Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Flin Flon: Day 2

Hey all,

I've been entirely remiss in not posting these sooner, but I wanted to be able to do the event justice and for that, I needed to get a few good nights of sleep.

After spending most of Friday billygoating from spot to spot, we pledged to sleep until we woke Saturday morning at the cabin Brenda and Harvey rented for the weekend at Neso Lake.

And although there was no small head wedged into my midsection (i.e. my daughter, who was back in Winnipeg) neither B nor H nor I didn't manage much later than 9 am.

After a long lounge-y breakfast and a short pre-concert trudge on the property (where B suggested I wear a large mushroom as a hat...and, even more strangely, I complied), it was soon time to don our concert clothes.

B and I had exchanged a few emails about what we'd be wearing, which makes sense when you consider that we'd been attending both a day-time and an evening concert outside in early spring up north.

(I mean, where do you go about getting a muskeg cocktail gown? A mining-town sweater set and pearls?)

We had planned to attend both the afternoon and evening concerts as we wanted time to take in both the pomp and circumstance of the concert and the nuances of the music.

Once at the concert site at Cranberry Portage, we collected our tickets and milled around the 70-foot teepee that would house the 50-member choir, the audience, and various dignitaries as well as several drum groups and a dance troupe.

As B busily greeted friends and relatives, composers and choir members, I watched the nearby water, hoping that the loons we'd heard last night would chip in at some point.

Too soon, the members of the choir in their black ensembles and ribbon epaulets in Metis colours began to line up preliminary to entering the teepee.

Though I am no dinner party maven, largely preferring meals out with M, I will admit that I admire anyone that can draw up a seating chart for a large round structure...

As B was a guest of honour, having contributed poems to three of nine pieces to be performed, we had excellent seats near the front.

And then it began.

The concert was divided between a traditional program and a classical program.

The traditional program included two drum groups and a dance troupe but began with a young man with a hand drum, who sang a simple song of welcome and blessing. Then we had a elder from Winnipeg.

And though I not usually prone to such things, I had to work hard at not crying through the the entire traditional program. And B kept on hissing at me to not look at her, lest I set her off...heh.

The traditional portion of the concert was charmingly informal, with a few words of introduction offered by choirmaster Crystal Kolt either before or after each piece.

They'd also thoughtfully put full bios - and, more importantly, the words to each of the text-based pieces - in the program.

Also nice was how they used the space during the performance, sometimes singing from the outside edge of the teepee and sometimes taking the stage at the center.

And, given that the stage featured performances from both the men's chorus and the women's chorus on separate pieces, there was a good mix of voices and groups of voices.

My favourite piece of Brenda's was the Pictographs piece, which rolled and swelled over us from the periphery of the tent.

I preferred the evening performance, which somehow benefited from the acoustics of cooler wetter air in a canvas teepee.

I also think the choir, having already performed the program in front of an audience that afternoon, brought slightly more confidence and energy to the piece.

Because that's how performance goes.

I also enjoyed Winnipeg composer Jim Hiscott's performance of his own Spirit Reel, which included the button accordion as well as several surprising bum wiggles (during which I was told rather fiercely to NOT look at B...).

As someone who spent several second-weekends-in-July at the Winnipeg Folk Festival as a child and young adult, I also appreciated the choir's spirited rendition of Stan Roger's Northwest Passage. I muttered along on the choruses, head back, directing the sound at the teepee's vent (where it probably belonged, being that I'm almost completely a-musical...).

The world premiere of Night on an Old Trade Route, composed by Hiscott based on B's poem of the same name and commissioned by the Flin Flon Community Choir, was highly intriguing.

I appreciated Hiscott's use of repetition in the piece, the way he 'played along' with the poem, and also the extent to which it obviously challenged the choir.

Maybe it's just me, but I like seeing people working at the very edge of what they're capable of. The struggle to make something manifest, with the accompanying possibility of failure, is much more interesting sometimes than a perfectly polished performance.

It also brought home the fact that fifty or more people with jobs and families and hobbies in addition to singing had spent weeks poring over B's poem and the music composed for the poem.

To my mind, that's a greater compliment than fifty or so people attending a book launch, many of whom are there for reasons besides that of celebrating the book.

The choir members, on the other hand, were focused on the poem(s). They inhabited them the same way that we inhabited the teepee: briefly but intensely.

And while I am also not prone to standing ovations, I leapt to my feet once the concert's last strains sounded.

Fun! (!!!!)

All photos Cranberry Portage, MB. May 24, 2008.

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