On May 19, 2016, Canada’s NAC Orchestra performed the world premiere of Life Reflected. It was the most ambitious concert in the history of the Orchestra, for many reasons. It was created by multiple composers, in collaboration with multiple artists, across many disciplines. Its multimedia presentation challenged the convention of what an orchestra concert could be.
But the work’s true power lies in its subject matter – stories that present the female perspectives of four remarkable Canadians: Alice Munro, Amanda Todd, Roberta Bondar and Rita Joe. Each faced great challenges in their lives, yet each spoke with a strong, distinct voice that made an impact on our world. In 2017, Life Reflected was performed in cities across Canada during the Orchestra’s Canada 150 Tour, to great acclaim. This spring, the Orchestra will be performing this ambitious, truly Canadian work for international audiences during its European Tour in honour of the NAC’s 50th anniversary.
Tonight, on International Women’s Day, we are proud to share Life Reflected with you once more. And we are honoured that the internationally renowned Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq is performing once again on our stage. Enjoy the concert.
Tonight’s program brings the voices of women to the forefront. I am honoured to share the stage with the powerful, visionary Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Her lament – an improvisation on the lament for missing and murdered Indigenous women – is a new experience each time it is performed.
Life Reflected tells powerful stories through the eyes, ears and words of some of Canada’s finest creative artists. It is an immersive, multidisciplinary work without an interval, an unbroken, focused, intense and dramatic experience from beginning to end.
During the creation of this unique symphonic experience, it has been an honour to bring together four exemplary Canadian composers in collaboration with an ensemble of extraordinary Canadian performers and multi-media artists, all under the inspiring leadership of Creative Producer & Director Donna Feore.
Canadian arts and culture continue to captivate audiences worldwide thanks to compelling stories such as those of these remarkable women, each of whom found voice through sacrifice and challenge. They have been an inspiration to me. And while some of the subject matter is born from painful memories, it is my belief that Life Reflected will prove a redeeming and hopeful experience for us all.
Life Reflected explores the lives of four exceptional Canadian women. Alice Munro, Roberta Bondar, Amanda Todd and Rita Joe, each in their own unique way, encourage us to see, and to see with fresh eyes. My challenge was to find a way of telling their stories in an orchestral setting that embraced their vision. Believing that many heads are better than one, I assembled an exceptional group of collaborators who drew their inspiration from these extraordinary women. And though each element is capable of standing alone, we built on the impact of the foundational orchestral work of four magical composers led by the incomparable Alexander Shelley, in the hope that we might arrive somewhere new.
The brilliant visual design team at Normal Studio became the heartbeat of our effort. They made it possible to integrate the work of our wonderful collaborators – musicians, photographers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and singers – into a seamless whole.
Dr. Bondar has seen us from afar. Alice Munro has seen us from within. Amanda Todd shared her heart and Rita Joe shared her soul. I hope the experience of Life Reflected will thrill and move you as much as it has enlightened and inspired me.
When the NAC Orchestra approached me to adapt Alice Munro’s story “Dear Life” for symphony, I was in the process of reading all of Alice Munro’s short stories, in order. Rereading, rather, as I had waited impatiently for each new story to appear since I read Dance of the Happy Shades as a girl of eighteen. I grew up in a small town not far from Alice Munro’s home town, longing like her to escape. As I became a writer and got to know her, I was inspired by her unsentimental, clear-eyed embrace of the world she was born into, a world she has explored in literature for 50 years.
From her most recent story of several thousand words, I was asked to distill a work of only 500 words that would be the basis for the symphony and for Martha Henry’s recording. All of the words are Alice Munro’s; I have added none of my own, though the order of some events has been shifted for clarity.
It is a testament to Alice Munro’s generosity as a writer that she welcomes the creative play that an adaptation entails. And it is a testament to the authenticity and purity of her prose that such distillation is possible, the essence of her characters and themes vitally present in this new version of “Dear Life.”
Having my daughter remembered in a production produced by the National Arts Centre, alongside three notable Canadian women, is an honour in itself, and those of us who knew Amanda are so very proud of this.
Missing Amanda has played a huge part in my life and it was difficult for me to envision what the NAC wanted to create and present, but as time went on, the vision became clearer. Giving permission to use Amanda’s story in a venue of both visual and performing arts was a dream come true for Amanda’s Legacy. My daughter evolved around the sights and sounds of both art and music.
When I first met Donna Feore it was like meeting an old friend and getting reacquainted. Stories were shared and ideas crystallized. For the next year and a half, we stayed in communication. Listening to the music with Donna and Normal Studio for the first time was very emotional for me. It evoked emotions of joy, anger, sadness, and then peace. Together, we sat in silence with emotional tears in our eyes. I have no doubt that my daughter will be portrayed as a beautiful snowflake, symbolic of her unique individualism and fragility.
I want to express my appreciation to those who believe that there was a message of HOPE within Amanda’s story, and to send a message of thanks to those who BELIEVE and CARE. The NAC team worked to create a truer meaning of Amanda with her legacy – a spectacular representation of my snowflake princess Amanda in a production called Life Reflected.
Rita Joe’s simple and poignant poem I Lost My Talk reflects the complexity of First Nations people’s residential school experience and the resulting intergenerational trauma which still plays out in today’s society. As an artist, I can identify with Rita Joe’s wish to share her stories and experience with the goal to empower and educate. It is important to keep telling our narratives, which originate from the land, language and ancestral knowing, to continue to write, speak and dance our existence. As we look to the hope of reconciliation, let it move beyond an intellectual concept into embodied actions, and away from reconciling ourselves to colonialism.
I have always called my mom a genius. She was a very determined woman, who did so much for so many. Through her words, she stood up and won the fight.
When she first moved to Eskasoni, she was teased about her broken Mi’kmaw language. When I read the first paragraph of her poem I Lost My Talk, it says a lot.
Mom used to say she would become famous after she dies. And lo and behold, her poem is now a film and musical piece.
We were so excited to see the finished production of her poem. At the premiere, when we entered the NAC, it felt like a dream. Hearing our mother’s words spoken out loud by Monique Mojica for the first time, it brought life to the poem. It was a moment that we will never forget. I felt very emotional. I was overwhelmed when the music started and the film played on screen. There was a moment when I grabbed my husband’s shoulder to cry, but I quickly got my composure back because I did not want to miss a second of the show.
We would like to thank Alexander Shelley, John Estacio, the NAC Orchestra, Donna Feore and all the staff at the NAC who did a marvelous job.
Upon seeing this performance I believe my mom was dancing for joy. She was indeed a gentle warrior and the legacy she has left behind gives Mi’kmaq children hope for the future.
Qiksaaktuq is the Inuktitut word for grief. This piece is dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and to those who grieve for them.
Qiksaaktuq is written in five movements based on the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We sought to create a work that combines improvisation and notation, and captures the methods and spirit of a Tanya Tagaq performance.
Jean Martin created an orchestral score (with the invaluable assistance of Christopher Mayo) comprising ideas from tracks and loops that have been part of Martin’s work with Tagaq over the years. To this, we have added hand cues with which Christine Duncan will freely conduct the brass section, cues she regularly employs with the Element Choir, the improvising vocal ensemble that has performed with Tagaq since 2014. Within this framework, Tagaq will create her part in real time. She will improvise a powerful lament for those women and girls who have been lost.
All of these components are essential in the creation of the composed/improvised – or ‘comprovised’ – piece, Qiksaaktuq.
— Christine Duncan
Qiksaaktuq was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with financial support from the Government of Canada for performance in March 2017, during the 150th Anniversary of Confederation of Canada.
I received the invitation to write Dear Life just days before giving birth to my first child. Although my better judgment told me that composing an orchestral work of this proportion in the early months of motherhood was total insanity, there was something about the project that lured me in. Perhaps it was the story. Munro’s words struck a chord: a portrait of a mother-daughter relationship over a lifetime, an artist coming into her own, realizing her “Otherness” but also the universality of lived experience. I admired Munro’s flow, her flashes of memories half-recalled, perhaps fictional, perhaps autobiographical – ambiguous and at times startlingly straightforward.
And so, I have attempted to tell the story in my way: through music, sound, and experimentation. Martha Henry’s voice guides us through the adapted text as our trusted narrator. The singer, however, is treated differently. Her material is made of fragmented text and invented sounds, a visceral response bridging the divide between the abstractness of the music and the concreteness of the spoken word. Her presence comes in and out of focus both musically and dramaturgically. At the beginning, her voice is fused with the orchestra, but gradually she emerges as a distinct, independent entity.
The orchestra wavers between absolute music (non-representational textures, sometimes static, sometimes spastic), and what I think of as archetypal music – music from our collective unconscious; memory music, rusty warped hymns, the sound of migrating flocks, a melody sung to oneself, the embodiment of nostalgia via the re-orchestrated sound of phonograph static. This is the spectrum from which I work to try to create different musical spaces, from the story within the story (the Netterfield fable), to the doggerel poem sung near the end of the work. Under the pastoral beauty of these reminiscences lurks the thrill of danger, violence, misfortune, and yet forgiveness and acceptance is what we walk away with. There is something so fundamentally human about this story.
Alice Munro once wrote: “A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth […]. And you, the visitor, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time.”1
It is in this way, I hope, that listeners will experience my house of sound.
— Zosha Di Castri
1 Introduction to the Vintage Edition, Selected Stories, 1968–1994 (New York: Vintage Books, 1996).
Born St. Boniface (now incorporated into Winnipeg), Manitoba, December 14, 1969
Now living in Vancouver
Jocelyn Morlock received her Bachelor of Music in piano performance at Brandon University, and both a Master’s degree and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia. “With its shimmering sheets of harmonics” (Georgia Straight) and an approach that is “deftly idiomatic” (Vancouver Sun), Morlock’s music has received numerous national and international accolades, including Top 10 at the 2002 International Rostrum of Composers, the Mayor’s Arts Award for Music in Vancouver (2016) and the JUNO award for Classical Composition of the Year (My Name is Amanda Todd, 2018).
Most of Morlock’s compositions are for small ensembles, many of them for unusual combinations like piano and percussion (Quoi?), cello and vibraphone (Shade), bassoon and harp (Nightsong), and an ensemble consisting of clarinet/bass clarinet, trumpet, violin and double bass (Velcro Lizards).
Cobalt, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, was her first commission for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, in 2009. Jocelyn Morlock’s first full-length CD, also titled Cobalt, was released on the Centrediscs label in 2014. Morlock has been the Vancouver Symphony’s Composer in Residence since 2014.
– Biographical note by Robert Markow
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My Name is Amanda Todd
When I first approached writing this piece, I was focused on what happened to Amanda, and was feeling how devastating it must be to have people endlessly sharing bad messages and comments about you, especially at such a young age. That negativity seemed overwhelming. When talking to Carol Todd, and to the NAC Orchestra’s Christopher Deacon, I became aware of how transformational and empowering it would be for this young girl, Amanda, to take control and to tell her own story on this very same platform that people were using against her.
When I met Carol, she told me about all the places that she would be speaking, because people finally recognize the need to do something to stop cyberbullying. She told me about the kids who reach out to her and are looking for help, or who reach out to her to tell her that Amanda’s videos and her story have helped them; kids who, because of Amanda and Carol, found hope in their situation. I’m left with a feeling of profound joy in Amanda’s bravery, and Carol’s message.
Musically, the opening of the piece My Name is Amanda Todd draws first on overwhelming sorrow, which grows into a furtive, somewhat frenzied negative energy, like the uncontrolled proliferation of negative comments and images. I then use almost the same musical material (very similar small gestures, pitches and rhythms) and gradually modify it to create increasingly powerful, positive music.
— Jocelyn Morlock
This work is the result of immersing myself in hours of footage from Dr. Roberta Bondar’s collection, at once becoming enthralled, mesmerized and deeply moved. The soundtrack is built from the material extracted from this footage: the pitch inflection in Dr. Bondar’s voice as she describes the view of Canada from space (her filtered voice – the otherworldly sound of ‘speaking from space’), the poetry expressed in her acceptance speech at Canada’s Walk of Fame, the nostalgia of the resonances and timbres of iconic Canadian news anchors, and the exalted celebration of the children gathered in Sault Ste. Marie to welcome her back after her time in space. These are captured and shaped into musical building blocks; stretched, pitchshifted, spliced, and woven together to create themes, basso continuos, chants, canons and chorales with which the live orchestra engages – colouring, enhancing and harmonizing.
Referencing Dr. Bondar’s eight days in space, my intention for each of the eight movements is to harness the sounds and sights – to stop time for a moment, dive into each scene and build an experience. To realize the emotion inherent in Dr. Bondar’s incredible achievements while using my language and aesthetic to sonically and visually express the impact that these accomplishments have had on the world.
— Nicole Lizée
In fifteen lines of poetry, Rita Joe’s poem I Lost My Talk captures the discombobulating fear of being forced to leave one’s culture. Just as the poem is divided into four stanzas, the composition is divided into four uninterrupted movements. A bucolic flute solo captures the narrator’s life prior to attending Shubenacadie residential school. Strings play a hymn that suddenly transforms into a harsh musical environment; the flute melody is now fractured and lost within a foreign tonal soundscape. Throughout the second movement, as shattered musical themes recover, the percussion and lower brass frequently interrupt, forcing the melody to regroup and move forward into an atmosphere that becomes relentlessly oppressive. With the words “you snatched it away,” an aggressive third movement begins; the solo flute returns, swept up in frantic momentum. A percussion solo ushers the return of the hymn, now fraught and anguished. With the text “two ways I talk,” the hymn is played in two different keys simultaneously. With “I offer my hand,” the noble fourth movement begins; here, an anthem for reconciliation soars as the narrator finds the courage to act as an ambassador, bringing peace and understanding to two different cultures as well as her own life.
— John Estacio
Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith
Normal Studio (Montréal), Visual & Stage Design
Samuel Greffe, Producer, Normal
Frédéric Cordier, Multimedia Director, Normal
Michel Greco, Editor & Colourist
Milan Podsedly CSC, Director of Photography
Susanne Ritzau, Line Producer
Trinni Franke, Associate Producer
Ryan Port, First Assistant Director
Paul Roberts, Second Assistant Director
Ariana Shaw, Third Assistant Director
Ann Baggley, Assistant to Donna Feore
Chrisann Hessing, Production Coordinator
Forbes Campbell, Script Supervisor
Teresa Przybylski, Costume Design
Michelle Tracey, Alex Mancini, Michelle Rivers, Costume Assistant
Andrea Heldman, Key Hair & Makeup
Heather Snowie, Hair & Makeup
Sasha Moric, Camera Operator – Ronin
Lori Longstaff, Tony Lippa, First Assistant Camera
Aaron Mallin, Bart Bialasik, Second Assistant Camera
Chris Bacik, Silvio Bulgaret, Drone Operator
James Thurston, Gaffer
Paul Gettlich, Electric
Tom O’Reilly, Key Grip
Allan Schwartzenberger, Technical Supervisor – Data Management
Laury Dubé, Assistant Editor
Chris Daellenbach, Peter Oundjian, Production Assistants
Doug Pawis, Sharon Nanibush, Nathan Pamajewon, Debra Stanger, Mary J. Acosta , Background Performers
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Monica Côté, A.J. Demers, Milton Howe, Eugene Watts, Donna Zuchlinski, OMDC, Killbear Provincial Park
Produced by Willis Sweete Productions for the National Arts Centre, 2016
The National Arts Centre Foundation would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their support in helping Alexander Shelley realize his vision of promoting and investing in new Canadian work.
For more information about Life Reflected and how to support the National Arts Centre Creation Campaign, please contact the NAC Foundation at 613 947-7000 x315 or email@example.com.
The Gail Asper Family Foundation
The Azrieli Foundation
Kimberley Bozak & Philip Deck
Bonnie & John Buhler
Alice & Grant Burton
The Canavan Family Foundation
The Right Honourable Joe Clark, P.C., C.C., A.O.E. & Maureen McTeer
Michel, Anju, Roman & Angelica Collette
Barbara Crook & Dan Greenberg, Danbe Foundation
Thomas d’Aquino & Susan Peterson d’Aquino
Ian & Kiki Delaney
Mohammed A. Faris
Susan Glass & Arni Thorsteinson
Shirley Greenberg, C.M.
Dr. Dianne Kipnes, C.M. & Mr. Irving Kipnes, C.M.
Dr. Kanta Marwah
Janice & Earle O’Born
Gail O’Brien, LL.D. & David O’Brien, O.C.
Power Corporation of Canada
The Alan & Roula Rossy Family Foundation
John & Jennifer Ruddy
Alexander Shelley & Zoe Shelley
Dasha Shenkman, OBE, Hon RCM
Carolyn & Scott Shepherd
Eli & Philip Taylor
Donald T. Walcot
Famille Zed Family
The National Arts Centre would like to thank:
Alice Munro and Family
Community of Eskasoni
Canada’s Walk of Fame