As the NAC Orchestra tour buses travelled along the beautiful tree lined edge of Bras d’Or Lake we knew we had arrived to a very special place. The community of Eskasoni is the ancestral home of Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe. Her poem I Lost My Talk was the inspiration for NAC Award composer John Estacio’s work of the same name.
The community welcomed the Orchestra and staff by hosting an incredible feast. Beyond the delicious meal and local entertainment, it was the warmth and generosity of the Eskasoni community that filled the hearts minds of everyone who attended.
“ It's really hard to express how much we are proud as a community for the family of Rita Joe and the people that are involved in this Orchestra. ” said Chief Leroy Denny “It's important that the truth to be told. That way, in peace and harmony, we can go hand in hand.”
This cultural exchange set the tone and provided the energy for the busy day that followed. In the morning Allison Bernard Memorial High School hosted more than 250 students from five Cape Breton schools to take part in instrumental workshops led by nine NAC Orchestra musicians and Music Director Alexander Shelley. A concurrent art-making session with renowned Mi’kmaw artist Alan Syliboy and local artists explored the theme “We Shall Remain”.
Down the road, the Dan K. Stevens Memorial Arena was converted into a concert venue for a free afternoon performance for the family of Rita Joe, the people of Eskasoni, and 500 students from across Cape Breton. The concert concluded with We Shall Remain (It Wasn’t Taken Away), a new song by Allison Bernard Memorial High School student Kalolin Johnson.
“Rita Joe and the people and artists of Eskasoni have inspired all of us at the National Arts Centre Orchestra,” said Alexander Shelley. “It is both humbling and a great honour for us to perform I Lost My Talk in Eskasoni, and to be able to make music with hundreds of young people from Cape Breton.”