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Loon, Crane, Land

Publisher: LAH Publications

Catalogue Number: LAH 32

Year: 2017

For: SSATBB with Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone, Vibraslap

Duration: 4:45

Commissioned by Orpheus Choir of Toronto, Robert Cooper, director. This piece is meant to represent a young Aboriginal voice, through the setting of poems by two young Aboriginal writers, Nicholas Bonin and Robin Horner. The music references Ojibwe clan systems through it’s evocation of loons, cranes, and the land. It employs unusual balances, dissonances, rhythmic challenges, and other auditory twists and turns and is heavily influenced by conversations I had with Algonquin Elder Annie Smith-St. Georges and Singer/Drummer Gabrielle Fayant; as well as our current path of Truth and Reconcilliation.

The piece opens with the sound of the Loon and the Sandhill Crane as symbols of the Loon and Crane Clans. In Ojibwa clan systems, the members of the Loon Clan are responsible for representation of voices and ideas, making sure all voices within a group are heard. Those of the Crane Clan also do this, however, the crane has a louder cry that carries farther, and so the crane clan members deal more with dialogue on an international level.

At the outset, the singers focus on one of the biggest questions that Indigenous youth face today; a question felt keenly in these two poems: “who are my people?” I incorporate different layers of echo here to represent dialogue as well as the custom of Aboriginal social song, which is typically done with a lead/follow (i.e. call and response style). The introduction is hard – rhythmically and, in places, harmonically, because the questions all Canadians are currently asking are hard and the answers are hard, and it’s clear how important it is to finally ask and say these hard things. There is a lot of struggle in this journey we are on, and it’s reflected in the energy of the music. As “who are my people” continues on with the upper voices, the lower voices reference some of the different backgrounds mentioned in Horner’s poem, and the loon can be heard at the same time.

The piece reaches a breakthrough moment at the words “long before any of these.” To me, it’s a turning point in the poetry, for me, as the narrator begins to reflect upon her supressed Indigenous ancestry.

Now, in my conversation with Gabirelle about clan systems, she explained to me that although the system is complex, it’s based on the law of the land, so if you’re ever confused, all you need to do is go out on the land and pay attention and it will all be clear. So at this point in the composition, we return to the land sonically through the “wooden” sound of marimba. The voices resume a lead/follow style, with the sense that each voice is having a personal conversation, and yet everyone is having the same conversation. The accompaniment carries along with sounds of wood, air, and water.

Next, the choir moves into an a cappella section, with more divisi reflecting the many different cultural backgrounds simultaneously represented. It’s impossible to hear every word clearly – a kaleidoscope of voices and information feels authentic to me here. The important thing to me here is not textual clarity, but rather is the simultaneous expression and celebration of diverse ancestry. However, at the end of this section, as the upper voices sing “aboriginal ancestor” in lower part of their range, the lower voices overtake them, proclaiming “I AM CANADA!” This musically replaces the poetic line “eclipsed when she married a Frenchman” as the lower voices will sonically cover the upper voices at this point. Here, the music moves to a focal point on “her name forgotten” and “my stories.”

Now the music returns to the “wood, water, and air” section and turns to the present: “my stories are written in the grooves of bark” – we are sitting now with our own stories as our way forward. This time, while the music resumes the lead/follow style, the text aligns, as we find a bit more clarity together through our solidarity and support of one another in our own journeys.

The abrupt close feels a lot like, well, a “non ending.” To me, ending this piece with a “case closed” feeling just doesn’t make sense. We still have far to go.


From “Earth Story” by Nicholas Bonin and “Who are my people” by Robin Horner.

Who are my people?
The English, the Irish?
The French, or the Dutch?
Are my people the Aboriginal Brother and sisters
That lived here long before any of these?

My ancestors’ stories are written
In the Air that fills us, frosty breath of the
Buffalo in winter.

My parents’ stories are written in the Water.
Cool spring droplets on brown skin, diving from the clouds

I am my great grandmother,
– I am these, and many more,
Amsterdam girl to frontier woman.
– A history of Metis, First Nations and Scottish, Cree and Polish.
I am my Aboriginal ancestor,
– I am languages. I am families. I am Canada.
her name forgotten,

My stories are written in the Earth,
upheaval of dirt beneath roots, the smooth-polished stones of rivers and streams.