CNova’s History of Collaboration – Thoughts on the Prairie Songbook by Mel Braun

Camerata Nova has a long history of collaborations and the Prairie Songbook is no exception. Whether it’s early, contemporary, and Indigenous-infused music, we always welcome the opportunity to explore new ways of collaborating. The Prairie Songbook collaboration has several interesting angles.

We begin with our crackerjack band, comprised of cousins Micah Braun, Jason Pankratz and David Pankratz, who are collaborating as a unit with their dads, Mel Braun, and Vic Pankratz, for the first time. Veterans of local bands Quinzy, Begonia, The Nods, and Jicah, these terrific singers, players, and songwriters anchor this event with their stunning vocal and instrumental talents.

Crack band, comprised of cousins Micah Braun, Jason Pankratz and David Pankratz, collaborating with their dads, Mel Braun and Vic Pankratz, as well as the amazing CNova choir, for the first time

Singer-songwriter Raine Hamilton, fresh off the success of her new album “Night Sky”, brings her unique fiddle style and beautiful voice as our special guest artist. A former Medieval Musicologist, Raine has a fresh approach to song-writing. Her paean to Hildegard of Bingen has to be heard to be believed, a perfect opportunity for Camerata’s characteristic drones and overtones.

Prairie Songbook special guest, Raine Hamilton

A word on the arrangements you’ll hear tonight: The Manitoba choral scene is blessed with an abundance of fine composers and arrangers. Philip Lapatha, conductor of Ecco; and Prairie Voices conductor, Geung Kroeker Lee, have been thrilling their audiences with new arrangements of recent pop offerings. Philip brings us imaginative new perspectives on Joni Mitchell and Ruth Moody songs, while Geung Kroeker Lee contributes funky arrangements of hits by local bands Begonia and Royal Canoe. Steven Webb, an award-winning film score and choral composer brings us tasty arrangements of more Manitoba hits by Imaginary Cities and JP Hoe, while Dan Wiebe, veteran WSO pop arranger and longtime lead singer for House of Doc, brings us an unexpected take on Neil Young and KD Lang.

Mel Braun and his son, Micah

I had the pleasure of creating new versions of familiar songs by The Guess Who, BTO, and Corb Lund, as well as arranging two favourite songs from my son Micah’s catalogue. Each of the arrangements heard tonight is by a Manitoban and ten of them are brand new. Of course, none of this would be possible without the amazing singers that constitute Camerata Nova. Whatever the style, these flexible musicians bring it to life with joy and integrity. Thank-you singers, our Prairie Hymns have never sounded better! We’ve had a great time exploring all these delightful and varied arrangements from the Prairie Songbook.  We can’t wait to share them with you. – Mel Braun

Mel Braun (forefront) and Vic Pankratz (left) lead the choir through a rehearsal for the Prairie Songbook

The Prairie Songbook will be performed twice on March 9 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and again on March 10 at 3:00 pm at Park Theatre (698 Osborne) in Winnipeg.

Every few years, Camerata Nova likes to kick back to just have fun with friends and fans. For this special event, we will present great folk and pop standards as well as recent tunes by cool, local artists. From The Wailin’ Jennys to The Guess Who, from Joni Mitchell to Royal Canoe, from KD Lang to JP Hoe, we’ll celebrate our “wheatfield soul” in all its diversity. With the help of a 4-piece house band of talented musicians, Camerata Nova will turn the Park Theatre into your favourite coffee house. Come join us and blow away your winter blues!


Tickets are available online at, at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone
(204.918.4547), or at the door. Purchase the last two concerts of Camerata Nova’s 2018-2019 season at the special price of $50 for adults, $40 for seniors and $20 for under 30s (or, for two, $90, $70 and $30). See  for details.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Blow Away Your Winter Blues with the Prairie Songbook

Camerata Nova and award-winning guest musician Raine Hamilton will be letting their hair down and opening a 20th century songbook to celebrate their modern prairie roots. Under the joint direction of Mel Braun and Vic Pankratz, the group’s second concert of the season will be a party to remember!

The Prairie Songbook will be performed twice on March 9 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and again on March 10 at 3:00 pm at Park Theatre (698 Osborne) in Winnipeg.

Every few years, Camerata Nova likes to kick back to just have fun with friends and fans. For this special event, we will present great folk and pop standards as well as recent tunes by cool, local artists. From The Wailin’ Jennys to The Guess Who, from Joni Mitchell to Royal Canoe, from KD Lang to JP Hoe, we’ll celebrate our “wheatfield soul” in all its diversity. With the help of a 4-piece house band of talented musicians, Camerata Nova will turn the Park Theatre into your favourite coffee house. Come join us and blow away your winter blues!


Tickets are available online at, at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone
(204.918.4547), or at the door. Purchase the last two concerts of Camerata Nova’s 2018-2019 season at the special price of $50 for adults, $40 for seniors and $20 for under 30s (or, for two, $90, $70 and $30). See  for details.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Raine Hamilton Joins us for The Prairie Songbook

Camerata Nova is excited to have 2018 Canadian Folk Music Award Winner for Emerging artist of the Year, Raine Hamilton, join us for our March 9+10 concert The Prairie Songbook. The concert takes place March 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and March 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm at the Park Theatre. Tickets for individual concerts are available through our website, by phone (204-918-4547), or at the door.

Raine Hamilton – Resonant, acoustic chamber folk with an otherworldly edge, and a lyric presence that cuts deep. Prism-clear vocals and strings; A combination of vocal agility and power.

Raine Hamilton‘s new album, Night Sky, tips between the earthly and the otherworldly; it is anchored in relatable lived experience, while reaching into the space just beyond, thinning the veil between here and there, affording safe passage to the rough and beautiful places.

Raine’s ethereal voice and lyrics are at the forefront of these powerful and relatable tunes, written both in English and in French. Alongside cello + double bass, and with Raine on violin or guitar, these songs have a moving string quartet feel with a cosmic reach.

Raine is also a charming and funny storyteller, pairing her vulnerable tunes with engaging story intros. Raine believes that music is for everyone, and that we all have something to share. An experienced educator, Raine offers workshops in songwriting and fiddle tune writing (EN/FR). Raine also offers concerts with American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, to help make live music and the community that comes with it accessible to the Deaf community.

Raine has toured Canada extensively, driving, flying, and floating her way coast to coast. Highlights include: Performing songs with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (3 times!), playing a concert in a cave (10 stories below the earth!), playing festivals across Canada (Home County, Filberg Fest, Lilac Fest, The Works, Harvest Sun, Harvest Moon, Trout Forest), playing for her passage on Via Rail, and meeting so many amazing humans along the way. She reports a full and smiling heart <3.

Raine Hamilton’s new album, Night Sky, was released in March 2018

Check out and follow Raine on her socials: WebsiteYouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Spotify

The Prairie Songbook takes place March 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and March 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm at the Park Theatre. Tickets for individual concerts are available through our website, by phone (204-918-4547), or at the door.

Every few years, we kick back to just have fun with friends and fans. For this special Park Theatre event, Camerata Nova will present a great selection of songs from prairie artists arranged by Manitoba composers/arrangers. From the Wailin’ Jennys to The Guess Who, from Joni Mitchel to Royal Canoe, from KD Lang to JP Hoe, we’ll celebrate our “wheatfield soul” in all its diversity.

Led by Mel Braun and Vic Pankratz and featuring a 4-piece house band of talented musicians, Camerata Nova will turn the Park Theatre into your favourite coffee house. Come join us and blow away your winter blues!

Video excerpts from Notinikew by Andrew Balfour

This past November 2018, Camerata Nova performed Fallen, the second concert in our Truth and Reconciliation series. Here’s what Camerata Nova’s Artistic Director, and Fallen composer, Andrew Balfour, had to say about it.

Artistic Director, and Fallen composer, Andrew Balfour

About three years ago, I became fascinated with the idea of marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I with a mini-opera on the founding of the 107th Timber Wolf Battalion in 1915.  It’s an amazing story about 1000 men, half settler and half indigenous, who fought together in some of the most famous battles of the Great War.

I Went to War / Poni pimacisiwin (the end of living) is an excerpt from Notinikew (Going to War) by Andrew Balfour with soloist and narrator Andrew Balfour, traditional Ojibway drummer-singer Cory Campbell, cellist Cris Derksen and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir

At the same time as this was percolating, Camerata Nova decided to create a Truth and Reconciliation concert series, lasting over a number of years.  Each concert has a theme that resonates with Canadian indigenous experience and, over the series, we are inviting a range of incredible indigenous artists to collaborate with us.   Our first T&R concert was Taken, performed in Winnipeg and Ottawa in 2017, featuring Cree hip hop artist Lindsay Knight (Eekwol) and recent Polaris winner Jeremy Dutcher.

Fallen is our second.  It has evolved in a fascinating way.  On one hand, I have been delving into the other-world, terrifying experiences that Cree and Ojibway warriors in the Timber Wolves must have experienced in WWI, having no idea what it meant to enlist or why or how they came to be in the midst of the mud and gas in Europe.

On the other hand, as I read literature and poetry from ordinary individuals in Europe at the time, I was also deeply touched by the profound helplessness and sadness they felt as their sons, brothers – and themselves – fell victim to such prolonged, useless and outrageous slaughter.

Fallen is a deeply felt anti-war concert, not just focussed on “the war to end all wars” but on those before, those after and, tragically, on the wars yet to come.

Kakichiwewan is an excerpt from Notinikew (Going to War) by Andrew Balfour with soloist and narrator Andrew Balfour, traditional Ojibway drummer-singer Cory Campbell, cellist Cris Derksen and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir

There is no better way to open this concert than with a traditional Prayer Song from Ojibway friend and Song Keeper, Cory Campbell.  He performs with a straightforward purity, humility and strength that grounds and guides me as I straddle settler and indigenous worlds.  Thank you, Cory, for your openness, your help with language and the example you set for how I should approach my music and my life.

Notinikew:  I wrote this work over the summer while I was in St. John’s Newfoundland, then Toronto, then Temagami in Northern Ontario and, finally, in the Herdsman House Artist Retreat in Neubergthal, south of Winnipeg.  It’s been quite a journey – in all senses.  My original idea was to write a partly fictional mini opera about the story of the Timber Wolves, but this morphed into a more abstract choral drama.  Scored for adult choir, treble choir, baritone solo/performance artist, cello and traditional drummer-singer, Notinikew is an anti-war piece, an indigenous identity piece – a tragedy that speaks not just about World War I, but all wars and all indigenous soldiers.

Why did these Indigenous warriors leave our forests and plains to enter a totally foreign military world and end up fighting in the midst of a true hell on earth?  It’s very difficult to find good source material. I’ve been studying old pictures and gleaning the odd article, but I’ve also used my imagination to express the experience/feelings of people I’ve never met with as much integrity and respect as I can. I think of the shock, disorientation and horror that would have marked these men for their entire lives.  I think also of their re-entry to Canada.  As skilled sappers and snipers, they were accepted and respected by their white counterparts.  When they returned home, they went back to the degrading label of “Indian”, receiving none of the benefits or recognition of other Canadian soldiers.  Plus, they were often ostracized by their own communities because they had taken the side of the government.  As the Narrator says near the end of Notinikew: “Where is our place in your history?  Where?”

Notinikew was difficult to write but also magical and important.  It is an honour to try, in my own way, to tell the stories of our people.  In addition to Cory, my guide and compass, I want to thank Cris Derksen who is so talented and creative – this collaboration has been so much fun, and I think it’s just the start…  Also, I could not do these ambitious projects without Mel Braun.  He “gets” me and what we are trying to do and has respect for all around him.  He is not afraid of experimentation and undefined elements and magically, calmly pulls it all together.

Finally, Notinikew is dedicated to my partner, Sara Roque, and her Richardson family.  You have opened your doors and opened up my life.  You have given me a new, powerful understandings of what it means to be indigenous.  Best of all, you have given me patience and love. – Andrew Balfour, October 27, 2018

Camerata Nova

Upcoming Concerts – The Prairie Songbook and Death by Chocolate: The Life and Death of Henry Purcell

The Prairie Songbook 
March 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and March 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm at the Park Theatre

Every few years, we kick back to just have fun with friends and fans. For this special Park Theatre event, Camerata Nova will present great folk and pop standards as well as recent tunes by cool, local artists. From the Wailin’ Jennys to The Guess Who, from Joni Mitchell to Royal Canoe, from KD Lang to JP Hoe, we’ll celebrate our “wheatfield soul” in all its diversity.

Led by Mel Braun and Vic Pankratz and featuring a 4-piece house band of talented musicians, Camerata Nova will turn the Park Theatre into your favourite coffee house. Come join us and blow away your winter blues!

Death by Chocolate: The Life and Death of Henry Purcell
May 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm and May 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (Pre-concert talks at 6:45 pm on Saturday and 2:45 pm on Sunday)

In this concert curated and conducted by John Wiens, Camerata Nova seeks to showcase choral works by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and to explore the life of this composer, arguably the greatest of the English Baroque period. Join us to find out how cocoa can kill…

Death by Chocolate offers top quality performers and powerful repertoire – a rare musical treat. Four Winnipeg vocal soloists: Dayna Lamothe, soprano, Jane Fingler, soprano, James Magnus-Johnson, tenor, and Jereme Wall, bass will be joined by early music instrumentalists Claudine St-Arnauld, violin, Jeremy Buzasch, violin, Greg Hay, viola, Yuri Hooker, cello, Andrew Goodlett, bass, and Michael McKay, organ continuo. To add a star attraction and flair to the concert, we are also bringing in the exciting young Canadian countertenor, Daniel Cabena, who specializes in early and contemporary performance.  The countertenor voice has a caché and curiosity that is sure to send many a heart afflutter.  Repertoire will include: Rondeau from Abdelazar; O Sing unto the Lord; My Heart Is Inditing; Hear My Prayer, O Lord; Te Deum and Jubilate in D; plus Three Funeral Sentences.


Tickets for individual concerts are available through our website, by phone (204-918-4547), or at the door. Two-concert mini-packages are also available ($35, $30, $20, or for two, $65, $55, $35). Individual ticket prices available on our website.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Giving Tuesday

Give the joy of music this giving season…

Tuesday, November 27, 2018, is Giving Tuesday, the international philanthropic movement that unites communities to bring about real change by encouraging people and charities to work together.

We are proud to count you among our valued partners. Music lovers from all over recognize Camerata Nova, vocal group without fear, as one of our community’s most prized musical institutions. Since 1996, we’ve continued to push the envelope, offering early music performances, premiers of Manitoba compositions, and an eclectic array in between.
The impact of your support is truly extraordinary. With your help, for the past three years, Camerata Nova’s artistic director, Andrew Balfour, who is of Cree descent, has been able to bring the gift of music north to the smaller, more remote schools that do not have formal music education programs, and teach students there how to create and perform their own soundscapes to describe their community, their family or the land around them.
And thanks to you, Camerata Nova is presenting outstanding performances season after season, including a multi-year series of truly impactful truth and reconciliation concerts. Whether supporting our outreach efforts, programming or operations, you make it all happen! Your tax-deductible donation to Camerata Nova brings about real and lasting change.
What difference are YOU making this giving season? Please consider Camerata Nova for a donation today. Your end-of-year support will help empower hundreds of students this school year, enabling these children to express themselves through the joy of music.

Offrez la joie de la musique en cette saison de générosité….
Le mardi 27 novembre 2018, c’est « Mardi, je donne », le mouvement philanthropique international qui unit les communautés dans le but d’apporter de réels changements en encourageant les gens et les organismes de bienfaisance à travailler ensemble.
Nous sommes fiers de vous compter parmi nos précieux partenaires. Les mélomanes de partout reconnaissent Camerata Nova, groupe vocal intrépide, comme l’une des institutions musicales les plus prisées de notre communauté. Depuis 1996, nous n’avons cessé de repousser les limites de son répertoire, offrant des prestations de musique ancienne, des premières de compositions manitobaines et un assortiment des plus éclectiques entre les deux.
L’impact de votre soutien est vraiment remarquable. Avec votre aide, depuis trois ans, le directeur artistique de Camerata Nova, Andrew Balfour, qui est d’origine crie, a été en mesure d’apporter le don de la musique dans des écoles plus petites et plus éloignées  qui n’ont pas de programmes officiels d’éducation musicale et d’enseigner aux élèves comment créer et interpréter leur propre paysage sonore pour décrire leur communauté, leur famille ou la terre qui les entoure.
Et grâce à vous, Camerata Nova présente des concerts exceptionnels, saison après saison, y compris une série pluriannuelle de concerts saisissants sur le thème de la vérité et de la réconciliation qui ont eu un véritable impact. Qu’il s’agisse d’appuyer nos activités de rayonnement, de programmation ou d’exploitation, c’est vous qui faites en sorte que tout se concrétise! Votre don déductible d’impôt à Camerata Nova apporte un changement réel et durable.
Quel impact avez-VOUS en cette saison de générosité? Veuillez envisager de faire un don à Camerata Nova aujourd’hui. Votre soutien de fin d’année aidera des centaines d’élèves à s’exprimer à travers la joie de la musique au cours de cette année scolaire.

Click here to find out more about donating to Camerata Nova and other fantastic charities today.

Upcoming Concerts

Following successful back-to-back performances of our concert Fallen, Camerata Nova has a quick turnaround with a free Santa Clause Parade Day Concert at the Manitoba Hydro Building (Nov 17), as well as A Concert in Benefit of Sistema Winnipeg (Nov 18). Read more below.

Santa Claus Parade Day Concert

Saturday, November 17, 2018 at 2:30 pm in the Atrium of the Manitoba Hydro Building – A light holiday concert led by conductor Vic Pankratz to get you in the spirit before watching the Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade. Enjoy cookies and hot chocolate at this free concert in the Atrium of the Manitoba Hydro Building. Our free performance features Christmas classics, Camerata Nova originals, as well as some sing-alongs.
The event is supported by Manitoba Hydro

A Concert in Benefit of Sistema Winnipeg

Sunday, November 18, 2018 at 2:00 pm, at St. John’s College, University of Winnipeg – This concert in benefit of Sistema Winnipeg will feature the Sistema students in their first public performance of the 2018 – 2019 season. Sistema Winnipeg is an intensive after-school program that uses orchestral music to serve children with the fewest resources and the greatest need. The concert will also feature the innovative choral music of Camerata Nova. The event is hosted by Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Resident Conductor, Julian Pellicano and held at the St. John’s College Chapel, University of Manitoba, 92 Dysart Road on Sunday November 18 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $40 for adult and $15 for students and children. Help us to help this innovative inner-city music program.

Reception and Silent Auction to follow the concert.

For more info and to purchase tickets, please visit Sistema Winnipeg.

Fallen: From a Singer’s Point of View – Dr. Liz Przybylski

Before the band started to play, the director came to the mic to prepare the audience for what we were about to hear. The players on stage were about to begin their version of an armed forces salute. The director invited those of us seated in the concert hall to stand if we or a family member served in the branch of the armed services when we heard the corresponding anthem. Dozens of college students picked up their instruments, and the band began to play. With my fellow audience members, I turned to see men and women stand around me in the hall, the audience applauding service members past and present and their families. This salute, the director explained, was a way for the band at my city’s local college to pay tribute to veterans. It’s something I’ve heard before here where I live in the U.S., but the timing resonated with me as I’d never experienced before: we had convened to raise money and support for local people experiencing homelessness.

Why a military salute at a concert for those in our community who are not stably housed? Veterans are represented in significant numbers among people who lack stable housing. In that concert hall, I felt the discomfort of the juxtaposition of the audience’s desire to honor veterans even as we have a way to go in terms of providing material and social supports to individuals who served in the armed forces.

At the First World War centenary, concerts and events are being staged to honor veterans throughout Canada, the U.S., and around the world. Yet, how many of these programs encourage us also to act and reflect in response to how veterans were and are treated upon their return home?

I felt that question strongly when I was in the audience at a concert hall. Group music making generates a reflective space in which these questions can resonate. It’s fitting then to listen for another concert space that offers an opportunity to work through answers.

This November, Camerata Nova will be performing Andrew Balfour’s new work “Notinikew.” In collaboration with conductor Mel Braun, pop ‘cellist Cris Derksen, Drummer/singer Cory Campbell, the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir, and an ensemble of vocalists, Balfour will share a musical story that sits between reverence and responsibility. While acknowledging the service of Indigenous veterans such as Sergeant Tommy Prince, “Notinikew” will let us ask ourselves, what might it mean for Indigenous young people to have signed up to fight for their country, and then returned home second-class citizens? This piece, while historical in nature, has us face contemporary questions: Where are we in our journey towards remembering Indigenous individuals among the canon of Canadian historical greats? What has – and has not—changed in the past hundred years in the relationships between First Nations and the Canadian state, and what work needs to be done?

I was honored to sing with Camerata Nova when Balfour first presented “Take the Indian” at the New Music Festival in 2015 and later at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This composition in many ways sparked the three-part series of concerts that serves as the ensemble’s response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’ll be in the audience at the concert Fallen this November 3rd and 4th, ready to listen to Camerata Nova’s reflection on service, responsibility, and community. As in the concert I heard this past weekend, I’ll also be ready to ask myself, what can I do to move us together towards fulfilling our collective responsibility towards each other? I hope you’ll join me.

An Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside, hip hop scholar Dr. Liz Przybylski specializes in Indigenous popular music practices in Canada and the United States. A graduate of Bard College (BA) and Northwestern University (MA, PhD), Liz has presented her research nationally and internationally. Her recent publications have appeared in Ethnomusicology, Journal of Borderlands Studies, IASPM@Journal, and others. She teaches courses on Indigenous music, popular music, ethnographic methods, and gender studies. In addition to her university teaching, Liz has taught at the American Indian Center in Chicago, hosted the world music show “Continental Drift” on WNUR in Chicago, and has conducted interviews with musicians for programs including “At The Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research” on CJUM in Winnipeg. Liz serves as the Media Reviews Editor for the journal American Music.

Dr. Liz Przybylski

An Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside, hip hop scholar Dr. Liz Przybylski specializes in Indigenous popular music practices in Canada and the United States. A graduate of Bard College (BA) and Northwestern University (MA, PhD), Liz has presented her research nationally and internationally. Her recent publications have appeared in Ethnomusicology, Journal of Borderlands Studies, IASPM@Journal, and others. She teaches courses on Indigenous music, popular music, ethnographic methods, and gender studies. In addition to her university teaching, Liz has taught at the American Indian Center in Chicago, hosted the world music show “Continental Drift” on WNUR in Chicago, and has conducted interviews with musicians for programs including “At The Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research” on CJUM in Winnipeg. Liz serves as the Media Reviews Editor for the journal American Music.

Meet Some of the Amazing Singers Who Will be Joining us for our Fallen Concert

from top left: Ben Sellick, Jane Fingler, John Anderson, Kathleen Murphy

Camerata Nova, and the Manitoba choir community as a whole, are so lucky to have access to some of the best talent in the country. Ben Sellick, Jane Fingler, John Anderson, and Kathleen Murphy are just four of the 14 amazing singers who’ll be joining us this weekend (Nov 3-4) for our concert Fallen, taking place at the Crescent Fort Rouge United Church.

Fallen performers include Artistic Director / Directeur artistique, Andrew Balfour; Sopranos: Jane Fingler, Sarah Sommer, Brittany Mielnichuk, Sydney Clarke; Altos: Donnalynn Grills, Angela Neufeld, Kathleen Murphy; Tenors: Scott Reimer, Andrew Thomson, Dave Sawatzky; Basses: Alan Schroeder, Ben Sellick, John Anderson, George Bajer-Koulack; Featured Artists: Cris Derkesen, Cory Campbell; as well as the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir.

Ben Sellick grew up playing music, traveling, and watching movies. He went to the University of Manitoba, where he studied piano and film. First with Elroy Friesen, and then under Michael Zaugg, Ben began singing and writing choral music, receiving his first major compositional premiere by Pro Coro Canada in their 2017-2018 season. Ben likes the colour orange, olive oil, wool socks, lakes, film music, El Greco, and podcasts.

Jane Fingler is a Winnipeg based Soprano who has has the pleasure of singing in Camerata Nova for the past seven seasons. She also sings in other Winnipeg based choral groups Polycoro and Canzona, performing music old and new, appearing as a soloist as well as an ensemble member. Jane teaches voice lessons, tries to write music sometimes and loves to sing and perform pop/folk music that have great harmonies! She loves being a part of the Camerata Family! <3

Born and raised in Winnipeg, John Anderson has been a lifelong lover of singing. With a passion for choir, theatre and composition, John has recently graduated from the University of Manitoba Desautels Faculty of Music and is excited to now begin making music and telling stories more widely in the Winnipeg community.

Kathleen Murphy is a mezzo-soprano & pianist from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  She is currently completing her degree in undergraduate piano at the University of Manitoba with David Moroz, and pursues vocal studies with Mel Braun.  She has performed in concerts, masterclasses, & festivals as a vocalist, pianist, and choir member. Kathleen also has a passion for music theory & history, and is planning to pursue a post baccalaureate degree in vocal performance.


*Tickets are available from our website, at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone (204-918-4947), or at the door. Two- or three-concert subscriptions ($35 to $125) for Camerata Nova’s 2018-2019 season are also available. See for details.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Fallen: A Truth and Reconciliation Concert

Camerata Nova’s landmark concert series highlighting truth and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Canada is returning this November with Fallen, the second of three concerts designed by artistic director and composer Andrew Balfour. As with many trilogies, you don’t need to have seen the first to appreciate the second.

Andrew Balfour leading a rehearsal with the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir

Fallen will be presented on Nov. 3 and 4. The first of the series, Taken, premiered on March 4 and 5, 2017 in Winnipeg before moving out east to be performed in the National Arts Centre’s Canada 150 Festival in June.

Taken – which featured Polaris Prize-winning artist Jeremy Dutcher, hip hop artist Eekwol from Muskoday First Nation in Saskatchewan, CBC reporter and throat singer Madeleine Allakariallak and cellist Leanne Zacharias with Camerata Nova’s chamber choir – received praise for being “innovative, inclusive and thoroughly engaging” (ARTSFILE). It dealt with the subject of Indigenous children being taken from their homes and the stripping of their culture by residential schools.

Fallen continues the conversation of truth and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Canada by exploring the contributions of Indigenous soldiers in the First World War, featuring a choral drama entitled Notinikew (He who takes part in war), written by Balfour. This time around, Camerata Nova will be joined by Indigenous cellist Cris Derksen, traditional drummer and singer Cory Campbell and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir. The concert, conducted by Mel Braun, will also feature Requiem, a piece by English composer Herbert Howells on the death of his young son.

Balfour’s inspiration for Notinikew was sparked by his love of history, particularly the European wars. “While Indigenous individuals of Canada have fought in every major conflict from the War of 1812 to Afghanistan, they were rewarded for their contributions to WWI by being denied benefits and forbidden to leave their reserves,” said Balfour.

The motivations as to why Indigenous people would fight for a country that eradicated their culture fascinated Balfour. “All war is insanity”, said Balfour. “I wanted to do an anti-war piece, but also question why Indigenous people would go and fight in that war, and what would drive them to sign up and travel overseas and fight in the bloodiest conflict ever at that time.”

“Maybe they went to fight to better their cause at home; maybe they thought if they fought for Canada that our country would reward them with giving them their ceremony or language back. Maybe they had a sense of honour. Maybe they wanted adventure.”

Balfour founded Camerata Nova in 1996 to explore early music – sparked by his love for Renaissance and medieval works – but it wasn’t until years later that he began composing his own music and exploring the power of Indigenous music.

Balfour was a victim of the Sixties Scoop, taken from his Cree family at a young age and placed in the home of an Anglican priest. While he says his home was loving and supportive, it disconnected him from his people, his culture and his music. Through writing pieces for Camerata Nova and researching Indigenous cultures, Balfour rediscovered a part of his identity and learned to embrace his people’s music.

“I didn’t know anything about my language or my heritage, so it’s a process,” said Balfour. “It’s a very important way of reclaiming a lost identity.”

For Sandi Mielitz, president of Camerata Nova’s board of directors, watching Balfour grow as an artist and embrace his identity has been a rewarding experience.

“I’ve seen a guy with a huge amount of musical talent who then took it and learned how to not only evolve his music into something more and more sophisticated and abstract, but also evolve his whole identity,” said Mielitz.

While the struggles and triumphs of the Indigenous peoples of Canada can be researched through spoken and written works, Balfour and Mielitz agree that music provides another layer of connection for audiences to understand their experiences.

“When a story is told in music, it touches you in a way that dry facts just simply don’t,” said Mielitz. “All of the arts have a way of touching you and emotionally engaging you in experiencing stories.”

“The legacy of storytelling is so important, and I feel that the power of music or word or dance or visual arts are really important for people to either heal or explore their own wounds and legacies through art,” Balfour agreed. “The idea of doing these call-to-action concerts has been very important for myself as an artist and our community.”

Camerata Nova’s rehearsals are well underway, and for Balfour, the journey from looking at notes on a computer screen to hearing them sung live by the full chamber choir is an exciting one.

“It takes a lot of work, but we have an amazing organization and we have people, mostly non-Indigenous, that realize the importance of this, and that’s the country that I want to live in,” said Balfour. “Where people are healing or helping the healing or listening, because that’s really the most important thing. Particularly politicians – they need to listen.”

Fallen takes place at 7:30 pm on Nov. 3 and at 3 pm on Nov. 4 at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (corner of Nassau and Wardlaw), with pre-concert talks 45 minutes before both shows*. The third and final concert of the series, Captive – a piece on Indigenous peoples’ incarceration – will be presented in 2020.
-Graeme Houssin


*Tickets are available from our website, at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone (204-918-4947), or at the door. Two- or three-concert subscriptions ($35 to $125) for Camerata Nova’s 2018-2019 season are also available. See for details.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

‘Fallen’ is the Second Concert in a Trilogy Dedicated to Truth and Reconciliation

Artistic Director Andrew Balfour and the Camerata Nova team continue to innovate and celebrate choral music with ‘Fallen’ (Nov 3-4, 2018), the second concert in a trilogy dedicated to truth and reconciliation.

Composer, and Camerata Nova’s Artistic Director, Andrew Balfour, puts the finishing touches on Fallen (Nov 3-4) at the Herdsman’s House in Neubergthal, Manitoba.

Fallen – November 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm and November 4, 2018 at 3:00 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (Pre-concert talks at 6:45 pm on Saturday and 2:45 pm on Sunday)

Experience the poignant drama of a Manitoba Indigenous hunter/trapper who signs up to fight in World War I. Join conductor Mel Braun and composer/singer/Artistic Director Andrew Balfour with Indigenous cellist Cris Derksen, traditional drummer/singer Cory Campbell and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir, among other guest artists. Beauty and drama that is 100 years young. This concert also features Herbert Howells’ Requiem, a masterwork on the death of his son.

Fallen is the second concert in a series dedicated to truth and reconciliation. In 2020, look for our third concert, Captive, expressing the power and sadness of Indigenous incarceration.

About Andrew Balfour
Of Cree descent, Andrew Balfour has written a body of more than 30 choral, instrumental and orchestral works, including the chamber opera Mishabooz’ Realm, Take the Indian, Empire Étrange: The Death of Louis Riel, Migiis: A Whiteshell Soundscape, Bawajigaywin, Gregorio’s Nightmare, Wa Wa Tey Wak (Northern Lights), Fantasia on a Poem by Rumi, Missa Brevis and Medieval Inuit. He has been commissioned by the Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, L’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, Ensemble Caprice of Montreal, Highlands Opera Workshop, Winnipeg Singers, Kingston Chamber Choir and Camerata Nova, among many others.  His choral works have been published by Cypress Choral Music and CNova Publishing and have been performed and/or broadcast locally, nationally and internationally.

Andrew is also the founder and Artistic Director of the innovative, 14-member vocal group Camerata Nova, now in its 23nd year of offering a concert series in Winnipeg.  With Camerata Nova, Andrew specializes in creating “concept concerts”, many with indigenous subject matter (Wa Wa Tey Wak (Northern Lights), Medieval Inuit, Chant!).  These innovative offerings explore a theme through an eclectic array of music, including new works, arrangements and innovative inter-genre and interdisciplinary collaborations.

Andrew has become increasingly passionate about music education and outreach, particularly on northern reserves and inner city Winnipeg schools where he has worked on behalf of the National Arts Centre, Camerata Nova, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and various Winnipeg school divisions for the past eight years.

Andrew was Curator and Composer-in-Residence of the WSO’s Indigenous Festivals in 2009 and 2010 and in 2007 received the Mayor of Winnipeg’s Making a Mark Award, sponsored by the Winnipeg Arts Council to recognize the most promising midcareer artist in the City.  In 2017, he was awarded a Gold Medal by the Senate of Canada for his contribution to Canada’s indigenous and music communities.


Tickets for individual concerts are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone (204-918-4547), through our website, or at the door. Subscriptions (three concerts) are $65 (adults), $55 (seniors) and $35 (under 30), with a subscriptions-for-two offering at $125, $105 and $65 respectively. This season, two-concert mini-packages are also available ($35, $30, $20, or for two, $65, $55, $35). Individual ticket prices available on our website.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Celebrated Indigenous Cellist/composer, Cris Derksen, Joining us for “Fallen”

Cris Derksen is a celebrated Indigenous cellist/composer known for building layers of sound into captivating performances. Originally from Northern Alberta, Cris has a line of chiefs from North Tall Cree reserve on her father’s side and a line of strong Mennonite homesteaders on her mother’s side. Her music braids the traditional and contemporary in multiple dimensions, weaving her traditional classical training and her Aboriginal ancestry with new school electronics, creating genre-defying music. For Fallen, Cris will be joined by traditional drummer/singer Cory Campbell and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir, among other guest artists. Read more…

Fallen is the second concert in a series dedicated to truth and reconciliation. In 2020, look for our third concert, Captive, expressing the power and sadness of Indigenous incarceration.


Tickets for individual concerts are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers, by phone (204-918-4547), through our website, or at the door. Subscriptions (three concerts) are $65 (adults), $55 (seniors) and $35 (under 30), with a subscriptions-for-two offering at $125, $105 and $65 respectively. This season, two-concert mini-packages are also available ($35, $30, $20, or for two, $65, $55, $35). Individual ticket prices available on our website.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

2018-19 Season

Fallen – November 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm and November 4, 2018 at 3:00 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (Pre-concert talks at 6:45 pm on Saturday and 2:45 pm on Sunday)

Experience the poignant drama of a Manitoba Indigenous hunter/trapper who signs up to fight in World War I. Join conductor Mel Braun and composer/singer/Artistic Director Andrew Balfour with Indigenous cellist Cris Derksen, traditional drummer/singer Cory Campbell and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir, among other guest artists. Beauty and drama that is 100 years young. This concert also features Herbert Howells’ Requiem, a masterwork on the death of his son.

Fallen is the second concert in a series dedicated to truth and reconciliation. In 2020, look for our third concert, Captive, expressing the power and sadness of Indigenous incarceration.

The Prairie Songbook 
March 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm and March 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm at the Park Theatre

Every few years, we kick back to just have fun with friends and fans. For this special Park Theatre event, Camerata Nova will present great folk and pop standards as well as recent tunes by cool, local artists. From the Wailin’ Jennys to The Guess Who, from Joni Mitchell to Royal Canoe, from KD Lang to JP Hoe, we’ll celebrate our “wheatfield soul” in all its diversity.

Led by Mel Braun and Vic Pankratz and featuring a 4-piece house band of talented musicians, Camerata Nova will turn the Park Theatre into your favourite coffee house. Come join us and blow away your winter blues!

Death by Chocolate: The Life and Death of Henry Purcell
May 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm and May 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (Pre-concert talks at 6:45 pm on Saturday and 2:45 pm on Sunday)

In this concert curated and conducted by John Wiens, Camerata Nova seeks to showcase choral works by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and to explore the life of this composer, arguably the greatest of the English Baroque period. Join us to find out how cocoa can kill…

Death by Chocolate offers top quality performers and powerful repertoire – a rare musical treat. Four Winnipeg vocal soloists: Dayna Lamothe, soprano, Jane Fingler, soprano, James Magnus-Johnson, tenor, and Jereme Wall, bass will be joined by early music instrumentalists Claudine St-Arnauld, violin, Jeremy Buzasch, violin, Greg Hay, viola, Yuri Hooker, cello, Andrew Goodlett, bass, and Michael McKay, organ continuo. To add a star attraction and flair to the concert, we are also bringing in the exciting young Canadian countertenor, Daniel Cabena, who specializes in early and contemporary performance.  The countertenor voice has a caché and curiosity that is sure to send many a heart afflutter.  Repertoire will include: Rondeau from Abdelazar; O Sing unto the Lord; My Heart Is Inditing; Hear My Prayer, O Lord; Te Deum and Jubilate in D; plus Three Funeral Sentences.


Tickets for individual concerts are available through our website, by phone (204-918-4547), or at the door. Two-concert mini-packages are also available ($35, $30, $20, or for two, $65, $55, $35). Individual ticket prices available on our website.


Camerata Nova is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization. Exploring, taking risks, and developing exciting new programming, takes time, energy, and money.

Click here to find out more about donating.

Program Notes for Red River Song

The following text will be published in the program for Red River Song, presented on April 28th and 29th:

Red River Song is a celebration of Manitoba’s Métis heritage – from culture to carts. From the first decade of the 19th century through to the 1870s, the Métis people developed a way of life perfectly suited to the prairies, one that incorporated influences from all sides of their Indigenous, French Canadian and Scottish heritage. A proud people, the Métis cut a colourful swath in prairie society with their distinctive jackets and sashes, with their songs and dances, with their blue and white flag featuring the infinity symbol.

Our concert begins with an Invocation to the Four Directions, combining the opening words of the Latin Requiem mass with Cree and English texts that describe the Four Directions, the Four Seasons. It is a reflective opening, respectfully combining the Indigenous/European influences that shaped Métis culture. Mel Braun wrote it for Winnipeg’s 2017 concert in the Mysterious Barricades project, where performances were held across the country for World Suicide Prevention Day. Much of the music of the Métis is bright and full of fun, but there is a much darker side to this history. Invocation gives us a calm space to contemplate this.

From solemnity, the concert moves to rhythm and history with the songs of Métis Bard Pierre Falcon, a.k.a. Pierriche or Pierre the Rhymer. Born in Somerset House (or Elbow Fort, near Swan River, Manitoba) in 1793 to a Cree mother and French Canadian fur trader from the North West Company, Falcon was also a fur trader and, later, a farmer near present-day St. François-Xavier. He was famous as the bard of the Métis, creating poems and tunes to tell of the great exploits of his people in their struggle to be an independent nation under Louis Riel. In 1816, at age 23, he wrote La Chanson de la Grenouillère or The Battle of Seven Oaks which, 200 years later, remains a standard of Métis music.

The Buffalo Hunt is the second Falcon song in this concert, describing an activity at the very heart of the Métis culture. From the buffalo hunt came pemmican, which the Métis fashioned from dried, pounded buffalo meat, berries and grease. Pemmican was big business for the Métis. A 19th-century version of today’s Power Bar, it was much in demand by the voyageurs as they paddled umpteen hours a day in search of furs.

This set of historical Métis songs also includes the beautiful La Métisse with words by Louis Riel to a tune by priest Georges Dugas, who worked in Manitoba from 1866 to 1888. The words express the pride of a young Métis woman at the time of the Métis Provisional Government in 1869-70 – “If ever I am loved, I will choose for my faithful lover one of the soldiers from the little army commanded by our proud adjutant.”

A word about the arranger, Manitoban Chester Duncan: pianist, composer, author, CBC critic/producer/broadcaster and Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Manitoba, Duncan wrote more than 150 art songs. In the 1990s, he was commissioned to arrange all the songs from the compilation Songs of Old Manitoba, published in 1960 by Margaret Arnett MacLeod. They were premièred at the Summer Festival of Music on the Red. Mel Braun is delighted to bring three of them back to life for Red River Song.

Fiddlin’ and Jiggin’ – Camerata Nova is very pleased to present 15-year-old champion Métis fiddler Alexandre Tétrault with piano accompanist Yvette Audette. A descendant of Louis Riel, Tétrault not only plays up a storm but also writes his own fiddle tunes, which have become popular on the fiddle circuit. He is playing one of his own compositions today, as well as a tune by Andy de Jarlis (b. Desjarlais, 1914-1975), the famous Métis fiddler from Woodridge, Manitoba. From a family of Métis fiddlers, Andy was a descendant of Pierre Falcon and is credited with more than 200 jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes, some of which have become standards in North America.

Alexandre will also play another well-known tune, Reel de Sainte-Anne, to accompany jiggers Julien Beaudette-Loiselle and Marcus Merasty. Julien, a Métis from St. Boniface, has been dancing with the Ensemble folklorique de la Rivière-Rouge for seven years. The Ensemble specializes in traditional and not-so-traditional French-Canadian jigs and dances. Hailing from Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, Marcus is of Cree descent. In addition to traditional Métis jigging, Marcus is pursuing a career in contemporary dance. He is currently in the Professional Program of The School of Contemporary Dancers. Marcus and Julien are also performing an “a cappella dance” which they created for this concert with choreographer Myriam Leclercq and which combines Métis and French Canadian steps.

About Run Freddy Run!, Eliot Britton writes that it is “the second instalment in a set of pieces that looks at Manitoba’s heirloom bison culture. The text is constructed from bison-themed varia copied down during my post Ph.D. gap year in Winnipeg.

One can’t get far in Manitoba without encountering a bison-branded object, organization, business or activity. For example, I attended Nature Manitoba’s The Natural and Unnatural History of Bison in Manitoba lecture by Dr. Randy Mooi, Curator of Zoology at The Manitoba Museum – business as usual for a Tuesday evening in Manitoba. A group of nature enthusiasts and I crowded into Room 31 at Kelvin High School (I think I even paid full price as a non-member!). The lecture ran late. As expected, bison are awesome. As it turns out, bison are a handful and every so often the herd produces a particularly rebellious soul. Nothing has changed.

I heard about Freddy on the news. A “brazen bison” from Lorette, Manitoba who “just won’t stay home on the range.” I laughed out loud and immediately remembered Dr. Mooi’s 2016 lecturette on the last buffalo hunt and the truant, rebel bison. The juxtaposition of an obscure New York Times article from 1911 and the hilariously obscure 2018 Freddy story was too much to pass up. I then started to think about distant but related processes and uncommon intersections of historical and contemporary materials. That’s how I got to making a piece that integrates Renaissance polyphony with pop chord progressions, contemporary speech synthesis and sound design. I use “integrate” fairly loosely in this context. Sometimes it’s like hitting a brick wall, which is part of the fun of such a remote juxtaposition.

So, there you have it. Run Freddy Run! is a uniquely Manitoban mash-up that combines old and new, something borrowed and something… brown. And hopefully by the time you are reading this, I have secured an authentic Run Freddy Run! hoodie.”

Ode to the Red River Cart – Red River carts were the soundscape of the prairies. Wood-on-wood construction, no axle grease, well, you get the picture. More accurately, you hear the picture, with its endless moans, squeaks and squeals… We won’t speculate on why Mel Braun is inspired by moans, squeaks and squeals but he really went to town on this Ode to the Red River Cart!

The piece is constructed incorporating six Métis songs/reels, each found in Métis Songs: Visiting Was the Métis Way, compiled by ethnomusicologist Dr. Lynn Whidden, after years of searching out, recording and transcribing the music of Métis singers and fiddlers across the prairies. Published by the Saskatchewan Music Educators Association, the book in its entirety can be found as part of the Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture created by the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research ( Dr. Whidden has created a wonderful gift to current and future generations of people interested in Métis music. As part of this Red River Song concert project, the score of Ode to the Red River Cart and individual choral scores of these Métis tunes arranged by Mel Braun will be made available for schools and community choirs via CNova Publishing on our website (

Before, after and even during these Métis tunes, Mel has written a colourful, detailed recitative about the Red River cart and its role and importance in Métis culture. The story is not just about the romance. It ends with the coming of the railway and the disappearance of not only the cart, but the Métis way of life. This “magnum opus” is fun, sad, wild and instructive! Be prepared to join in to the chorus at the end… Can you sound like a Red River cart??

Party d’cuisine! (Kitchen Party) – Just as would have happened in the kitchen of a Métis homestead, redolent with smoke, whiskey, warmth, fiddles, tapping spoons, toes and heels, Red River Song ends with a crazy “mash-up” of fiddles and dancers, plus singers doing “turlutte” or French Canadian scat. Bring out your spoons and get ready to join in!

The party starts quietly – as most parties do – with a cappella singing of À la claire fontaine. You will recognize the words, but perhaps not the tune – this beautiful melody was created by the Quebec group Barde, then arranged by the Saskatchewan group Folle Avoine. The party then picks up the pace with La Belle Catherine by Louis “Pitou” Boudreault (1905-1988), fiddler and storyteller from Chicoutimi, Québec. The next song, La disputeuse, is a famous Acadian reel also known under many other names, including Growling Old Man and Cackling Old Woman, The Disputant, and Growling and Grumbling! It will be followed by Fisher’s Hornpipe, another tune of many names and one of the most popular, widespread and frequently published fiddle tunes in the world.

Next up is Red River Jig or “oayache mannin,” as it is known in Michif. This is the unofficial Métis anthem, which was very popular in the mid 1800s when it was known from Alaska to James Bay. The dance is a combination of Plains First Nations footwork with Scottish, Irish and French-Canadian dance forms. The basic jig step is danced in most Métis communities, however, dancers often add their own “fancy” steps in parts of the tune. Even more specific, some dancers add certain variations which identify their home community. The origin of the Jig is unknown. One theory is that the Scots were on one side of the river (Red, Assiniboine or Seine – take your pick…) playing the bagpipes one night while some French Canadians and Métis were kicking back on their homestead porch on the other. A Métis fiddler decided to imitate the bagpipes. He started with a slow, sad, whining tune and then stepped it up with a fast, rollicking beat – everyone wanted to dance and the Red River Jig was born…

It is fitting to end the party with Whiskey Before Breakfast, another melodious composition by Andy de Jarlis, the famous Métis fiddler.

From Pierre Falcon to his descendent Andy de Jarlis, our concert comes full circle. Louis Riel said that the Métis people would sleep for a hundred years before their artists and visionaries led them back to nationhood. How right he was. The current resurgence of Métis culture and nationhood is a joy to behold. Long live the Métis Nation, long live the Red River cart!

Camerata Nova would like to thank Mel Braun for his wonderful curation, compositions, arrangements and conducting – but, most of all, for his passion for the story of the Métis and the history of Manitoba. We would also like to thank Myriam Leclercq, dance choreographer, and Karine Beaudette, Camerata Nova singer and long-time volunteer, for bringing together the fiddlers, dancers and choreographer to create the fiddling sequences.

Acknowledgements are also due to Dr. Lynn Whidden for providing authentic versions of Métis music and historian Fred J. Shore of the Native Studies Department at the University of Manitoba for his book, Threads in the Sash: The Story of the Métis from which we have liberally borrowed facts and stories.

Red River Song

You could hear them coming from miles away. Those Red River Carts, using no axle grease,were the soundscape of the prairies, the pride of the Metis traders. Made entirely of wood, lashed together with rawhide, able to carry vast loads and negotiate anything the Red River Valley topography could throw at them, the Red River Carts were the perfect eco-vehicle for the 19th C. prairie. They could transport trade goods, Buffalo meat, household furniture, tools, weapons, alcohol, and of course, the ever-present Metis fiddles. In hunt or battle, they could also provide shelter, a circle of protection for hunters and their families. In summer, their tall wheels cruised through Manitoba gumbo. In Spring, they could float across the river with their wheels lashed beneath. In winter, placed atop runners, they traversed the snow. Repairs were as easy as the next grove of trees. Wood-on- wood construction, no axle grease, well, you get the picture. More accurately, you hear the picture, with its endless, moans, squeaks, and squeals…

Red River Song brings some of the many songs and stories connected to the 19 th C. rise of the Metis nation. From the first decade of the 19 th C to through to the 1870’s, they developed a culture perfectly suited to the prairies, one that incorporated influences from all sides of Indigenous, French Canadian, and English Settlers culture. The Red River Cart provided the means for their entrepreneurial endeavours, carrying trade goods south to St. Paul, Minnesota or west to Fort Edmonton. It was also instrumental in the Buffalo Hunt, the very heart of the Metis culture. From the Buffalo Hunt came the pemmican, which the Metis fashioned from dried powdered buffalo meat, berries, and grease. A 19th C. version of today’s Power Bar, pemmican was much in demand by the voyageur as they paddled umpteen hours a day in search of furs. Pemmican was big business for the Metis. A proud people, the Metis cut a colourful swath in prairie society with their distinctive jackets, chapeaux and sashes, with their
songs and dances, with their Blue and white flag featuring the infinity symbol.

Our concert begins with an Invocation to the Four Directions, combining the opening words of the Requiem Service with Cree and English text that describes the Four Directions, the Four Seasons. From there we move to the songs of Metis Bard Pierre Falcon, who recorded the great exploits of the Metis in their struggle to be an Independant Nation under Louis Riel’s leadership. Fiddling and dancing features throughout the concert, with two fiddlers, acclaimed young Manitoba fiddler Alexandre Tetrault and WSO regular Claudine St. Arnauld joined by two dancers. They provide the heart of the Metis musical experience. A new commission by Manitoban Eliot Britton, for choir, fiddle, and electronics, traces the true adventures of Freddy, a rogue bison on the loose in the Lorette area of the province. And an Ode to the Red River Cart combines arrangements of Metis folk-songs with the story of the Red River Cart. Everything closes with a kitchen party that combines fiddle tunes and dancing with “turlutte” a Metis form of scatting undertaken by the choir. Be prepared to play your spoons during the kitchen party and to make the sounds of the Red River Cart during the performance of the Ode.

This celebration of Metis culture must also acknowledge the long dark period that came for the Metis in the 1870’s once Prime Minister John A. MacDonald and his railway took over their prairie and dis-abused them of their lands, their culture, and the need for the Red River Cart. Louis Riel himself said that the Metis people would sleep for a hundred years before their artists and visionaries led them back to nationhood. How right he was. The current resurgence of Metis culture and nationhood is a joy to behold and we celebrate with you. Long live the Metis Nation, long live the Red River Cart!

– Mel Braun

Run, Freddy, Run!

Run, Freddy, Run! is second installment in a set of pieces that looks at Manitoba’s heirloom bison culture. The text is constructed form bison themed varia copied down during my post PhD gap year in Winnipeg. One can’t get far in MB without encountering a bison branded object, organization, business or activity. For example, I attended Nature Manitoba’s The Natural And Unnatural History Of Bison In Mb lecture by Dr. Dr. Randy Mooi, Curator of Zoology at The Manitoba Museum. Business as usual for a Tuesday evening in Manitoba.

Freddy the Bison

Myself and a group of nature enthusiasts crowded into room 31 at Kelvin High School (I think I even paid full price as a non member!). The lecture ran late. As expected, bison are awesome. As it turns out, bison are a handful and every so often the herd produces a particularly rebellious soul. Nothing has changed.

I heard about Freddy on the news. A “brazen bison” from Lorette Manitoba who “just won’t stay home on the range”. I laughed out loud and immediately remembered Dr. Mooi’s 2016 lecturette on the last buffalo hunt and the truant, rebel bison. The juxtaposition of an obscure New York Times article from 1911 and the hilariously obscure 2018 Freddy story was too much to pass up. I then started to think about distant but related processes and uncommon intersections of historical and contemporary materials. That’s how I got to making a piece that integrates renaissance polyphony with pop chord progressions contemporary speech synthesis and sound design. I use “integrate” fairly loosely in this context. Sometimes it’s like hitting a brick wall, which is part of the fun of such a remote juxtaposition.

So there you have it. Run Freddy Run! Is a uniquely Manitoban mashup that combines old and new, something borrowed and something… brown.  And hopefully by the time you are reading this I have secured an authentic Run Freddy Run hoodi

Run Freddy Run! Text:

Brazen bison won’t stay home on the range
Run! Home! Range! Run!
He looks like a bison. I don’t want to be insensitive but they all look the same… you know?

The last big buffalo hunt in the history of the world
Sold to the Canadian government, five hundred head

Freddy’s out. He is just outside his yard on river road
I think people need to remember that Freddy is not a pet and is large and somewhat dangerous.

  • A daily bison report began popping up on a facebook groupSold to the Canadi
  • an Government five hundred head of buffalo The taxidermy shop
  • on main street that is the backdrop for the bison skullsle bison semble s’échapper à travers
  • une clôture électrique qui ne fonctionne pas correctement

Avant tout, les gens doivent se rappeler que Freddy n’est pas un animal domestique; c’est un animal imposant
C’est une rebelle depuis le début, that bull.

Run! Run! Run!

Brazen bison, won’t stay home on the range in Lorette
Manitoba Outlaw

The last big buffalo hunt
The official taxidermist of the Manitoba Government

Just outside my office there is a big, hairy outlaw that can stare anybody down


Program Notes for A Tale of Two Cities

The following text will be published in the program for A Tale of Two Cities, presented on February 24 and 25, 2018.

Returning to Winnipeg after a 20-year absence has been, in many ways, a gratifying experience. I’ve been offered wonderful artistic opportunities that have given me fresh perspective and challenged me to continue growing and expanding. Along the way I noticed certain similarities between another well-travelled family – the Gabrielis, whose travels to study with Orlande de Lassus are well documented. I began thinking about a concert that was focused on their music, and the passage of time… and this program was born. What we have here is a slightly different Tale of Two Cities – not French written by an Englishman, but Italian conceived in Winnipeg!

St. Mark’s Basilica, in Venice, Italy.

This concert explores several composers and the musical moment they helped define, given form by the rise and the fall of the cori spezzati. This is another term for music performed by multiple choirs, often in alternation, which later became Venetian polychoral style. This musical trend was an important one, but the lessons surrounding it are of equal interest to me. In Venice, and especially at St. Mark’s Basilica, this style of music was developed in a sort of institutional way, dependant on certain architecture, the availability of certain instruments and certain musicians, and especially the presence of certain composers. When I say “institutional way,” I mean this: that the leadership there showed great foresight to hire composers at the forefront of the profession – Adriano Willaert, Cipriano da Rore, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, and later Claudio Monteverdi. That’s some exceptional decision-making, choosing la crème de la crème. And it was those creative voices who, each in their own turn, put an exceptionally beautiful building – St. Mark’s Basilica – at the head of a musical movement.

It goes without saying that institutions get ahead by choosing personalities that can be at the front of a trend, or even better, can define a trend. That creative personality puts a new vision into practice, and that vision ultimately defines the success of an institution and its continued relevance. Venice – and St. Mark’s in particular – were at the forefront of musical trends for nearly a century, but they risked falling behind the next major movement if they held on to the previous one for too long.

And it may also be effectively argued that there is value in being on the wrong side of a trend. Much wonderful music for cori spezzati was written after this story line ends in 1615, as the style influenced Roman, German and French compositional techniques, though seconda prattica changed the flavour of the writing significantly, offering a different perspective on the style.

And so, Venice circa 1580 and Venice circa 1615 are really two different cities at the fundamental, creative level. One is at the height of the Renaissance – the productive flowering of a massive renaissance compositional style. The other, at the height of its musical power just before the fall, with a new compositional style already emerged and waiting in the wings for the end of this story.

The story of early Venice is focused on the senior Gabrieli – Andrea, uncle to Giovanni and the creative mind responsible for the early development of the cori spezzati style of composition. He was a great organ virtuoso, expected to compose while his counterpart took care of the day-to-day administration of a 40-member group of singers and instrumentalists. Andrea had a unique creative and analytical mind. In his later years, having studied with Willaert and Lassus, he conceived a style that would allow many choirs to participate without ruining musical clarity with too much counterpoint. Music on this large scale, for up to 16 voices, was difficult to create on the spur of the moment. Special music for special occasions were created well in advance and then unveiled at an appropriate time. We are not sure, for example, when the Gloria on tonight’s program was written. We only know that its première was given during an important visit by Japanese diplomats.

Andrea Gabrieli, c. 1533–1585.

Andrea’s compositions show us how impressive a wall of sound can be. The approach is often subtle, as with the beginning of the Gloria or the Kyrie, entering quietly but building to an impressive and dominating sound involving chords that can vibrate the whole body. These pieces, much like English polyphony from around 1490 to 1540, were built to impress, overwhelm and even intimidate. They affirmed Venice’s place in the world. Andrea was an adept composer who had great emotional range, as the concluding Maria stabat ad monumentum (and his many madrigals) proves.

Andrea was among the students of the legendary Adriano Willaert. Adriano and his friend Jachet de Mantua create a prologue to our tale. Willaert, the Flemish master of composition, a pedagogue, theoretician and independent thinker, remained largely under private employ during his career in Venice. He held a position at St. Mark’s, teaching the who’s who of the next generation of composers to inhabit St. Mark’s – especially Cipriano da Rore (a great influence on Monteverdi) and Andrea. His early attempts with cori spezzati may seem somewhat half-hearted, but his is a completely different style of composition which uses more intricate polyphonic writing in sparse 8-part moments than Andrea uses later on.

Giovanni Gabrieli and Giovanni Antonio Rigatti end the tale. Rigatti, who studied at St. Mark’s as a boy, was witness to the arrival of the seconda prattica which Monteverdi championed. His solo piece, O dulcissima virgo, is intensely instrumental in style, showing how far vocal practice had come in just one generation. You can detect these changes in Giovanni’s works too – the ending of Salvator noster, the rhythmic intensity in Omnes gentes, and the virtuosic cantata In ecclesiis all point in their own way to the arrival of a new style of rhythmic vitality, but with large forces still being the fashion, it is a bit easier to disguise just how much rhythm and embellishment informed music at that time.

Giovanni Gabrieli, c. 1554–1612.

Giovanni took what his uncle had created and developed it, adding more and more elements and, in the case of In ecclesiis, starting a new trend that favored solo voices. His is a more complex style of counterpoint and heightened, intensive rhythmic structures. It is much like a master painter’s studio from that time. Someone provided the frame of the painting, the broad strokes if you will, and everyone in the studio was responsible for filling in one section or another as their specialities suited. Andrea, the framer, and Giovanni, the specialist.

Not to be overlooked, Andrea and Giovanni wrote at different moments in history and for different styles, but equally importantly, for different personnel. Appointments to the choir of St. Mark’s, or to a leadership position, were for life as long as posts were not neglected. Andrea was writing for a much older choir than Giovanni was. Not only was the style of music changing to a more rhythmic presentation during Giovanni’s day, but he had the energy of personnel renewal on his side. He could confidently write for his choir in a way that Andrea perhaps felt uncomfortable doing. I’ve wondered aloud from time to time whether Andrea gave more license to his performers to add embellishment to the music whereas Giovanni made those embellishments clear, though this hypothesis may or may not bear fruit. Hopefully a musicologist will one day consider this.

A concert, especially one using historical music, is often a window into a way of thinking, of weighing circumstances, or celebrating that which is exceptional enough to last hundreds of years. It offers us a chance for reflection. As I settled back into Winnipeg, noting changes and similarities, my thoughts were dragged to the question of what change is, and what drives development. History teaches us again and again that it is the truly creative among us who define our moment in history, no matter when that moment comes.

John Wiens, February 2018

Snow Angel: the beauty and strength of children

The following text will be published in the program for Snow Angel, presented on November 25 and 26, 2017.

You never know what you’re going to get…

In 22 years, Camerata Nova has never done a concert celebrating, and designed for, youth. Plus, although Snow Angel certainly has a Camerata Nova Christmas flavour, we have never designed a concert with a fair quotient of lighter, “pop-style” music. In Snow Angel, Vic Pankratz has dared to do both things. We are proud to have 15-year-old, award-winning cellist Juliana Moroz and the Sistema Winnipeg Choirs from Elwick and King Edward Schools joining us. We are also happy to occasionally veer off our normal path to offer accessible, quality contemporary music that kids can relate to and all of us can relax and enjoy.

To give fans of Camerata Nova’s more traditional music a segue into this new world, the concert starts in a more characteristic way with the first of three settings of O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery) being performed, beginning with Tomas Luis de Victoria. O Magnum Mysterium is one of the most beautiful and well-known of ancient Catholic prayers, reserved for Mass on Christmas morning. Over the centuries, it has been set to music by dozens of composers. The exquisite Victoria setting is perhaps the gold standard of them all. A late Renaissance Spanish composer, singer, organist and priest, Victoria was known for the mysticism and emotion in his writing. It shines forth in this delicate, elegant work.

Ave Maris Stella (Hail, Star of the Sea) is another popular prayer or plainsong hymn to Mary, sung at evening Mass as far back as the eighth century. While the words are age-old, the composer, Don Macdonald, is an eclectic jazz musician and film composer from British Columbia. The harmonies in his Ave Maris Stella are modern but evocative of the Renaissance with snippets of polyphonic texture throughout.

To tip our hat to Canada’s 150th birthday, Vic Pankratz has found music from a range of Canadian composers and arrangers. In fact, of the ten composers on the program, eight are Canadian. Québec organist, folklorist, teacher, historian, writer and administrator Ernest Gagnon is a towering figure in the history of Québec music. He was a virtuoso organist at the Notre-Dame Basilica-Cathedral (Québec City), author of several books describing the musical history of early Québec (including Indigenous music) and compiler/editor of Chansons populaires du Canada – the bible of early Québec folksongs. Camerata Nova is performing three of his arrangements from his Cantiques populaires pour la fête de Noël (Popular Carols for the Christmas Season) published in 1909. They should evoke lots of holiday memories for our Francophone audience members!

It’s a tradition at Camerata Nova holiday concerts to hear new, made-in-Manitoba arrangements of Christmas music. This year, we approached it slightly differently, inviting Mel Braun and Andrew Balfour to write their own music to O Magnum Mysterium. No surprise, they each approached it entirely differently. In Mel’s inimitable, quirky style, he looks at the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the animals. Listen for the sounds of cows, goats, sheep, birds and even cats. Braun has pulled off an amazing mélange of the funny and the respectful and serious – who are we to say that humans were the only ones to be awed by the birth of Christ?

Our third O Magnum Mysterium is by Andrew Balfour. “I have always wanted to set this text”, says Balfour. “I love the idea of the ‘great mystery’ and the contrast of power and fragility in the babe.” Andrew’s motet pays homage to the glorious Renaissance choral versions of the prayer. There is a subtle drive to the whole piece, with an underlying drone and fragmented text. “You could say that the sopranos are the angels and the other three parts are the shepherds and those saying the prayer. Rather than ending with loud praises and glory, I chose to finish with soft whispers dissolving in the ether – it’s the mystery, the tenderness – don’t wake the baby….”

Originally American, Miles Ramsay spent years, in his own words, “criss-crossing the United States as the lead singer and drummer in a lounge band – you know, the kind we make fun of today. At the time, it all seemed pretty cool, singing in the same Vegas lounges that were home to the likes of Mel Torme and Don Rickles.” Ultimately it got stale and he settled in Vancouver.  In addition to many creative choral arrangements, Miles’ claims to fame are that he is a serious, professional Vancouver choral singer and the composer of the Great Root Bear theme for A&W (which has been played by every high school tuba player since 1973 – check it out on You Tube)!  Ramsay writes one carol arrangement each year. His versions of What Child is This? and Deck the Halls are unusual, out of the traditional context with jazz chords and meter changes – challenging but fresh and fun to sing.

Many people in our city who are interested in music know about Sistema Winnipeg, a partnership between the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Seven Oaks and Winnipeg One School Divisions. It delivers musical training to children after school for three hours a day, five days a week, at no cost to their families. In their own words, “Sistema Winnipeg encourages children to reach their full potential and inspires greater social change within the community.”

Started in 2011, there are now 160 kids in grades 1-8 at two centres: Elwick and King Edward Schools. Approximately 49% of Sistema students are newcomers to Canada, and 36% come from an Indigenous background. While all students play an orchestral instrument, each school also has a choir. The Spaces in Between Us is a work about making connections and building bridges. Vic and our singers are looking forward to joining the Sistema kids during their rehearsals to workshop the piece. As he says, “It’s both fun and an honour for Camerata Nova and for Sistema to make music together.”

Camerata Nova, November 2017 – photo: Karine Beaudette

Snow Angel by Canadian Sarah Quartel is the central work of this concert. Scored for choir, solo cello, djembe and piano, it is in five movements. In the composer’s words, “Snow Angel asks you to see the tremendous potential present in our children. It celebrates love, beauty and the strength that a child’s voice can bring to our troubled world.” Most of the piece has an ethereal, mystical feel – fitting for a work peopled with a choir of angels. Movement 4, Sweet Child, however, morphs into an emphatic rap/anthem with a distinctly African feel and vibrant part for the djembe. Throughout, the musical language is emotive and pictorial, allowing performers to play an active role in the storytelling. Particularly popular with young people, Snow Angel has caught on in the choral world and is now being performed around the world.

Quartel also weaves a haunting, poignant cello line throughout the piece. We are very pleased to have Juliana Moroz performing today. At 15, she has already established her talent and credentials, winning the Aikins Memorial Trophy for top instrumentalist at the Winnipeg Music Festival last March – an outstanding feat for someone of her age. Youth from all over the city are producing marvelous music!

Shifting gears, Andrew has had fun putting together his Polar Suite. Tongue in cheek, it expresses his bemusement at the thought of Santa’s Village at the North Pole side by side with our Inuit communities. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Up on the Rooftop (Igloo?) and Santa Claus is Coming to Town are choral grist for the mill as Balfour creates a polar “medley,” replete with northern vocal soundscapes, while Inuit narrator Fred Ford recites the words to these popular songs in Inuktitut. We would like to thank Mary Nirlungayuk, Vice-President of the Manitoba Inuit Association, for her translations.

Throughout this concert, Vic Pankratz has woven in themes of connection, caring and coming together – In diversity and despite adversity. These seem fitting sentiments in this disjointed time. To reinforce our sense of community, the concert ends with Camerata Nova and Sistema singing Hope for Resolution by Sean Ivory and Paul Caldwell. This well-known piece juxtaposes a European chant melody, Of Our Father’s Love Begotten, with a Zulu anti-apartheid song called Thula sizwe (Nation, Do Not Cry). The arrangement reflects respect for divergent styles and points us towards our innate potential for peaceful co-existence.

Thanks, Vic, for encouraging us to sit back, celebrate our young people andenter into the holiday season in a spirit of love and community!

Serious Beauty: The Experience of Isolation


IsolationThe experience of listening to Renaissance polyphonal choral music is like being carried gracefully, perhaps effortlessly, along multiple vocal paths, following the choir’s persistent search for even more beauty. In your own living room, or listening to a recording while walking or driving, the music feels peaceful, comforting, revelatory. But hearing a choir as fine as Camerata Nova actually perform live a work like Missa Miserere Mihi Domine by Manuel Cardoso, and to be up close, watching them craft the complicated textures – that is an astonishing thing. Attending a rehearsal recently for Camerata’s Isolation concert, I was awed by the intricacy and challenge of this a cappella material. For the audience there will be joy, a glorious dance of vocal personalities; for the choir, an intense amount of work, building the splendidly profound architecture of the pieces.

Just one aspect that might not occur to the average listener is how essential rhythm is to Renaissance music; what we notice is wonderful melody, but precision of pace is vital. And then there is the sombre, even bleak quality of much of this religious music. Robert White’s “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” for instance, presents the allegorical figure of the city of Jerusalem in deep grief, because the city represents human sin and the responsibility weighs on her heavily: “Look and see / if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.” This is a completely appropriate text for the approaching Easter season – if one is Christian – but to other folks are these words merely distressing or baffling? So the task of the choir is to make this music not merely about sin but also about courage. The need to express and sanctify grief, to give voice to the lost – and to give not just voice, but powerful voice – these are the elements that need to come across to an audience. This has to be living lyricism, even when it is about dying.

Another challenge is that the members of Camerata Nova are singing, of course, Latin texts, and most of us have now lost the ability to fathom this ancient language. Yet: “Sing to the word,” conductor John Wiens nevertheless told the singers. Stopping for a moment and looking at his score, he condensed the overarching message of Cardoso’s remarkable and complex mass: “God: these are all the things you are. And these are all the things you do. You take away the sin of the world.” Wiens paused. “It’s a big thing.” And while the average listeners at Isolation cannot translate the words on their own, the joyous reverence and healing sweetness will be unmistakable.

Being close to an excellent choir in the lovely acoustic space of a church – and the upcoming concerts are at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, 315 Munroe, which is known for its exceptional sound – you notice that Renaissance music uses every single aspect of the human voice, and all the exquisite strands are presented – astonishingly – as separate and together. And all voices are valued. This is the splendour of polyphony: voices in constantly changing relation which nevertheless create a gorgeous unity.

You will have, on Saturday April 8 (7:30 pm) and Sunday April 9 (3:00 pm), the privilege of watching and hearing Camerata Nova’s singers weave the glowing and intricate lines of Renaissance composers – and in addition, experience artistic director Andrew Balfour’s stunning composition Trapped in Stone. Like John Wiens, Andrew Balfour somehow completely inhabits this ancient yet living choral language. His composition sits comfortably and confidently beside the Renaissance masters he clearly understands so well: this new work is a thing of serious beauty.

– Sue Sorensen

Impressions of Taken


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, conducted by Mel Braun and 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.”

Jeremy Dutcher – photo credit: Leif Norman

“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.”

Leanne Zacharias, Jeremy Dutcher – photo credit: Leif Norman

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.

Lindsay Knight – photo credit: Leif Norman

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 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.”

Lindsay Knight, Madeleine Allakariallak, Jeremy Dutcher – photo credit: Leif Norman

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 silapaaq and the amauti-inspired outfit 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 is 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.

Sue Sorensen is a Winnipeg English professor, novelist, and poet; she is also a member of the Camerata Nova board of directors.

Program Notes for Taken


This concert is a landmark in the history of Camerata Nova. First, it is our formal contribution to Canada’s process of truth and reconciliation. Second, it is truly national in scope: we have commissioned three Indigenous artist/composers from across the country to write new works for us and, in addition to our March 4/5 performances in Winnipeg, we have also been invited to perform this concert as part of the National Arts Council’s Canada Scene festival in June in Ottawa – a real honour!

Andrew Balfour proposed the theme and purpose of Taken, arising out of his performance piece commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra called Take the Indian. He did the research to find and invite Jeremy Dutcher and Lindsay Knight to be his co-conspirators. Mel Braun has also played a major role in curating this show, creating the singers’ live beat under Lindsay’s hip-hop text and pulling together the very diverse elements of people, music and performance in the last week before the show.

Honour Song
This was originally sung in Mi’kmaq by George Paul. He gifted it to the Wabanaki people and it was subsequently translated into the Maliseet language, Wolastoqey, by Maggie Paul. It is a call for unity and solidarity among all Indigenous peoples and an anthem to the land. “This song has become one of the most recognizable piece of Indigenous music on the east coast and is sung when our nations gather,” explains Jeremy Dutcher.

A bit more about Jeremy… Several years ago, Jeremy was at the National Archives in Ottawa researching the history of his people. He came across a wax roll recording from the early 1900s of his people singing traditional Maliseet songs. From this very special material, Jeremy is working on his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Our Maliseet Songs) slated for release in fall 2017. “I believe song is a critical method of language and value learning and, by extension, a specifically Wolastoqiyik worldview. Traditional Wolastoq songs are no longer sung here and it is my greatest desire to change that.”

Masceptasu (It is taken away)
“We have to keep our language. It tells us who we are and without it we are just ‘Ikolisomonok.’” – Iris Nicholas

Jeremy Dutcher writes: “The main theme of this work is the tension between loss and reclamation. When we think about what has been taken, we cannot separate the culture from the land. The culture is the land. The language is the land. We are the land.

Our Wolastoqey language is at a critical point today; there are currently less than 500 speakers left and unless the young people take linguistic reclamation seriously, we may lose it completely. This piece explores what has been lost by detailing a sound journey from my home community of Tobique First Nation to Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. This piece is dedicated to three people from my community who made that journey as young people in the 1950s and have since shared their stories: Vaughan Nicholas Jr, Iris Nicholas and Wendall Perley.

Each member of the choir is imagined as being on the journey from home to school – safety to unfamiliarity. For that reason, much of the choral parts are not actually dictated and it is up to each individual singer to carve their path forward. In the beginning, it is this improvisatory spirit that I want to guide the piece. This all comes to an end once we arrive at the school. Lines are strict and enforced and texts are religious in nature. Sound textures become dense. As themes from ‘home’ return, we find that they are discordant with where the singers find themselves. How will they find their way back? The cello represents the rootedness of community and introduces many important themes throughout the piece.

For me, the research for this piece was quite difficult. To listen to survivors recount how they were taken away from their homes and the subsequent confusion that that caused – how they were isolated from siblings once at school and told that everything they had known in life until that point was no good and of the devil. Hearing how this trauma has impacted the next generation places many of our issues as a community into a context of dispossession and colonial violence. Hearing their stories was a sobering reminder of the truths that some of our people carry with them.

In the end, Maceptasu begs the question what our path forward is. I reject that our languages are ‘dying’ as some have asserted. It is my belief they have been put to sleep for their own safety – it is our job to determine how we wake them up.”

Saskatchewan Indigenous hip-hop artist Lindsay Knight, a.k.a. Eekwol, wrote this song in 2015. It is featured on her new album called Good Kill, which is available for sale today. Lindsay grew up with little awareness of residential schools. Her father had gone to a day school and she had no idea that her father’s grandparents had both attended residential institutions – it was just never talked about. As a parent with a young family, Lindsay began to imagine what it would be like to have some strange white person of authority come and take her own children. She would suffer huge grief from separation. She would worry, not knowing how they were doing. Months later, when they returned for summer holidays, she would find out that this faraway place was cold, that her children were malnourished and, yet, they had to go back.

Ghosts was hard to imagine, hard to write, yet it ends on a hopeful note – Eekwol and her people are alive, Canadian Indigenous people have a future. It is possible to be strong and to climb out of the darkness.

Andrew first met Lindsay Knight through the National Arts Centre’s Music Alive program where both are educators in music outreach activities for the northern Prairies. He was impressed with her artistry and her passion and commitment to the social issues of her people. He told her about Camerata Nova, the Taken concert idea and his idea of writing about Martin Frobisher taking Inuit back to England.

“This song felt natural for me to write,” said Lindsay about her own interpretation of the theme. “The theme is one close to my heart. It was not fun, but it felt strong and productive to do. It’s also an adventure. I’ve never performed with a choir providing the live beat. I can’t wait to hear what Mel has done. I just told him that it had to work at 80-90 BPM (beats per minute) – I know I can perform it at that speed.” Mel Braun replies: “Lindsay, we can assure you that this is an adventure for Camerata Nova, too! I wove the drum songs you sent me into the texture, along with 13 Canadian pop music quotes, one for each region of Canada, that connect with your text.”

To be “taken” means to be removed far away, without permission. The corollary is how does one come back? In composing this hip-hop text, Lindsay started to think about Indigenous people across the country. Taken applies to many histories, to people, culture, language, songs. Today, it applies to incarceration – the many Indigenous people in our jails are not in their homeland, even if their prison is on treaty land. Her lyrics ring true to the dilemma Indigenous people are facing and the issues/feelings non-Indigenous Canadians must understand and respond to in order to achieve reconciliation: “Giving back what was taken when it’s no longer there, Taking back what was given when it’s all that is there.”

Quamaniq (Bright Aura)
In the summer of 2009, Andrew had the chance to go to Iqaluit and spend some time with Madeleine Allakariallak, experiencing the North to prepare to write his work, Medieval Inuit. “I remember looking out over Frobisher Bay as Madeleine told me about explorer Martin Frobisher and how he took Inuit back to England to show as ‘curiosities,’” says Andrew. “None ever came back, of course – white man’s diseases killed them within months. I was very touched. At the time, I decided that, someday, I would write a work about this story. Seven years later, I am realizing that dream. It’s magic to come under the spell of Madeleine and the Arctic once again.”

Quamaniq is centred on a story created by Andrew, but derived from the historical facts about Frobisher and the Baffin Island Inuit. It is an abstract work, shifting almost antiphonally between the life and perspective of the Inuit and that of Frobisher and his sailors. “I have a lot of passion for this piece,” writes Andrew, “but it has also been a struggle. I wanted to create a music with contemporary power, sorrow and mystery, but I also wanted it to be grounded in the sound of true Inuit tradition. This is the third time that I have collaborated with Madeleine. Her personal aura, love of her land/people and commitment to the traditional Inuit voice have been a great gift to me.”

Quamaniq starts by taking us into the mysterious feel of the North and the land – it is bright, cold, endless and otherworldly – a Shaman protects it. The scene and mood then shift to England: Frobisher and his sailors are setting out on their first voyage in 1576, leaving England full of patriotism and hope that they will find the Northwest Passage to the Orient. In contrast, we return to Baffin Island and are introduced to Ana, a special Inuit woman, surrounded by a “bright aura.” Suddenly, Frobisher’s ship can be seen in the distance – “Oona Soona? (What is it?)” sing the Inuit.

Entering the large bay, Frobisher dreams that he has found the famed passage to the east. He and his sailors are caught up in a frenzy of excitement and greed. They arrive at Baffin Island and Frobisher sings an aria: “Bring me my compass. Is this the Orient? We’ve found it!” In the background, sirens and the Shaman sing. This changes into a shamanic trance at the height of which Ana is captured and taken aboard ship. The trance is broken by the sailors’ Latin chorus of Convert Ye Back to God. The cello then plays a plaintive melody as the Inuit community watches the ship sail away. To keep her spirits up, Ana sings a personal song: The sun is about to shine (Madeleine’s mother and grandmother used to sing this when they lived in Resolute where the sun went down for four months of the year). Ana then sings about her struggle to survive. The work ends with the Shaman chant Quamaniq – Bright Aura – in honour of the lost Ana.

This concert has been a labour of sad recollections but also great caring and creativity.  Camerata Nova wishes to thank our amazing Indigenous composer/performers – Jeremy and Lindsay. This has been a fascinating and important journey. We were also honoured to have Madeleine, Jason, Leanne and Fred who have added so much to our goal of telling these Indigenous stories. Finally, we wish to thank Carolyn Rickey, our Executive Director, and all the production, marketing, development and front-of-house people, many of whom have donated long hours, to bringing this to fruition. Together, we can imagine a new quamaniq – bright aura – for this country.

Hooty, yappy, warm, bright: Camerata Nova in rehearsal for the WNMF


Earlier today (January 7th) we had our second rehearsal of Meredith Monk’s music for our upcoming Winnipeg New Music Festival performance on January 30. What a delightful exploration the rehearsal was. Every page of music called for new vocal colours. How wonderful to have the freedom to venture outside the normal realm of choral tone, text setting, and articulation. Rounded, balanced tones were replaced with tones by turns nasal, hooty, yappy, warm, bright, somber, or silly. Made-up syllables replaced words. Smoothly sung sensual phrases gave way to angular yips or vocal shouts. Playfulness became the order of the day. The music unfolded in layers, the emotion in each voice counterpointing the colours and articulations of the other. How did we know when the right sound had been achieved? I doubt that there is a definitive answer, but when it all worked, it sounded as if the complete menagerie of human and animal sounds had been loosed in the room.

Meredith Monk

For decades now Meredith Monk has led the way in playing with vocal possibilities and the sounds her music calls for are an endless source of delight. Instead of setting poetic or narrative text, she tells her stories by using sounds from all parts of the aural world that surrounds us. Oddly enough, these familiar sounds are considered to use “extended vocal techniques” when sung, even though they reflect the world we know so well. It’s sometimes a challenge for the singers to use these sounds. They have all been so well trained to strive for vocal “perfection.” Opening up the vocal paradigm to new possibilities can feel risky. The key is to ground all these sounds in the breath, to let the sounds be an honest expression of our world. When that happens, the result is vibrant, stunning, fully human. What might be considered ugly in another context takes on an extreme beauty here.

How should the audience respond to Meredith Monk’s music? Camerata Nova audiences have come to expect colourful, bold performances and these performances should be no exception if we do the music justice. Our wonderful singers are used to pushing the envelope and we hope the audience feels free to laugh, cry, or ponder as the music washes over them. We are so happy to share several of the Monk performances with Polycoro.

Andrew Balfour’s Bawajigaywin and Francisco Feliciano’s Pamagun will round out the performance for Camerata on January 30. Both pieces reflect Indigeneous traditions, Andrew’s piece using Ojibway text to honour the

Mel Braun, conductor.

preparation for a vision quest, Feliciano’s piece using a Maguindanao (Indigeneous Philippine) text to relate the story of a sparrow and a hunter. Andrew’s score is full of vocables (Hey-ya’s) while the Pamagun score is filled with bird calls. Like the Monk scores, both of these composers use syllables, layers, and repetition to build their stories. Feliciano’s score brings us back to the menagerie, the sounds of the birds rendered in brilliant technicolour. Andrew’s piece moves us deep inside the vision quest preparation ritual, at times hypnotic, at times pulsingly rhythmic.

Over the years, Camerata Nova has premiered numerous pieces, and it is a task that we relish. Giving voice to new work is essential for us. Is it risky? Always. Will we do the piece justice? Will we understand and communicate the essence of the composer’s intent to the audience? Will the audience respond? Innovative collaboration is the key to Camerata Nova’s music making and again and again, we have found composers to be generous, willing collaborators. Whether it’s new work by Andrew Balfour, Meredith Monk, Barbara Monk Feldman, David Lang, or Caroline Shaw, all composers whose works we’ve premiered at the New Music Festival in the last few years, the collaboration has always been a joy. As a choral community, we thrive when we combine our gifts with the vision and talents of others. This keeps our music making and community building ever new. Can you imagine a world where everyone had to sing and explore together each day as part of their daily routine? How much more sharing and peace might there be in the world? When we share our stories and work together, even if it’s just using syllables ala Monk, Balfour, and Feliciano, we change the world for the better.

Program for Songs of Ascension (WNMF3, Sunday, January 30, 7:30 p.m.):

Other Worlds Revealed – Meredith Monk (Camerata Nova and Polycoro)
Pamagun – Francisco Feliciano (Camerata Nova)
Bawajigaywin (Vision Quest) – Andrew Balfour (Camerata Nova)
Jewish Storyteller Dance/Dream – Meredith Monk (Camerata Nova)
Plague – Meredith Monk (Polycoro)
Traveller’s 4/Churchyard Entertainment – Meredith Monk (Camerata Nova)
Earth Seen from Above – Meredith Monk (Polycoro)
Fields and Clouds – Meredith Monk (Polycoro)
Dring Dring – Ana Sokolovic (Polycoro)
Mass from Lilies – Mychael Danna (Polycoro)
Qu’avon-nous oublie – Nicolas Gilbert (Polycoro)
Panda Chant 2 – Meredith Monk (Polycoro and Camerata Nova)

– Mel Braun

A Euro Nova Christmas


Vic Pankratz

Vic Pankratz

This year, the Camerata Nova Christmas concert is EuroNova and will be held at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church on November 26 and 27. Our 2016 holiday performance features lovely and unusual twentieth-century European Christmas carols, as well as a merging of old and new sounds from special guests, The Uncalled Four. I asked conductor Vic Pankratz and local composers Kenley Kristofferson and Michael Schellenberg to walk me through some of the soundscapes the audience will encounter at EuroNova.

While the program includes music from Sweden, France, and England, Vic Pankratz will highlight in particular five carols by early twentieth-century German composer Hugo Distler. I asked what he admires about Distler’s work.

“I find his music remarkable, his way of writing truly innovative. The choir will be singing five of his Christmas motets, the most well-known probably Maria Durch ein Dornwald Ging (“Maria went through a spiny forest”). His music is quirky yet beautiful, tonal yet chromatic.”

Hugo Distler

Hugo Distler

Distler was a church musician during the Nazi regime, trying to devote himself to sacred choral music. But he eventually felt unable to find a way to serve God in the difficult war years in Germany, and took his own life in 1942. Vic continues: “My own introduction to Hugo Distler was singing his setting of Lobe Den Herr’n (“Praise the Lord”) when I was in college. I loved the way the melody danced around in the different parts, and also the rhythmic complexity. His music is very popular amongst church musicians in Germany, and I’m so pleased to present some of his Christmas music to our

At EuroNova we will hear work by accomplished composers who are surprisingly young. Latvian Ēriks Ešenvalds (born 1977) is the writer of the ethereal Stars, during which the choir will play crystal glasses. Slovenian Gašper Jereb (born 1985) provides the hauntingly beautiful Magnum Mysterium, a Christmas cantata, which will also feature harpist Samantha Ballard.

Camerata singer Michael Schellenberg (born 1987) is the arranger of the brand new Presence of Christmas Mourning, a stirring amalgam of no less than nine European carols. The work was inspired by the complexity of emotions faced by those who experience grief and loss during the Christmas season. Michael says, “My arrangement is meant to lift people’s spirits through its progression and rich harmonies, not to dwell on the pain of loss.”

Another young composer is Kenley Kristofferson (born 1983), who teaches music at Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School. Born in Gimli, and proud of his Icelandic heritage, Kenley has written a new version of Jólakötturinn for EuroNova. Icelanders will know this story of a gigantic and scary Yule Cat, but the folk tale will be new to others. It is a weird but welcome addition to the usual stock of Christmas tales.

Although the Jólakötturinn on the Icelandic Yule stamp pictured here looks benign, the Yule Cat is formidable. One verse of the poem by Icelandic author Jóhannes úr Kötlum describes the cat this way:

He walked about, hungry and mean
in hurtfully cold Christmas snow
and kindled hearts with fear
in every town

Asked what drew him to the story of Jólakötturinn, Kenley says, “The cat is the pet of Grýla, the Icelandic Christmas witch, and lurks to find children who haven’t received any new Christmas clothes. I know the tune is kind of eerie, but there’s a message here about making sure that those around you have enough.  If you have a sweater, make sure to give it away as a gift so the Jólakötturinn doesn’t claim another victim!”

The choir has many languages to master for the concert, and will rise to the considerable challenge of the Icelandic words (consulting, perhaps, a version of the piece by Icelandic pop star Bjork). Kenley says we should notice the “dynamic level of the piece, which nicely exemplifies the coming of the Jólakötturinn, first in shadows, and then drawing nearer and nearer.” He continues: “This music took almost every tool I had in my compositional toolbox.”

Camerata Nova is thrilled to have The Uncalled Four as guests for Euronova. The Uncalled Four are an electro-acoustic music ensemble exploring the fusion of live vocal expression in the choral tradition, with computer-generated atmospheric sound and light. The Four are electronic sound producer Jakob Weirathmueller and vocalists Claire Fast, James Magnus-Johnston, and Al Schroeder. Claire and Al are both singing in this concert with Camerata, while James has been a member in the past.

The Uncalled Four will be opening the second half of the concert and Camerata Nova will join on two songs. A unique twist to this set is that the Four are going to record the audience singing a well-known Christmas Carol earlier in the evening and then incorporate this into their set of music. “I am very excited about all the different elements of this collaboration,” says Vic Pankratz.

Months of preparation go into a holiday concert this original, with so many new arrangements and special combinations of instruments and voices. As curator of this concert, Vic is full of eager anticipation, and especially happy to bring local compositional talent to the fore. “I know,” says Vic, “that the audience will love what they hear.”

– Sue Sorensen

Out of Bounds: Camerata Nova’s 2016-2017 Season

Still glowing from its 20th anniversary, Camerata Nova starts a new decade with a season that goes out of bounds and delves into the deep heritage of choral music while taking daring strides with new material. As usual, Andrew Balfour and the Camerata Nova team colour vibrantly outside the lines. Highlights include three very different and exciting concerts:

Euro Nova (November 26 and 27, 2016 at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church): This concert runs the gamut: interesting, beautiful 20th-century European Christmas music (including works with harp and glass choir), arrangements of well-known European carols by five different Manitoba composers and European electro-acoustic carols featuring Camerata Nova with the local Winnipeg group The Uncalled Four, led by James Magnus Johnson with synthesizer whiz Jakob Weirathmueller. Not exactly the Christmas we know, but a Christmas that stirs the imagination, evokes the familiar and renews our spirit. Note: While we simply cannot afford to make this a free concert, we wish to continue the tradition of making our holiday concerts highly accessible. The compromise is a nominal charge of $10 per person; children under 12 free.

Taken (March 4 and 5, 2017 at the Ukrainian Labour Temple): Meet Jeremy Dutcher, a Maliseet originally from New Brunswick, one of 500 people left who speak his language. Dutcher is a composer and performance artist who has a Masters in Voice (Lieder) and Piano from Dalhousie University. Camerata Nova has commissioned Jeremy and other Indigenous artists to compose works on the theme of “taken.” For Jeremy, the subject is his language while for Lindsay Knight (performance name Eekwol), the theme evolved to the other ways we can be taken, by addiction and suicide. Lindsay is a passionate, brilliant hip-hop artist from Saskatoon. Conductor Mel Braun is writing a beat-box choir part for us – hang on to your seats! Last but not least, our own Andrew Balfour is writing a fascinating work on the explorer Frobisher taking Inuit back to England as “curiosities.” The fabulous Madeleine Allakariallak from Iqaluit will perform the part of a shaman while Jeremy Dutcher sings the role of a young kidnapped Inuk. Not to be missed!

Isolation (April 8 and 9, 2017 at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church): John Wiens has selected an exceptional array of a cappella early music on this theme – the Portuguese composer Manuel Cardoso isolated by writing music 50 years behind his times; Robert Carver, a Scotsman geographically isolated from his Renaissance colleagues, or Stabat Mater Dolorosa by John Browne whose music expresses deep feelings of isolation. A beautiful, contemplative start to Easter week.

Other gigs
We will be performing our usual free Christmas concert in the atrium of Manitoba Hydro Place (360 Portage Avenue) ahead of the Santa Claus Parade. Get in the festive spirit with this light holiday concert that features Christmas classics and a sing-along, on Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 2:30 pm.

Also, thanks to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), we will be returning to the New Music Festival on Choral Night on January 30, 2017, at 7:30 pm, at Westminster United Church (745 Westminster Avenue). This time, Camerata Nova conductor Mel Braun has collaborated with Polycoro director John Wiens and the WSO curators to guarantee spice, surprise and serious fun in true New Music Festival fashion!

Year Two of our Northern Manitoba Outreach Program
Following last year’s success of the Four Directions pilot project, Camerata Nova is delighted to continue its partnership with Frontier School Division – Canada’s largest – and offer musical outreach to northern Manitoba communities for the 2016-17 school year. Camerata Nova music specialist team, Andrew Balfour and Michael Thompson, will once again work with K-12 students using voice, didgeridoos, percussion and other innovative techniques to encourage the children to express themselves through soundscapes that culminate in end-of-day group performances.

About Andrew, my brother


Andrew (on the left) with his sisters Shelagh (centre) and Alison.

Andrew (on the left) with his sisters Shelagh (centre) and Alison.

What does it mean in the political climate of 2016 that Andrew Balfour is my brother? Andrew is a First Nations man of Cree descent. I, along with the rest of our family, am white, of Scottish descent. That is not insignificant, as Andrew’s work Take the Indian so poignantly highlights. I know that openly acknowledging our relationship, and how deeply I love my brother, may cause pain to some who were harmed by the unjust and cruel policies of our country, anger to others. It was those policies that brought him to us, after all. But Andrew is my brother; no qualifications, no going back. And I would not have it any other way.

Nineteen sixty-seven, the year I turned eleven, our parents decided adopting a child would be a suitable centennial project. It wasn’t a random thing – they had wanted more children for a long time – but, by adopting, they thought they could fulfill their wish in a way that made a bigger difference. It was not a matter of adopting just any child, they would welcome and love a child who was considered “unadoptable.”

Yes, in 1967, at least according to the adoption agency, Aboriginal children were labelled “unadoptable”. Bizarre, really, when looked back at from this point in the life of our country. Whatever the specific circumstances of my brother’s birth and adoption, the “Sixties Scoop” was in full swing. Aboriginal children were being adopted out by the thousands into white families all over North America. I knew of two other families in our neighbourhood alone where one of the children came from a First Nations background. But these children weren’t the lily-white newborns that parents unable to conceive dreamed of. They were somehow second best.

Not to us, however. Our parents felt they were doing something important in bringing Andrew into the family; something important, but not something noble or sacrificial. Andrew was simply Andrew, the newest child in the family, our baby brother. Which is not to say they denied his heritage. From the first, it was important that Andrew know where he came from, who his people were. Of course, in those days, with adoption records closed, they could have only a general understanding of Andrew’s background. I know it pleased them when, as an adult, Andrew was able to learn more and his Cree identity became part of his life and his music.

I wonder now if the adoption agency promoted the children they put forward in a way that would appeal to prospective parents. It isn’t just that “unadoptable” label which would appeal to the altruistic. Our parents were courted as the ideal parents for this child whose birth parents were university students and musicians. We would give him the background he needed to develop his gifts. (I recall even some mention of Scottish blood in the ancestry as well.) Of course, it was apparent almost from the first that Andrew was, indeed, musically gifted, and our family was a good place to foster those gifts, so perhaps I’m being unnecessarily cynical.

I am not unmindful of the deep systemic changes needed in our society to bring justice and equity to First Nations. Over the years, I have read and listened, perhaps not as widely as I could, but enough to grasp some sense of the horrible cost of the mess we have made and the complexity of correcting it. Most recently, in reading the summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and attending the play Reservations (for which Andrew did the music and sound design), I have once again been presented with the history of the “Sixties Scoop” and the damage caused by adopting First Nations children out of their communities. And I have to be honest; my first reaction is “but, he’s my brother.”

I want to understand as best as I can, given the limitations of my location. I know I come from the position of privilege. It is not possible for me to grasp in any deep sense what it means to live the systemic racism of our country. It is not possible for me to gain more than a limited, speculative sense of what it means to lose your culture, your children. But, even though I can view it only dimly, I do know it is a deep and a profoundly important thing. And yet, Andrew is my brother – no qualifications, no going back – and I cannot carry that with shame or guilt. He is my brother and I cannot honestly say that I would have it any other way.

– Shelagh Balfour

Music and Mysteries of the English Renaissance

John_Wiens_colBy John Wiens

Musicians hold a special place in history because they are often revealing about life and thought in a fairly audible way. England’s rulers were consistently kind to their musicians. Taverner, Tallis, and Byrd all had their run-ins with the law, but none were found guilty. Back when not being the right religion led to severe penalties and even death, Taverner was tried for Lutheran leanings, Byrd was accused of not attending his local church enough (that was a crime back then) and Tallis was openly Catholic. And it’s a good thing the monarchs spared them – we have an extraordinary wealth of music as a result.

England was well ahead of its musical time from 1350 to 1470. Music by composers whose names we don’t recognize now wrote stunningly beautiful melodies that made continental musicians take note. Visitors remarked on the “sweet sound” they heard, of overwhelming textures and music on a massive scale that they had never heard before. Although music for more than 7 voices was very rare in England (there were really only a handful of compositions for more before 1500), their music was considered the most impressive.

What is so strange about 1470 to 1540 is that English music seemingly made so little headway, and that we know so little about it. There are just a few treatises that survive, and not enough for us to speak in a definitive manner on why they seemingly slowed. There was hardly a bold new direction to be found during that time; instead there was a steady refinement of existing style. Amongst the treasures that remain from that time (Henry the 8th had agents who burned the bulk of the scores and treatises), we view a vibrant style meant to overwhelm. The English had a wide view of the cadential model, used intensive rhetorical symbolism, and proportions of surprising scope. The consistency of English composers embracing these elements makes one suspect they were living up to some sort of challenge. There are tantalizing hints about the nature of that challenge, but nothing we can say with certainty. We can only speculate.

John Taverner, 1490-1545

John Taverner, 1490-1545

From that era, John Taverner’s Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas stands out as one of the most popular choral works in history. It was published quite often in its day and a fairly recent Canadian survey pointed to it as one of the 10 most popular choral works among Canadians. That’s quite a feat for music written nearly 500 years ago, and speaks to our uncommonly good taste in music.

Symbolism was a central part of the composing challenge for Taverner’s generation. It was common for numbers to be applied as symbols and to musical proportions. The perfect time signature was, for instance, triple time. In Taverner’s mass the number 3 is everywhere – from the number of voices in each section to the proportions of the time signatures, the cantus firmus, and the symbolic gestures within the music. Exactly why these proportions were used so pointedly is the question we have no satisfying answer to and therein lies part of the mystery. The other is this: how can a piece that we know so little about practically be so satisfying to listen to?

In 1534 Henry the 8th changed everything with The Act of Supremacy. The Act dissolved the Catholic infrastructure in England. That infrastructure had developed a great many of England’s composers and singers. Some, like Taverner, left music behind entirely. Despite this, the influence of John Taverner can’t be overstated. Both Byrd and Tallis used his compositions as models. And a new genre of composition – the In Nomine – was born of this mass. This four-part section was viewed as so perfect by other composers that they began writing their own In Nomine, a practice that lasted so long that even Purcell tried a time or two more than a century later.

Thomas Tallis, c.1505-1585

The Act was actually killing two birds with one stone – Henry rid himself of Catholic rules, and he increased the annual crown budget of roughly 15% from resulting rents and sundry on the lands he confiscated. He employed some worthy additional musicians at court as a result, like Thomas Tallis. The Chapel Royal the best post available to Tallis and gave him access to many of England’s best singers. We could even speculate he knew he was getting the post – when his monastery was dissolved he purchased a treatise by Leonel Power (a manuscript a century old at the time) which would have cost a small fortune. It is not believable to think he would make such a purchase if he didn’t feel good about his chances. This purchase is also an important signal. Tallis intended to look back to find his new path, rather than forward. And he did just that with his compositions for Mary Tudor like Gaude Gloriosa Dei Mater.

Despite Henry’s Act, England was still essentially Catholic in 1534, and 20 years changed little amongst an affluent and determined Catholic community. In the Mary Tudor years, Catholic themes were renewed, especially the Votive anthem, which has a song in praise of Mary the Virgin Mother. The freedom to write in an old style for Gaude Gloriosa Dei Mater must have come as a real opportunity to Tallis – who did some of his best and most inventive composing, leaving behind the simpler style he employed for Henry.

The intention to praise Mary Tudor simultaneously can hardly be more obvious. Many Catholics thought her their saviour from persecution. The music takes on a joyfully beguiling tone, at some points nearly flirtatious. Tallis, by removing the cantus firmus, created a heavier, denser texture he uses to highlight crowns, ascending to the throne, the Tudor Rose, angels, the rod of justice, and other symbols associated to both Mary’s. There are also a few moments when he references Taverner.

William Byrd, c.1543-1623

William Byrd, c.1543-1623

We know far more about William Byrd than the other two combined. Byrd was a recognized genius very early – but he was much more than a musician. He was also a businessman who read law voraciously. He died a very wealthy man, having paid careful attention to many aspects of his business and acting as his own lawyer in many disputes with neighbours and ne’er-do-well family members.

Byrd had skill and ambitions. Byrd studied with Ferrebosco, an Italian composer and spy, and inspected the works of Lassus, Cipriano da Rore, and Clemens non Papa. He knew the current continental trends. When he published his first volume of music with Tallis in 1575, you can hear him sorting out those new problems within the English framework. If that volume had been more popular on the continent, it may be that he would have left England like many of his compatriot composers, but it sold only a few copies and Byrd stayed put.

The Mass for Five Voices was published using little identification on it, and nothing to point to William Byrd except the music itself. Printing a Latin mass 60 years after the Act, even for England’s greatest living composer, was still a risk. It was printed for private use in Catholic homes, in three volumes for three different arrangements of voices. Each was small and easily concealable. The mass for five voices was the last of the set to be written, after he had sorted out certain technical issues that he wasn’t certain about when composing his four- and three-voice masses. You will hear Taverner’s influence in the In Nomine section, and while the sections might be much shorter, they still adhere to the conventions of the time preceding Taverner.

When we consider William Byrd, there is a parallel with Bach – he let others update their compositional styles while he did not. How he wrote his music in the 1590s was very similar to how he wrote in 1610 – he had found his solutions and he was going to use them regardless of the style of the day.

And when he left court to live in Stondon Massey in 1594, one asks why. He still had access to fine musicians there through his networks, but fewer of them. He was clearly capable of writing glorious music for six or more voices. Someday I anticipate certain suspicions will be confirmed, but until then it remains a mystery…

John Wiens is guest conductor for Camerata Nova’s British Mysteries concert. He is also Director of Music at St. Matthias Anglican Church, in Montréal, and an early music specialist.

Nortendluvsongs: a wonderful and diverse choral sampling of North End cultures

Mel Braun, conductor and curator of nortendluvsongs.

Mel Braun, conductor and curator of nortendluvsongs.

By Mel Braun

Our next concert, nortendluvsongs*, celebrates Winnipeg’s North End as a gateway for immigrants, a place where so many immigrant cultures have flourished, a place which has very much shaped the soul of our city.

We open both halves of the program with First Nations voices, Katherena Vermette/Andrew Balfour (Selkirk Avenue – a premiere by Andrew based on a poem by Katherena from her Governor General’s award-winning book of poetry called North End Love Songs) in the first half, and Vince Fontaine (Eagle and Hawk, Indian City) in the second half. Katherena is Métis/Mennonite in heritage and carries the voice of her people, the loss, the sadness and the hope. Vince has done it all as a musician, but also has many stories about life as a taxi driver and hockey player. His is a voice that celebrates the First Nations. One of his pieces, Sundancer, is an arrangement for Camerata Nova, Vince and two singers.

The “Immigrant Suite” that follows Andrew’s Selkirk Avenue combines Ukrainian, Philippine and Russian folksongs with selections from Danny Schur’s musical Strike! Because the Ukrainian Labour Temple (where we are presenting this concert) was such an integral part of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, and because the immigrant experience was completely tied up with the strike movement (as comes through in Danny Schur’s libretto), it made sense to include these pieces.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple, on Pritchard, was a rallying centre for the trade union movement during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple, on Pritchard, was a rallying centre for the trade union movement during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

The Ukrainian folksongs, courtesy of the Koshetz library, are by Olexander Koshetz himself, and are long-time favourites of the Koshetz community. One is about moonlight, the other about dancing. The Philippine folksong arrangement (in Tagalog) comes to us from Philip Lapatha, a young Filipino who teaches high school choral music in the Maples area and is starting to make a name for himself as an arranger. It is a lullaby sung by an adult son to his mother, or figuratively, to his motherland. The Russian folksong Kalinka is at the top of the list when it comes to favourite Russian folksongs and is featured at many a hockey game as well as sounding a lot like the Tetris theme according to the gamers in the Camerata Nova family. My arrangement explores the sounds of the Russian Steppes while celebrating the wooing of a young maiden. Kalinka means “snowberry”, a reference to the beloved? The idea of the “Immigrant Suite” is to juxtapose a few of the many North End cultural or folk-music genres with the story of the 1919 strike to show, in a small way at least, some of the identities that shaped the North End and our city.

The organization Sistema Winnipeg makes its own very significant contribution to the North End, providing opportunities for inner-city children to experience the power of music and art to shape lives. They will end the first half our program with a few or their own pieces and two short collaborations with Camerata Nova (our Red River Valley arrangement by Andrew Balfour and an arrangement of Siyahamba by Marcelline Moody).

A choral account of a curling exploit by Canadian Jennifer Jones in 2005.

A choral account of Canadian Jennifer Jones’ curling exploit at the 2005 Scott Tournament of Hearts.

After Vince’s second half opening, the Curler’s Lexicon (or the Curling Cantata in 10 Ends) explores one of the big Scottish contributions to athletics: curling. The other is golf. Both of these are beloved by Winnipeggers, and curling in particular has brought Winnipeg to world prominence. I’ve always been fascinated by curling, both the game itself and the many new words and expressions it seems to have spawned. I went around collecting all the curling terms I could find and came up with a cantata in 10 ends that shows various parts of the game. The opening and closing melodies sound vaguely like a commercial that was featured during the TSN curling broadcasts of the early 2000s. Like many cantatas, this piece features a narration that tells the story of curling and ties the whole piece together. To honour the Scottish roots of the game, the narration (two women singing in fourths) takes place over a bagpipe drone in the men’s voices. Other movements of the cantata include a list of shots, a description of the “house”, a ribald conversation overheard at a mixed bonspiel, and to close, an exact choral replay of the famous curling shot by Jennifer Jones at the 2005 Scott Tournament of Hearts, the one that propelled her to prominence and eventual world domination. The audience gets to make the sound of her final rock coming down the ice.

We close the program with a few klezmer numbers by The Mayors of Sambor (Danny Koulack, Victor Schulz, Myron Schulz), followed by two arrangements that I put together for Camerata Nova and klezmer band. If Ukrainian, Philippine and Russian folk songs are the soul music of the North End, klezmer adds rhythm and dance to the soul. The first song, Shterndl, is a touching letter home from a political prisoner to his family. The second is a famous Yiddish Song, Undser Nigndl, which celebrates families singing together. I’ve combined this song with another Yiddish song, Bulbes, which is all about eating potatoes every day of the week because that’s all there is to eat. Yikes! These two songs should bring the program to a rousing finish.

nortendluvsongs is but a small sampling of the wonders brought to the North End by all the many ethnic groups that have informed it, but what a diverse and wonderful sampling it is. Now all we need is all the food and drink that goes with it (we’re serving red velvet cupcakes at intermission)!

*Camerata Nova presents nortendluvsongs on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm and on Sunday, March 13, 2016 at 3:00 at the Ukrainian Labour Temple (591 Pritchard Avenue). There will also be a pre-concert by the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra at 7:15 pm on Saturday and at 2:15 pm on Sunday.

The Instruments of Praetorius’ Time – Part 2

By Ross Brownlee

In Part 2, we explore more of the weird and wonderful instruments that Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) himself would have used and that will be part of the concert Praetorius Christmas Mass that we are presenting. The woodcuts that accompany this article were published in his book Syntagma musicum, published in 1619.


The crumhorn family.

Crumhorn – These curious instruments are another in the amazing wind section. Unlike the dulcian, shawm and rackett, these double reed instruments have their reed enclosed in a sealed “cap.” When the player blows at the top of the cap, the air chamber pressurizes and forces air through the reed, without it ever touching the player’s mouth. This makes for a very different kind of sound and tuning control! I have spent a week at Amherst Early Music trying to learn the crumhorn, and never have I experienced such intense pressure in my head! It takes amazing control to play these instruments, and enormous core strength to power them!

The shape is also very unique. Crumhorns are wooden and have a straight body, much a like a recorder. It is under the finger holes that they break away from the norm. The bottom of the instrument curves forward, away from the player, ultimately sending the sound soaring upward. Check it out on the Praetorius woodcuts! With a cylindrical body and no bell, the crumhorns also have a nasal, buzzing sound that is gorgeous and unique. Be sure to listen for their feature moment on verse 3 of In Dulci Jubilo!

Gut Strings – Our five wonderful string players have modified their instruments to play this performance. Rather than use their normal, steel core strings, our WSO players have removed the modern iteration and replaced them with strings made of spun gut. Yes! This is how all strings were made up until the advent of machinery that could spin steel into thread-like consistency! Poor animals! The difference in sound is remarkable and many people, upon hearing period performances have commented on the warm, earthy sound produced. This is due to the natural, gut core of the strings, and also from the style of bow and hand position used by the players to accommodate the natural strings. Why change to the steel strings in the 19th century? Mostly for projection. With large orchestras and newer, stronger brass, woodwinds and percussion, the orchestral strings had to play with a more potent sound to be heard. So, inventors learned to spin steel and make tighter, more powerful sounding strings. Here though, we will go back and hear the lovely and warm vocal quality of the original sound.

Theorbo and instruments of the guitar/lute family.

Theorbo and instruments of the guitar/lute family.

Theorbo – The original hybrid! This amazing instrument is half lute, the precursor of today’s guitar, and half bass lute, essentially a bass guitar. This was pure genius for the omnipresent continuo lines of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Rather than have a separate bass player, who would give the fundamental chord tone, and a high lute player, who would fill in the chord and rhythmic interest, by adding a long neck for the bass strings, one highly skilled musician could do it all! Theorbos were routinely paired with a small portative organ to fill out the chord structures to accompany singers and players alike.

This is another of my favourite instruments! It has a magical, almost other-worldly bass sound, unique to any instrument, but can strum and create rhythmic drive like any modern guitar! I often wonder why a modern version of this instrument hasn’t found more favour in today’s bands and singer-songwriters? The ability to play with such a wide range seems very appealing!



Recorder – This beautiful instrument has been largely relegated to elementary music rooms in North America. But it is so much more! Like the cornetto, the Renaissance recorder is designed to allow skilled players tremendous virtuosity! Renaissance recorders have a larger bore diameter and larger whistle than the modern instruments, resulting in a rich, full, woody sound, ideally suited for singers and other period instruments. Listen for the soaring high notes of the sopranino, and notice the incredibly rich and gentle sounds of the larger tenor and bass instruments. The largest 8-foot recorders require a metal bocal to direct the players air to the top of the instrument.

Organ – The mighty organ at Westminster is the heart of this program! Such a marvel of engineering, the organ offers a range of sounds, dynamics, colours and combinations unrivalled in any other instrument! Using ranks of pipes, ranging from tiny flutes to mighty bass trombones (or shall we say sackbuts?), the organ can gently accompany a solo singer or instrument, or lead an entire audience of hearty singers! The skill required of the player is astounding. Not only must they be able to play the hand keyboards (there can be up to 5 of them!), but they must also operate the pedal board with their feet, change the ranks of different sounding pipes by adjusting the stops (controls for which type of pipe will sound), and spend hours beforehand, figuring which combinations of sounds and colours best suit the style and effect of the music they are playing. It is daunting and wonderful! Erik will adjust this Winnipeg organ to best recreate the colours that Praetorius, himself an organ builder, would have imagined for this wonderful Christmas Mass.


The Instruments of Praetorius’ Time – Part 1

By Ross Brownlee

Black and white portrait of Michael Praetorius

Praetorius published the Syntagma musicum in 1619.

Michael Praetorius was not only a fine and masterful composer; he was also a virtuoso organist and instrument builder. The woodcuts that he published in his book Syntagma Musicum, which depict with scientific accuracy the dimensions of the common instruments of his time, have become invaluable in the modern recreation of these instruments. The book is also a beautiful resource for performance practices such as the ones you will hear in our upcoming concert, Praetorius Christmas Mass. Given that most of the weird and wonderful instruments he would have used will be part of the show, we thought it would be fun to give an introduction to their look and sound!

Sackbuts and cornettos

Sackbut and cornetto families.

Cornetto – One of the most beautiful and enchanting of instruments, the cornetto is often compared to a fine singer! Cornettos are a curved, wooden instrument, conical in shape and fingered much like a recorder, but played with a tiny mouthpiece that is still used in modern brass. Having tried to play this thing on numerous occasions, I have tremendous respect for those who play it with virtuosity and delicacy. This thing is really tricky! The cornetto comes in many sizes, mimicking the voices of a choir. The bass cornetto is often seen in museums and photos as the giant, twisted, black instrument known as “the Serpent,” for its striking resemblance to a monstrous, black, coiled snake! There are also straight cornetti with built-in mouthpieces that play with a gentler sound and are known as “mute cornetto.” Played in combination with voices, strings and winds, but especially with the sackbut, the cornetto was a staple of all 15th, 16th and early 17th century ensembles. For an unknown reason, the instrument lost favour in the 18th century and virtually disappeared until its renaissance by music historians in the 1960s.

Sackbut – Clearly an instrument with a name one doesn’t forget, the sackbut is a direct predecessor of the modern trombone, and looks strikingly similar to the instruments used in bands and orchestras all over the world today. Featuring a double slide, a new technology in the 16th century, the sackbut changes its fundamental harmonic easily by adding or subtracting its length, thereby making it a fully chromatic instrument. Sackbuts had less physical rigidness, thus making it gentler in sound than its modern counterparts and well suited for playing with voices, the cornetto (its favourite partner), and all manner of wind and string instruments. Like most instruments in the Renaissance, sackbuts range in size from soprano through to bass and even contrabass. The largest of these have slide-extending handles to allow the player to reach the lowest positions. Most common are the alto, tenor and bass versions. Its curious name comes from the old French words “saquer – bouter,” meaning “push – pull.” The English changed this to sackbut!

Dulcians and racketts

The dulcian and rackett families.

Dulcian – Also known as “curtal,” these are the direct predecessors of the modern bassoon. Without the complex mechanical apparatus of modern instruments, these lovely, buzzy double reed instruments had a limited range of just a couple of octaves, again requiring many sizes to cover the full range. The largest is 16 feet long, and the smallest, just one foot! Dulcians add tremendous warmth and colour to any ensemble and have been one of my favourite instruments to pair with while playing my sackbut. Added to an a cappella choir’s bass line, dulcians are an integral anchor for perfect tuning and rock solid bass lines!

Rackett I’m so delighted that we will have three, yes three, wonderful bass racketts in this performance! I don’t believe Winnipeg audiences have ever heard one, let alone three, of these magical instruments before. Racketts are essentially “pocket bassoons.” There are 16 feet of cylindrical tubing wrapped in foot-long lengths inside a larger wooden casing that is one foot long. A large, double reed, attached to a copper bocal, provides the sound. The resulting peppermill-looking instrument plays the same range as a bass dulcian, but its small size and cylindrical shape mean that the fundamental harmonic is very thin and thus they sound very buzzy. The effect is magnificent and will be heard in one of the gentlest motets of the Praetorius Christmas Mass.

In Part 2, we will explore more of these weird and wonderful instruments!

Ross conducting

Ross Brownlee


An early music specialist, Ross Brownlee conducts Camerata Nova’s period concerts. While at McGill University, Brownlee was mentored by Dr. Douglas Kirk, a world-class expert on historical instruments and early music repertoire. In 2000, Ross continued his studies in early music in Vancouver, investigating the performance practice and history of the Renaissance trombone (sackbut) with leading musicians from around the world. For many years he has been a teacher and coach at the Amherst Early Music Festival in New London, Connecticut. Initially a singer in Camerata Nova, Brownlee now acts as a co-conductor, designing and conducting early music concerts while also acting as a member of the Board and of the Music Committee.

The Hermetic Ode: A fusion of many arts

Michael McKay


by Michael McKay,
curator, conductor, narrator
of The Hermetic Ode


A few years ago, I was sitting in a friend’s car. (The friend is Camerata Nova tenor Michael Schellenberg.) We were having one of many long discussions about esoteric matters after rehearsal—as was our wont at the time. He proposed a concert idea he wanted me to present to Camerata Nova’s Programming Committee: a concert inspired by alchemy. The idea was approved, but I was told that I had to take the project on myself, since it was I who presented the idea.

I knew very little about alchemy, except that it was connected with chemistry and seemed to be the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, a mythical substance that has the power to transform lead into gold. Originally the initial discussions were to present a concert in which music had been pulled apart and put back together in different combinations: for instance, Gregorian chant might be recast with an modern accompaniment drawn from avant-garde choral music. The concert was at first called Fission and Fusion: Choral Alchemy. But that was to change…

About a year ago, visual artist Margruite Krahn expressed interest in getting involved in the project. She had conceived an art exhibit in which she would tell the story of personal transformation in a series of paintings based on the symbolism of birds in alchemy, and wanted to contribute a number of these paintings to accompany the music in our concert.

The Hermetic Ode on May 8, 2015With this as a starting point, I began to delve into the maddening world of alchemical research. Wading through the cryptic, surreal, and often contradictory sources, a new concert idea started to take shape. Instead of the notion of fission and fusion, I began to conceive an overall narrative that gives a glimpse into the heart of alchemy.

I also wanted to conceive a concert in a very different way from the usual approach to concert programming. Most programming involves arranging pieces of music in a pleasing order, but not necessarily with any large structure in mind; however, I wanted to try using the musical selections to tell a story. Therefore, the pieces were chosen not only for their own merits, but also how well they fit into the overall narrative, their order being crucial to the story.

But this is a story that cannot be told just by choral music; it needs a fusion of many arts. The concert had developed as a multimedia experience, with composers Andrew Balfour and Mike Schellenberg writing for choir and electronic sounds, with accompanying artwork by Margruite Krahn and others, with the use of coloured light, and with me writing narrations for myself to recite to put the story in context.

So what is this story? The truth behind alchemy, as my research began to uncover, had nothing to do with turning base metals into gold; rather it is a process of personal transformation on a psychological and spiritual level. The “base metal” is really the base mettle of the alchemists themselves, who transform themselves into gold in a metaphorical sense. There certainly was a chemical element to alchemy, but the physical process was seen as a guide to the spiritual process.

The story of The Hermetic Ode presents a progression of ideas traveling through the alchemical process known as the Great Work. I won’t discuss the Great Work here; you’ll have to come to the concert to see for yourselves.

Art by Margruite Krahn
Coloured light on Margruite Krahn’s artwork.

Take the Indian: A vocal reflection on missing children

by Andrew Balfour,
ward of the state #1389

Composition by Andrew Balfour
Conductor, Mel Braun

Performed by Camerata Nova
Cello – Yuri Hooker
Alto solo – Angela Neufeld
Wounded Indian – Andrew Balfour

 [table id=1 /]

Take the Indian is a work that has been on my mind for some time. The history of our nation’s treatment of the First Nations peoples of this land is a shocking and deeply disturbing legacy that is only now receiving study and daylight.

The most troubling aspect to many is the hunting, the preying upon First Nations children, in particular the hundreds of young Aboriginal women, who have gone missing, with no trace. Occasionally we open the paper to hear that the body of another young woman has been pulled out of a river, usually badly beaten and abused.

To many, including myself, this is an unacceptable state of affairs in a so-called civilized society. Since European settlers arrived, there has been a continual state of genocide of the First Nations peoples, particularly their children. Think of residential schools, diseased blankets, government sponsored “testing” of Aboriginal children that sent many young ones to their deaths in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s a sad legacy that sounds more like what happened to Jews in the Holocaust rather than what Canadians to do fellow Canadians.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to Winnipeg a few years ago, I witnessed an incredibly disturbing afternoon of testimony from the survivors of the Residential School legacy. I’m sure the hundreds of people there listening to the sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness of these people will never forget it. I know I never will.

The text for this work is taken from the words of an assortment of survivors that testified that afternoon. I have decided to keep them all anonymous. So much of what they were sharing was so personal that I did not want to single out any one individual out of respect for their deep inner grief.

I make no apologies for the harshness of this work or these words. It enters into the deep discomfort of our collective society. It speaks of the darkness of our so-called nation-building and the debris that it has created.

The First Nations of this land have been deeply wounded. It is time to sing, to talk, to heal.

Choral Alchemy: A look at our 2014-15 Season


Alchemy means transformation: magical or scientific, the use of rituals, experiments, symbols and spells. Base metals can turn into gold or, more difficult, base humanity can attain the spiritual. Our last concert of the 2014-15 season, The Hermetic Ode: Choral Alchemy is focused on this topic but, when I think about it, much of what Camerata Nova is and does has an alchemical feel.

Dowland in Dublin
Wednesday, October 8 at 7:30 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (corner of Nassau and Wardlaw)

We start the year on October 8 (yes, much earlier than usual!) with an experiment. Thanks to Ross Brownlee who studied and worked in the fabulous early music scene in Montreal, we were lucky to snag a group called La Nef (The Nave) who are touring western Canada this fall with their show, Dowland in Dublin.

John Dowland was a master lute player, singer and composer from the time of Shakespeare. He is famous for his songs and madrigals – complex, clever, secular, sung in several parts, often about love, especially lost love or damn-her-she-doesn’t-know-I-exist love.

Dowland in Dublin is not, however, a typical early music concert. Lutenist Sylvain Bergeron from La Nef writes:

The idea for this project was sparked when, at the end of a La Nef Christmas party, Seán Dagher charmed all who were listening when he took out his cittern and began to sing “Come Again Sweet Love” (a well-known Dowland madrigal) as a folk song.
Working closely with Michael Slattery, we began to strip some of Dowland’s Ayres of their complex contrapuntal accompaniments, seeking to give them a simple Celtic flavour. The result is midway between folk songs and art songs.

La Nef’s idea is Dowland as he would have sounded in an Irish Pub in the 16th century. We hope that you are as charmed as we are by this Dagher-Dowland alchemy. We’re also honoured that La Nef proposed that we join them in their show, performing both unaccompanied madrigals and arrangements combining our two groups.

P.S. La Nef have a fine CD of Dowland in Dublin which will be for sale at the concert. Check out the barczablog review.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: Saturday

November 22 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 23 at 3:00 pm at Westminster United Church FREE!

This has always been a special concert for us. The vibe is great – we feel like you in the audience are family! This year is just plain fun. We’re choosing all of our favourite carols, arrangements and motets from 18 years of doing this gig. Expect the beautiful, joyous, twisted and quirky…always with love, respect and more than a little alchemy.

Did you know that we now have more than 40 versions of Christmas carols that we have commissioned? Building on this, we’ve decided to launch a Camerata Nova eCarol Book on our website this fall. Conductors everywhere are always looking for fresh ways to present Christmas music and we’ve got some great solutions. Time to share the wealth!

Choral Night at New Music Festival

Monday evening, February 2 at Westminster United Church

The WSO has commissioned Andrew to write a work for choir and cello related to aboriginal human rights. He has chosen to use testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the text. The title of the work is Take the Indian, from the quote by Duncan Campbell Scott, Canadian poet and Head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1912-32. Scott’s aim, which we now recognize as terribly misguided, was to “take the Indian out the child”.

The WSO has also asked us to perform Partita for Eight Voices by Caroline Shaw, an amazing work made famous by the highly innovative US vocal ensemble, Roomful of Teeth. Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for this work and Roomful of Teeth won a Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance in 2014. We LOVE this piece – it’s us, but it’s wild! It’ll take a ton of work to prepare! And we are very fortunate that Caroline Shaw will be working with us in advance of the performance!

Nova France
Saturday, February 21 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, February 22 at 3:00 pm at Église Précieux-Sang (200 Kenny)

Allons s’amuser! From its early days, Camerata Nova has had singers and board members from St. Boniface. In fact, there seems to be some kind of deep kinship (alchemy?) between Francophones and ancient music. We certainly feel a special tie to nos amis de Saint-Boniface.

Recognizing this, Nova France celebrates 1000 years of French music, from medieval to modern – de la France au Québec, l’Acadie et Manitoba. The first half will concentrate on the exceptional early music of France, including composers such as Charpentier, Lully and Le Jeune. The second half will go full-on into North American French music – folky, fun, fast and full of colour.

We are really pleased to be joined by the Skye Consort, another stellar group from Montreal. The four players: Sean Dagher (cittern, accordion), Grégoire Jeay (flute), Alex Kehler (violin) and Amanda Keesmaat (cello) move with consummate ease from stately Renaissance dances to rollicking jigs. Like Camerata Nova, they like creating their own contemporary arrangements, some of which have been written specially for this collaboration. The members of Skye Consort are steeped in Québec and Acadian music. We are looking forward to really getting into this music with them, plus sharing some of our knowledge of Métis folk tunes.

We are proud that this concert will be part of Festival de Voyageur – a first!

The Hermetic Ode: Choral Alchemy
Friday, May 8 at 7:30 pm at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Hang on to your hats… composer/actor/singer/conductor/pianist and alchemist(?) Michael McKay is going to take us into his own Neverland where fission causes works to be played in fragments; fusion joins disparate works together and unusual shapes parade with coloured lights, alchemical birds and symbolic colours.

Four new short works are being written: As Above So Below and The Rosary of Seven Rays by Michael McKay, The Emerald Tablet by Michael Schellenberg and Windigo by Andrew Balfour. Old works are being linked to new. Nuper Rosarum Flores by Dufay was written for the opening of the Duomo in Venice (built on the proportions of Solomon’s Temple). This work is juxtaposed with McKay’s As Above So Below, based on the Masonic/alchemic design of the Manitoba Legislative Building (also built on the proportions of Solomon’s Temple…).

Electronics will play a role. Schellenberg’s The Emerald Tablet features live interaction between the singers and computer with sound-surround speakers. His vision is to create a work that uses alchemical principles and musical experience to promote inward growth and spiritual development. Balfour will also be experimenting with electronic media, using digital and nature sounds combined with choir to create a tone poem about entering a forest (real or in the mind) to meet the Windigo.

This concert will also have visual elements. Crumb’s shapes will appear on a rear screen, excerpts from Alexander Nemtin’s Preparation for the Final Mystery call for coloured light and Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens comes with alchemical artwork. Excitingly, Andrew Balfour and Michael Schellenberg are partnering with Manitoba artist Margruite Krahn who is creating four large panels, each a tone-on-tone exploration of an alchemical colour (black, white, yellow, red) and bird (raven, phoenix, swan, pelican).

Michael McKay will be our narrator, guiding us with humour and insight from the peace of plainchant, past the shoals of Stockhausen and the trancy mists of minimalism.

Don’t miss this edgy, imaginative tour de force!

Red & White Unplugged: A night of firsts!

by Vince Fontaine

Indian City

Vince Fontaine (left) with members of Indian City.

May 15th marks the date when Indian City and Camerata Nova come together at the West End Cultural Centre for a unique music collaboration. Kind of a east-meets-west or north-meets-south. Red & White Unplugged promises to be a wonderful night of firsts. Pop acoustic meets modern vocal tradition, arriving on the canvas of live stage. Cool stuff I think!  How did all this come about?

Back in 2009, I met Andrew Balfour for the very first time through the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The WSO had presented its first Indigenous Festival which had looked to program indigenous themes and music. I was instantly impressed with Andrew’s compositions and solid on-stage presence. I was equally impressed with his compositions such as Wa Wa Tey Wak. We went on from there to arrange a few music pieces from my band Eagle & Hawk. It was a great learning experience for me to see another artist in their mode of creativity. One of the commonalities Andrew and I shared was the commitment to present and share our expression of the “indigenous experience.”

What does that mean? I think it’s a simple answer. We both wanted to highlight the heritage of our peoples through music. Whether it meant new expression or researching legends or digging deep within ourselves to be that voice or beacon. It was wonderful to be part of that process that I think every artist hopes and longs for. Andrew’s compositions remain a marking point of great imprints in our music history.

I’ve had that great fortune to write and compose some music that has been recognized and celebrated. Since 1994—yes 20 years now—I’ve sat at the front line of my music group Eagle & Hawk (E&H). Eagle & Hawk has gone on to capture audiences throughout Canada, the US and even Europe.

I consider that the reason that might have been was the newer music fusion I tried to template as “the sound.” I used indigenous elements such as vocal chants, beats and indigenous themes to create this. Songs such as “Dance” and “Sundancer” became anthemic and synonymous across “Indian” country and mainstream for that unique “native sound.”

Indian City:

People have asked me about the name. I said it sounds better than “Aboriginal City”! Actually, personally, I don’t have an issue with the “I” word.

Back in 2011, when E&H appeared to have peaked one more time and several members were talking time away, I had been thinking about new outlets. I had just released my first solo CD titled Vince Fontaine: Songs for Turtle Island. Turtle Island is what we refer to as all of North American so in a sense I was composing songs for all of Turtle Island.

That CD earned me the honour of Aboriginal Songwriter of the year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. It was a real honour for sure. The CD was more instrumental in nature. So to continue the forward musical journey, what I thought I needed now was some great vocalists and a new group.

Meet Indian City:

I was watching APTN’s AB Day Live on TV in my hotel in Ottawa. I heard the big hulking baritone voice of Mr. William Prince. He could sing, play guitar and entertain the audience of 10,000.

Shortly afterwards that summer I was a judge at a Manitoba Music talent show. And there she was…that great stage presence and “The voice.” Meet Pamela Davis from Ebb&Flo First Nation. She told me she was the queen of karaoke.

I’ve known rising star Don Amero for some years now and it was a given we would collaborate. Don was featured on our debut CD. Between myself, long-time producer and friend Chris Burke-Gaffney (Chantel/McMaster & James), we recorded Supernation. The media dubbed Indian City the new “Super group.” I just called us the super group of people who were musicians.

I really loved this chemistry and music community which, in a sense, reinforces Indian City as more than just a group but as a music community. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by this great new talent.

The rest of the band rounded out with brother and sister Atik and Neewa Mason who were no strangers to accolades landing a Juno back in 2006. Veteran and well-known keyboardist Gerry Atwell has been a long-time alumni of Eagle & Hawk and is now part of the core of Indian City. Veteran and versatile drummer Steve Martens joins us for the Red & White concert

Indian City (IC) songlist—What can we hear with IC

I think we will hear wonderful, thought-out roots pop fusion numbers loaded with indigenous imagery with songs like “Sunrise,” “Colors,” “Duet,” “Sundancer,” “Speak to me in dreams” and “Dance” (featuring Coco). Some of these straight-up pop songs come from our newly released CD titled Colors.

Indian City will be joined by featured guests Ray “Coco” Stevenson, who is one of the most respected powwow and traditional singers in our community, and new Indian City recruit Jeremy Koz, who has all the goods to set him off to become “best new crooner.”

I had my first meeting with Andrew and Mel Braun, Camerata Nova conductor and music arranger back before Christmas. I was very excited when I left the meeting. I thought to myself: “What a gig!” Best vocals on stage with my little idea to find a new group.

Red & White indeed. Red with pride and White with confidence. May 15th is the date. Hope to see you out.

Prince Don Carlo Gesualdo: Sublime Renaissance Composer or Mad Butcher?

The music and life of Gesualdo have fascinated me for years. A seriously rich and powerful nobleman who wrote music in 1600 that sounds like it was written yesterday and who murdered his wife and her lover and who went mad at the end of his life? Hollywood couldn’t dream up anything better…

Il perdono di Gesualdo (Giovanni Balducci, 1609). The composer is kneeling, at the bottom right, in front of his uncles Saint Charles Borromée, who is wearing a cardinal's robe.

Il perdono di Gesualdo (Giovanni Balducci, 1609). The composer is kneeling, at the bottom right, in front of his uncles Saint Charles Borromée, who is wearing a cardinal’s robe.

Following are some highlights from his life:

  • Born in 1560, he was known as Gesualdo da Venosa, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. The Principality of Venosa was part of the Kingdom of Naples.
  • His family was wealthy, powerful and very connected to the Vatican. His Uncle was Saint Charles Borromeo and his great uncle was Pope Pius IV.
  • From an early age, he had a single-minded devotion to music and showed little interest in anything else. He played lute, harpsichord and guitar. Through private tutors and self-teaching he became a skilled musician and composer.
  • In 1586 he married his first cousin, Donna Maria d’Avalos, daughter of the Marquis of Pescara. Two years later, she started a love affair with Fabrizio Carafa, Duke of Andria. She kept the affair secret from her husband for almost two years, even though it was well known to others.
  • The brutal showdown happened on October 16, 1590, at the Gesualdo’s palazzo in Naples. He pretended to go away on a hunting trip. He arranged with his servants to have keys to the locks of his palace copied in wood so that he could gain entrance if it were locked. The two lovers took insufficient precaution. Gesualdo returned to the palace, caught them in flagrante delicto and murdered them both in their bed. Afterward, he left their mutilated bodies in front of the palace for all to see. Being a nobleman he was immune to prosecution, but not to revenge, so he fled to his castle at Venosa where he would be safe from any of the relatives of either his wife or her lover.
  • The depositions of witnesses to the magistrates have all survived and give plenty of gory details. Gesualdo had help from his servants, who may have done most of the killing; however, Gesualdo certainly stabbed Maria multiple times, shouting as he did, “she’s not dead yet!” The Duke of Andria was found slaughtered by numerous deep sword wounds, as well as by a shot through the head. When he was found, he was dressed in women’s clothing (specifically, Maria’s night dress). His own clothing was found piled up by the bedside, unbloodied… The police report from the scene makes for shocking reading even after more than four hundred years.
  • The murders got lots of publicity. Many poets wrote verses trying to capitalize on the sensation. Even though the salacious details of the murders were broadcast in print, nothing was done to arrest Gesualdo. Presumably he was viewed as too powerful.
  • While in hiding in his castle, Gesualdo had an entire forest cut down that lay between the castle and the town of Venosa so that he could see if angry relatives and/or their henchmen or lawmen were approaching.
  • Accounts on events after the murders differ. According to some sources, Gesualdo also murdered his second son by Maria, who was an infant, after looking into his eyes and doubting his paternity (according to a 19th-century source he “swung the infant around in his cradle until the breath left his body”); another source indicates that he murdered his father-in-law as well, after the man had come seeking revenge. Gesualdo had employed a company of men-at-arms to ward off just such an event. However, contemporary documentation from official sources for either of these alleged murders is lacking.
  • In 1594 and 1595 he lived in Ferrara publishing his first book of madrigals and playing a public part in the progressive music scene of the City. He met his second wife there whom he married in 1597.
  • When he returned to Venosa in 1595, he basically became a recluse. He hired his own virtuoso musicians who lived in his castle and sang his own music for him alone in his chapel. Relations with his second wife quickly turned sour and she spent most of her time with her family in Modena. One historian wag wrote: “She seems to have been a very virtuous lady…for there is no record of his having killed her.”
  • Gesualdo suffered from huge depression and, one can assume, guilt and remorse. He had himself beaten daily and spent endless time on quests to buy holy relics that he thought would cure his mental illness and give him absolution. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be one of the musicians in his employ. It must have been an eerie and dangerous assignment.
  • During this time of madness and isolation, he wrote only sacred music, including Marian motets (did he have his first wife, Maria, in mind?) and polyphony related to death and the religious services in Holy Week. His style, which had always been emotional and personally expressive became intensely more so. His Tenebrae Responses for Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday are among the most experimental (and brilliant) of sacred Renaissance works displaying sharp dissonances and shocking chromatic juxtapositions. We will be singing parts of these two works in our concert.
  • He died in isolation in 1613.
  • Today, Venosa is a sleepy town east of Naples in the center of the ankle of the boot of Italy. Gesualdo is still a major, infamous legend there. After 400 years, they are quietly proud of him.
  • His music lay virtually dormant for 300 years. His reputation became a small footnote for scholars about the Mad Prince or the Butcher of Venosa. In the early 20th century, modern maverick composers such as Berg, Schoenberg and Stravinsky became interested in his innovative, chromatic, radically expressive style. Stravinsky made a pilgrimage to Venosa and unearthed additional unknown works. Aldous Huxley wrote a review of his music, referring to “…psychosis working on a late medieval art form.”
  • His music, like that of many Renaissance composers, really started to be performed frequently again with the early music revival of the second half of the 20th century. At first, the interest was centered on his passionate madrigals but since the late 1980s more and more attention has been paid to his final sacred masterpieces.

There are now many fine recordings of Gesualdo’s music. Also, In 1985, Werner Herzog made a movie/documentary about Gesualdo called Death for Five Voices. You can watch it on You Tube – I recommend it.

Apparently, in 1998 a jazz arranger/composer and a saxophonist from Italy released a CD called Gesualdo Splash… I can’t imagine…

Andrew Balfour


Les Voix humaines

Susie Napper is one of the two viola da gamba players (the other being Margaret Little) who form Les Voix humaines, the distinguished guests of Camerata Nova for the upcoming concert Perchance to Dreame… The concert, also featuring renowned tenor Charles Daniels and lutenist Sylvain Bergeron, will take place on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 8:00 pm at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. See links below to hear music by these excellent musicians.

In her blog, Susie Napper explains briefly the evolution of song-writing (not so very different from today!) and perhaps also the origin of the name chosen by the duo of gambists (“Les Voix humaines” is French for “Human Voices”).


Summertime, and the livin’ is easy….

We’re all wishing for a little easy living as we suffer the biting cold of this winter in  Canada and particularly, I gather, in Winnipeg! I’m looking forward to my first visit to the city that is renowned for its cultural life as well as its spectacular natural setting.


Before the late 20th century, music-making was the most popular form of home entertainment. Poems and tales were, more often than not, set to music, just as they are today, and sung on a cold evening around the fire.

Popular tunes, as in the 21st century, were often originally songs that were arranged as purely instrumental pieces to be repeated and transformed over centuries. Today’s equivalent could be a jazz standard like Autumn Leaves (originally Les feuilles mortes, melody written in 1945 by Joseph Kosma, with the words of French poet Jacques Prévert) that is covered by any number of groups and reinvented in as many ways!

Entertainment for the entire family might take the form of songs sung in several parts or a single voice accompanied by one or more instruments “in consort” or simply played on instruments.

In the 18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau considered that the viol was the instrument that most closely imitated the human voice. It is hardly surprising that so many of the greatest composers from the early Renaissance to the late Baroque wrote songs to be accompanied by viols. Poetry set to music was the rap of the day and poets advertised their latest creations that could be heard sung to music written by popular composers.

Love was THE subject! Isn’t it always? Nature and the seasons were the most common metaphor for the springtime blooming of nascent love and the withering of autumn leaves and barren cold of winter for the desperation of lost love! Summertime embodies the fullness of love!


For two centuries the bowed lute was all the rage throughout Europe. From middle-eastern roots, the vihuela del arco, as the Spanish called it, arrived from North Africa in the late 15th century. Europe embraced the new bowed instrument.

Brilliant Italian luthiers quickly adapted it to create a useful European-style instrument playable by lutenists and guitarists alike. The viol could be considered an enhanced version of the most popular plucked instruments. Fretted and with similar tunings, this newfangled instrument enabled easy access to chords, but had the added advantage of the option to sustain a melody using a bow.


Composers often made several arrangements of their songs for different instrumentations. The practice of rearranging either traditional melodies or popular songs for whichever instruments were at hand was part of any good composer’s life. Exotic examples of arrangements include Mozart’s own arrangement of his operas for wind band or Corrette’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Primavera for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra.


Susie Napper was born in Britain and has travelled the world as a vagabond musician lugging her viol around since the 1960s! She calls Montreal home and enjoys coming back to her kitchen where she is as experimental with flavors as she is with musical ideas! She cooked up the Montreal Baroque Festival a decade ago and encourages her students at the Copenhagen Royal Conservatory, McGill and the University of Montreal to get creative….

More videos:

Tenor Charles Daniels

Lutenist Sylvain Bergeron

Camerata Nova’s 2013-2014 Season

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something red…?

President of the Board, Sandi Mielitz, gives her own spin on the upcoming season.


Camerata Nova has two mottoes: “a group without fear” and “you never know what you’re going to get…” They both apply, in spades, to our 2013-2014 season! Following is an inside look into the process and the concerts for this year.

Preparing for the season…

Part of our MO is that we spend lots of time planning our programming for each season. We are lucky to have this talented and serious-but-twisted core of musicians – Andrew Balfour, Ross Brownlee, Mike McKay and Mel Braun – who have more programming ideas than we know what to do with. Everyone gets together with Ange Neufeld, Chair of the Music Committee, and submits their ideas. The Committee starts by nailing in key concert themes, core repertoire, commissions, venues and guest artists. Once this is done, one or two curators are assigned to each concert. The curator(s) are responsible for shaping and developing these initial ideas, finding all the repertoire and finalizing the program.

Lest you think this is an entirely serious process, take a look at the picture below taken at a recent programming think tank in the country… Also included is the program created later that evening… If you are intrigued, join us for the 2020-21 season!

The Music Committee hard at work...

The Music Committee hard at work…

A Season for Sousa: Music of John Phillip Sousa and contemporaries
• Date: May 2020-2021
• Concept: A celebration of the marches of Sousa, arranged for mostly a cappella choir with libretto by Dr. Seuss. Vocalizations to be coached by WSO wind players. The group will sing in marching band routines and dress in hats with plumes.
• Commissions: Eric Whitacre, Andrew and Mike M.
• Venue: Investors Field
• Repertoire:
Stars and Stripes Forever in style of Debussy – McKay
March of the Belgian Paratroopers
Liberty Bell à la Schoenberg – Balfour
Semper Fidelis in the style of Schütz
Standard of St. George

THE 2013-14 LINE-UP

Noël of the North
Saturday, November 30 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, December 1 at 3:00 pm
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (corner of Nassau and Wardlaw)
FREE!! Please bring some food for Winnipeg Harvest

Ross Brownlee and Mike McKay, the masters who brought us Christmas in Early America last year, have designed another stunner. This one has kind of morphed with time. We started out narrowly thinking of a largely Baltic and Canadian program, but new opportunities came our way…

First, through Winnipeg flautist Haley Rempel, we came across Grace Cloutier, a harpist from New York, who has done some great arrangements of Christmas music for harp and choir. We are bringing Grace in to play with us and Haley will join us for a couple of numbers, too! Second, we have been talking to the fabulous Rose Ensemble who set the gold standard for early music performance in Minneapolis. Thanks to them, we have discovered some strong Slavic Christmas pieces including a Zielinski that will knock your socks off!

The potpourri continues… some R. Murray Schaefer, three new arrangements of The Little Drummer Boy by Sid Robinovitch, Andrew Balfour and Mike McKay and a piece for Spoon Choir – see below. Eclecticism reigns but the end result will be fun, surprising and always beautiful…

Become a member of the Camerata Nova Spoon Choir! Through ethnomusicologist Lynn Whidden in Brandon, Andrew was given access to a raft of early Métis music. He has arranged one of the fiddling tunes for choir and we are inviting members of the Camerata Nova audience to join in the performance by playing the spoons. Sets of spoons will be available for sale at a low price at the door (or you can bring your own). There will be a short performance training session at Intermission.

NEW CD!!! Last year’s Christmas concert was recorded and broadcast by CBC Radio 2. Since then, lots of people have suggested that we issue it as a CD. We listened to them! In late October, we will be releasing our first Camerata Nova Live CD called Christmas in Early America. It’s a worthy successor to Nova Noël and will make a great Christmas present for Camerata Nova fans!

Les Voix humaines: Perchance to Dreame
Tuesday, February 4 at 8:00 pm
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church
Adults and seniors $25, students $12

Camerata Nova is playing the role of impresario, bringing one of the top early music groups in Canada for their first concert in Winnipeg. Les Voix humaines features two viola da gamba (early cello) players (Susie Knapper and Margaret Little) and a lutenist (Sylvain Bergeron). Founded in 1985, this group have toured the world, played with the finest musicians of their genre and produced more than 40 recordings. Their special guest is tenor Charles Daniels.

(An aside here… I was in London this past May attending an early music festival. The best concert I attended was at Westminster Abbey with the Cathedral Men and Boys’ Choir, the St. James Baroque Orchestra and 7 soloists singing an entire program of Purcell. The individual performer who blew everyone away and got rave reviews in the paper was the very same Charles Daniels. Getting him here is a coup!!)

This will be the first time that we have sponsored another group to come to Winnipeg. If we can attract a large enough audience to make this work, we’re willing to do it on an ongoing basis.

Where’s Gesualdo?
Saturday, March 8 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, March 9 at 3:00 pm
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church
Adults $28, Seniors $23, Students $12

Andrew Balfour is the devilish designer of this program. Our group has always loved the music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, nobleman, murderer and genius maverick composer. His strange, chromatic harmonies also attracted attention from the rebel composers of the twentieth century, such as Berg, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Speaking of rebels, Andrew and Mike McKay are also writing short works for this concert. The music will be beautiful but darkness and drama will be in the air.

We are honoured that Christopher Jackson, the top early music choral conductor in Canada, will be coming for a week to coach, rehearse and conduct these concerts. Join us for one of our pre-concert talks with Chris and Andrew!

FILM FLASH!!! Director Werner Herzog made an amazing movie about the life of Gesualdo called Death in Five Voices. We are working to arrange a public screening around the time of the March 8-9 weekend.

 Red and White Unplugged

Thursday, May 15 at 8:00 pm
The Garrick Centre, 330 Garry Street
Adults $28, Seniors $23, Students $12

Here’s where the “and now for something completely different!” comes in. Andrew and Vince Fontaine, leader of the Aboriginal rock band Eagle and Hawk, have talked about the possibility of a joint concert for several years. Vince now has a new band called Indian City with well-known stars like Don Amero and William Prince. The timing is perfect for Vince and Andrew to explore each other’s worlds. Andrew, Mel Braun and Richard Moody will be arranging some of Vince’s songs for choir and band. Also, traditional Aboriginal singer and drummer Cory Campbell will perform in a new work by Andrew called White Buffalo. Indigenous chant, rock and classical music will mix it up. It’s high time Winnipeg musicians (and audiences!) reached out in this way!

Sandi Mielitz, September 2013

DID YOU KNOW? In 2012, Camerata Nova volunteers contributed 2,500 hours of their time, energy and skills. They provided leadership on boards and committees. They lent production and administrative support. They advised and mentored. They enabled Camerata Nova to deliver exceptional programming to more than 2360+ audience members in the 2012-2013 season.

Empire Étrange – An Oratorio based on the Death of Louis Riel

For several years, I’ve been thinking about writing a score based on Louis Riel. His story is dramatic, even astounding. The tragedy and controversy surrounding his life sink deep into our Canadian identity and the echoes of his legacy are still being felt 123 years after his execution. What better subject for a dramatic choral work?

Letter from Louis Riel to his mother, written the day before his execution. (ASHSB, Fonds Louis, Ref. 1092-431)

Letter from Louis Riel to his mother, written the day before his execution. (ASHSB, Fonds Louis, Ref. 1092-431)

And so… after pitching the idea to Camerata Nova’s board, and after receiving a generous Commission Grant from the Manitoba Arts Council, I started in the summer of 2012 to delve deeply into the history of his life and times.

The more I read, the more excited I got. Riel is a dramatic subject worthy of any Wagnerian libretto! As a composer, the initial instinct is to approach this story in operatic form, but for this particular project it wasn’t feasible. For our purposes, I decided that an oratorio would be the best way to approach the story. There have been many plays, songs, poems, books (even comic books!), films and the celebrated opera by Harry Somers written in the 1960s, but I believe this is the first oratorio about Riel.

The idea of an oratorio also appealed because of the religious overtones in Riel’s story – visions came to him and he was, or viewed himself to be, the prophet in the New World – the new King David leading his people to the Promised Land. A prophet who led a rebellion, he was exiled to the United States (where he made a strong impression on people) and fought with issues of mental stability – he is just as powerful a subject for an oratorio as Elijah!

I have focused on Riel’s execution as the basis for this work, with a strong undercurrent of the trickster spirit coming in and out of the text and music. Along with singing, the choir will be producing sound effects using an eclectic assortment of evocative percussion instruments. The collaboration with the Correction Line Ensemble allows us to add the fantastic artistry of violinist Cristina Zacharias, cellist Leanne Zacharias, percussionist Ed Reifel, composer Robert Honstein and singer/songwriters John K. Sampson and Christine Fellows.

I’ve added a quasi-baroque foundation to the structure of this work, using an overture, arias, instrumental interludes (ritornelli), polyphony and plenty of dramatic chorus. Cristina and Leanne will even be using gut strings on their instruments à la period performance. The musical language, however, will be a bit more 21st century than 18th… To give us that troubadour/aria presence, I have inserted songs by John K. Samson and Christine Fellows into the body of the work.

I’m pretty excited about Empire Étrange. I feel I am bringing new musical drama to one of Canada’s greatest stories. I’m also really pumped about this whole concert, Tricksters and Troubadours. I believe our collaboration with the Correction Line Ensemble finds new ways to express our prairie reality, old and new. As our tag line for this performance says: Manitoba may never be the same…

Andrew Balfour, April 2013

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