When the music is right, nothing else matters
I decided to spend a glorious spring Toronto day searching for some cool places to shoot. After all, it was during Luminato, the Toronto Festival of the Arts. Lots of things to do and see; the city was in art overdrive.
But the first order of the day was a cappuccino to start me off in the right head-space. So, for a caffeine and artistic boost, I headed for the café with the most ambiance and artistic motivation, Balzac’s, in the Distillery District.
Once I got my dose of both art and caffeine, I embarked. No sooner did I hit the bright sun than, behold, an open door leading into (you gotta picture this), a cavernous stone textured walled grotto, complete with exposed steel pipes, abandoned and rusted ancient machinery… (keep picturing, stay with me now), an abandoned stage eerily lit with indigo blue lights mixed with shards of incoming sunlight from huge windows…and nobody in sight. A perfect studio if there ever was.
As I sat absorbing the wonderful light and textures, in walks a guy wearing a hat. Slowly, almost invisibly, he ambles up on to the stage, pulls a harmonica out of his pocket and starts jamming, totally oblivious to me and a friend I brought along (was this some kind of movie, or what?).
If I may be so bold, what came out of his head and harmonica was friggen’ awesome! He started off sounding like a steam locomotive, straining, hissing and chugging; like a night-train pulling away from the station, slowly building tempo and speed.
Then the harmonica became the lonesome cry of the train’s headlight as it searched and sliced through the night fog.
Then it became a desolate wail of a widow. And as the harmonica picked up more cadence and speed, in my mind I could see the gloomy windows of the passenger cars blurring past me as I stood alone in the cold night on the wooden slatted platform of a lonely railroad station somewhere lost in the prairies.
My mind snapped back to the stage. The harmonica player hit some foot pedals and a slew of pre-recorded echoing rhythm harmonicas kicked in along with African drums, sounding like the paws of a cheetah hitting the ground at full speed.
At that point, the train hit warp speed and launched itself into outer space. As musicians would say, “this guy was really cookin’…oh my god, all I could do was stand there, dumbstruck.
And while I stood dead in my tracks (no pun intended), I had the presence of mind to grab my camera.
When the music-train stopped for air, I didn’t know if I should genuflect, bow at the harmonica player’s alter or faint. I finally decided to act like grown-up and sidled up to the harmonica player to thank him. Know what? HE thanked ME for giving him MY energy. Hard to believe how humble he was…this deity of the harp.
He introduced himself as Mike Stevens from Sarnia, Ontario. He said that he was warming up for a harmonica workshop, part of Luminato. I Googled mikestevensmusic.com that night. Turns out Mike is a world-famous harmonica virtuoso. His website is a must.
Mike then got back on his train. And I, reveling in my new level of Mike-inspired creativity, started shooting.
A friend who I took along on the shoot started doing this amazing thing with her hands. When I asked her what and why she was doing this “hand-dance” thing, she said Mike’s music inspired her and reminded her of an ethnic dance she once saw at a friend’s home.
It’s funny how music motivates. Often we don’t realize its impact. Imagine a movie without music in the background (music for movies is a huge industry). It’s a fact that music and visualization powers are located in the same part of the human brain. Maybe that’s why most studio and fashion photographers always have music playing during a shoot.
I’ve always been driven to visualization while listening to music (technical term: synesthesia). Hard rock brings me to the gritty streets of the city while classical takes me to peaceful infinite fields of green (ballads and love songs too). Hey, ever go shooting armed with an iPod or iPhone and headphones? Of course, you have to be mindful (very mindful) of vehicular traffic, trains, airport runways, space shuttle landings, etc. However, once in the web of safety, you may very well experience a sudden moment of revelation when looking at a flower or a friend or a rusty piece of machinery…and you might find that creative keyhole you thought never existed. I found this particular creative keyhole in that indigo-lit cellar with the harmonica player.
So…was it was the cappuccino?
Was it that open door leading to the indigo room?
Was it just dumb curiosity that led us to the keyhole?
(It’s never where you think it should be).
the environment was motivational,
the ideas flowed,
the images were inspiring,
Had I had looked for this experience, would I ever have found it?
I think it was more like artistic free-fall.
I think I landed in a good spot.
I think it just happened. I also think it was the music.
The Indigo Hand Dance