August 9, 2019 | Arts & Culture
When Ray Baril, assistant professor of music, took his place as conductor at the podium of a recording studio in Prague back in May, he was surrounded by 65 members of the city’s philharmonic orchestra and two Edmonton musical legends – PJ Perry and James Campbell – each and every one of them prepared to bring Dr. Allan Gilliland’s Dreaming of the Masters series to life.
Allan, who is dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications at MacEwan, composed Dreaming of the Masters to combine his experience as an orchestral composer and a jazz musician. The most recent instalment in the four-part series was written specifically for Juno Award-winning jazz saxophone player PJ Perry (who received MacEwan’s Distinguished Citizen Award and an honorary Music Diploma from MacEwan in 1996).
In our “Where in the World” series, students and faculty members share highlights from this year’s study tours, exchanges, internships and field schools. Talk to a faculty advisor or visit MacEwan.ca/EducationAbroad for opportunities.
Recording that custom-written piece with PJ Perry and capturing an orchestral version of the first Dreaming of the Masters piece (a clarinet concerto that nods to Benny Goodman) with James Campbell was the goal of Allan and Ray’s trip to Prague in May. But they weren’t the only MacEwan representatives. The recording session was also a chance for several MacEwan faculty and alumni to pursue research and scholarly activity.
“We normally think of research that results in articles and journals, but in the fine arts, the art itself is the research,” explains Allan. “Composing music is my research and performance is my dissemination.”
The 65-piece orchestra preparing to record Dreaming of the Masters IV.
Each of the four MacEwan faculty members who made the trip had a very specific role to play: Allan as composer, Ray as conductor, Chris Andrew on piano and Paul Johnston as producer. Emily Gryba and Erin Yamabe, both alumni who now work with the university’s Bent River Records label, were there as production assistants.
The collaborative moments when everything came together – months of work from the six MacEwan faculty and alumni, the artistry of soloists PJ Perry and James Campbell, and the talent of the dozens of professional musicians in the studio – were among those Ray counts as highlights of his professional career.
One of those special moments came after the orchestra performed the second movement from Dreaming of the Masters I called Stranger on the Prairie. “It’s just beautifully written,” says Ray. “After the orchestra finished the movement, they put their instruments down and applauded. Seeing that the music didn’t just affect us, that it affected them too, was pretty special.”
Allan Gilliland with music alum Erin Yamabe, who painstakingly recorded every detail of every take (microphone locations, etc.) for reference over the following months when the team would pull the bits and pieces from the session into a final recording.
After everyone was back in Edmonton, the project was handed over to Paul Johnston, assistant professor of music and recording section head. During the coming months, Paul will finalize the recordings and send them off for mastering and final production.
The goal is to have the final pieces ready to premiere as part of the Bent River Records Artist Spotlight event in April 2020. Stay tuned.