In a stunning example of the link between music and fly fishing that purely justifies this futile endeavor I call a blog, the Minneapolis Star Tribune today interviewed the classical pianist and avid fly fisherman, Layton “Skip” James. He also apparently built the harpsichord pictured above which most deftly illustrates yet another facet of my DIY-Fiddle and Creel manifesto. I love it when a plan comes together.
f it has a keyboard, Layton James has probably played it in his 41 years with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Harpsichord, piano, organ, celesta — all have sung to his touch.But James (known universally as Skip) has also been a force away from the keyboard. A prolific composer — the only SPCO player whose music the ensemble has commissioned and performed — he’s made arrangements for the orchestra, written cadenzas for colleagues and created an entire liturgical repertoire for his congregation (Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson, Wis., where he remains music director). He’s been a conductor, lecturer and fundraiser. He’s built three harpsichords during his tenure and spent countless hours tuning them.
The orchestra’s longest-serving principal player, James, 69, retires after this weekend’s concerts (though he’ll continue to offer his inimitable pre-concert talks). We spoke last week in a St. Paul cafe.
Q You have quite a reputation as a fly fisherman. Do fishing and music complement each other?
A They do. The brainpower you need to be a successful fly fisherman is very much what you need to be a good chamber musician. You need to be aware of your surroundings.
Q Who’s your favorite composer?
A Bach. No piece of his is done until all its possibilities have been shown. He’s always an inspiration.
His explanation of Bach’s need to play out all possibilities speaks directly to a fly fisher’s obsession to find the right fly the picky trout is rising to during a smorgasbord insect hatch like we found on the Au Sable a few weeks ago. It was pure madness, the amount and variety of bugs on the water. It tested our patience but we were rewarded for our efforts. After trying every fly in our box, we decided it was a spinner, and that is what she took. Only after we played out all the other possibilities.