01 May 2014

Thoughts from an Artist Residency



I have spent the last week in an artist residency with my ensemble, Verismo Trio, at the amazing Brush Creek Ranch south of Saratoga, WY. So, I haven’t been trying out any new recipes lately, but I have had a hearty helping of ranch life in the past few days.

What is an artist residency, you may wonder?  The generous owners of Brush Creek Ranch (who make some pretty impressive haul here during tourist season, I imagine) give us lodging with maid service, practice spaces with super-expensive pianos, and feed us all day so that we can just Make Art.  It is kind of ridiculous.  We even tell them what groceries to buy for breakfast, though they make lunch and dinner and bring it in, so we don’t even have to think that hard about the other meals.  I stumble in to the kitchen around 6am, clumsily pour homemade granola into a bowl and top it with yogurt, shovel it in, and head straight to a practice cabin, where I play for two hours straight. Mid-morning, I take a break to hike or run on one of the many trails on the property, which might afford a panoramic view of the entire ranch, or I may choose to stay low and run along a creek and cross the aptly named swing bridge back and forth.  Then I come back, practice a little more, and when I am hungry, there magically appears a very generous spread of soups, sandwiches, and salads in the kitchen for my amusement.  Tin the afternoon I repeat the process, replacing individual practice with trio rehearsal and my individual run with a group hike, and after dinner I catch up on email and drink wine. I am a very spoiled lady.

Many people (particularly family members) have asked why the hell anyone would pay for us to just be selfish for two weeks.  I don’t know.  Maybe they like being part of the creative process in some way.  It probably sounds pretty unfair that we get to just lay around like babies, playing and being fed all day.  But in our defense, the arts have a centuries-old history of relying on wealthy sponsors, and particularly in the good old U.S. of A., we still largely do.  I am not curing cancer with my music, so I think this is understandable, but classical music, visual art, and most other artistic disciplines are drastically underfunded in this country, and there is very little support even for arts education, which probably explains why we feel like we can so easily live without the arts in our adult lives.  Imagine if there were no sports in the schools--after a few generations, how many people would think that watching football is fun?  (Can anyone explain why this is fun, by the way?)

Most artists make their livings in other ways, with what we call “day jobs” that usual fall into the public service category, or if you’re very lucky (and highly over educated), you might teach your guts out every semester.  There is not much time in this schedule to actually practice your craft, however. So, it is with immense gratitude that I participate in this residency, and I promise you that we are all doing real things here (well, if you buy into the concept that making art is real).  In one week, we have learned the same amount of music that would normally take us a semester to get a handle on, and we have another week to go!  The writer with a tiring, unrelated day job has been in her cabin night and day without distractions from everyday life, and she doesn’t have to worry about how she’ll pay for her meals for four whole weeks, because Brush Creek Foundation has that covered.  She’s working on a novel. It’s pretty amazing.

Besides this long-winded, meandering thank you to the place, I am gleaning some little tips on eating and living on the ranch:

A generous smear of Vaseline is really the best way to prevent windburn on your cheeks at windy mountain peaks.

Ranch dogs do not like walking on bridges hanging over water, but they will do it anyway, just to please you.

A female moose will get pretty nervous when you appear nearby.  Mule deer don’t give a shit. They are honey badgers.

A sandwich, grain salad, and a cup of soup is the perfect fuel for lunch. Israeli couscous with chopped fresh herbs, plain yogurt, a little garlic, and salt and pepper or quinoa with lemon juice, chopped red onion and cucumber, and crumbled feta are easy grain salads that keep well refrigerated.   Wraps willed with chopped vegetables, arugula, and smoked salmon work for lunch or the next morning’s breakfast.  And roasted red peppers thrown in a blender with a little stock of your choice makes a perfect cup of soup.

It’s kind of nice only checking your email once a day.