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SFCM Grad Releases Album to Raise Relief Funds

Composer and cellist Nicholas Denton Protsack is releasing a collaborative album of experimental music which will raise relief funds for families in need.

December 1, 2021 by Mark Taylor

From vocals and classic cello, to percussion and boiling water, Firebird aims to be an album unlike any other, and is helping those in need in the process. The album of experimental music is the work of a trans-continental collaboration of several musicians including recent SFCM graduate Nicholas Denton Protsack.

Firebird came to light after Protsack met creative partner composer Andrew Stauffer as well as Kythe Heller, a poet who had just released a semi-autobiographical book called, "Firebird". Protsack and Stauffer make up the music partnership of Sounds Like Things. Heller hoped to create a book on tape, and that’s where the musical duo came in. “Andrew and I were so taken with her writing that we volunteered to collaborate with her, and create an entire album of music to accompany the beautiful recitations of her poetry,” Protsack said. 

The album was conceived and created during the height of the pandemic while Protsack was living in his home province of British Columbia, Canada, and Heller along the East coast of the United States, “We had a lot of Zoom calls, late nights recording in living rooms, and many other sonic elements,” Protsack added. He describes the album as an example of new forms of creativity emerging during a global pandemic. The album includes classical music, but also the sound of what Protsack calls “non-instruments” like fire, snow, and field recordings, “Kythe's poetry and her recitation style has a lot of subtleties and flavors, ranging from beautiful to grungy, sorrowful to ecstatic, so we wanted to employ a similar musical arsenal.”

The album was also created while British Columbia was dealing with torrential storms and a record-breaking wildfire season that left numerous families homeless. It inspired them to donate 50% of proceeds from the album to relief organizations like the Canadian Red Cross. “My hometown, Kelowna, was almost entirely spared from the worst damage in the province. I think it is important for communities to recognize when they are in a position to help other communities that are facing hardship, and to contribute what they can.” 

Protsack credits his education from SFCM in preparing him for such a creative venture. “Out of the three of us, I was the one who had the most 'traditional' musical upbringing. It allowed me to bring to the table the extensive training in theory, orchestration, musical form, and sound design I acquired while at SFCM,” he said. Protsack graduated in 2019 after studying cello under Jean-Michel Fonteneau and Jennifer Culp, and then composition with David Garner. “I like to think my training helped us realize the overall architecture of the album in a big way, which was essential because it clocks in at almost an hour long,” Protsack added. 

Firebird dropped November 30th and is now available.