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 (www.metismuseum.ca). 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 (www.cameratanova.com).

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.

Manitoba
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

Run!

 

Camerata Nova is Hiring

Camerata Nova is hiring a new Executive Director to start in June 2018. For information or to apply, click here.

Première of Mishaabooz’ Realm

At the end of the summer, our Artistic Director Andrew Balfour led the creation of an original Indigenous-based dramatic opera entitled Mishaabooz’s Realm. The première will be performed on December 15 and 16 in Montréal and on December 21 and 22 in Haliburton. This exciting new opera was jointly commissioned and produced by the Highlands Opera Studio and the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. Andrew spent the month of August as Composer-in-Residence where he worked with the performers and the creative team. It incorporates classical styles, unique choral and vocal perspectives, as well as Indigenous musical and oral traditions. The libretto is in a First Nations language, as well as French and English. It explores contemporary issues concerning Canada’s relationship with First Peoples and the land of Turtle Island. Click here for further information.

Balfour Receives Senate Award

Camerata Nova artistic director Andrew Balfour was awarded the a Senate 150th Anniversary Medal from Senator Pat Bovey during a ceremony in November in Ottawa. The medal is awarded to “Canadians whose generosity, dedication, volunteerism and hard work make their communities a better place to live.” Congratulations, Andrew!

Andrew Balfour receives award from Senator Pat Bovey.

Balfour to Compose Indigenous Opera

Camerata Nova is excited to announce that Artistic Director Andrew Balfour will be part of the creation of a completely new and original Indigenous based Dramatic Opera; Mishaabooz’s Realm, jointly commissioned and produced by the Highlands Opera Studio/Theatre and L’Atelier Lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal.

This exciting new work promises to be multi-media and multi-directional, incorporating classical styles, unique choral and vocal perspectives, Indigenous musical and oral traditions. The libretto will be created in First Nations dialect, French and English, exploring contemporary issues concerning Canada’s relationship with our First People and the land of Turtle Island, past, present and future.

Regarding this new creative opportunity, Andrew commented, “In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action, I am honoured to take part in this wonderful collaborative approach in creating this important cultural and exciting new work.”

Andrew will be traveling to Highlands Opera Studio/Theatre in Haliburton, Ontario this August where he will be Composer-in-Residence. He will work with performers as well as their creative team on the new creation.

There will be a presentation of the First Public Workshop Performance of Mishaabooz’s Realm (La Domaine de Michabous) in Haliburton at the NLPAP on August 19th, at 8 pm.

Camerata Nova excites with Taken

Two small ensemble classical concerts at Canada Scene this weekend presented a striking contrast between the experimental and the traditional. One was innovative, inclusive and thoroughly engaging, despite some flaws in the execution. The other was technically impeccable, but stuffy and unoriginal.

On Saturday afternoon, the Winnipeg chamber choir Camerata Nova brought its Taken project to the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall. The show, which premiered in Winnipeg earlier this year, explores the issue of First People’s dispossession through collaborations with Indigenous composers and performers from across Canada.

Jeremy Dutcher, a young musician from the Maliseet Nation in New Brunswick, performed an impassioned, solo Honour Song, accompanying himself on drum and piano, before joining Camerata Nova and cellist Leanne Zacharias for his Maceptasu (It is taken away).

The work — Dutcher’s compositional debut — was inspired by heartbreaking stories of young Indigenous children taken from their families and sent to suffer in the residential school system. Although it exhibits some typical novice weaknesses — it’s somewhat fragmented, and relies on repetition rather than development — this is a powerful, appealing first effort from Dutcher. What it lacks in structural complexity, it makes up for in raw honesty, emotional impact, and a sense of melodic flow that can’t be taught.

Lindsay Knight, aka Eekwol, is a hip-hop artist from Muskoday First Nation in Saskatchewan. While her flow is cool and mellow, her raps are tough, thought-provoking and fearlessly political: “I wish I had a gun, seek revenge for my little ones, or maybe turn it on myself, end the pain, but then I’d just lose again.” As Zacharias improvised cello lines, Camerata Nova supplied the backing track, including some pretty slick beatboxing and overtone singing. But not everyone in the choir seemed comfortable in the genre; I felt the sopranos especially weren’t in the pocket.

Andrew Balfour’s Qaumaniq (Bright Aura) is an accomplished, multi-movement cantata by a serious — and seriously creative — composer. Balfour, Camerata Nova’s artistic director, is of Cree descent but was adopted as a child by an Anglican priest. Not surprisingly, many of his works deal with identity lost and found, and with the consequences of exchanges between cultures.

In Qaumaniq, Balfour imagines the first encounter between explorer Martin Frobisher and the inhabitants of Baffin Island, and the kidnapping of a woman to take back to England. The work deftly incorporates Inuit musical idioms, English sailor songs, pounding, Coplandesque percussion, snippets of Tudor polyphony by Tallis and Byrd, and Balfour’s own sophisticated choral writing: dissonances that grind like sea ice, mixed in with creepy, sibilant whispering and sounds of nature.

The star of this piece is the wonderfully charismatic performer and journalist Madeleine Allakariallak; her throat singing duet with Michael Thompson on electric didgeridoo was captivating and wholly new. Fred Ford’s sensitive, uncontrived narration added poetic depth.

After Louis Riel, it was refreshing and inspiring to sit through a concert where living Indigenous artists told their own stories and experiences. In comparison, The Circle of Creation, Tafelmusik’s Bach multimedia show at Southam Hall Sunday night, was a throwback to music as museum set piece.

The concept seems promising: present the artisans, craftspeople and tradespeople who made Bach’s output in Leipzig possible: from the makers of string and wind instruments, to the experts who made his paper and ink, to the cloth merchants who supplied the taxe revenue that paid his salary.

Unfortunately, the whole thing felt like one of those old-fashioned “monuments of Western Civilization” continuing ed courses: the almost comically high-toned narration, obsessed with the dullest minutiae; the static, literal video and photography projections (the selection for Sheep may safely graze was, surprise, pastoral images of sheep grazing); and a frustrating greatest hits, WQXR approach to the music, all single movements and excerpts instead of complete works.

Toronto’s beloved Baroque orchestra plays so beautifully, with such grace and buoyancy, with so much collegial virtuosity, it either requires nothing, or else it demands supporting creative elements that are every bit as thrilling and fresh.

Still, the evening wasn’t entirely without excitement. About 10 minutes into the first half, a man started loudly heckling from the audience, complaining in French that the narration was only in English. After his third eruption, other Francophones in the audience started yelling at him to be quiet. It was easily the most dramatic outburst I’ve seen at a concert in years. How typical of Ottawa that it was over language politics, not artistic merit.

– Natasha Gauthier, artsfile.ca

Taken at Canada Scene in Ottawa

Winnipeg’s internationally acclaimed Camerata Nova choir continues to evolve in its own imaginative, risk-taking and quirky way, with early, contemporary and Indigenous-infused music remaining its pillars. The choir enjoys straying from the path too, though, and uses theatrical and visual design to engage its audience in profound and surprising ways.

For these and many other reasons, Camerata Nova has been chosen to participate in the huge Canada Scene festival organized by the National Arts Centre (NAC) as part of the Canada 150 celebrations. The NAC has asked Camerata Nova to do a repeat performance of its March 2017 show Taken on June 17 in Ottawa.

If you are in Ottawa or have friends and family interested in seeing the show, please see additional details on time, location and ticket purchases on the NAC website. To see a video excerpt from the Manitoba performance, visit our website.

2017-2018 Season

You won’t want to miss Camerata Nova’s exciting 2017-2018 season! Vic Pankratz, John Wiens and Mel Braun will all be returning to conduct new shows. All the details are now on our website, and both subscriptions and single tickets can be purchased on our online store. We look forward to seeing everyone there!