Scotland - Edinburgh International Festival

by Kimp 15. August 2013 17:11

Photo Blog

In August of every year, Edinburgh hosts the 3rd largest Theatre festival in the world. But, I didn't really go for the Theatre festival Itself, I went for the sub culture, called the Fringe, that has grow up around this festival.  

Coexisting with the International Festival is that Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is an impressive showing of Military marching bands based on a yearly theme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMmn00iXf38
I didn't have time to attend that this year, but will probably catch it for one day next year before heading up into the Scottish High lands.  

Thinking about visiting Scotland. Bring a jacket (preferable layer's) and something waterproof. Doesn't matter what time of year, Scotland has 4 seasons every single day. Wind's are slight to very strong. Rain is slight to strong, but usually doesn't last very long in August. Or if you are like me. I left my umbrella in the hotel on purpose, because I was trying out a new piece of water resistant gear, and as I was standing in a que (line waiting for an event), on the University of Edinburgh campus, a young platinum blonde, pure bred Scottish women, felt sorry for me and shared her umbrella.  

I was quietly standing comfortably in the rain, but was the only person without an umbrella during a sudden, heavy down pour. Next thing I knew, there's an umbrella over my head and attached to the handle was a platinum blonde, Scottish talking machine. She was sweet, however, I think someone wound her up too tight, cause she was talking 900 miles an hour, and with the Scottish accent, I was having a hard time processing whole sections of the one-sided conversation.

I assumed she was a Masters or Phd college student, but as she told me her short life's story,  I discovered that she taken a job with a company three years ago, which has her traveling, literally, all of the time. Sounded like some type of trade show circuit work. She had just bought a house out in the country about 30 minutes from Edinburgh. It has an office in it, because she only needs to go to the home office, 4 times a year. She was in the process of moving, and she said that she had twenty, huge boxes, of nothing but clothes and shoes. I'm thinking, yep, that sounds exactly like a high maintenance nightmare that males often have. That and the constant chatter are huge red flags. She'll probably never be married, and never understand why. After a while, I kind of had the feeling, that if I were a pigeon standing on a ledge near her, we would be having the exact same conversation. 

Does this qualify as a conversation? Am I really a part of it, or am I just an inanimate object, caught in the eye, of someone having a conversation with themselves? Reminded me of a few women, who had constantly asked me for advice, yet never seemed to ever take any of the advice I had offered. Why bother even asking?

Scotland History:
Most of it was en extension of the expanding Roman Empire. Rome fell and the Kingdom of Scotland was formed. In the 13th century the Scottish Kings succession was in question and King Edward I of England took advantage of that scuffle to move in a take over. In the 14th century Scotland won independence and in 1567 King James VI inherited the crown of England. In 1707 the two were merged and the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed.

Now, Scotland wants its independence back. Today they are still part of the UK, but in 2004 they were granted their own parliament. I think the UK is trying to buy some time. One of Scottish peoples main complaints with being part of the UK, is that Scottish soldiers have had very large death numbers compared to the other UK compatriots. 

Bagpipe Player:
The dude playing the bagpipe outside of my open hotel window at 8:00 A.M. was cute for about the first 5 minutes. By the second day, I was about to go out and ask him how much he needed in order to take the third day off. Amazing Grace sounded awesome the first time I heard him play it, after that it's amazingness started wearing off, until it wasn't so amazing anymore.

The other song I recognized is the standard Stottish March that is the trademark for the Bagpipes. I don't know the name of it, but it used to be on the Old Spice aftershave commercials when I was a kid. Every time I heard that one, I wanted to jump up, shave, and splash on some Old Spice after-shave. Ahhh, nice and refreshing.  However, if Old Spice were Scottish it would have been name Auld Spice.

Some of the songs were nice folksy ballad's which I didn't mind so much. The ones that drive me nuts are what I call "Flag waving in the wind songs." They are monotonous in harmony, do not appear to have a standard rhythm, and the melody just kind of goes all over the place. Just like a flag waving in the wind.

Once, I saw a young kid walking by, totting a set of bagpipes. I was plotting, but didn't carry through with it. "Hey kid, here's a 20 pound note, and another 10 to get yourself something to eat. I just want to rent your bagpipes for 10 minutes." Then tune them 1/2 step higher then the dude who was playing, and stand beside him playing a monotonous discord, to see if I could drive him away to a different corner.

The Fringe:
The Fringe occurs in about 100 very small venues with about 5 different performances at each venue. Over the course of the festival, there are about 5000 act's. Some have multiple act's that they rotate through. They are usually experimenting with new material or idea's. It's a place to get some intimate and constructive feedback. The people attending are usually artistic types who have an opinion and whom will voice it.

That's about 500, up-close and personal shows per day to choose from. It's so small and intimate that I didn't feel like I was watching a performance, I felt like I was a part of the performance. I got sucked right up into it and attended 5 performances each day.

Each show is only about an hour long (a few are 2 hours) and most are around 7 UK Pounds ($10, 8 Euro) per hour. In many dance venues the stage is bigger then the audience seating. Five deep is about as high as the rows go. Number of seats ranges from around 30 to 100 (one venue I was at, held about 500). Many of the venues are in the basement of a church or a non-theater club-house or a room in an old Mansion. Some of the Mansion rooms are really nice, with original paintings on the walls and some are just old rooms that haven't been used in years. It kind of feels like the type of entertainment that was probably around in the 1500's in wealthy households.

The performers are probably living on the cheap, not eating much and not making any money at all. A few are probably breaking even and most are probably taking a loss, just to perform here and gain the exposure and constructive criticism.

Many of these performers are very good, but for whatever reason, they aren't currently in a main steam performance. All are highly artistic, some want the full control that a small venue gives them, some are honing their craft, some have day jobs that they just haven't broken away from yet, some just want a change from the craft they had been performing, some are here to gain exposure from other performances or performers, some are here to make friends, and some are not very talented and are just squeezing out a living. but are having a great time.

I really enjoyed every show that I attended.
The shows come in the following flavors:

Music
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On the music side, I ran into nothing but world class talent.

The Black Diamond Express:
-Scottish women go nuts over these guys. I was in the second row directly in front of the front man and by the third tune, I was completely surrounded by women in a high state of excitement. I was nearly trampled to death while they were rushing the stage. If your a dude, and there's a Scottish women next you who's had a few drinks. After a song or two, she's wanting to take you home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgcm5VunBgc 

Antonio Forcione:
This dude has 17 albums of mostly original music, yet he is relatively unknown in the mainstream.He's an Italian who mixed a Spanish Classical sound with African Rhythms and blues, and then threw in a little percussion guitar as a topper. A phenomenal guitar talent and a decent vocalist as well. The reason his music is so percussive, is because he started playing drums when he was 10 years old, but his playing all of the time, drove the shoe maker who lived down stairs crazy, so he switched to guitar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7z84VCgnfc
Another nice one, showing his speed and versatility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yd2kKZmUaM

Root's Blues:
Lee Parson's is a top of the line Root's Blues Singer. Root's Bues is usually accompanied by an African drum rhythm or sung a cappella. It gets its name, from sounding very close to what the slaves would have sounded like in the fields or around home. Lee is white, but I'm thinking he has some black blood from somewhere in his veins. One of the best, I've ever heard, but I could not find him on you-tube. It's possible that his name is a little off, I just heard someone say it and that is what it sounded like.

Comedy
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Comedy comes in many flavors but for the most part, it is anything that someone would find amusement in. Live comedy is all about timing. Not only do they have to have the content down, but they also need the timing. The timing is to give the audience a chance to find the humor that was presented to them or to anticipate the humor that is about to be presented to them.

Brownie Michelle:
The first comedy show that I attended had five comedians and each was given ten minutes to produce their best work. I was first in the door and was trying to find a strategic place in the middle to sit down. I was contemplating, a place where the comedian is least likely to single me out. As I was assessing the situation the female drill instructor usher, was in a hurry to get everyone in the door efficiently. She barked orders to me, that I was to sit in the front row, "Go all of the way to the front and fill from the front back!!!." was what she yelled inches from my ear. I looked her in the eyes, and timidly shook my head, in a No way, gesture. "GO all of the way to the front and fill from the front back!!!." she barked again. I froze and tried to grab ahold of the nearest seat to claim it instead. That's when she grabbed my hand and lead me to the seat that was closest to the mike and gestured sternly for me to sit right there and not move.

I was so close to the mike, that as the comedians came out to perform, I could hear my breathing in the loud speakers. 10 dudes grabbed the seats next to me in the front row. I was pretty quick to figure out that they were all buddies, whom had come to the Fringe together. It was only only 2 P.M. (1400) and they were already drunk. I think they might have actually still been drunk from the night before.

Somehow I managed to escape the eyes of the first 4 comedians as they scanned the crowd for targets. The 5th comedian took the stage, a beautiful British women who was acting out a comedy skit. In the skit she was the Brownie Troop leader from Hell. Cussing, swearing and teaching her young brownies how to be strong and obnoxious women. I was feeling very confident that she was not going to pick me for a Brownie skit. That was when she singled me out to be "Brownie Michelle". To make it even worse, the 10 bubbies sitting next to me all busted a gut laughing at me. They got a big kick out of Brownie Michelle, "Yea!!! Brownie Michelle!!!" For me, that skit didn't end fast enough.

The other comedy that I attended was a fairly high dollar affair. It was a parody on the muppet's. They all come out on stage looking cheerie and happy and G rated, but the theme was "My Life Sucks!!!" with an R+ rating. It was about a women (played by a cute monster puppet) looking for love, but the normal looking dude she picks doesn't pay any attention to her at first. After he does, he can't hold a job, then he takes a bunch of advice from the bad idea bears (these were two cute looking bears playing the devil) betrays her. She pushes him away but she really wants him back.

In the last 5 minutes, there is a turn in his ways, as he had been lost in his ways, then he finds himself and it ends all cuddly and sweet, with a G rating. My favorite characters were the bad idea bears, I know they've gotten me in trouble a time or too. I would pay to see this one a few more times. I think it has cult classic appeal to it.

Dance:
Dance theater in any variation, is about telling a story without any words. It's up the viewer to interpret what they see.

My favorite has always been Modern dance. When the dancers are barefoot, that's modern dance. The movements are usually very fluid and nature like. It's like water flowing down a stream or a tree blowing in the wind. Modern allows prop's, but the prop's are often simple and their meaning changes based on the context within which they are used.

Ballet is when they wear slippers or toe shoes, and is the very formal dance with strict movements and style. Dancers must have lots of discipline and spend years perfecting the basic moves that make up the dance. Ballet never uses prop's.

Freestyle, by definition is completely improvisational. A dance, which cannot, by definition, be repeated.

Jazz Dance is a dance set to jazz music and as such, shares movements that are in tune with a jazz rhythm.

I went to a show that was created by a former North Carolina State (go Wolf pack) School of the Arts graduate. Eowyn Emerald Barrett. She moved to Portland Oregon and is the creative producer for Pacific Dance Makers, which is a consortium of West Coast Choreographers. This was her European Debut and she brought some great talent along with her.

She brought Josh Murry http://www.joshmurry.com/. Oh man, what a phenomenal talent. He performed a solo dance where his middle and index fingers, of one hand (actually it looked like he was switching hands based on crowd perspective), were trying to attack him, and he was trying to get away from them. Super creative, super talented, and super entertaining.

Theater:
Theater has lots of flavors, but for the most part it is the live telling of a story, using set's, prop's and spoken language.

Physical theater means that there are unspoken dance elements interwoven with the telling of the story. The physical theater piece that I saw was pretty awesome. It was about letting go of someone who was once dear to you. It followed the story of a brother and sister who were very different, yet very close. The sister died at some point and the brother kept holding onto her memory, until she convinced him from the afterlife, to let go of her, and continue on with his life.

I had purchased a ticket for an early theater show, but decided to sleep in and miss it. I was up very late the night before and also had a very late show scheduled for the next day as well.

Musical Confusion:
I have played in several pit orchestras for several musicals. I always loved playing that music, because it is very chalanging to play. There are lots of key changes, lots of mixed meter changes and lots of different range changes. Pit orchestras have a reduced instrumentation, so music arrangers end up writing parts for Trombone that would not normally be played by a trombone. It's fun, exciting and chalanging all at the same time.

The musical that I watched was very nice, but it was also kind of confusing. Musical's are usually about 2 1/2 hours long with very large casts. I have a hard time remembering characters when the cast is large, it's a mental block that I have always had.  I remember lots of details, so it is hard for me to remember lots of characters and their details. It takes me a long time to get to know a character and to put the correct face with the correct character.

The musical I saw only had a cast of about 10 and had cut the musical down to under an hour. So character development was compressed. On top of that, I would see the same face, but they were playing a different character (Each actor played 3 or 4 characters). They would wear different clothes and speak with a different voice, but the face didn't change. I finally caught up with all of the characters, but I was way behind the plot for most of the musical. However, it was pleasing since the cast was very good, both at acting and in singing.

Cabaret:
Combines all aspects of theater (music, dance, story telling and comedy) in one show.

The first Cabaret piece that I saw was hysterical. It's what I call whimsical theater. Its kind of like being in a dream state. There is a theme, but at the same time, all kinds of weird and out of place things were happening. It looked for real, but at the same time it didn't look for real. Often times the way a dream occurs. It looks real at the time, but after you wake up and think about the dream, it can get really weird. Like why did I believe that, while I was dreaming it.

The second Cabaret show was by a one women Oprea singer named Sarah Ann Cromwell from Birmingham England. She told a condensed version of the major highlights in her college days and her whole career, interlacing it with Operetic songs,  Operetic parody and personal philosophy. Not knowing much about Opera I found it educational as well. One point she made was that there is Opera and then there is Oratorio. She said that there are two big differences between them. Opera pays a lot of money and is usually based on a religious theme. Oratorio just puts food on the table and is usually based on sex. She then said that she preferred performing in Oratorio's more then in Opera's. Gee is there a hidden message in their somewhere?

The pianist that Sarah brought with her was a young Romanian women named Ana-Maria Andritoiu. She dressed and looks about 15, but based on her achievements and high acclaim, I think she might be about 25. That was some really hard music she was playing and it sounded flawless.

My History:
All of this reminded me of many similar performances that used to go on around Boston when I was a college student. I was first introduced to this type of sub culture quite by accident.

During the time, that I was in Boston, there was a severe shortage of Trombone players (my primary instrument). In those days, there weren't cell phone and I didn't even have a home phone. I had a pay phone down the hall and if someone needed me, they would either show up at my door or if they knew the number to the pay phone, they would call that hoping someone who answered it, knew me, and would go and get me.

 

I liked to perform, so I was out performing or rehearsing a lot, rather then being at home. When I had spare time, often times, I would go to a music studio in Boston and just hang out. It was a great place to meet a lot of good musicians.

Much of the time, I would write out sheet music for individual parts from a score that I had composed at an earlier time. After a while, people would see me there with my Trombone and just assume that I was a studio musician. Some scheduled trombone player would not show up, and they would ask me if I wanted to fill in. Hell yea!!!

Most studio music has an ultra easy trombone part. It's seldom the principle instrument.  So most of the time, I was either
playing some simple ad jingle, or quiet guide tone lines, or fill behind a vocalist. That lead to people inviting me to play in the studio in advance as well.

One day, a dude saw me writing out some individual parts from a score that was for 20 instruments. He say's, Holly Cow that looks like a lot of work and he started asking me about it. He wanted to know when it was going to be performed. I said, 'Oh I don't know? Maybe never. I just hear this music in my head all of the time and if it hangs around for long enough, I'll write it down, so it's not lost forever. Sometimes it gets finished and sometimes it just stays in a state of limbo for an undetermined time. This one was feeling like I might finish it, so I strarted writing out the individual parts before it is finished, so that would not be so overwhelming later on.'

I then showed him a notebook that I used to carry around, that had had zillions of music scraps in it. I used to write down small chunks of music and categorize it in words expressing the felling that I thought it represented. There were loose leaf papers and torn scraps and napkin's all falling out of it. When an idea comes, I would just write it down on whatever I had available at the time.

That's when the dude asked me if I was interested in writing some really short show pieces for experimental theater. I was reluctant, until he invited me to see a few of them. I meet some of the artists and quickly got hooked. It was really nice, because I got a chance to write a lot of very short and very artistic snippets of music. He would give me a rough amount of time and a theme and I had cart blanche to do whatever I wanted. We would record them and occasionally I would go and see how they were used. I started experimenting with a lot of different instrumentation. Since they were short pieces I liked to keep the instrumentation very sparse. It's easier to get musicians to show up for short pieces, if you have lots of them to record at the same time. One of my favorite combinations was flute, trombone and jazz acoustic/electric guitar. I could get a lot of different sounds out of that combination by using different trombone mutes. The nice thing about jazz musicians, is that I didn't need to write much down. For the most part, I would just sketch a melody and some cords. Then let the magic produce the final product. I learned early on, that if I gave jazz musicians a lot of freedom, they would often produce something much nicer then I could have scripted out.

I worked on that fairly heavy for about 4 months, then moved onto something else. I was only a serious composer for about 12-18 months and during that time I experimented with lots of variety. There were times when every single day was something completely different. If I ever write up my Boston album, I will probably touch a lot of the different things that I was into.  I've always felt, that it's impossible to judge oneself, the gauge of accomplishments comes from the opinion's of others whom we respect.

I had a lot of pictures of the performances. At this level, performers love to have their picture taken, while performing. However, the SIMM card in my small camera crashed and I lost all of them. But, I use a different SIMM Card in my normal camera, so the pictures of Edinburgh survived.

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