Pianist takes his birdsong out of the parkade and into the church

ON STAGE

What: Birdsong in the Parkade

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Where, when: Church of the Advent, Colwood (Jazz Vespers): Nov. 19, 7 p.m.

St. Paul’s Church, Sidney: Dec. 8, 7 p.m.; First Unitarian Church. W. Saanich Rd., Feb. 11, 7 p.m.

Also, house concerts (by reservation) in James Bay, Ten Mile Point, Sidney, View Royal

Admission: Church concerts by donation; house concerts: $20

Reservations, info: roessong.com

 

Karel Roessingh has performed in concert halls, cathedrals, jazz clubs and luxury hotels, but nothing compares to making music in the View Street parkade.

That’s where the Highlands-based councillor (and former mayor) and musician spent a long August night recording Birdsong in the Parkade, his new solo album of piano music based on bird-song themes.

“It was just an idea that popped into my head when I was parked there late one night,” said the composer and pianist. It was January and he had just wrapped a gig at Hermann’s. “I whistled a couple of notes, and it occurred to me that having a piano session down there would be really cool.”

His new album concept was inspired in a fashion no less organic. It began during a cross-Canada camping trip Roessingh took with his wife, Brenda, in their VW camper van in the spring of 2016.

“On our first morning in Salmon Arm, I heard these bird calls, and I thought: ‘I’ll just write them down,’ ” he said.

While writing music that matches the sounds of birds singing might sound daunting, Roessingh said it’s not as challenging as some might think.

“You get to learn the relationship between different notes. When you hear a melody or bird songs, you get used to writing them down,” he said. “It’s a language.”

Roessingh was equally undaunted by the prospect of recording in a parkade, where echoes, reverberation and other aural distractions would seem inevitable. “There were few disruptions, actually,” said Roessingh. “Occasionally, you could hear a ‘whoosh’ from the wind, and in the distance, a flock of seagulls was screaming.”

If you listen closely, you can even hear seagulls in the background at one point in the album of lovely, mellow piano music, a blend of original melodies and improvisation that conjures up images of nature.

It helped that Roessingh is accustomed to making audio adjustments to compensate for his surroundings in different venues. Take Alix Goolden Hall, for instance.

“If you don’t make adjustments, it can make it difficult to play fast jazz,” he said. “If you play fast notes, they kind of run together if there’s a lot of echo.”

His experience includes playing piano at University Centre years ago when Oscar Peterson was booked to play there, so the sound crew could make adjustments to meet the late jazz icon’s needs.

Roessingh said he can understand how the idea of recording an album in a parkade might arouse skepticism.

“I remember saying to Simon [Phillips] at Tom Lee Music: ‘I know this is a crazy idea and sounds idiotic,’ but he took it seriously,” said Roessingh, who was grateful for the Steinway grand piano the company provided.

Roessingh also praised the City of Victoria for the warm reception he got from Ismo Husu, its parking services manager, when he floated the parkade-music idea.

“Ismo said: ‘Oh, yeah, we like to do artistic things in the parkade,’ ” said Roessingh, who later learned that Husu mentioned his parkade session at a national parking conference.

After James Movers rolled the Steinway into the parkade, Greg Davidson came in to tune the piano and director of photography David Malysheff shot the six-hour recording session for online music videos.

Roessingh’s springtime-flavoured experience was the opposite of another memorable recording session 20 years ago, one he said he will never forget.

It was at Legacy Sound on Hillside Avenue where Roessingh and Ken Williams, his composing partner on the score for Neal LaBute’s In the Company of Men, were working on the film’s final sound mix.

LaBute had flown in Dec. 29, the day before the Blizzard of ’96 brought Victoria to a standstill, forcing Labute, Roessingh, Williams and sound engineers Tony and George Moskal to sleep on couches at the studio.

The pressure, exacerbated by the massive snowfall, was intense, since LaBute had just learned the film had been accepted at Sundance, moving his post-production deadlines up.

“We couldn’t drive anywhere. I had a Toyota van and all you could see were the top inches of the aerial,” said Roessingh, recalling that shelves at the former 7-Eleven at Hillside and Douglas were stripped bare.

“There was no food left, so I trudged over to Boston Pizza, where their staff had been sleeping overnight and we lived on pizzas for four days,” he said with a laugh.

“Ken and I wrote music furiously all weekend and it just got mastered as he was going to the airport. It was just that close.”

For details, go to roessong.com.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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