Monday, June 5, 2023

20 Hours To Montréal & the Philip Glass Ensemble- The 2023 Version of Bach's Walk

Story in Four Parts 

by Andrea Wallick, Cellist at Fein Violins

Part 1: Conceptualization 

I was in the thick of finals, having performances every night, working on my massive paper about Einstein on the Beach, and I randomly had the urge to check out what the Philip Glass Ensemble is doing now. There I saw it... the list of performances with one happening on May 24th in Montréal, Canada. With a quick glance at their performance history over the past three years or so, I realized that if I wanted to ever see them live anytime soon, it would have to be at the May 24th Montréal concert. 

Philip Glass Ensemble tour schedule (

The next steps were clear: renew my passport, and if I get it in time, convince someone to embark on the cheapest and fastest trip to Montréal possible with me. 

Some time went by as finals and performances were still happening, and one day (Wednesday, May 10th) I receive a text from my dad: "Andrea's passport is on the way!".

It was actually happening. Now I had to find someone to go with, and I had 14 days to do it. I thought through my musician friends, but no one I know would be able or willing to spontaneously travel that far due to prior commitments or just the presence of sanity. I couldn't go alone, since my parents would absolutely never let that happen, so I decided to have a conversation with my mother and ask her to give me options. "Who do we know that is crazy enough to drive 20 hours with me for the sole purpose of seeing a minimalist concert?" I asked her. She replied: "...Kate?" 

There it was... the answer. My sister. Someone that has a track record of doing things like this and someone that has been asking to hang out with me for a few weeks while I have been too busy to do so. I had also recently introduced her to Einstein on the Beach since it was my entire life for a while as I was researching and writing my paper, and she loved it. She said it was the best thing she had ever listened to as she was put in a trance the first time I broadcast it on the TV. 

Einstein on the TV

So now, the only thing to do was to come up with a feasible way of asking her...

"Hey Kate, will you go to Montréal with me to see the Philip Glass Ensemble? I think they're playing something from Einstein on the Beach." (Lies, they did not have anything from Einstein on their setlist, but I had to do what I had to do) 

"Sure!" she immediately replied.

Just kidding, it wasn't that easy, but it honestly only took one 5-10 minute conversation to convince her. She just needed to know that she could still work on the trip, and since I offered to drive the majority, if not all of the way, we were set. 

I bought the tickets and created a plan in my head: drive 20 hours straight to Montréal in time for the concert, go to the concert, and immediately drive back - a perfect plan without flaws, honestly. 

Ticket confirmation (!!!!!)

With 0 formal plans except for purchased tickets, the week of the concert began, and I finished my last commitment, a rehearsal, at 9:30 on Monday night the 22nd (the concert was on Wednesday the 24th). 

"Has Kate's car had an oil change recently?" my dad asked when I got home on Monday. "Uhhhh probably!" 

Kate also inquired about something - the time that we were leaving. I thought about it for about 2 seconds, and figured 4am on the 23rd (Tuesday) would do just fine. If we took 24 hours to complete the 20 hour drive, it would be 4am on the 24th, and that was a good amount of time before the concert on Wednesday evening.
text conversation between Kate and me

Everything was in order with certainty, clearly, so I finished prepping for the next day by putting some clothes in the washer and making a small packing list. It was about 1am at this point, so with the thought of the 20 hour drive approaching in 3 hours, I set my alarm for 3am, and I tried to sleep. 

Part 2: Progress

I wake up suddenly in a haze, and my sister's face is about a foot away from mine. 

"What's going on?!?" I say with fear and confusion. 

"Let's go!" Kate replies.

I check the time and it's 2am. We were supposed to leave at 4, and honestly I wanted that hour before my alarm to sleep, seeing as I had a 20 hour drive ahead of me. 

My sister just kept repeating "let's go" no matter what I said or what argument I made, so eventually I came to terms with it and decided 1 hour wouldn't do much anyway. 

I glance at my packing list, take about 15 minutes to gather my stuff, and get in the car to go. I'm still slightly peeved at having to wake up earlier than I planned on, so we go get gas and energy drinks while we mentally prepare together for the journey ahead. 

With 6 energy drinks purchased and the GPS set (19hrs and 35mins), we start driving!

The vehicle

There are a few things that have to happen when 2 people plan on being in an enclosed space together for a day straight. The main one is that both people have to be mentally prepared to drive each other insane after a certain amount of time, especially if they are siblings. Kate and I start predicting when this is going to happen so that when the time comes, it's hopefully not too severe. We decide to make arrangements so that both of our minds are continuously occupied and we are both content as long as possible, and in a car there are only a few media choices to accomplish this. Our solution was obvious: Taylor Swift's entire discography in order WITH a set rule that there are no skips. This prevents the possibility that one person will want to skip a song that the other wants to listen to. Kate and I are also going to Taylor Swift's Eras Tour on June 24th in Minneapolis, so listening to her entire discography also allows for some preparation. 

I come up with the idea that we try to start the music as late as possible so we can waste some time while we are both perfectly energized and content to just talk to each other. Our conversation lasts about an hour, and two things happen during that time: 1) We start playing the alphabet game; and 2) we come up with the best joke ever: "Wow look at [insert stupid location visible from the road]! We should go there instead of the concert!"  

Cool sun photo

Eventually it was time to start Taylor Swift's music, and Debut was the perfect album to accompany the long drive through farmville Wisconsin. The drive was mostly uninteresting, and honestly I don't remember much of it. People have consistently asked me about the route or about how the drive was since we got back, but I wasn't really paying attention to it. I had one thing in mind: make it to Montréal in time for the concert, and the only awareness I had of the road was making sure we were safe. There were a few key interesting places or moments, though.

The first time something remotely interesting happened was our first and only stop for pleasure. We drove right by a great lake, and it was so pretty. We decided to stop for 3.5 minutes and gaze out at the water. 

Michigan great lake!

After the stop, we got to drive along the great lake for about an hour, and Red and 1989 were the perfect albums for this. This was quite a nice drive and the perfect preparation for the long stretch of forest road before the border. I say this as if we weren't gradually losing sanity, but it's okay! Taylor Swift kept us content with each other. Until I started singing the Supernatural parody of Shake it Off instead of using the original lyrics... my sister had to take a 15 minute music break and talking break after that... 

great lake drive

When playing the alphabet game for like... 10 hours continuously, it really becomes clear that J and Z are absolute torture to find. At one point Kate became nauseous because of how many signs we were passing without the letter J, and this nausea was only cured once we finally found it. The solution here might seem simple: stop playing the alphabet game. We were already too far in though. It became the culmination of our life's purpose to complete the alphabet over and over and over again. 21 times before Canada, to be exact. We'd try to make an arrangement to stop playing after finding Z, but every time a Z appeared an A was somewhere nearby. It was an obsession, our one mission. The concert didn't matter at this point. The only thing that did was finding the next letter. Our eyes read every letter on every sign and we didn't stop for anything...until...



We switched at the border and Kate drove for 20mins-1 hour. Honestly I don't remember how long I wasn't driving, but existing in the vehicle and not being responsible for moving the vehicle was the weirdest feeling ever. I also took this opportunity to NOT look at the road for a bit. I did miss a few miles... I mean kilometers... of Canadian roads, but that's okay. It was nice to just stare mindlessly at my phone for a bit. Also, I could be responsible for taking the photos, which is so important because Kate is not good at taking photos!!! Sorry Kate if you're reading this, but if you take 6 seconds to open the camera while driving, the thing that I wanted you to capture definitely was passed already. 

Some photos of the bridge:

The Canadian border was actually so easy to cross. People had warned me that they might search our vehicle or ask us a million questions, but in reality the guy checked our passports, asked about 3 questions, made fun of us a little for driving 20 hours for a concert, and let us go on. Maybe we just give off crazy enough energy where our story just makes sense. 

what we looked like at border control

At first it was a bit of a shock with the slightly different road signs and massively different businesses, and the populated part of Ontario lasted for about 30 minutes, and then the long stretches of roads started. Canada is really beautiful, and there is a stark contrast between the roads of America and roads of Canada. It's just much cleaner and the nature is more preserved. There seems to be love and thought put into making sure the roads don't disrupt the natural environment too much. 

At this point we had about 9 hours left, and the roads. did not. change. It was beautiful for a while, but after hours and hours of just trees and road, it got kind of mind numbing. The only thing keeping us sane was reputation and Lover playing in the background. They were energetic enough to keep us alive. We had both lost our voices by this point, since we had been singing the entire time, though, so as Kate said, it was the "most quiet Reputation listening session". Once we got to the forest roads, the loss of sanity progressed at twice the rate of before. Once I spilled an entire energy drink all over me, though, we had to stop because otherwise I was going to lose my mind.

right window view

left window view

So we had our first significant stop of the trip: 15 minutes. It was nice! We got to just sit in the car, and I collected myself before continuing to drive. Kate offered to switch, but I wanted to see if I could accomplish driving 20 hours in a day, so I continued.  

The forest roads got even more beautiful at around 6pm when there somehow were no other cars on the road, and by this point we had reached folklore and evermore in Taylor Swift's discography. These are the perfect albums for this drive, and I felt more at peace with the world and with myself than I ever had before, while simultaneously still losing sanity. I would do this drive again just to be immersed in the massive forest while listening to evermore

long forest roads

small stop to breathe in the forest

sun coming down

Once the sun started going down, the reality of having not slept enough in days and driving for over 12 hours straight set in much more. Also, Kate was attempting to sleep at this point so it was just me, the Midnights album, and the dark roads. Once the sun was completely down, due to the care for the preservation of nature, there was no light pollution, and therefore no streetlights. It was pitch black whenever someone else's headlights weren't in view. 

AMAZING photo Kate took


Time passed so slowly, and existence felt unreal. Eventually we finally started seeing signs for Québec, and at this point I was fully convinced I was dreaming. Like genuinely trying to prove to Kate that we were in a dream. I honestly do not remember the last 2 or so hours of the drive, since it was just dark and long. The only memorable part was the moment the signs turned French and the moment we reached downtown Montréal. 

Amazing sign photo Kate took

To be honest, I had no idea what Montréal was before arriving there. I think I've heard someone say the word Montréal before, but I did not know anything about it. When we got out of the car, I was greeted by a beautiful, European-type city. There were some people out on the streets clearly having fun, and the architecture was amazing. I felt like I could breathe so well once we arrived. 

Approaching the city

Montreal!! C'est Bon!

Luckily Kate is a lot more adult than me in the way that she knew we would want to sleep for at least a few hours in an actual bed, so she got us a hostel. It was the coolest hostel ever! Like what!! It was completely red themed and absolutely perfect to crash in. 

Red hostel (Red Taylor's Verson??) 

You'd think maybe we would sleep in after a drive like that, but nope. I woke up at 7:30. What's the use wasting time in one of the coolest cities ever? Before I fell asleep the night before I had tried to research a bit about what Montréal is and how to get around, where to go, etc. I read that it is famous for its nightlife and food, which wasn't super important to me, so I opted to look for music stores or luthiers instead. 

My sister was having a pretty rough morning, so I embarked on my own journey. The one problem is that it was raining, and of course I did not bring an umbrella, so I just accepted my fate for a while and explored the area around the hostel, figuring that maybe I could visit a music shop or a luthier when it cleared up and when my sister was awake. I found a cool coffee shop and a nice art gallery. 

Rainy morning

Once I came back to the hostel for checkout, I looked like a wet dog. Like it was actually really bad. Also, because Montréal is an artsy, cool, put together city, every person was super dressed up and perfect looking, so I didn't want to visit anywhere too important in the state I was in. I was still holding out hope that somehow it would clear up and my hair would dry. 

view with coffee (!) - the moment I contemplated just moving to Montreal

Kate woke up, and we decided to, again, accept our fate in the rain and travel through the city. We got some food, and we tried to start walking to the luthier. After about 10 minutes of walking in the rain, we realized there was no point in walking because there was no way any luthier would let a soaking wet person play cellos. At this point we were kind of stuck because we had nowhere to go to make ourselves look presentable. We knew we couldn't go to the concert looking the way we did, so we decided to call our dad. 

crepes (!)

wet dog


literally dripping

water on phone

He luckily had worked a traveling job a few years ago and therefore had a ridiculous amount of hotel points saved up, so we were actually able to get a hotel room for free from his points. This was a lifesaver since we were in no condition to go anywhere. We walked (ran desperately) back to the car and drove to our beautiful hotel about 45 minutes away. 

At this point I was so exhausted that even talking to my sister was hard, and I knew I wanted to be fully present for the concert at 7:30, so I took a much needed nap for an hour. It was about 4:30 when I woke up, and to say I felt superhuman is an understatement. Who knew how much sleep could do for such a sleep deprived person? 

Once I woke up, I had to get ready, but I brought no appropriate clothing for an evening concert in Montréal... good job me. I looked at all my options and eventually turned a sun dress into a long skirt. Kate and I also stopped at Walmart before driving back to the city, so I bought a jacket and felt a lot better!
makeshift concert wear!

After stopping for gas, we left for the Salle Bourgie hall in Montréal. 

Scary statue - cool hall

Part 3: The Philip Glass Ensemble

It was time... the entire point of this trip... 

Once arriving at the hall, it did not hit me that we were actually there. We found our seats, and I still was sitting in a mixture of sleep deprivation, and I was coming down from everything over the past 2 days. People filled the hall slowly but surely, and it turned out to be pretty much entirely full. 

One of my favorite things I noticed was the fact that a woman sitting in the row in front of us was wearing pretty much the exact same thing that I was wearing, but her skirt was probably actually a skirt. In any case, I absolutely nailed the outfit choice. 

So sleep excited

our view

But then it was 7:30.. and the lights dimmed... and I had never had more of a burst of excitement in my life. The ensemble came out, all took their seats, and in seconds there was sound filling the hall. 

It felt like every inch of the space and my brain was full of different layers of sound, and it was clear that Philip Glass' composing is beyond human understanding. When sitting, hearing the music live, it felt as if Glass had analyzed sound and brain waves and figured out how to make the perfect coexistence of every layer present. Since these were live musicians, they had to take breaks in their long lines of continuous notes, but those breaks did not impact anything. In fact, the breaks made it all the more impressive because of how long each musician could go without breathing. 

 ensemble arrangement (via Virginia Tech)

Some of my favorite components of Philip Glass Ensemble works are the fast eighth note lines that are shared between two instruments a set interval apart. The musicians play the same note pattern an interval apart and they play it perfectly in time. With the added synth background, the soundscape makes it seem like a million lines of music are happening, when in reality it's usually 2 or 3, from what I heard. 

Another feature that is distinctive to Glass works is the change in meter and time that feels steady. Measures and notes are of different lengths but somehow the music remains almost beat centric and continuous without any loss of structure. It was a sensory experience. 

The chord progressions in Glass' music are also very normal, so the mind is at peace while experiencing them. There is no feeling of uneasiness that is not quickly rectified. I like the contrast of classic chord progressions with the modern quality of sound and irregular beat patterns. 

All of these components create a magical experience that seemingly puts every audience member into a trance. Each piece was about 10+ minutes, but they felt like 30 seconds each. I looked throughout the audience every time a piece ended, and they all seemed to have the same confused expression since it had ended so quickly, but in reality they were of very normal length and we were all just mystified.

MoMA installation of people at a Philip Glass Ensemble concert - the trance is real

Act 2 continued on in the same fashion, and the entire time I felt as if I was 3 different people. One analyzing the musicians, one being put in a trance, and one as a future me looking back on the feelings I was having while listening to the music (I was probably beyond sleep deprived and just losing my mind, but it's honestly probable that Glass' music is just this moving). 

The ensemble (via

Watching the musicians play was insane, though. They're so insanely talented. Their hands move in an almost robotic fashion, not missing any beats or notes, or even if they do they continue on immediately. They are perfectly in time with one another, and their actions seem to defy what is possible. I was impressed by every member of the ensemble, but Lisa Bielawa was especially shocking to me as I am not a singer. The way that she seemingly sang the entire time did not make sense in my brain, and somehow her voice sounded like 5 different people singing, at least. I still do not understand how she accomplished this, but my theory is that, since she plays keyboard as well, she sings the highest note of whatever chord she is outlining and changes the notes underneath so it gives the impression that three people are singing. Since attending the concert I have read some of her articles and interviews and she says she trains like an athlete. I cannot even imagine.

In any case, though I was not extremely familiar with the works that they played, the concert was easily the best one I've ever been to, and I've been to hundreds of extremely amazing concerts at this point. 

The program

They finished playing, and immediately the entire audience was standing up. It was clear that everyone had the same life-changing experience that I did, and we could not stop clapping. The members of the ensemble all lined up at the front to bow and thank everyone for coming, and after seeing how amazing every one of them was, it was so gratifying being able to applaud for them.

Ending formation!!!

Then...the unimaginable happened. Michael Riesman was in the process of speaking French, so I'm not exactly sure what he was saying, but his sentence ended with "'Spaceship' from Einstein on the Beach" and was followed by all of the members reassuming their seating positions and picking up their instruments.

I... absolutely... lost it. Silently, but still. Kate and I gave each other the most shocked, excited, insane look ever, and we silently freaked out while they started playing. After studying Einstein in depth for weeks and thinking that they weren't going to play anything from it, I was unbelievably happy. I started tearing up a bit, which is pretty funny. And wow. As they played I really was made aware of the differences in hearing music live and on a recording, and nothing can compare to the experience of hearing the Philip Glass Ensemble live. 

Once they finished, I was euphoric. It felt like I had reached a new level of existence, but I had to remain focused. I really wanted to talk to someone from the ensemble to meet them, since I know this sort of thing happens at concerts, so Kate and I awkwardly made our way to the stage and waited to see if anyone would come talk to us. Sadly, they were all busy packing and getting ready to leave, and eventually it was long enough where the theater staff had to tell us to leave, but not before Sam Sadigursky smiled and waved at me... yeah I'm never getting over that. 

We made our way out of the hall and I was a changed person. To this day, I'm still coming down from the amazing experience that was attending that concert. And what better to end the night than some handmade pasta from a nice Italian restaurant in Montréal. 

So good omg

Part 4: Future 

The night ended in finally getting a full night's sleep. 

Now the task of getting back home was before us, and there were many different ways we could go about it. Either we drive straight home in the shortest amount of time possible, or we take advantage of the fact that we are across the continent and visit somewhere else. 

Kate brought up the idea of seeing Niagara Falls, which sounded good to me, so on we went with our spontaneity. Our trip became even more unhinged, if that's possible to imagine.


Niagara Falls!


 We got to Niagara Falls, spent about 10 minutes there, and attempted to start the drive back home, but... oh no.

*Oil Change Required*


Okay, so my dad might have been right in checking if we had an oil change, and maybe I should've actually made sure that we got one, but I was eager to get on the road! This particular warning seemed pretty urgent compared to the other ones we had been getting throughout the drive, so I researched what happens if a car goes too long without an oil change, and with words like "total engine failure" and "unusable car", we decided we needed to stop. 

Kate found a really weird college living hotel thing where we each had separate bedrooms and it kind of felt like a prison, but it was a bed, and that's all that mattered.

We had wanted to wake up at 8 and start driving, seeing as I had to be back to teach lessons on Saturday morning and it was now May 26th, Friday morning. Instead we woke up around 11, since we were both dead exhausted. 

We made our way to an oil change place, so now Kate's car's oil change sticker is in kilometers! That might be confusing for the next oil change people, but oh well. 

what Kate saw for 20+ hours

Our drive was supposed to be about 9-10 hours from Niagara Falls, so we just started the journey. This time, I didn't drive the full way. If I had, I might have absolutely lost it. To be honest, I did lose it a little.



More city

Good photo Kate


guess which city this is in

Once we got to the border police, we had a pretty funny exchange. The border into America is a lot more strict, so our car actually did get searched, but the officer was laughing at us the whole time for driving 20 hours to see a quasi-classical concert. It went something like this:

Officer: "What brought you to Canada?"
Kate: "A Philip Glass Ensemble concert in Montreal."
Officer: "What is that?" 
Kate: "It's an ensemble of musicians, kind of like a small orchestra."
Officer: "Where are you from?"
Kate: "Minnesota."
Officer: "Woah. How long is the drive?"
Kate: "20 hours"
Officer: "...are you in the ensemble?"
Kate: "No, we just went to the concert"
Officer: "*laughs* You must REALLY like this ensemble..."
Kate: "Yes, we do!" 
Officer: "Alright! Interesting! Have a good day!" 

The officer also made fun of Kate's snack choice of triscuits while searching the back seat, which like... yeah Kate... that's such a weird snack choice. That's like eating cardboard, but whatever. 

Welcome to the United States!

Kate and I actually had not argued or driven each other crazy at all on the trip really until the drive back. We didn't speak to each other for a few hours through Chicago, since I was losing my mind. She kept asking me if I was okay, to which I would just respond "I'm fine." Eventually I started crying, but still only responded "I'm fine." I cried for about an hour straight. Who knows why? There was no reason other than insanity after being in a car for the majority of the time the past few days and the overwhelming drive ahead. Eventually I finally started talking to Kate again, and we joked about my existential state of being. We got a few videos of me driving, crying, laughing, and existentially losing it. All simultaneously, but those videos will never see the light of day. 

Me after crying

At this point we were both broke and we just needed to get back home. Gas is expensive! I joked that we missed the only interesting thing on the drive (Chicago) because I was crying. So sad. Guess we will have to do the drive again! Just kidding. This was probably a one time thing. Something that I will remember for the rest of my life though. 

The only question now is... who wants to go to Paris with me on October 8th? 

Side Notes: 
  • A big thank you to my sister for going on such an insane trip with me 
  • All of the members of the Philip Glass Ensemble have really amazing projects, and they are worth checking out!
  • Get an oil change before you drive thousands of miles
  • Follow me on Instagram (@andrea.wallick) to see any future insane trips I take (The Philip Glass Ensemble and Sam Sadigursky followed me, which I will never recover from) 
  • Think this is insane? Bach walked (yes walked!) 250 miles to hear an organist he admired!
  • Watching Einstein on the Beach is worth it 
  • Kate actually goes by Kat
  • Ilya survived the hurricane!
  • Fein Violins does not sell hurdy gurdys

A collection of GPS photos:

missed a few due to losing sanity

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