Zosha Di Castri
Dear Life, based on the short story by Alice Munro (adapted by Merilyn Simonds)
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).
My Name is Amanda Todd
The late Jocelyn Morlock (1969–2023) was one of Canada’s leading composers, who wrote compelling music that has been recorded extensively and receives numerous performances and broadcasts throughout North America and Europe. Born in Winnipeg, she studied piano at Brandon University, and later earned a master’s degree and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia, where she was recently an instructor and lecturer of composition. The inaugural composer-in-residence for Vancouver’s Music on Main Society (2012–14), she took on the same role for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from 2014 to 2019.
Jocelyn had close ties with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, who in 2015, commissioned My Name is Amanda Todd, a powerful work about the teen from Port Coquitlam, BC, who took her own life due to cyberbullying. It subsequently won the 2018 JUNO Award for Classical Composition for the Year.
Here’s her description of the work:
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 her mother, 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.
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
I Lost My Talk, based on the poem by Rita Joe
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