Barbara Assiginaak

Last updated: July 17, 2023

Barbara Assiginaak, C.M., O.Ont.

Composer and musician Barbara Assiginaak is Anishinaabekwe (Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi; Mnidoo Mnissing, Giniw Dodem) and balances her time composing with performing and teaching music; spending time with elders in traditional ceremonies; and engaging in land-based environmental activities and teaching work rooted in traditional Anishinaabek teachings. Composing for the pipigwan (traditional wood flute), dewe’igan (drum), and voice in the oral/aural traditions of the Anishinaabe way since an early age, Barbara is also classically trained. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (Bachelor of Music with Honours in Composition), Musikhochschule in München, Germany (Meisterklassendiplom in Komposition, Aufbaustudium), and Centre Acanthes, and aslo holds an ARCT Diploma (Piano Performance). Professionally active since 1995, Barbara has an extensive body of works that includes solo, chamber, art song, choir and orchestral (including concerti) compositions, and she has written for theatre, dance, film, opera, and multimedia and interdisciplinary projects. Barbara often performs in her own solo, chamber and orchestral works as a soloist (vocals, pipigwan, drums, and other Anishinaabe instruments).

As the direct descendant of hereditary chiefs who were signatories of treaties in Ontario, and as the child and grandchild of residential school survivors, many of her creative projects are centered on these histories and she has been active over many years in Truth and Reconciliation Commission activities. Already back in 1992 one of her chamber ensemble works honoured her own mother’s recollections of experiences at residential school, stories of which were disclosed to Barbara at a young age growing up.

Barbara’s awards and honours include the Glenn Gould Award in Composition (University of Toronto); a Dora nomination; shortlisted three times for the Hunter Award in the Arts; numerous scholarships at the Glenn Gould School/Royal Conservatory of Music and from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (1992-96); and a Visual and Expressive Arts Program Award from the National Museum of the American Indian. Barbara’s works have been broadcast on CBC Radio One and Radio Two, Bayerische Rundfunk (Bayern 3), Deutsche Radio Swiss (DRS-II), Radio France, Italian National Television, APTN, and other online streaming broadcasts. Barbara is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Composition at the Faculty of Music, Wilfrid Laurier University.

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