Vista Heights Music-our story so far

A few weeks ago, I launched a new sheet music publishing company with wife and business partner Ina Dykstra. This is how it came to be, what it is, and what we will try to make of it in the near future.

If you don’t have time to read this, please just go to http://vistaheightsmusic.com where we have posted videos showcasing recordings and excerpts of the sheet music.

The project really began in 1975 when I graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in classical music theory and composition. My main instrument is piano, and many of the pieces I was writing were for solo piano. My dream was to be published and hear performances of my works by other musicians.

Over the years, I found time in between paying musical jobs to write new pieces, and I filed them away hoping to accumulate enough good candidates for a book of original music to approach a publisher. This dream started to crash when I noticed that some of the music stores that specialized in sheet music went out of business. I was further discouraged to find out that all print media was in jeopardy, including books, magazines and newspapers. Digital media and the internet were providing for free what people used to shop in stores for. This evolution is still very much in play, and it was not encouraging to talk to the people who decided what to sell in stores. The message was that even the best sellers weren’t doing as well, and there was zero demand for new product. If it wasn’t famous, then there was no need for it.

Last June, I was having my daily morning walk, and I had a moment in which a number of ideas came to me all at once. Central to this, was that if I could convince Ina to join me in the pursuit of creating a series of piano music books, that the job would not only be done swiftly, but would benefit from her substantial creative talents and be exponentially more interesting. Over coffee, I presented the vision to her, and in a matter of days, she had created several piano pieces and we started to toss around titles for the books and ideas on how to put them together. By the end of August, we had enough music that we both liked organized in three volumes, and we talked to a local printer to get information on what the next steps would be.

It took another four months to come up with a business name, register it, hire a graphic artist, and refine the music to get it up to publication standards. About a month ago, we received our first printing of the books, and I set up a website for Vista Heights Music that showcases the works and allows customers to order books directly from us. We are talking to music stores about carrying the books, and have our next three books well under way. In the first week we sold 10% of our inventory, and we are just getting started, with one showcase to a group of piano teachers under our belt and half a dozen more planned for the near future.

But the real joys of this are the simplest of pleasures, those of creating and sharing. Our piano students are now playing the pieces, and this Sunday we are putting on a small concert where they will be giving first public performances of some of these works.

If you are a musician, I do hope you will check out our website. And if you are a composer, I hope that you find this account inspiring and helpful, so that you too will make the move into having your works made public and performed.

The Spectrum, Stigma, and Sachs

In recent years I find myself giving more thought to our understanding of the human mind and how this is rapidly evolving into new territory. It includes a shift in how I perceive myself, my talents and shortcomings. It has always made sense to me that some of our best musicians have been blind including Ray Charles, Art Tatum and Stevie Wonder. What they gave up in the ability to look at things with eyes has more than been made up for with their musical talents. What is less apparent, is that perhaps they would not have been as good at what they do if they had been able to see. Oliver Sachs talks about this at length in his book (citation to come) in which he discusses case studies that include a color blind artist and a heart surgeon with Terrette’s syndrome.

As we learn more about the various personality and mind imbalances, a lot of focus is on what is lacking on the obvious side of the various spectrums. What is less obvious are the talents and skills that are encouraged by whatever has been diminished. It has become clearer to me, that nobody is perfectly in balance with precisely equal parts of skills, precisely because many of these skills are in natural opposition to each other. Consider focus versus flexibility. Autism seems to imply extreme focus whereas attention deficite implies mental freedom. How true this generalization may or may not be would ultimately depend to the individual we are talking about, and there are undoubtably many things to consider when assessing the genesis of mathematical or creative interest and talent. Eduard de Bono has an exellent series of books on the creative process, and David Suzuki recently did an episode of The Nature of Things that reported on new research being done that reveals the importance of unrestricted exploratation and experimentation. In fact, that program implied that more has been invented and discovered by pure chance than by systematic research. Ironically, they may be using a systematic method in their research on that very subject. I don’t want to draw any conclusions here, I am colossally underqualified to go beyond the whim of speculation, but I do hope studies are underway to deepen our understanding of these things, and hope that here I am stimulating further thought on this subject.

In any case, as I hear the words spectrum and stigma tossed around in reference to various “disorders” I believe even in using these words there is something missing, and that is a positivity that comes along with any condition, no matter how severe. For beyond acceptance and understanding, way beyond coping and tolerance is celebration. Since everyone has their own personal cocktail of skills, we need to move into this territory quickly, and then perhaps we can learn how to improve how we coexist and communicate as a richly diverse collective of individuals.

Climate Change Poll

Five Ways to Save the Neighborhood – Jan Randall

This morning I was inspired to make a plan of action for myself to prevent anything like a trump from ever happening in Canada. I thought I would share it.

Stay Informed

  1. Find and share reliable news sources
  2. Seek out information

Support and Empower the Women in Your Life

  1. In your family
  2. In your workplace
  3. In your community
  4. Support a Woman Politician

Form Partnerships

  1. With your spouse
  2. At the workplace

Communicate

  1. Listen
  2. Research
  3. Converse
  4. Debate
  5. Write

Fight

  1. Climate Change
  2. Racism
  3. Misogyny
  4. Inequality
  5. Ignorance

If you can do better then this, please feel free to make it your own in any way you like and do please share it. After you have saved the world, find a concert or a bar somewhere and listen to some live music. Also, a morning walk is a great thing.

My Best Stories

What are my best stories? What would I choose if I was sitting in the Red Chair about to be dumped if I was boring for a nanosecond?

My celebrity encounters are kind of boring. Shaking hands with JFK while he was on the campaign trail and getting a button from him which my grandmother hated because she was voting for Nixon. Having coffee with KD Lang at the Sidetrack Cafe and mutually deciding that we would hate working together, even though I told her I loved her voice and her cowpunk show, wondering if she’s antisemetic although I am not Jewish and her perhaps wondering if I am anti gay or vegetarian, even though I didn’t know she was either at the time and if I had would have no trouble with either. Still even the tension of that is boring. OK, how about writing a song with Catherine O’Hara. Yawn. Or meeting Arlo Guthrie as an unknown cousin 30 years after having a tour cancelled where I’d be opening for him and people telling me I reminded them of him. Nap time!

Well there’s my personal musical journey that includes rock bands, blues bands, jazz gigs, composing for orchestra and classical piano, writing comedy songs for a popular national radio series blah blah blah. Trying to make myself important or interesting is almost worse than pretending I’m a real life Forest Gump. Especially in the wake of the death of David Bowie, who worked in secret, did not reveal to the public that he was dying, and then released his last album and videos after he died. So the work truly should and is the joy of it, and not the trappings of fame, or talking about it. No wonder there are so few interviews with artists, because they know that talking about their art somehow lessens it.

That still leaves me with my desire to entertain and tell a good yarn. Fiction is out of the question- I suck at it, unless I’m trying to tell the truth and I need to embelish with a bit of exaggeration. I was always afraid to lie for a number of reasons, top of which is that I was afraid nobody would trust me, which of course, they don’t anyway, why trust a stranger?

Am I having an unbelievable life full of extraordinary things worthy of songs and sonnets? Absolutely! But I’m starting to believe it doesn’t matter if I try to preserve my stories for the cold and heartless eternity that awaits us all. Nevertheless I will probably have a go.

It doesn’t escape me that NOBODY is reading my blog or leaving comments. I must truly suck at blogging and promotion. Ironically, protection of privacy is a big issue these days. Ha ha ha.

My Glorious Original CD Release

This year my mother turned 93. Besides having a full career as a university administer and raising 3 sons, sometimes as a single parent, she aspired to be a concert pianist and a painter. She pursued music hard and furiously until she reached 40, and attained a high level of proficiency that included advanced piano concertos, jazz transcriptions and Chopin. She then made a choice, and focused on painting and drawing and produced an amazing amount of original oils and watercolors that included abstracts, landscapes and figures. She shared them with family and friends and was forever modest about her talent and her output. Clearly the joy was in the doing. Eventually many of these were discarded and only the favorites survive as heirlooms and testimony to her passion. I have no recordings of her playing the piano.

I get the same joy from playing and writing music. Most of my original music was created as themes and soundtracks for educational and documentary television shows. Some of them survive in the collections of the NFB but outside of my personal collection, there were hundreds of shows that were destroyed with the passing of the networks and the producers that hired me to do them.

So what does this have to do with my self produced CD Good Fair World? Everything. Why bother publishing or mass producing anything if nobody is going to see it? Of the 1000 copies I made in 2008, I still have 600 and the format now fading fast. Cars still have CD players, but smartphones and cloud services now provide most of our music and it won't be long before CD's disappear all together.

I knew that would happen, and so I didn't invest much money or time into the production of the music- so arguably it would have done better if I'd put $20K into studio musicians and another $10K on promotion. But I wanted to see how well the songs would do by themselves with just me singing them and playing the piano, so the project only took 3 days to record, and I had it professionally mastered before putting it out there. I also put in on itunes where it will be presumably offered forever, or at least until the death of Apple and MP3 files.

But really, very few people have heard it in spite of my best efforts to tell people about it and use social media and live touring to help it along. Does it suck? Do I suck? Nobody who actually has heard it has ever told me that. I know there are better singers and better song writers than me but that is not the issue. I am a tree falling alone in the woods wondering if I exist. And I can't help but compare my urge to be heard and be recognized to my mother's journey that was completely free of such vanity.

So I shall be content with the joy of being able to play and compose and write and not complain about anything. If my melodies and words are meant to be heard than so be it. If they pass into oblivion I shall not consider them failures. But if you do read this, please check out my songs on itunes and drop me a line. I'd love to know what you think of them.