Program Notes and Texts
At the places where waters meet, there is turbulence. There is a mixing, sometimes a muddying, maybe the waters get rough. And then the two waters move on together.
While this piece was conceived and written, the importance of water was present in many ways world-wide.Too much water caused havoc and, in some lucky cases, resulted in dramatic rescues. Too little water burned towns and brought famine. Concerns for the environment continued to clash with the desire for industry. And the relationship between First Nations and settler people demanded – and continues to demand – reconciliation for the many wrongs done in the past and the present.
The commissioning choir, the Canadian Chamber Choir, had no Indigenous representation among its singers when this piece was written, and they sought out Indigenous artists and voices to learn from, listen to, and be part of the creative process.Yolanda Bonnell, an Anishinaabe/ Ojibwe/South Asian playwright and performer, contributed two poems to be set to music. The choir and I met with artists and elders inVancouver,Winnipeg, and Chicago including Sarain Carson Fox, Chickadee Richards, and Cris Derksen, among others. I myself was able to reflect on my own connections to Indigenous people and Indigenous ancestry in a deep and personal way. Musically, WhereWaters Meet is a set of five movements that touch on water in different ways but that come from blood-deep knowledge that we all need water, are made of water, and have impacts on water.
Movement 1 – Water Memories (5:30)
If water is a part of life then maybe that means water is alive, holds memory. I asked each member of the Canadian Chamber Choir to tell me a memory of a special encounter with water – any kind of water! Then they had to re-tell that memory as imagined from the point of view of that water. You’ll hear the human and the water perspective of several vignettes, each cobbled together from my own arranging and combining of some of those memories.
Water Memories – Carmen Braden, with contributions from members of the Canadian Chamber Choir
I am a small boy. I am in red shorts. Sinking with the bright blue all around for a moment until my father lifts me out. But for years in my dreams it felt like a long, long time that I was dreaming.
We feel you.We pull you down.We reclaim the water in two-thirds of your body.You move up and you are gone but we know you’ll come back on the next hot summer day.
We see the crash of yesterday’s waves hanging in the air, time suspended for months and months. We walk across the lake, barely breathing as we listen to the winter silence.
We feel your weight.We feel your steps.You are still and we are still and it is cold.We wait for the thaw, the dance when the cold no longer defines.When we can choose to be still.
I am old, I am sore. In the water I can walk and run and jump and dance. My bones share the weight, my body is free for just a moment.
I lift your body towards the sky. Gravity and time have less meaning for you here.
I am moving away to the mainland. Far from the ocean, the shore so familiar. Always a sense of claustrophobia, tight chest, compressed till I come home. My lungs finally able to fill to fullness once again.
We stay, you leave.You return and I remain unchanged. And I welcome you home each time.
Movement 2 – Nibi (3:00)
Yolanda Bonnell created this text to be set and she brought this word Nibi, which means water in Ojibwe. The poem travels through images of water beautiful and rich, and also water under threat. It is the current reality in many choirs that there are few, if any, Indigenous choral singers. What does it mean for non-Indigenous singers to sing Indigenous words – words from languages that non-Indigenous people have deliberately attempted to silence and eradicate? What does it mean for non-Indigenous audience members to hear these words? It is with deepest respect and thanks that I am allowed to include this word in the music, and that this word is sung by choirs, and heard by audiences.
Nibi (Nibi translates to water in Ojibwe)
Open palm rushes and jumps the wind
Breaking up the stillness
Ripples like wrinkles in time
Echo through vast expansion
Wide and endless
Cool to the tips of fingers
But warm in the glint rays of the sun
Air as quick as wings
Clean and well
Warrior trails break through
A womb of strength and power
Sliding through throats
Grabbed by the throat
Now she sits
Fingers falling off
Hands as rivers that once gave life
Nibi Is life.
Movement 3 – In Local News,Water (2:30)
This movement was designed to make use of a different text with each performance.The choir or conductor is tasked with finding a news story about water localized to where the performance will be held.Words and phrases are harvested from the story for the text to be sung in a style as if delivering a newscast. Audiences may be asked to participate by reading or singing the text along with the choir – a participation in this response to the endless stream of news and information in today’s society.
Movement 4 – McIntyre (4:50)
The McIntyre River runs through Thunder Bay, Ontario. It is called the River of Tears because of the history of violence against Indigenous peoples there. Since 2000, seven Indigenous youth have been pulled from the river.Yolanda Bonnell’s poem McIntyre gives glimpses from the river of this tragic situation that continues to this day. The music carries the listener along the journey, the sounds of the words themselves connect to the river’s voice.
McIntyre -Yolanda Bonnell
For every Indigenous youth that was found in or near the McIntyre River (The River of Tears)
When the splashes rush past
Waking up my cells
Waking up the reeds and minnows
Disturbed my sleepy stillness
I feel the stumbles and shoves
I feel the blood of ones connected so deeply to the earth
Hit and mix
My body is a sigh
My body is a healer
My body is medicine
Opens its arms
To welcome another child
Coughing gently and returning back
Like the ashes of sage
Returned to a tree
Skin on my skin
Brown like mud like earth like skin like brown like mud like earth like skin
The violence hangs in the air like a stench
Fogs up the bank
Leaves the tree weeping
Tears of a sorrow so deep it cuts
Wash into me
And I go back to waiting
Beneath the moon
For the return
Movement 5 – WhereWaters Meet (2:30)
I wrote the five movements of WhereWaters Meet over the course of a year. During that time I carried my daughter inside me, gave birth and watched her first months of life.The wonder of her life has been a daily reminder of the liquid’s deep magic, its complexities, and its ties to all our lives.
Where Waters Meet – Carmen Braden
Where waters meet I will find you
You will find me.
And the many waters of ourselves and the others,
The many waters of the blood, of the tears, the life liquid of the mothers Will move as the many streams move
Into the rain, into the ocean, to the river.
All the water is a circle every drop is round.
Turn your face up to the rain feel it pouring down.
Open your heart to the ocean let it pull your down.
Chain me to the river I will hold my ground.
Where waters meet I will find you
You will find me.