Programme note #1 (more formal):
Toontown Follies was written for flutist Karin Aurell, percussionist D’Arcy Gray, and pianist Julien Le Blanc, who, as the Atlantic Tides Trio, performed it numerous times throughout the Maritimes in the Fall of 2007.
My primary source of inspiration was Karin Aurell, an outstanding flutist from Sweden who has become a champion of Canadian music (she was, for a time, the Director of the Canadian Music Centre's Atlantic Region office), and whose enthusiastic support and flawless performances of an earlier work of mine (Memory Quilt, for flute and piano) thrilled me, and made me want to compose more flute music.
“Toontown” is a fictional place, inhabited by cartoon characters, that figures prominently in the 1988 Disney Film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” It has also shown up in other contexts, such as the 1993-1995 television series “Bonkers,” and an Internet, roll-playing game for children (and their parents, in my case) called "Disney's Toontown Online," where players create cartoon characters whose job it is to join with other "toons" in helping to rid Toontown of "cogs," who are evil, corporate-controlled robots patrolling the streets.
My 6-year-old son enjoyed playing Toontown Online and, being a responsible parent, I would assist him with it, even when he was not around, and with that as a background, I composed this work. I named it “Toontown Follies” both to communicate its lighthearted and playful character, and because I thought my son would get a kick out of the title.
Programme note #2 (more long-winded, but possibly more entertaining):
I blame it on my son. And my wife; she bears some responsibility as well.
Like most kids, my 6-year-old son is is quite fond of video games, and my wife discovered an on-line game called "Disney's Toontown Online for him to play. I thought nothing of it at the time, of course. At some point — I don't remember when, exactly; it's all a blur to me now — my son asked for some help with the game, which is an interactive, role-playing game where players create cartoon characters whose job it is to join with other "toons" in helping to rid Toontown of "cogs," who are evil, corporate robots patrolling the streets of Toontown. Toons can defeat cogs by using a variety of clever attacks, called "gags," such as dropping grand pianos on their heads, squirting them with seltzer bottles, or laying railroad tracks in front of them, luring them onto the tracks through hypno-goggles, and then conjuring up a high-speed train that ploughs through the cogs with impressive efficiency.
The concept of helping one's children is one I strongly endorse, so I dropped whatever I was doing and gave my son some assistance with his game. Presumably because he found my help to be invaluable, Andrew asked for more of it the next day, and I believe the pattern repeated itself for several days after that. And so, it became a father-son bonding experience.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I can see now that things perhaps started to unravel a bit when I decided I would help my son's toon along — toons become more powerful by defeating lots of cogs — by periodically playing when my son was at school. "Aha!" you say, reading this now; "That was a BIG mistake!" And so it was, gentle reader.
One thing led to another, and there I was, helping my son's toon character ("Crazy Buster Wackyclunk") in my son's absence one day, when lo and/or behold, I detected that the phone was ringing in that persistent way that is so characteristic of those devices, so I felt compelled to answer it.
"Hello," said my friend, Karin Aurell, "how's that piece you promised me coming along?"
"Piece?" said I, "Coming? A long …?"
When unsure of what a person is talking about, it is sometimes useful to repeat random words they have just said, giving your brain a little more time to catch up with the situation.
"Yeah," was her remarkably calm reply; "the one you said would be finished tomorrow?"
Well, this clarified things immediately, of course, so I quickly said, "Ah, yes! That one! It's, er… well, that is to say… Now, here's the thing, Karin — You don't mind if I call you Karin, do you? No, of course not! I mean, it's your NAME, after all! Silly of me to even ask, really! — In any event…" I prattled on in this mindless vein for a while, eventually communicating the embarrassing truth to my dear friend, which was that I was running a wee bit late with this particular composition. What with one thing and another — busy busy busy! — the piece had not actually been started, per se.
And so, concerned over the sudden-onset apoplexy I thought I detected on the other end of the telephone line, I was spurred by a flash of inspiration the intensity the likes of which I very possibly had never felt before, I abandoned my Toontown game and rushed down to my studio to begin writing a piece for flute, percussion, and piano, as had been requested some months previously. If you have read programme notes for some of my other compositions, you may know that the process of composing is often a slow, laborious one for me, probably because I nit-pick constantly, editing and re-writing to an absurd degree sometimes, until I feel I won't be too embarrassed to hear it in public. Toontown Follies was by necessity a completely different composing experience; I blazed through it as fast as I could, with very little nit-picking on my part, finishing in about 7 days.
The reason I felt I absolutely had to write this piece (aside from the fact that I had promised to do so) is that I am a HUGE admirer of Karin Aurel. She is an outstanding flutist from Sweden who has become a champion of Canadian music (she was, for a time, the Director of the Canadian Music Centre's Atlantic Region office), and messing up the opportunity to have her play my music would have been one of the most ignominious blunders of my career!
I had no plan of any kind when I started, nor did I have any idea of what kind of mood or character I wanted to explore in this piece, but, after working on it for about an hour, fresh from my Toontown-playing experience, it became apparent that this was turning out to be a light-hearted, quirky, fun piece, and thus, the idea for this composition to be my take on cartoon music took shape.
As for blame, well, I don't really blame my son or wife for my colossal memory lapse (I had never before forgotten a promise to write a piece for someone! Never!) I blame the cogs. If they hadn't been patrolling the streets of Toontown, I would not have become addicted to dropping grand pianos on their heads.