Concert Notes

Fugitive Voices

Fugitive Voices
Bramwell Tovey
b. Ilford, United Kingdom / July 11, 1953

Owen Sound, Ontario, is famous as the birthplace of the World War I Ace Billy Bishop, and as the site of the grave of artist Tom Thomson. Since 2004, it’s been home to the Sweetwater Music Festival. Mark Fewer is the Artistic Director of the festival and a former concertmaster of the VSO. In 2007 he commissioned composer/conductor Bramwell Tovey to write a piece to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Owen Sound, and to celebrate the region’s historic role as the terminus of the Underground Railroad. The result was the composition Fugitive Voices, inspired by the written records left behind by American slaves who found sanctuary in Canada.

Uncle Tom’s Cain may be the most familiar tale about the Underground Railroad (it was even adapted as the mini-morality play within the musical The King and I). The American author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, and the book is credited with having "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War." Today some people criticize the tale as the source of politically-incorrect stereotypes, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of a fellow human being. What you may not know is that it was inspired, in part, by memoirs published under the title The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.

Similar narratives have been collected in a scholarly work by Sterling Lecater Bland, Jr., titled Voices of the fugitives: runaway slave stories and their fictions of self-creation. That book provided both the title and individual words and passages for Bramwell Tovey’s work Fugitive Voices. Written for a small string ensemble and three soprano voices, it brings to life some of the perils faced by the victims, and the comforting balm of faith that they found in biblical teachings.

In a CBC interview at the time of the work’s première, Bramwell Tovey described the impact of “ these incredibly powerful words from these slaves – they’re so direct, they have no artifice, they have no kind of fancy literary camouflage designed to make them read better on the page. In order to write this piece I had to keep really true to those witness impact statements."

Property…A boy must be whipped!...He called two dogs...They bit me…The marks of the teeth are all around my knees...I took to the woods...

“There were a number of concepts that just sort of slammed into my quasi-waspish consciousness…the sheer concept of property and of one human belonging to another. There were so many of these words– goods, chattels, even words like dogs. I thought well why not deal with the actual word itself which is why the piece begins with this very pompous voice just saying the word “PROP-er-ty!”

“The more I got into it the more I thought that music can actually express something of the unspoken response to this dreadfully violent subject. In the philosophical sense professed by Schopenhauer, music is a language purely in tones that takes over where words seek to function. I wanted to provide some redemption…to depict the dignity of the people and the fact that their story was told, and that nothing can remove the dignity of any human being.”

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God! With all thy heart and all thy soul with all thy strength and with all thy mind, And thy neighbor as thyself.

He called two dogs. They bit me, They bit me. I knew the dog would go for my throat.

“There is a juxtaposition of faith and redemption alongside the violence and hypocrisy. When you write a piece, when you get near the end you so desperately want to get to the end it just possesses you, it takes you over. When I hit these bars, I actually found it…extraordinarily cathartic to write these bars. With this ‘Amen,’ I had this feeling of was looking into a high vaulted building, perhaps with stained glass, and the feeling of release, and reaching for the heavens. That’s what I wanted to depict. In a sense too it was a release for me.”

Texts: (extracted from) Sterling Lecater Bland, Jr.: Voices of the fugitives: runaway slave stories and their fictions of self-creation. (2000) ISBN-13: 978-0275967079

Property, Property, Property, Property
A boy must be whipped!...Whipped! Whipped!

I would not be whipped

He called two dogs...
They bit me, They bit me
The marks of the teeth are all around my knees...
I took to the woods, the woods, the woods... 

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God!
With all thy heart and all thy soul
with all thy strength and with all thy mind
And thy neighbor as thy self. 

But who is my neighbor?

On the road where you fell among thieves,
And they wounded you, leaving you for dead,
When a Samaritan journeyed there and when he saw you he had compassion,
bound your wounds, pouring oil and wine and took care of you. 

My master was a preacher who on sabbath read the text
that if we strived in this world he would love us in the next.
But when we saw him Monday he would treat us all like dogs.
We were his goods and chatters He'd a God giv’n right to flog.
I saw him on some mornings take a husband's place in bed,
and crush the wife beneath him, how she cried until she bled!
At last he seized my children, and took them off to sell,
But on the Sunday morning preached against the fires of hell. 

Property, Property, Property, Property...
A boy must be whipped!...Whipped! Whipped!
I would not be whipped

He called two dogs
They bit me, They bit me
I knew the dog would go for my throat.


Program Notes 2017 VSO (Matthew Baird, with thanks to CBC Producer Madonna Hamel).

Anna Höstman
b. Bella Coola, British Columbia / June 2, 1972

Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx— Singing the Earth — 11 Pieces about a Place
This work is an artistic response to the people, environment and spirit of the Bella Coola Valley of coastal British Columbia. It draws on historical and contemporary sources in four languages (Nuxalk, Norwegian, English and Japanese) to create 11 short pieces about an isolated and beautiful place—

1. moss 2. smallpox 3. potlatch ban 4. three Bella Coola stories (the folly of deer, mink and cloud, herring and olachen) 5. halling 6. field notes 7. cannery 8. quiet; stille 9. lonesome lake 10. glossary 11. near

Created with Stó:loˉ installation artist Dylan Robinson, Kwagiulth mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, Patrick Nickleson, the kind assistance of people from the Bella Coola Valley, and Toronto’s Continuum Ensemble, Singing the Earth incorporates text, installation, video, audio interviews, photography and erasure poetry. Over the two years of its creation, we made three trips to the Valley, interviewing residents about their culture and history, about loss and regeneration of language, and changing relationships with the environment. We spent hours walking along its rivers and creeks, through its moss and devil’s-club-filled forests, filming, photographing, and listening. The resulting concert-installation for mezzo soprano and chamber ensemble offers glimpses into its history, stories, and ongoing currents of loss and change.

Some texts were created through erasure "I 'whited-out' text of McIlwraith’s 1920s anthropological study The Bella Coola Indians, leaving fewer than 10 words on each of the 672 pages. Erasing this proportion of text was a reflection of language loss: in 1890, there was 100% fluency in BC first nations languages. By the year 2010, this had plummeted to 5.1%. In Bella Coola, we learned that increasing the understanding of and everyday use of the Nuxalk language in the community is very close to the heart of many residents."

installation and composition
Anna Höstman’s music seeks out tactile encounters with the world while extending into story, memory, and landscape. Described as "suggestive, elegant" and "hauntingly beautiful", her works have been performed in Canada, China, the U.K., Mexico, Italy and Russia. From 2005–8, she was Composer-in-Residence of the Victoria Symphony during which time her opera, What Time is it Now (P.K. Page, libretto), was recorded and broadcast by the CBC. Her DMA from the University of Toronto explores the chamber works of Martin Arnold. She has received the Toronto Emerging Composer's Award, K.M. Hunter Award, and Chalmers grant for a residency at Concordia University's Matralab. She serves on the editorial board of new music journal, Tempo, Cambridge University Press.

Program Notes © 2017 Anna Höstman, edited Jocelyn Morlock

Dylan Robinson
b. November 21, 1976, S’olh temexw
installation and dramaturgy 

Dylan Robinson is a scholar and artist of Stó:lō First Nations descent who holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts at Queen’s University, located on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people. His co-edited collection Arts of Engagement (2016) includes a wide range of interviews and essays that consider the role the arts played in Canada’s recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Indian Residential Schools. His collection Opera Indigene: Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures (2011) examines the representation of Indigenous people in opera and the lesser-known history of opera created by Indigenous composers and artists. (DR)

Program Notes © 2017 Dylan Robinson, edited Jocelyn Morlock 

Patrick Nickleson
b. Feb 13, 1987, Windsor, ON, Canada
installation and research

Patrick Nickleson is a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Toronto. He is currently completing his dissertation, which examines the politics of authorship and historiography in early minimalist music. His research—which also closely deals with political and aesthetic philosophy, and particularly the work of Jacques Rancière—has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Ontario Graduate Scholarships. From 2012 through 2015, Patrick was research assistant to Dylan Robinson, which included field work trips to the Bella Coola Valley and artistic involvement in Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx – Singing the Earth. His reviews and criticism can be read in New Music Box, Intersections, Transnational Social Review, and Performance Research, and he has published entries in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, and has a forthcoming article on minimalism and transcription in Twentieth-Century Music. (PN)

Program Notes © 2017 Patrick Nickleson, edited Jocelyn Morlock

Marion Newman
b. April 27, 1972, Bella Coola, BC, Canada

First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman "has a distinctive, dusky voice that suggests drama with every note" (Toronto Star) and has been designated "a show stealer" by BBC Music Magazine. In her debut in Ireland as Carmen, she was widely praised for her “superbly sinuous sexuality” and as “a very exciting new talent” by the Irish Examiner.

Acclaimed for her interpretation of contemporary vocal works, Marion starred in Toronto Masque Theatre’s Dora Award-winning production of The Lesson of Da Ji (recorded for Centrediscs), and sang the première of Anna Höstman's Singing the Earth with Continuum Contemporary Music. Marion joined the holiday fun last December, with Toronto Masque Theatre in The Mummer’s Masque, Dean Burry’s outrageous version of Newfoundland’s 400 year old tradition of music and story-telling.

In 2016/17, Marion debuts as a soloist with the Regina Symphony Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah (Gordon Gerrard, Conductor) and again with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra under Rosemary Thomson.

Cry Rock
Banchi Hanuse 

Filmmaker Banchi Hanuse is the founder and station manager of Bella Coola’s community radio station, Nuxalk Radio 91.1 FM. She completed a Bachelor's Degree from the University of British Columbia in First Nations Studies with a Minor in International Relations. Her directorial debut, Cry Rock, won nine awards including Indigenous Filmmakers Award (Social Change Film Festival 2012) and Kodak Image Award (Spotlight Awards | Women in Film & Television Vancouver 2012) following its première at National Geographic's All Roads Film Festival. She is in post-production on her latest documentary, Sputc: We Shall Eat When the River is Full. 

Program Notes © 2017 Banchi Hanuse, edited Jocelyn Morlock

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