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Boundarywater Trio on northern Michigan, unique instruments and an 'extremely photogenic turtle'

Boundarywater Trio L to R: Gary Schils, Stephanie Cope, Bill Wilson
Boundarywater Trio, from left: Gary Schils, Stephanie Cope, Bill Wilson

Violinist Stephanie Cope, guitarist Bill Wilson and percussionist Gary Schils played original tunes and talked about how they got together.

The musicians of the Petoskey-based Boundarywater Trio have been playing together since 2016.

The group first formed after violinist Stephanie Cope invited guitarist Bill Wilson to play solo in a concert series that she was organizing at the time.

After the concert, Wilson told Cope he was tired of playing by himself and was looking for other people to make music with.

Cope volunteered herself, and the two began playing as a duo. Gary Schils, the group's "wizard of percussion," joined soon afterwards.

Many of the instruments Schils plays are ones he found or created himself, like a tractor valve that he found in a tool and die shop that he uses as a bell.

"I've never heard a better bell," Schils said.

He discovered that the wrench he uses to tune his drum can also be used to play the windchimes.

"You get metal on metal, which gives it a more tangy feel," Schils explained.

Gary Schils plays just a few of his percussion instruments in IPR's Studio A, including a bell that used to be a truck valve
Kacie Brown/IPR
Gary Schils plays just a few of his percussion instruments in IPR's Studio A, including a bell that used to be a truck valve

The Boundarywater Trio's music has deep roots in northern Michigan.

Many of their original tracks are connected to the region.

For example, Bill Wilson was inspired to write "Maggie's Blue Marble" after attending a Water is Life Festival event in Petoskey.

"Part of that ceremony was to give each person a blue marble to represent the earth," Wilson explained. That's the "blue marble" of the title.

He was also working on a jig-like tune inspired by the music of Al Petteway. Petteway has a track called "Maggie's Reel" and also records on the label Maggie's Music.

Those two inspirations combined and created "Maggie's Blue Marble."

The group even filmed a music video for "Maggie's Blue Marble" (featuring the real-life adventures of Wilson's blue marble) at Raven Hill Discovery Center in East Jordan.

The video (available below) includes guest appearances by Checkers the corn snake and what Cope called "an extremely photogenic turtle."

And how did they come up with their name?

"It's hard to come up with a name that's both nice and not taken already," violinist Cope said, laughing.

They chose "boundarywater" because it reflects both the beauty of northern Michigan and the group's style of playing.

All three instruments are equal in the trio, as opposed to one always accompanying another.

"We like to weave the melody over and around each other and share," Cope explained. "There are boundaries between our instruments, but it's like waves on a shore."

Almost all of the music the Boundarywater Trio performs is composed by one member of the group, although they do occasionally play existing traditional tunes. They're considering branching out into more of a "jam session" or collective compositional process in the future.

"I think we're going to be forging into new territory soon," guitarist Wilson said.

Boundarywater's Stephanie Cope will perform Saturday at 7 p.m. in Bay View with fiddler Hannah Harris Ceol and composer and singer/songwriter Tony Manfredonia. Learn more here.

Music performed in Studio A (all pieces are composed by the members of the trio)
Morning Paddle
Maggie's Blue Marble / Snowshoe Hare
Green Mountain Waltz

This edition of Studio A was engineered by Stefan Wiebe.

Kacie Brown is IPR's digital content manager.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.