SHHH!! Blog 🤫🎹🥁


September 16, 2019

Our Fall touring programme, Foreign Inspirations, is an avant-accessible exploration of romantic and contemporary repertoire. 

Through performances of Foreign Inspirations SHHH!! Ensemble endeavours to bring new music to new audiences while simultaneously performing masterworks from the classical canon, albeit with a refreshing twist. 

Our programme begins with NYC based Andy Akiho’s Karakurenai (Japanese for “foreign crimson”). Composed for “any instrumentation or number of performers”, this rhythmically complex but harmonically simple work is an exercise in concentration and togetherness. To add to the virtuosity of this funky little piece, it is in complete unison for the duration of the work!

Next, our own adaptation of French composer Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. The Foreign Inspiration for this work is a little more practical than the other pieces— Poulenc was commissioned to write a new piece for an American flutist by the Coolidge Foundation… so it was foreign money that inspired the creation of one of the composer’s most beloved works! The French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal remarked in his autobiography that upon receiving word of the commission Poulenc telephoned Rampal and relayed the good news: “you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to. And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it!”

In complete contrast to everything so far the third piece on our Foreign Inspirations programme is John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano. Commissioned by SHHH!! Ensemble in 2017, Mr. Beckwith’s inspiration for writing this work was found in his passion for Scottish Country Dancing (even as a nonagenarian!!). Specifically, the act of performing a “meanwhile” during a dance, which can be described as “when one or two couples in a set of eight dancers follow one pattern of steps, another couple performs a meanwhile— that is, quite a different pattern”. The effect of this kind of spontaneous counterpoint reminded John of “the aleatory found in Lutoslawski and others, or the works by Ives in which he recalled the effect of two bands converging on the town hall for the July 4th parade, each playing a different march”. While Beckwith’s Meanwhile may not be music for dancing, it is certainly one of the most interesting and enjoyable works we have had the privilege to perform.

For some of our Foreign Inspirations tour (including schools shows and Concerts in Care performances) we are featuring Christine Donkin’s nostalgic Album of Old Photographs. When writing the six movement work, Christine was inspired by character pieces by Robert Schumann (i.e. Kinderszenen) and others. Sitting firmly in the “neo-romantic” genre, Album of Old Photographs is a unique and charming addition to the piano/marimba repertoire. 

The last selection on Foreign Inspirations is Italian-American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Fantasia for Guitar and Piano, op. 145. The piece was written for legendary Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia and his former wife and pianist Paquita Madriguera. Castelnuovo-Tedesco made his career as a highly successful composer of film music in Hollywood. He also maintained ties to the concert music scene with Segovia, Heifetz, and Piatigorsky as some of his long time collaborators. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music is diversely inspired; taking cues from his Italian and Jewish heritage, his work as a film music composer, his reverence for the music of Bach, and his dismissal of many 20th century writing conventions, which ultimately give his music a timeless and fresh sound even today.


August 28, 2019

Later this fall SHHH!! will be presenting a recital at the Shenkman Arts Centre thanks to the generous support of an Ottawa Arts Network ARTicipate/ARTicipez Endowment Fund Grant. For more information about this fantastic initiative and the other participants check out the press release here

The concert, titled Shuffle, takes place on November 7th at 7:00pm in the Richcraft Theatre. Can’t wait! Stay tuned for ticket information.

Shuffle takes its name and inspiration from a piece that Zac worked on with composer Dr. Kevin Hanlon during a February 2018 residency at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. In Shuffle the performer must improvise over, under, and around backing tracks (clips of various durations that are samples of the instrument, in this case marimba, being played in an unconventional manner) that are played at random (i.e. in “shuffle” mode). The challenge and the fun of this work is creating a cohesive piece while responding in real time to a myriad of unexpected and at times complex sounds. 

Kevin has generously agreed to rework Shuffle for Zac for our duo to include piano and toy piano samples. We are excited to premiere his new work, SHHHuffle for you on November 7th. 

In keeping with the shuffle theme; instead of traditional concert seating, we have decided to integrate the audience into the space. As a listener you will be invited to see, hear, and feel the music as the performer does: right beside, across from, behind, or in front of, the action. There will even be moments in the programme where the audience is asked to participate in the music-making. 

At the beginning of November, we will be coming out of a long run of school outreach concerts and Health Arts Ontario “Concerts in Care” performances, for which we have a specially tailored accessible program. We will be in a repertoire transition phase as SHHH!! gears up for our contemporary recital we are touring in January, February, and March 2020. 

So, for the shuffle programme at the Shenkman recital audiences will hear a unique blend of traditional pieces, full works and excerpts of contemporary Canadian repertoire, minimalist, and improvised music. 

We are looking forward to presenting a concert at the Shenkman Arts Centre in this unique format, and look forward performing beside, across from, behind, and in front of you! See you there!

In the meantime, listen to the world premiere of Shuffle for Zac by Kevin Hanlon here.


July 13, 2019

This time last year SHHH!! Ensemble gave the world premiere of John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano at the Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa, ON. 

Reflecting on the process of Meanwhile’s creation, we feel incredibly lucky to have worked with a composer of Mr. Beckwith’s stature for our duo’s first commission, and for the collaborative experiences that occurred between us throughout his writing process. 

Since forming SHHH!! Ensemble, it has been our mission not only to commission new music for the piano/percussion duo, but to also create a lasting repertoire of quality pieces that survive beyond the premiere.

As we continue to perform Meanwhile on recitals and outreach programmes throughout the 2019-2020 season (with Health Arts Ontario, concert series, and at institutions such as the Universities of Lakehead, Conrad Grebel, Manitoba, and Alberta), we look forward to discovering new layers of meaning, colour, expression, and depth in this fantastic addition to the piano/percussion repertoire.

For us, working on Meanwhile has really been a process of discovery. While the technical challenges individually are considerable, the real work lies in the ensemble. The score calls for “aleatoric” type sections, that in some ways provide freedom, but simultaneously demand a certain well rehearsed discipline. Each performance can be unique, but must be prepared as such. As a performer this makes Meanwhile a perennially interesting composition; as a listener, each iteration is a new look into a profoundly deep and inspiring work. 

After intensive workshopping and recording of Meanwhile during our November/December 2018 residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, we took some time away from the work and are very much looking forward to returning to it this fall with a fresh perspective.

Thank you, John for the fantastic music!

World premiere recording (live) of John Beckwith’s Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano

June 1, 2019

Welcome to the SHHH!! Blog,

As SHHH!! Ensemble’s schedule continues to grow, we thought it would be nice to have a running tally of some of the bigger projects and ideas we are embarking on.

This summer SHHH!! will be performing at several Music and Beyond (Ottawa) events. We will also begin working on a new piece by John Armstrong titled The Angel’s Share. This piece will be featured on our upcoming Winter 2020 tour. More details to come soon.

Next fall, we are looking forward to performing at local concert series in Ottawa and Toronto as well as some TBD shows with HealthArts Ontario. Part of SHHH!! Ensemble’s mandate going forward is to work harder at introducing new audiences to new music. This summer we will be woodshedding a new programme that includes more traditional works by Bach, Poulenc, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco that we have transcribed, juxtaposed with new works by composers such as John Beckwith, Christine Donkin, Andy Akiho, and Andrew Staniland.