Taken – Camerata Nova at the ULT March 2017 by Sue Sorensen
While listening to Camerata Nova and friends craft the innovative choral music of Taken on March 4 and 5 in Winnipeg, I tried to find new words for the kind of optimistic but painful healing ritual, the harmonic gift we were all experiencing, both listeners and musicians. “Spirit of generous collaboration” was the phrase I kept coming back to, but I wanted it to sound newer and bolder than that: collaborosity? That Indigenous composers could be so fearlessly giving in their relationship with a choir made up of white singers was humbling and inspirational. The concert program, conceived by Andrew Balfour to be part of Camerata Nova’s contribution to the Truth and Reconciliation process, is a naming of the fact that, as Balfour says, “this country has been built on crushed languages and cultures” but also we can now begin to imagine an alternative version of “this country called Canada.”
“This is a turning point,” said Balfour in a composers’ pre-concert talk. “Change is slowly, slowly happening. And we can’t always talk about this, so that’s why we also have music.” Maliseet singer Jeremy Dutcher, whose Maceptasu (“It is taken away”) is his compositional debut, noted that his piece asks the question “How do we move forward together?” and that we don’t yet know how to answer that. Composer and singer Lindsay Knight, from Muskoday First Nation in Saskatchewan (who raps under the name Eekwol), said this: “To be taken from a homeland is a lot of strain on the human spirit.” But she also displayed astonishing hopefulness when she said (not once, but twice), “We are all compassionate people.”
I hope this is true, and there was certainly an enormous amount of compassion and wisdom in the room during the two performances of Taken I experienced. In the midst of the longest work on the program, Balfour’s Qaumaniq, I strongly felt the truth of this fact: that if even one person is taken away from a community, everyone feels the loss. Balfour’s work, which might be called a short dramatic oratorio or, he said, a “quasi-opera,” presents the encounter in 1576 of Martin Frobisher (sung by Jason Klippenstein, in devastatingly powerful voice) with Ana, a woman of what is now called Baffin Island. When Fred Ford as narrator gravely stated, at the work’s conclusion, the words “She was taken,” one striking effect was that Ana’s song (offered by the awe-inspiring Resolute Bay singer Madeleine Allakariallak) was still hovering in the air around us. And it was important that Allakariallak was still there for us to see, even if we had been told of the loss of Ana. For, as the narration of Qaumaniq says, “the songs of sorrow will stay with us forever.”
Aside from Qaumaniq, there were two other new compositions at this concert, plus other offerings by Eekwol and Jeremy Dutcher. The entire aesthetic of the program was cross-hatched with multiple textures: the sounds were unexpected, personal, mournful, gutsy, full-hearted, even funny. If there was any sense of discord in the music — as in Eekwol’s Taken, where her own powerful and striking rap was offered against the choir’s backbeat of sampled fragments of Canadian “white” pop classics — the dissonance made sense. The contrasts were necessary and good. After all, as Eekwol sang: “Nobody can say when it’ll all come together / Maybe tomorrow, possibly never.”
We’ll need to hear each other’s songs over and over to understand their complexity and full meaning. The questions we’ll continue to encounter are many: how, for example, can one remain firm in non-violent intention when faced with tremendous harm and injustice? What can reconciliation really mean when we are only beginning to know the residential school story and the consequences of the destruction of so many Indigenous languages? “Can you imagine,” said Madeleine Allakariallak in the pre-concert talk, “a community with no kids because they’ve all been taken away to school? Can you imagine it?” No, most of us cannot. So it is appropriate that Eekwol’s lyrics for Taken include the dark lines “Once we are stolen there’s no coming back / Spirits too far, too far from their land.” And when she asks what it means to give back “what was taken when it’s no longer there,” I feel the hollowness of some of our good intentions.
Yet the impact of Taken helps us forward in the essential imaginative work that Canadians of all sorts must nevertheless attempt. To be able to hear each other’s songs — and not only to hear them, but to be gifted with them — is a tremendous first step. Andrew Balfour was even generous enough to offer the opinion that “we are all Anishinabe — we are all The People” and, with my Danish and Scottish and Finnish blood I wondered if I could or should accept that offering. But today, a few days after the concert, I realized I was singing to myself the Mi’kmaq Honour Song so gorgeously performed by Jeremy Dutcher. As Dutcher sang it, the Honour Song was already translated: into Dutcher’s endangered language, Maliseet, and into his handsomely hybrid musical tongue, a graceful movement between the heritage of European classical, traditional Indigenous, and even pop and jazz musical languages. And so perhaps it can be translated again, into a range of musical registers, into the hearts and minds of a variety of peoples. Because what does the Honour Song celebrate? Respect for the earth, the creator, for self and other, for the roots of our communities.
Dr. Liz Przybylski, who teaches Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside, is a former Camerata Nova singer who is researching the way compositions like Andrew Balfour’s Qaumaniq “bring forward aspects of a Western Art Music tradition, drawing on a long legacy of choral music” at the same time as he works within the “living traditions” of Indigenous music. The notion of “living Indigenous tradition” is important; Przybylski told me that “often, the way people talk about Indigenous cultural practices is to associate these with the past – and here is the key difference – at the expense of hearing these practices as part of contemporary culture and the culture of a Canadian future.”
I have some particularly resonant memories of the Winnipeg Taken concerts. Highlights include the sage musical advice of the cello line offered by Leanne Zacharias throughout: in my opinion, a cello never lies, and the sombre loveliness of the atmosphere Zacharias created was so valuable. Jeremy Dutcher’s singing, in his own pieces and in the role of Shaman in Balfour’s Qaumaniq, was a keening of great beauty and an eerily splendid expression of hope. I loved seeing Jason Klippsenstein, who sang the difficult role of the explorer Frobisher, join with the entire ensemble in the encore presentation of Eekwol’s expansive and moving song Ghosts. Everyone was singing — everyone — and this was vital. I recall with fondness Fred Ford’s narration for Qaumaniq, and especially these lines: “The seals were troubled” about the “wolf men of the east.” Ford’s parka and the one worn by Madeleine Allakariallak were attractive traditional garments that instantly identify them as people of certain places: Baker Lake, in Ford’s case, and Baffin Island for Allakariallak’s character Ana. That sense of place is critical. The entire Taken program was not about abstract issues or concepts, but about real people in real places.
Because so much of what we heard during Taken was about the impact of residential schools and other repressive cultural practices on the Indigenous family, I loved seeing Lindsay Knight at the Sunday concert sitting in the audience with her children and partner, right up to the time she went on stage to perform, coming back immediately to see her family as soon as she was done. I shook her small son’s hand and thanked him for sharing his mother with us, and then the family went about its own business. As it should.
I find that I have said relatively little about Camerata Nova as a choral ensemble. They sang beautifully, as they always do. Theirs is a soaring and haunting musicality which also responded to the challenges of the material by offering breezes, clicking, and rustling sounds as needed. In Andrew Balfour’s Qaumaniq there was a quotation from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “the isle is full of noises … that give delight and hurt not.” An apt description of the music of Taken: many of these issues do hurt, but the music heals.
Sophie Nemis Celebrates 100th Birthday
About 135 guests celebrated with Sophie Nemis her 100th birthday on December 3rd 2016 at the Ukrainian Labour Temple. To mark the occasion with friends and family there were 60 talented performing artists as guests that created an outstanding concert. A full service catered turkey dinner, the hall gloriously decorated with white tablecloths, red napkins and vibrant red balloons graced each table especially reserved for each guest.
“Guests greeted Sophie, elegantly dressed in a long black sequined dress with a black bow in her hair & flawless makeup. She looked years younger with a smile that beamed knowing with pride that this was a very special birthday as her daughter Jean Anderson acting as MC created this event. Sophie has the most amazing memory and in seventy years not missing a concert, remembers everyone by name pleasing her guests.
Sophie Borris was the first of seven children and outlived all her siblings Stella, Mary, Ollie, Johnny, Eugene & Mike. Born in Detroit, at two years old moved to a farm in Poplarville Manitoba where she learned early the survival skills necessary for her long life. At seven years old she was getting up at 5 a.m. to help her mother with the many farm chores. There was no central heating, no electricity, no plumbing, no appliances, no TV, no radio or phone. They were not invented. She learned to live off the land and watched her mom give birth in a two room farm house to six of her siblings. At 8 ½ she creatively learned to sew. At 9 ½ she learned to bake bread and at 10 ½ she learned to fully run the farm, saddling the horse with a horse drawn plow with blades of steel to go out into the pasture to cut the grass. She learned early that there was no such thing as an excuse, there was never “I don’t want to do that” She learned to toughen up at an early age and crying was not allowed in farming. To feel depressed would have been a luxury. There was no time to feel sorry for yourself. She learned early the meaning of good nutrition and passed on her skills to her children.
“She learned as a young girl to be resilient, to be responsible, disciplined, creative, innovative & patient with a strong work ethic. She has built strong inner foundations, a fearless little girl who learned not to cry. These virtues overflow in her creating enough love and respect for herself and therefore she has so much love left over for others.”
Sophie’s Nieces & Nephews: Sandra Graham. Patsy Ignaczewski. Marilyn & Fred Borris. Marilyn, Rozanne, Darla, Donna, Lisa & Jimmy Stackaruk. Linda & Diana Borris.
Sophie’s six children: Patricia Dzatko, Jean Anderson, Mary, Dan, Len & Robert Nemis. Sophie’s nine grandchildren: Lisa & Lara Dzatko. Jaclyn, Michelle & Brandon Nemis. Jeannie Alexander, Mikyla Hildebrand, Allie & Sam Nemis. Seven great grand children: Sophie & Max, Brady & Walter, Brooke and Ava, Felix.
The program for the birthday party included;
- The Festival Choir with director Lina Streltsov and pianist Anna Khomenko
- The Yunist Senior Dancers with director Elise Pierre
- The Mandolin Orchestra with conductor Annis Kozub
- Mike Moskal Accordionist
- Ilena Zaramba singing a solo, accompanied by pianist Tusia Kozub
- Three Blind Mice Folk Trio – Annis Kozub, Ilena Zaramba, Murray MacKay
- Kathy Schubert, National Treasure of the AUUC Organization spoke about Sophie
- Letters read from Queen Elizabeth and Governor General Johnston
During dinner there was a slide show presentation with over 500 pictures of Sophie’s life, arranged by Jean and John Anderson. Ludwick Catering and staff provided a wonder full course meal.