The Ever-Present Raphael Weinroth-Browne

Editor’s Note: Article best read after you press play below.

When people see Raphael Weinroth-Browne playing his cello in Ottawa several times a month, they don’t realize that he actually lives in Toronto. He is ever-present — perhaps not ubiquitous, but close.

He’s one half of Flying Hórses, a third of Musk Ox, and partner to Heather Sita Black, with whom he forms the dark chamber duo The Visit. He’s collaborated on approximately 30 LPs since 2009, according to the staff page of the Ottawa New Music Creators (ONMC), which tapped him as their Artistic Director for the next two years.  He’s an accomplished composer and one of Canada’s greatest cellists according to the 2014 International Cello Festival of Canada.

“I feel really lucky,” he said and all I could think of was the old adage about how the harder you work the luckier you are. This guy works very hard.

Recently he’s learned a lot of the business side of music from simply putting on shows with his various projects and particularly the ONMC. He wants to use his experiences to curate new and exciting music that inspires. ONMC is, for him, a huge opportunity to legitimize not only local but international acts in Ottawa who create and bridge worlds with their music.

“It’s the only organization of its kind,” he said. “Without much, Curtis Perry, the organization’s Executive Director, saved the ONMC on its last legs. It had less than adequate turnouts and poor membership. He made it accessible and revamped the look. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit.”

Curtis Perry invited Raphael to apply as Artistic Director while he did double duty of nursing the organization and booking new shows. Only by September 2015 will Raphael’s programming come to light. ONMC actively works to build the bargaining power of new Canadian music in Ottawa and wants nothing less than real credibility for all its creators.

And with this ambitious new role as well as his several other projects, Raphael moved to T.O. in the fall of 2013 to complete an Artist’s Diploma at the Glenn Gould School. Continuing his education after he graduated with a Bachelor of Music from Ottawa U in 2013 seemed sensible then, but now he’s up to his neck in gigs.

“I have a lot of work now, it’s at a point where school is encroaching on my jobs. A lot of it is recording work and the average this year has been three to four bands a month,” he said. “Last week I worked with two bands from Montreal, one from Vancouver, an Ottawa singer-songwriter and an American band… In any one day it can go from folk to black metal!

“When I started to see the cello as a tool, as my own voice, I knew there was a lot of potential for it to be very personal and unique.”

Until this interview, I was actually under the impression that Raphael let his cello do most of the talking. At a Musk Ox show last July, all he communicated (to me anyways) were the progressive chamber sounds of his cello and quick, short breaths accompanied by headbanging.

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Photo Credit: Jonathan Lorange

Since he started taking piano lessons in his pre-teens, Raph has been composing and improvising music. Throughout high school he created a lot of chamber and metal, for both string and piano.

Nowadays, he’s been so busy performing and working for other musicians that he struggles to make time for his own music. But in recent months three videos of his compositions came online. “Catharsis,” “Aftermath,” and “Shattered Dreams” were each written within a day or two, when Raphael wrangled inspiration out of his fleeting free time. He plays very deliberately, with utmost concentration, but his compositional creativity is hard to predict and he latches on to whatever he can get.

“Writing from scratch — there are no rules,” he reflected. “I just want to make sure I’m not repeating myself.”

The only repetition I see for Raphael over 2015 and beyond will be all the practicing he has to do. Things are happening fast. Flying Hórses’ new album is mixed, the mastering should be complete in May. The Visit will release their debut album in September. Musk Ox’s Woodfall will almost definitely come out on vinyl through a Belgian label, which will nudge open the door to touring Europe. The Old World isn’t new territory to Raphael, who’s been twice to an international art festival in the Czech Republic called Nouvelle Prague — once in 2013 with Little Suns and last year with The Visit.

“It was an eye-opening experience when we first played on the international stage,” he said. “I’ve been traveling a lot and connecting with lots of people, gaining perspective on many scenes. You see how these different places operate. It has informed me that we need to stir things up in a good way. To inspire people to raise the bar.”

He’s a man who would gladly see a strong cultural climate in all cities of the world, but Ottawa is where he’ll put his priority. I’ve faith in where he’s set his sights because, even from afar, Raphael Weinroth-Browne’s aim is true.

The Visit prepare for Prague

There are some musical instruments that really move me but the two that always seem to strike a chord (oops, I punned) are the cello and the voice. The cello has brought me to tears before, and a beautiful voice has given me goosebumps, but never have the two moved me simultaneously the way The Visit‘s fusion of classical and metal influences has. With a perfect marriage between the heavy and the light, this duo keeps my jaw dropped to the floor and my eyes wide with subtle tears.

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Photo by Shankari Euteneier

Okay, enough with the dramatic. Seriously, these two will move even the coldest, most statuesque personality you know.

Heather Sita Black, the goddess behind the vocals, hasn’t had formal training but you’d swear she’s been raised by singing coaches and ear coaches galore. Her range is large, but more importantly, her ability to feel the music is contagious. Perhaps this particular skill stems from her background in interpretive dance, which, if you know anything about, you know that it is a form of dance entirely based on feeling, emotion, and not really any rules. This most certainly translates into the writing process of the songs which Raphael Weinworth-Browne (cello) says are always based on a feeling in the moment.

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Photo by Shankari Euteneier

With no dance background and the limitations of being planted behind a cello, Raphael’s theatrics come to fruition on his face, where it becomes obvious to any onlooker that he has transported to some other world where music has become matter. Growing up, Raphael took the musical road much less travelled and was listening to world music, middle eastern music, metal, and classical. Developing these tastes into a style of music that is somehow desirable to an audience seems an almost unimaginable feat, but The Visit most certainly execute this task with grace.

While the duo have not toured much, they’re headed to play Nouvelle Prague, a new festival only in its second year. A fundraiser for their travels takes place on Friday, September 5th, at Pressed on Gladstone. Cost is a sliding scale from $10-20 and doors are at 8pm.

If you aren’t yet convinced (because how could my written words ever do these two justice) please view the video below and try your darnedest to keep that jaw from hitting the floor.