The good and the unfortunate: News of recent visitors to Boulder

Terrence Wilson, Stephen Lias, Time for Three

By Peter Alexander

Recent visitors on the boulder musical scene have been in the news, with stories that range from near-tragic to positive to fascinating. They concern Terrence Wilson, the pianist whose performance of Michael Daugherty’s Deus Ex Machina piano concerto electrified audiences at the Colorado Music Festival just last month; composer Stephen Lias, the world premiere of whose Gates of the Arctic opened the 2014–15 season of the Boulder Philharmonic to great acclaim; and Time for Three, the “classically trained garage band” trio of two violins and bass who have upturned many expectations for classical audiences, at CMF and elsewhere.

Pianist Terrence Wilson suffers great losses in fire

Terrence Wilson (right) with conductor David Danzmayer (l) and composer Michael Daugherty (c) following the performance of

Terrence Wilson (right) with conductor David Danzmayr (l) and composer Michael Daugherty (c) following the performance of Daugherty’s “Deus Ex Machina” at CMF

On July 9 and 10, Terrence Wilson was dazzling CMF audiences with Daugherty’s virtuoso Deus Ex Machina. Barely two weeks later, he lost all of his music and his piano when a fire broke out in his apartment building in Montclair, New Jersey.

According to a report published by TAPinto Montclair, Wilson had left his fourth-floor apartment briefly to get something to eat. “As soon as I turned the corner, I could smell the smoke and see them fighting the fire,” the report quotes him saying. That story continues, “He lived two floors above the second floor apartment where the fire started. When he returned, Wilson said that his entire apartment was in flames.

“Wilson was in tears as he pondered the losses of his prized possessions, including his Grammy memorabilia, music scores and his piano.”

Daugherty sent out an appeal through Facebook: “This past weekend, my friend and pianist Terrence Wilson‘s New Jersey apartment was tragically burned down in a fire. In addition to losing years of musical scores and personal belongings, his grand piano was destroyed. He had no renters insurance. Please consider making any small contribution at the GoFundMe page below to help Terrence rebuild his life.”

If you would like to help Wilson, you may contribute through the GoFundMe page.

Composer Stephen Lias offers a new CD of music inspired by the national parks

Encounters.coverStephen Lias has made a career of writing music about our National Parks. He has secured residencies in several parks, each time creating a new work from the experience. He has combined that experience with his teaching for the last four summers, through the field course “Composing in the Wilderness.”

For the 2015 program, Lias took nine composers into the Denali National Park and Preserve and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska for eight days. At the end of the course, the composers had the opportunity to hear their new works performed at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

The past year also saw a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a CD of music by Lias that was inspired by Big Bend, Mesa Verde, Carlsbad Caverns, Yosemite and Denali national parks. The CD was timed to be available for the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, with the hope that the CD will be sold in national park bookstores around the country.

In the meantime, you can sample the CD or purchase downloads of the five works on Lias’s own Web page. The recording is also available for purchase through Amazon and iTunes.

Time for Three announce a personnel change

Nikki Chooi Tf3

Nikki Chooi (center) with Ranaan Meyer (l) and Nick Kendall (r), the new lineup of Time for Three. June Etta Photography.

Zach De Pue, the co-founding violinist who has been with Time for Three since the trio was founded 15 years ago, has announced that he has decided to focus his time on his position as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony. Over the next year he will leave the group, to be replaced by Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi, winner of the 2013 Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

The announcement on the Time for Three Web page states: “This has been an incredible new door for us to open, and there is a lot planned as we take steps together towards a new, fulfilling future!!

“Nikki will be appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.”

Chooi has said he is “beyond thrilled” to join the highly successful and fun group. You may read a longer story about the transition in Strad Magazine.

Note: This story was edited Aug. 2, with minor grammatical corrections.

Time for Three raise the roof at Boulder Theater

Bach, Beatles, Bluegrass and more make a concert to be savored

Time for Three.

Time for Three.

By Peter Alexander

Time for Three, the classically trained, pop/jazz/gypsy/bluegrass inflected virtuoso trio of two violins and a bass got the rock star treatment last night (Jan. 8) from a cheering audience at Boulder Theater.

The occasion was a fundraiser for the Colorado Music Festival, where Time for Three, or Tf3 as their fans know them, gave their first performances in Boulder. Since those first appearances, the group and Boulder have developed an vibrant mutual admiration. Not only was the audience cheering before Tf3 played their first note, Nick Kendall—one of the violinists and the buoyant, boyish sparkplug of the group—couldn’t say enough about Boulder

“This is an amazing music town,” he said more than once. “You guys are fun!

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, Zach De Pue, Nick Kendall. Photo by LeAnn Mueller

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, Zach De Pue, Nick Kendall. Photo by LeAnn Mueller

In fact, the performance had some elements of a rock show. The three players—Kendall and Zach De Pue, violins, and Ranaan Meyer, bass—made their entrance through stage smoke, and there were some discreet suggestions of a light show. But it’s really the energy and style of performance that got the audience pumped.

Their sheer virtuosity—the ability to play all of those notes, together—wows everyone who hears them. And the mixing of styles and genres, which they have mastered, draws in both the classical audiences who recognize the Bach and Chopin and Stravinsky, and the younger audiences who recognize the Katy Perry and the Mumford and Sons and the Cold Play.

And I’m sure both audiences love the Beatles.

But on top of the ability to merge seamlessly from one style to another, and the awesome technical chops, they are great musicians. The intonation is impeccable, even among all the fireworks, and the balance (except for the odd amplification glitch) and ensemble precision are at the highest level.

In short, Tf3 is the real thing. Those boys can play!

The show opened with three pieces written by members of the group, all from the group’s CDs: Kendall’s “Roundabouts” combined dreamy chords and a funky, jazzy outburst; Meyer’s “Banjo Love” reflected his wish to make his bass into “the world’s largest banjo”; and “Thunderstomp,” also by Meyer, was a Celtic-styled piece written with Béla Fleck in mind. Later they played Meyer’s “Philly Phunk” and their cheeky mashup of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” with Katie Perry’s “Fireworks.”

Their partnership with Steve Hackman, known to Boulder audiences for the Mashup Concerts at the Colorado Music Festival, was represented with “Winter Chaconne,” freely and funkily based on the famous Bach D-minor “Chaconne” for solo violin. And it is likely that Hackman, a longtime partner of the trio, was behind other classical/pop mashups they played.

Signature tunes from Tf3’s live shows were the “Czardas” that closed the first half, and their blazing hot version of “Orange Blossom Special” that seems to grow longer and wilder and faster every time I hear it. After that roof-raising display, encores were a gentle mashup of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood” with a Chopin Ballade (Steve Hackman, is that you?), and an even gentler arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that sent the fans out satisfied, into the freezing rain.

I hope everyone made it home safely. That was a concert to be savored.

“We do apologize for the confusion and the customer’s inconvenience”

US Airways spokesman comments on yesterday’s incident at LAX

By Peter Alexander

Earlier today I spoke with Andrew Christie, a spokesman for American Airlines and US Airways about yesterday’s incident when bassist Ranaan Meyer of Time for Three was not allowed to check his double bass on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Philadelphia. (Read more about the incident below.)

Christie noted that American Airlines and US Airways currently have “two different operating certificates, and we’re in the process of integrating our policies and procedures.” This explains why the two share some policies and differ with others, and it probably contributes to employees’ confusion about the actual polices they are supposed to enforce.

In the case of musical instruments, US Airways and American Airlines each state policies on their respective Web pages, and each page refers to the other for passengers of that airline. No doubt having separate policies for airlines that are in the process of integration creates confusion for the airlines and their employees, but it should not become a hindrance for musicians traveling on professional business.

Concerning the specific incident in Los Angeles, Christie said:

“I must first state that our policies are in line with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Unfortunately confusion on our policy led to denial of checking the customer’s instrument. We are in the process of working to clarify our policies on checked musical instruments with our employees to ensure that they are being applied correctly and so that we don’t have a repeat incident such as yesterday. We do apologize for the confusion and the customer’s inconvenience. We have refunded the customer’s tickets and customer relations will be reaching out to the customer to apologize.”

I pointed out that the US Airways policy on double basses as currently stated on the their Web page is nonsensical, in that it says that “Cellos and bass violas will only be accepted as seat baggage,” meaning they cannot be transported as checked baggage. This makes no sense, because a double bass would never fit in the cabin and can only be transported as checked baggage.

Christie responded:

“That is correct, and we did try—that was our first option when he [Meyer] was working with the customer service agent in LA. Our first hope is to store it in the cabin in an extra seat, but as you stated, the double bass is far too tall and it wouldn’t clear the drop on the overhead. Then our next step is to see about checking it, and again that’s where the confusion about our policy led to the denial of checking that customer’s instrument. But now as far as the policy online, we are working to clarify that policy online as well.”

“While we worked hard to accommodate Mr. Meyers [sic] on US Airways and worked to find an alternate flight with another carrier, we did fall short of providing the level of service to our customer that they’ve come to expect, and for that we do sincerely apologize.”

A clarification and consistent application of the policy would benefit everyone—the airline, their employees, and most of all the musicians who must travel to maintain a career. In the meantime, this story—just like previous stories about traveling musicians—has spread pretty rapidly around the world. Here are a few links to other stories about the saga of Ranaan Meyer and US Airways:

The Stad

Slipped Disc

WIBC Radio, Indianapolis

WQXR Radio, New York

The Contrapuntist

Double (bass) Travel Trouble for Time for Three

US Airways refuses to allow double bass as luggage, in apparent violation of FAA regulations

By Peter Alexander

[NOTE: This story has been updated Nov. 19 to include more details. See below for additional details.]

[FURTHER NOTE: I just received a call from a spokesperson for US Airways. I will post his statement shortly.]

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

Just today (Nov. 18), Time for Three, the eclectic violin-violin-bass trio that has had several popular appearances at the Colorado Music Festival, encountered serious travel troubles with US Airways.

Again.

You may recall that in May of this year, the group’s violinists, Zach DePue and Nick Kendall, were refused permission to bring their violins on board a US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Fayetteville, Ark., where they were scheduled to play at the Artosphere Arts and Nature Festival.

In violation of both FAA rules and the airline’s own policies, the captain refused permission for them to carry their violins into the cabin. Nick and Zach were told that they would either have to put the instruments in the luggage compartment—something no violinist would agree to—or be booted from the flight. They were literally left standing on the tarmac, where Zach played an impromptu performance.

In that case, the violinists eventually were placed on a later flight. The captain of that flight—being either more of a music lover or more inclined to honor the FAA regulations—did not raise any objections, and they did get to their destination in time.

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, bass; Nick Kendall; and violinist Zach DePue. Photo by LeAnn Mueller.

Time for Three: Ranaan Meyer, bass; Nick Kendall, violin; and Zach DePue, violin. Photo by LeAnn Mueller.

Nevertheless, the refusal by the captain of the first flight to allow the violins on board created quite a stir among musicians and fans of Time for Three. Such unpredictable travel barriers make life nearly impossible for professional musicians who have to travel to pursue their careers, as many do.

Since then, the YouTube video of Zach playing Bach outside the airplane has had more the 300,000 hits, and Time for Three has marketed a t-shirt for travelling string players that has Section 403 of the FAA Modernization of Reform Act of 2012 printed on the back. It states in part, that carriers “shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin.”

Then, things died down a bit. But today, US Airways struck again. The same airline. Ignoring the same FAA regulations. But this time it was the third member of the group, bassist Ranaan Meyer, and this time it was an outright refusal to take his bass on board.

Ranaan was returning home after an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” when the airline refused to accept his bass—packed to go with luggage, as basses normally do—at all. Appeals to the US Airways shift manager were useless. Ranaan ended up booking with Delta Airlines, which accepted him and his bass with no hesitation.

Time for Three is understandably perplexed. Like many musicians, the group travels professionally with their instruments. A lot. They cannot understand—and neither can I—why an airline would court bad publicity and the displeasure of professional travelers who cover so many miles each year. Time for Three is considering what the next step might be to assure their ability to travel professionally.

At this point, we should step back and understand what is supposed to happen with traveling string players and their instruments. Because of their value, the violins and violas played by professional musicians must never be placed in luggage. Recognizing that, both FAA regulations and most airlines’ policies allow those instruments to qualify as carry-on bags. This normally does not create a problem, although there are occasional exceptions, such as Nick and Zach’s run-in with US Airways last May.

Professional-quality cellos are equally delicate, and they again should never be packed as luggage. Because they are clearly not small enough to fit in overhead compartments, cellists usually book extra seats for their instruments. That normally does not create any problems, although there are occasional stories that crop up where traveling cellists encounter obstinate flight crews or airlines: read more here, here and here.

Double basses obviously have to be packed to go in the luggage compartment. That has long been accepted practice with most airlines and all musicians that I know. Until today, I had never heard of a bass being refused as checked baggage provided the plane was large enough to accomodate the instrument, as was the case in this incident.

As of now, I have requested comment from American Airlines/US Airways. Time for Three has received a message on Twitter asking for flight information so that the airline could “look into the incident” (quoting the email I received from a representative of Time for Three).

This story will be updated as new information becomes available. I would welcome a statement from the airline.

# # #

Nov. 19, 2014, Update: Today I would like to fill in some of the details that did not make it into yesterday’s initial story (above).

Ranaan Meyer, the bassist for Time for Three, was returning home to Philadelphia yesterday (Nov 18) from Los Angeles, where he and the other members of the trio had performed on “Dancing with the Stars.” When he went to check in his bass with US Airways, the instrument was refused as checked baggage, a decision that was appealed to the shift manager—the highest US Airways official at the checkin area—who confirmed that the bass would not be allowed on the flight. (Meyer’s video shows her walking away after declining to say anything on camera.)

In other words, he never got past the checkin counter. He was not turned away at the airplane door or at the gate—unlike previous incidents of musicians having problems boarding flights with their instruments.

Several points are important here. First: Meyer has flown with his bass as checked baggage literally hundreds of times, on many different airlines, and it has never even been questioned. This is completely standard for bass players who have to travel for their professional work. I have not yet found one who has ever had his bass turned away by an airline. Meyer reports that he often flies on smaller planes into Sun Valley, Id., one of the smaller airports on his travels, with no problems.

Second, several people have pointed out that US Airways has a written policy on musical instruments posted on their web page that seems to support the shift manager’s decision. But their policy (a) makes little sense as written and (b) would prohibit any bass players from ever buying a ticket on their airlines for professional travel. The policy states that “Cellos and bass violas will only be accepted as seat baggage,” which is nonsensical because a “bass viola” (by which I assume they mean bass viol, or double bass) certainly would not fit in an airline seat, or anywhere in the cabin. Consequently, this policy would automatically disqualify US Airways as a carrier for bass players traveling on professional business.

Ranaan Meyer and his bass arrive in Philadelphia via Delta Airlines.

Ranaan Meyer and his bass arrive in Philadelphia via Delta Airlines.

Finally, it should be noted that Meyer has a travel case for his bass that is made for the instrument to be shipped in the baggage compartment, and he expects to pay any excess baggage charges when traveling with the bass. Time for Three reports that those charges can range from as little as $150 up to as much as $400 each way. So it’s not as if he’s a free-loader.

Incidentally, bass players report that Southwest Airlines has the lowest charges for transporting their instruments—usually $150. A contact with Time for Three has written to me that “Other bass players we have worked with and that I have booked travel for always request Southwest. It is sort of known that they are the cheapest and the easiest to work with when it comes to oversized luggage!”

To finish the story of Meyer’s odyssey, he had purchased a non-stop ticket on US Airways because he had an appointment in Philadelphia at 6 p.m. In the end, Delta airlines took Meyer and his bass with no questions asked. He was routed through Atlanta and arrived in Philadelphia at 5:20, just barely giving him time to meet his appointment.

No lasting damage was done, but Meyer, Time for Three, and musicians all around the country are left with questions in their minds whether they would be turned away in similar circumstances. This creates a very difficult environment for the music industry, one that sooner or later should be resolved, for the benefit of airlines—who can’t want constant stories about their mistreatment of musicians trickling out—and of the professionals who depend upon travel for their careers.

 # # #

NOTE: The original story has been edited to correct the spelling of Nick Kendall on 18 November.