Singing our songs

marionnewmanThe latest concert in the Confluence series featured Marion Newman and friends addressing the question “What is Indigenous classical music?” through a carefully curated programme of works; all of which featured words by Indigenous women.  We began with Marion singing Barbara Kroall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost) with words in Odawa describing the earth going to sleep for the winter with flute accompaniment by Stephen Tam.  It was followed by Rebecca Cuddy singing three of the Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dumont by Ian CussonThese are really fine settings of interesting, pithy, angry texts that have a wicked humour to them.  I particularly like Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald which I’ve written about before.

We got selections from two recent operas as well.  Scenes four, five and the ending of Dean Burry’s Shanawdithit to words by Yvette Nolan were sung by Marion and Rebecca reprising the roles they played in the stage version with Evan Korbut singing Cormack.  I’ve written at length about this piece(*) and I admire it a lot.  The ending still kills me.  It was really good to hear some of it again

We also got extracts from Brian Current’s Missing to a libretto by Marie Clements.  This opera deals with the pressing issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and has been seen now in several cities in western Canada.  It was my first chance to hear any of the music and I now want to see it even more than I did before (if that’s possible).  Rebecca sang the Mother’s aria in English, Evan gave us the Brother’s aria in a mix of Gitxsan and English and Rebecca and Marion sang the Language Lesson duet.  Last night we had piano accompaniment (Gordon Gerrard) but it was still very recognisably Brian Current music.  Please somebody bring this work to Toronto!

The evening concluded with Marion’s own lullabye for her sister, Kinanu.  I have now heard Marion sing this a ton of times and I still love it.  I heard someone else sing it once too!

So, a thoughtful evening of English, Odawa, Gitxsan and Kwak’wala songs written, composed, sung and played by musicians and poets from a wide variety of First Nations, Métis and settler backgrounds.  It’s thought provoking as well as very enjoyable as Confluence concerts tend to be.  It’s repeated tonight at 8pm at Heliconian Hall with a pre show talk at 7.15.

(*)Review of Shanawdithit for Opera Canada.

 Conversation with Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan about the creation of Shanawdithit.

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