Play Harder: I Love this World (Entry 1)

Play Harder: I Love this World (Entry 1)

Posted 22 October 2015 by Maria Millar
Maria Millar. Photo : Josh Cutillo Maria Millar (Photo: Josh Cutillo )

Read the other posts in Maria Millar's Play Harder series:


I love this world.

And I have my tiny New York City apartment to thank.

Cooped up in our cramped abode – after several years in even tinier Juilliard dorm rooms – Shawn Wyckoff and I were ready to blaze a trail out of Manhattan. So we bought a $500 minivan, found a Craigslist sublet in Salt Lake City, booked a “tour” (a couple library concerts bookending weeks of hiking & biking) and voilà – Sonic Escape, our flute and violin group, was born. 

Never mind the transmission that broke 10 minutes into our trip. Or the chorus of protests and vomit from Tiger & Ninja, our beloved kitten brothers we’d recently found on the banks of the Hudson River. It was 2009 and we were on tour!

Fortunately for Sonic Escape, our subsequent tours have yielded fewer hikes and more concerts.  We’ve zigzagged across North America, performing in 30+ provinces and states, and what began as a desire to see nature (a.k.a. anything but Manhattan) has evolved into a desire to connect with people.  A single stranger with a generous spirit is all it takes to make a new community feel like home; I am so thankful that Shawn and I encounter at least one wherever we go.

Serendipity on a level almost too incredible to comprehend came about when we added home swapping to the mix (you stay in someone’s home and they stay in yours). It’s like Airbnb, but instead of money, the currency is trust, curiosity and a joy of sharing. Turns out our tiny NYC apartment has 2 draws – its location, and its vacancy while we’re on tour. Around the same time, we discovered error fares for Canada and the U.S. (when an airline accidentally publishes a flight WAY too cheaply and you have a short window to book it before it disappears). We’ve flung ourselves as far as India, Japan and Italy – book first, then figure out the rest through home swaps and chance encounters with generous spirits along the way. It always works out, even when it doesn’t. And each time, I remember how much I love this world.

Here’s a 2-minute video by Sonic Escape that tells our story:

“So now what,” I asked myself. It was this past March, and I was enjoying a gorgeous home swap in Canmore, AB as Shawn skied for a few days during Sonic Escape’s Canadian tour. I’d given myself the week to contemplate our next project and apply for a Canada Council for the Arts grant. As I thought of all the beautiful, wildly diverse places we’ve visited across North America, and the countless people who’ve embraced us into these communities, I realized I want to compose a symphonic work – featuring solo flute & violin – that captures this vibrancy for everyone to experience. And when we perform this work, I want to lead up to it with community-based activities that connect us with our environment and the people working to protect it. The project is called Four Seasons Rising.  You can read more about it here:

Over the next 36 weeks, I’m going to check back regularly to share stories, pictures, videos and interviews as the project develops.  I’ve just arrived in Cape Breton, NS to research and compose the first movement – Fall – and it is ridiculously beautiful. But more about that next time!

Thanks for reading,



Maria Millar. Photo : Josh Cutillo

About the Author: Maria Millar

Play Harder is a regular series by Maria Kaneko Millar chronicling the creation of Four Seasons Rising, a project funded by Canada Council for the Arts that involves going to four corners of Canada and the US – Nova Scotia, Florida, Nunavut and California – to research, shoot footage and compose a symphonic work for Sonic Escape with orchestra. Maria is the violinist & composer of Sonic Escape, a duo of Juilliard graduates whose blend of hyper-instrumentals, stories, dance moves and original works is "wonderfully imaginative... with a wide-ranging, anything-goes sense of fun.” (The Washington Post@sonicescape

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