Yesterday was the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Royal Conservatory and Koerner Hall marked it with a free concert curated by Denise Bolduc, Mervon Mehta and Sarain Fox who doubled up as an extremely engaging host for the evening.
It was really a concert in three parts. There was traditional ceremonial, prayer, drumming and dance from Banakonda Kennedy-Kish, Nimkii and the Ninis and Charging Horse Singers. There was also very moving, and ultimately hopeful, testimony from Aunty Mary, a survivor of the residential school system. The dancing featured performers from multiple generations from an elder to a very young girl. If the residential school system aimed to erase Indigenous culture by breaking the links between generations it clearly failed. And that’s a failure to celebrate. It was also a reminder, a few days after Fiona, that Truth and Reconciliation and environmental issues are intimately connected. Indigenous wisdom teaches us that we are all connected and our survival is tied up with the survival and health of every other life on the planet. Bewailing the residential school system while building new oil pipelines is a form of schizophrenia.
Next was the piano quintet arrangement of Ian Cusson’s Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dumont performed by Rebecca Cuddy, Philip Chiu and the New Orford String Quartet. I’ve not got much to say about these songs that I haven’t said before but “The Devil’s Language” reminded me that if the residential school system didn’t succeed in breaking generational links it got a damn sight too close. The lemur and I were sitting in the gallery behind the stage which is a very strange way to experience art song. Rebecca was in fine voice but I’m sure I’ve never spent so long staring at her shoulders!
After the interval it was two sets of songs by Tomson Highway with Patricia Cano as vocalist and assorted musicians backing. Highway was funny. Cano was extremely committed and engaged and the audience, most of whom were likely there for just this, lapped it up. Me, not so much. “Country and Northern” just isn’t my thing. Chacun à son gout.
We closed out, appropriately, with all the performers on stage for a final prayer. In summary I liked the way that Indigenous tradition and Indigenous engagement with settler art forms were merged into a coherent, moving and meaningful evening. A new tradition perhaps?
The pictures here are all screen caps taken from the free live stream of the concert which is still available to watch here.