After wrapping up a tour in support of his first album, Ottawa-born composer and pianist Frank Horvat decided to get out of the city and spend some time on a farm in rural Ontario.
It was there, last fall, that his thoughts on how music could coalesce with his passion for environmental issues gave rise to the concept behind his second recording, “A Little Dark Music.”
“One glance at the album cover and you might think it’s a dark or gloomy musical compilation,” Horvat says over the phone from his home in Toronto.
“But it’s sort of a paradox or a play on words; I’m trying to be ironical here. A lot of the music on the CD, overall, is very uplifting and positive.”
The 37-year-old is taking his music across the country on a national tour that is showcasing not only his music but an ecologically sustainable way of life that Horvat is equally as passionate about.
“Not only can I share this music, but I also get a chance to demonstrate that it is possible within our society, especially in the music world, to think about your actions and your carbon footprint.”
For the more than 50 shows spanning all 10 provinces, Horvat is flying only four times, and the events are being offset with the purchase of carbon credits “so the money can be invested into green energy projects that will minimize the impact of (the tour).”
“Most of the places we go we travel by bus or train,” he explains.
The Green Keys Tour is being sponsored by Bullfrog Power, a clean energy company that operates in six provinces and serves clients by injecting renewable-energy electricity into their grid to match their household or business’ energy usage.
But the green aspect of the tour goes beyond energy usage: there are no concert programs, and all CDs and posters are printed on Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper using vegetable ink. And Horvat will wear either second-hand clothes or clothes made from organic materials.
The tour is generating media attention across the country, but his strong commitment to environmental issues is only part of the reason.
Horvat’s eclectic approach to composing the album is both unique and compelling.
Having performed in rock, jazz and blues bands, he says he’s not inhibited by any kind of mould or style.
“So what comes out is this hybrid of musical ideas.”
“Working With The Sun” is a shorter, upbeat, rhythmic number inspired by a non-profit group that delivered renewable energy to children in South Africa.
To emulate the rhythmic elements of African-style percussion, Horvat placed cardboard on the piano strings and achieved something similar to the sound of a mbira.
“The Week After” addresses the emotions evoked by the events of Sept. 11.
“It grasps what it’s like to struggle with something so emotional and what it feels like to be numbed by the whole thing,” Horvat explains.
“Just feeling what the moment was at that time.”
“Poverty” is a dark, sombre composition based on the statistic that a child dies from poverty every three seconds.
“I decided to compose the piece with a theme or idea of organizing it three beats per bar,” he says.
“And those three beats are three seconds. So there’s symbolism in the way the piece goes down.”
The album’s centrepiece is “Earth Hour,” which has the added novelty of being a 60-minute piece.
While supplying the background music for a “who’s who of Toronto’s elite” Earth Hour party along the skyline of the city’s financial district last year, Horvat found himself alone in the dark with his piano after the lights went out and everyone had gathered elsewhere to hear dignitaries speak.
“Sitting there, completely in the dark in this strange place, it hit me like a bolt of lightning that I can’t remember any time in my life sitting in darkness and playing piano,” he recalls.
“I realized that you can feel a lot of good things, feelings of contentment and introspectiveness and spirituality.
“While improvising, I started to think philosophically about how music can depict darkness. Months later, I had so many memories of that evening that I decided to try to emulate a dedication to darkness and all the different emotions you can feel within it.”
At his performances, the lights go out for “Earth Hour” and Horvat says he often feels like a “third party” in the situation because of the perceived connection “between the music, the audience and the darkness that they’re all sitting in.”
Horvat brings The Green Keys Tour to St. John’s Saturday with a performance at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and admission is free.