costume Design: Kärin Kopischke
Lighting Design: Colin Gawronski
Sound Design: Brian Grimm


TAP partners with the amazing Open Door Bird Sanctuary!

The Open Door Bird Sanctuary raises avian awareness and inspires coexistence with the rich natural world of Door County, of Wisconsin and wherever you call home. We are a private non-profit 501(c) 3 organization and the only facility of its kind in the area. With 34 acres of pristine land with hiking trails, wildlife viewing and our birds of prey, we offer a unique combination of environmental and wildlife education as well as being a destination for both Door County residents and tourists alike. Our visitors are all ages offering just as much awe and inspiration to adults as to children. Highlights are:

  • Feature live raptors for educational observation for Door County school groups, service clubs, senior groups all year round both on site and off.
  • Engaging environmental education through interactive, live behavioral demonstrations
  • Shelter to injured raptors (birds of prey)

In addition to having live birds in the lobby before our first preview performance (see video above!!!), Third Avenue PlayWorks also hosted an Environmental Roundtable in their theater space with local climate and environmental organizations. I think this was an incredibly smart and creative way for TAP to be involved with community building for positive change. This event highlighted the subject matter of the play, while using the Arts as an impetus for public discussion as well as nature preservation networking and education. I’m excited to see how TAP continues to engage with their local Door County and Sturgeon Bay residents! We need the Arts to be an active agent of social change, to be a space where the community can come to learn, reflect, empathize, reconsider, experience multiple viewpoints, and be inspired to get involved. Theatre has a unique power to spark important conversation around intense topics that are often avoided at family gatherings or among friends. I highly encourage you to donate to these environmental organizations in Door County to help make a positive change during a time of pivotal climate crisis. I believe in Arts Activism and have been lucky to be a part of many productions which raise awareness about important causes & lived experiences. It doesn’t get much bigger than the decisions we face and the actions we must take concerning global warming.

Donate to these local Environmental Organizations here >>



Soundtrack Notes
I’ll preface everything by saying that I was deep in the throngs of my first Covid viral infection when I composed and recorded the entirety of this score. The day I recorded the initial cello transcriptions of bird calls (heard in the pre-show) was the first day I showed symptoms. The night I recorded the “magical leaf drop” cue on ‘hammered’ guzheng, I was in a completely delirious fever pitch, just hammering away! So it’s a minor miracle that any of this score was finished in time (recorded over a 10 day period) and that the recorded material even turned out to be usable!

In most productions I’ve been a part of, there has been a lot of underscore. This comes from the style of composer I am, the type of productions I’ve been asked to participate in, and what those directors wanted from me. For “Birds of North America”, there was a different type of underscore and a new type of challenge. The director Jacob Janssen really wanted to utilize music for transitions only, as we marked the passing of time in measurements of years between each scene. The focus within the scene however was just the two actors, their father-daughter relationship and the natural environment they were set in while birding.

There is a rich tradition around the world of creating music from birdsong and I was glad to join in the fun of that genre on this project! To start with, I collected recordings of the bird calls of each species mentioned in the play and then started transcribing those calls and songs onto cello. I slowed the tempo and pitched the calls way down in order to fit them into a listenable and recognizable song structure for our human ears. The initial round of these translations can be heard stretched out even further to glacial climbs in the meditative pre-show music (more on that below). Jacob felt that these initial transcriptions sounded too sad and slow when played on cello alone, that we needed more energy to be infused into each transition. The subject matter of Climate Crisis, Political Factioning, and Dysfunctional Relationship were already so heavy that any music seeming too slow or sombre would drag us down instead of lifting us up and into the next scene.

Jacob and the actors Dekyi Ronge & C. Michael Wright did such a fantastic job of finding humor and layered nuance in the production to balance out these weighty topics, that I needed to match and support that energy. It all created more enriching, complex storytelling. To achieve this energy I added in a plucked instrument, the 21 string guzheng 古筝 ancient Chinese zither. I partially chose this instrument because it has such a lively, powerfully bright tone that fills a room, but it also has the ability to bend pitch behind the bridge of each string. These pitch bending capabilities allowed for better birdsong emulation than most other plucked instruments. Between the bowed cello and the plucked guzheng zither, I felt that we had the energy balance we needed and two complementary instruments that could support the dynamic of the characters on stage.

Anna Ouyang Moench specifically advocates in her script for open casting of the daughter character Caitlyn as either white or multi-ethnic. In TAP’s production of Birds, Caitlyn was performed by the bright and engaging Dekyi Ronge, who’s heritage is Tibetan & German. Dekyi explains that, “[I]t’s a gift anytime a writer encourages casting that expands who we get to see on stage. It not only shows us that stories don’t have to look or feel one way, but it also offers employment to artists who may otherwise fall through the cracks of some of our more traditional casting practices.” Representation matters very much in culture and the arts. Though that discussion has become a recent focal point of casting, programming, and employment; I think we’re still in the opening phases of making those improvements and making them last. Through her casting notes on pg.1 of the script, Anna Ouyang Moench, who is multi-ethnic, opens a doorway to that discussion from the very beginning of the casting process for any production of this play. That being said; theaters, film companies, commercials, etc shouldn’t need such a prompt for that to be the standard practice in casting.

The pairing of the Western cello and the Eastern guzheng are in part a response to this multicultural casting call of the show, but in a subtle way. As the script isn’t constantly calling attention to race or hinging on it, the focus remains on the two characters’ relationship, politics and their connection to the global climate crisis. Because of this, I didn’t make the main focus of my composing about fusing the cultural traditions of each instrument with one another. They simply became musical tools focused on telling the story of this particular relationship via birdsongs.

The opening theme of the show is one place where I did specifically bring together east/west influences into a single piece on purpose. It has a folk /bluegrass/ mountain music style – harkening me back to my time spent at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. It is purposefully meant to invoke the feeling of “Americana”. But the actual pitch/interval theme, playing techniques, and pitch/rhythm is derived from the energetic erhu 二胡 Chinese fiddle birdsong style. These are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve learned on the erhu (which I studied in Hong Kong); they are thrilling and so fun to play! I utilized this catalogue of erhu technique and style to translate the story’s birdsongs onto the cello.

There are other influences from my studies over the years that appeared in the music without me intentionally trying. I think it speaks more to the fact that after all the years of playing these instruments, listening, studying the music, the history and learning many styles, certain elements have naturally become part of my musical language & vocabulary. A few moments include the drone and slow cello melody of the pre-show emulating the sound of a Indian Classical Alap introduction to a Raga performance (there are a number of sarangi style moments with the glides, but slowed waaayyyy down). That wasn’t my original vision or aim for the pre-show sound, it just sort of turned out that way. More Indian Classical music influence is found in the closing theme “1,000 Birds” part 1 and part 2. In these pieces, which use my Sarangicello, I’m playing an interpretation of the Eastern Towhee bird call at a lively tempo. When I listened back to the recording, it started to remind me of a Jor (or Jod), an exciting rhythmic pulsing section at the end of an Alap (still unaccompanied by tabla), in something sounding like Raga Hamsadhwani. It isn’t a Jor, but it gives me a similar feeling and it’s technique has quite the same exciting effect, with the “guzheng wing flaps” even reminding me of an Indian Swarmandal accompaniment harp. These are techniques that I learned from my guruji, sitar master pandit Sugato Nag (Kolkata, India).

An influence from listening to and learning about Japanese and Korean court music styles can be heard on the alternate cue for Scene 7, the “apocalyptic mix” as Jacob called it! The ensemble textures with the flute on top really remind me of those styles when I listen back, especially with the sound of the percussive punctuation mark at the end. I really love how traditional Japanese and Korean music utilize space and highlight a singular moment with their percussion elements. So there you have it, some unintended, but nonetheless present influences that crept their way into this score!

Each musical element you hear is some translation of birdsong, from the melodies to the little rhythmic motifs. It all sources from those particular bird sounds heard throughout each scene of the play – and I’ve put the main bird calls in the track titles for each cue!

For the environment texture in the background of each scene (not heard on this album), I recorded hours of nature sounds at Owen Conservation Park near my house in Madison, WI. Owen Park has beautiful trails that stray between woods and natural Wisconsin prairie hills. The wooded trails connect into the neighborhood where I lived while recording this score, creating these wonderful fingers of forested pathways between backyards. There will be a 2nd release of this album coming out next year (2023) with the sound design elements and bird calls from each scene included. But to start with, I wanted to release only the original music as it’s own listening experience. I’ll give more specific notes on the arc of the internal sound design elements for these scenes with the release of that future “Sound Design Edition” of the album… stay tuned!

When There Were Glaciers” Pre-Show music listening guide

Because all of these music cues are transition music, they are quite short! That was one of the biggest challenges of the show and a very very useful exercise for me, as I tend to stretch on when it comes to composing a piece, or improvising, or even teaching… or writing…long sentences! But one place I knew I could intentionally spread out and do something big was in the pre-show while people were taking their seats and settling in before the performance. From the moment I started working on this production, I knew I wanted to make a pre-show piece where you just sat with a wall of glacier. Before we moved into the times of man-made climate change in the play, we could start in the time of glaciers.

In this solid ambience, you hear glacial cello drones mixed with icey guzheng string noises that give off frozen mists as the glacier cracks, settles, and calves. The piece is chronological, a historical timeline. When there are big dramatic guzheng chord strikes, it signifies an important natural environmental event in history – a change in the course of our planet’s trajectory. We also get to hear all of the original cello transcriptions of birdsong (stretched out even sloowwweeeerrrrr) to guide us through each epoch. For each slowed down cello-bird song, I then doubled and tripled the melody, playing in real time with the slowest bows I could muster! Matching all of the slowed down glides and slides was a very fun challenge. When the birdsong-cellos first enter around 3 minutes in, it represents the origins of life, such as plant and animal species appearing on earth. Life goes on for a while, and then around 10:45 we hear the first build of plucked guzhengs which lasts for about 2 minutes, symbolizing evolution, the proliferation of different species and the beauty of Nature’s design. These plucked builds over the drone in combination with the cello melodies was something I had envisioned from the very beginning of the project, but I didn’t get to edit it all together until one afternoon before our first tech runthrough. It occured to me at some point (before I recorded it) that these textures would end up being very reminiscent of the harp and orchestra builds found in John Luther Adams’ monumental 2013 orchestral work “Become Ocean“. After this revelation, I chose not to run away from the idea, but instead to run faster towards it. How perfect was this similarity to a piece that is also about Climate Change! Now it could be my little homage to this great work and to what it represents.

Close to the 14 minute mark we have the entrance of Humankind, with a very questioning melody, in tension with the droning world around it. Our questions and self awareness stirring us in directions that would ultimately separate us out from the rest of the animal & plant kingdoms, though by our own fabrications. At 19 minutes we have another bubbling guzheng build, nature reminds us of it’s beauty and power in answer to our questions and teaches us. Shortly after (about 22:40) humankind rebuttals with the emergence of Industrialization, looking to its own intellect for answers instead. The ominous, dark horn and strings chord brings with it pollution and the start of our Climate Crisis. At 22:30 we hear our first electricity zings, further advancing our technological transformations. Our new melody that begins around 23 minutes is mechanical sounding, repeating the same note again and again like a factory line and ending in a rising siren sound. At 26:25 with the final siren rise, we have been warned, Modern war has arrived. After 27 minutes there is more agitation in the environment, we continue changing the earth for what we think we need, while ignoring what it needs. Take, take, take.

Around 28:30, the “mourning dove” melody appears. It’s beautiful and sad. We are seeing the wonderful benefits of modern medicine and technology in our societies, but we are starting to understand the cost of our developments, and what effect we are having on the earth. Some mourn, some ignore. 31:20 we are out of sync with the earth and what it needs, we are trying to sync up our priorities. Left vs Right vs Left vs Right vs Left vs Right. But eventually these sides come together to create a beautiful swell into a singular moment of understanding at 33:05, and finally we are working together.

With the entrance of the flutes at our moment of unity, we have a light shining hope on us. Maybe, just maybe we can use all of our technological advances to help solve the problem we have created. For the next few minutes there are two futures brewing, one of beautiful hope and one of ugly conflict.

It leads us into the beginning of the end of the piece. At 35 minutes we have once again the swelling chords of humankind in the strings and horns signifying our present time. They are not as ominous as the first industrial chords, there is more beauty and complexity here. Placed in a crucial moment, we must make the choice to finally act in reversing our damages and changing our ways to preserve our planet… or to send ourselves on a path to final extinction, taking everything else down with us. The final cadence at 37 minutes lingers on an unresolved note, what choice will we make?

At 38 minutes, the earth is left resonating, but the glaciers are gone.

John Luther Adams “Become Ocean” performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Album Credits

Brian Grimm – Violoncello, Sarangicello, Guzheng
Greg Smith – Concert Flute, Alto Flute
Composed, Performed, Recorded, Mixed, & Mastered by Brian Grimm
2022 (c) & (p) GrimmusiK Records

album art by Nik Garvoille

Donate to TAP here to support more exciting theater in Door County:
thirdavenueplayworks.app.neoncrm.com/forms/general-giving

Brian used Jargar Superior GC and Superior Dolce AD strings on his cello for this album.
Sarangicello was tuned cgad’ for these compositions, using gut strings.


Oh Sure Hey!

Aside

Lovely Socialite was having some fun at Kettle Moraine Ranch over in Eagle, WI filming for our new music video. Here’s a little behind the scenes action, it’s some Top Secret Jazz…

Setup Madness (live stream): “Sarangicello” tune-up, string break disasters & setup breakdown + Vardo (trio) live at Al Ringling Brewing Co. April 1st

It was my first ever live-stream, and it ended up being much longer and more dramatic than I originally planned! I was getting my #sarangicello tuned up and ready for last Thursday’s (03/17/22) St. Patty’s Day performance at Al Ringling Brewing co. in Baraboo, WI. Bandleader Chad Canfield, Chickpezio Nazario and I formed a trio version of the steam-punk band Vardo! Unfortunately, as I was getting things tuned up, two of my D strings broke!! Yikes! Follow me on this adventure as I battle against my temperamental sarangicello, all while explaining its unique gut string setup!

If you want to check out what Vardo has cooking, you can come see us play again at the Al Ringling Brewing Company on April 1st, from 6-8pm! Trio style with Rusty Chicken on Violin this time!




Episode XXI: Return of the Five Points!

Tuesday, 7/6/21 8-11pm No Cover @ the Mason Lounge!
416 S. Park St.

On the left side you can see the Five Points set from our last Tuesday night hit at the Mason on 03/10/2020, before the Covid shutdown happened. On the right side, you can see our set list for 07/06/2021 – the first set we’ll play since the pandemic hit! That squiggling green line down the center of the page represents the last 16 months…. Crazy!

Wow!! After playing bass with the Five Points Jazz Collective at the Mason Lounge every Tuesday for 7 years, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and shut everything down. Hard stop. It was one of the many bizarre experiences resulting from the global pandemic that all musicians had their upcoming gigs cancelled immediately. What a shock and unfamiliar place to find our whole community and then of course we felt it in our pocket books for all of 2020, and now half of 2021. This is the least I’ve performed in a long, long, long, long time. Not only did all of that income straight up disappear, but many of us who teach music as well as perform, &/or hold down multiple part time jobs DID NOT qualify for the new “pandemic gig worker unemployment insurance” (which seems like a huge crack to fall in as a professional musician…). But, more importantly, we didn’t get to hang out with all of our bandmates in rehearsals or on stage for over a year… what a drag!

We’re all very aware of the times we live in, so let’s get on to the good news…. the Five Points Jazz Collective is BACK baby, and we’ll be the first group playing live-music at our most beloved craft brew bar, the Mason Lounge! We’ll be bringing you a classic 5 Points set on Tuesday, 7/6/21, filled with Jazz, Funk, Blues and Originals. And for the record, we plan to write a whole bunch more originals moving forward, which I know you’re excited to hear. Come on, just think of Kyle’s tune “Start Somewhere” or Trey’s originals “Unspiration”, and “After Close” – you know you want to hear more of those jibbiddy-jamz. Plus you better believe that I’ve got a few tunes for the 5PJC up my sleeve. There Will Be Funk.

THE CHANGES

  1. TIME
    First thing for all of you regulars to note is that our time has changed, we are bumping the whole show an hour earlier! From now on, we’ll be playing from 8-11pm. A lot of people have been requesting this change, even some of the bandmembers! So come down a little earlier and enjoy local Jazz for a little longer before you head home. We’re pretty excited about this earlier time slot, and we hope it means that we can see more of more of you at the Mason. 😉❤

  2. EVERY TUESDAY?
    Speaking of time and timing… “are we going back to our EVERY Tuesday of the year schedule???” NO. We will not be playing every Tuesday. We’ve talked with the owner, and he’s got some new, cool plans for the music at the Mason. Five Points will play something closer to once a month. However, that probably won’t always be at the Mason, we are looking to branch out and play other spots too. We’d love to hear suggestions from you, what’s a great place you love to see Jazz and Funky music where you think the Five Points would fit in? Leave a comment or contact us and let us know about cool venues we should check out! There will still be themed music nights at the Mason, for instance Jazz night on Tuesday and Bluegrass night on Thursday… however, it won’t be the same house-band playing each week. Which is cool for you, because that means there will be more variety of music for you to check out! Speaking of the owner….

  3. OWNERSHIP
    Right around when the pandemic hit, the ownership of the Mason changed hands. Many of you regulars got to know Bryan, the tall and good natured bartender serving up delicious beers, but maybe you didn’t realize that baseball cap wearin’ son-of-a-gun was the owner! Now the Mason Lounge is in the hands of Matt, also a baseball cap wearer… but with glasses & beard, so don’t get them confused. Matt has been tending bar at the Mason for years and we know that the joint will be in good hands. The Five Points crew went down to visit, and we can confirm that it still looks and feels like the Mason. Matt has kept up the vibe very well! We wish Matt all of the best luck as he takes the Mason into it’s next chapter!

    We’ve got nothing but love for Bryan (even though he spells it with a “y”), he really took care of us and became our friend. One of my favorite things about Tuesdays was when he would come over to the band to ask if anyone needed a drink. I would simply describe how I was feeling, or give him an abstract prompt. He’d scratch his chin, give it a ponder, then say “yea… I think I’ve got something for that…” Then he’d come back with a beer that perfectly interpreted my mood, fancy and indulgence. A sport for the challenge and never did he disappoint. Thanks for all of the Thanksgiving wines and Christmas socks Bryan; and for being an all around upstanding dude. We will all miss seeing you when we play at the Mason, but hopefully you will stop by sometime when we are playing… for old times sake.

  4. LEADERSHIP / LINE UP:
    Speaking of changes in ownership, or leadership in this case… Charlie Painter, our long time fearless bandleader and friend, has officially decided to step down from his roll as bandleader and also to step away from his roll as guitarist for the Five Points Jazz Collective. Charlie decided he really wants to focus on his Charlie Painter Jazz Trio and put his creative energy there. Charlie’s trio has been active around Madison, even in spite of the pandemic. So go check him out at one of his trio gigs and continue to support his music! Charlie is the one who put the band together in the first place and held down the Tuesday night slot at the Mason for an entire DECADE! Can you believe that, that is a lot of Tuesdays. Charlie came up with our setlists, directed the vision of our arrangements, sorted out who would be soloing and when, took care of the money management and booking duties. That’s a lot of work! Not only that but he showed up each week with the whole 2+ hour set memorized and played his heart out. I don’t think I ever heard Charlie be ‘lazy’ up there on stage, he never gave you any half-assed Jazz. Charlie came to play his best each week and approached the bandstand with respect. And he’s been making good use of this pandemic, studying new courses in Jazz Theory from some cats in New York, so you know he’s going to keep learning and ripping. Go see his trio and hear what he’s up to!

    Charlie, we love ya buddy and wish you the best on your new Jazz journeys. Thanks for bringing Trey (piano), Rin (violin), Kyle (trombone), Eric (drums) and myself (bass) together to form the Five Points Jazz Collective (we’ll be keeping the name). We’ll miss playing with you and appreciate all of the work you put in for this group and for the Mason Lounge the past 10 years! 🎶🎵🎼♥♥♥♥

  5. FRANKENCELLO
    Lastly (I think…), speaking of line up changes, I’ll still be playing fretless bass and fretted bass for the Five Points; but in an exciting turn of events, I’m adding Frankencello to my quiver on stage (*applause and cheers*)!! For those of you who don’t know… #Frankencello is my homemade electric cello that I normally play with Madison Free Jazz Trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage, and with psychedelic Jazz Rock Sextet Lovely Socialite, and solo as BC Grimm. However, now it is slinked up with traditional gut strings and it sounds freakin’ fantastic. It’s almost unbelievable how much more natural and cello-like it sounds with gut strings on an electric cello, rather than steel. More warmth, more resonance, more bass, and of course more girth. I’m excited for it to open up some new sonic possibilities for the band. As an example, we’ll now have two bowed string instruments in our group, and there’s been some discussion of other instruments sneaking on stage as well….

That’s all for now, just wanted to give you all the inside scoop on this juicy gossip, straight from the source. We hope to see some of your shining faces at the Mason next week! ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤