"There is good life here": Dalhousie Chorus performance puts spotlight on reconciliation

- March 23, 2018

The poster for the Called to Action concert.
The poster for the Called to Action concert.

In Canada’s journey towards truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, water occupies a position of central importance. Take, for example, resistance to “fracking” in communities from Standing Rock in Dakota to Stewiacke in our own province.

How can the arts participate in the painful but necessary work of healing our relationships with one another and with the land and water?

Building bridges

Dalhousie Chorus Director Christina Murray is committed to exploring new ways of establishing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians through the arts. After an educational year-long journey, the Dalhousie Chorus members have discovered meaningful and powerful ways that their music-making can help them be better allies to water protectors in Canada.  

This weekend, that journey culminates in “Called to Action: Living Reconciliation Through Song," a Dalhousie’s Chorus’s performance which takes place Saturday, March 24 at 2 p.m. in the Dalhousie Arts Centre’s Sculpture Court.

Choir member Chloe Matamoros appreciated that, “During the process of learning music we have had Indigenous people come in and talk to the choir... It is important [to be aware] of the cultures that we engage with. Our last speaker came in and lead a water ceremony with the whole choir, and it was very powerful.”

The concert will be a unique opportunity for the community to not only hear beautiful music, but to become educated about matters that are often overlooked. The concert will include Indigenous speakers who will provide invaluable “food for thought” about the issues presented in the music.

“We’ve been working together to learn and to use choral music to build bridges and open doors of conversation with Indigenous partners [and] water protectors,” says Murray. The performance aims not only to entertain, but to enlighten the audience, leaving them with a richer understanding.

Songs of water

One overarching theme present in Called to Action is the appreciation of the sacred and essential nature of water.

“Water is a human necessity that [can] bring people together and that [the concert] connects directly to issues of water safety and security in many indigenous communities,” says Matamoros.

While the performance encompasses a wide variety of musical stylings, much of the focus is on pieces that connect back to the earth itself.

“A lot of the repertoire are songs that really emphasize our relationship to land and the elements,” says chorus member Sidath Rankaduwa,

“We have a song called The Sounding Sea, Cloudburst, To Sing on the Water… A lot of these pieces function as statements about our relationship to these things we can’t live without… This concert is about Indigenous issues and a lot of that revolves around the claiming of land.”

Murray calls the final piece, Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst, a particular spectacle, as the chorus forms, “a soundscape which creates a very evocative picture of a storm.” Indigenous communities are often on the front line in the fight to protect natural resources from exploitation and pollution, preserving both their “heritage and traditions” and the very lifeblood of communities.

A voice’s power

Murray believes that choral music is a powerful way to convey important messages and stories that transcend simply being spoken.

“People often allow themselves to be more vulnerable and allow themselves to reflect with more ease… when they are presented with the opportunity to reflect through music and text combined.”

Called to Action is more than just a performance; it is a hopeful vessel for change.  

“Group singing is a wonderful tool for social change because it evokes an emotional response,” says soprano Rebecca McCauley. “It encourages people to care about the message.”

Through a mixture of songs ranging from Pentatonix covers to Andrew Balfour’s “Ambe” - a song of welcome composed for non-indigenous choirs in Ojibway —  Called to Action invites everyone to listen, learn, and find living reconciliation through song. In Canada, in our striving to become allies to Indigenous communities, and in our chorus, we must face the future with optimism, unity and understanding. Mino-bimaadiziwin omaa - There is good life here.

"Called to Action" takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 24 in the Sculpture Court of the Dalhousie Arts Centre. The concert is "pay what you can" — no tickets necessary.


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