Voices Carrying Forward: A roundtable to be held on Indigenous futures in contemporary music

Monday, July 26th, 2021 5:39pm



Voices Carrying Forward: A Roundtable on Indigenous Futures in Contemporary Music is a free online public event.
By David Owen Rama
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

What happens when you put a group of Indigenous musicians together and ask them to talk about their dreams? That’s the question asked as the basis of an upcoming roundtable.

Voices Carrying Forward: A Roundtable on Indigenous Futures in Contemporary Music is an all Indigenous panel discussion to be presented July 29 through Zoom and funded by Queen’s University.  

An impressive panel of participants has been assembled for discussion, including violinist Sandrine Masse-Savard, mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, saxophonist and flutist Jeremy Allen, Lil’wat singer and composer Russell Wallace, Cree-Métis baritone singer and performance artist Jonathon Adams, and artist and Elder Marina Crane from the Tsuut'ina First Nation.

Jeremy Strachan studied musicology at the University of Toronto and is now currently working under a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Queen's University.

A couple of years back as part of his fellowship work, Strachan envisioned an opportunity to bring together a broad spectrum of Indigenous musicians working in classical music to discuss the appropriation of Indigenous songs and to “hold space” on the issue.

Appropriation of Indigenous culture is far-reaching and, according to Strachan, the unauthorized use of traditional Indigenous music and songs in Canadian classical compositions has been widespread over many decades.

 “There's literally hundreds of pieces…Some are problematic and some are not so problematic,” said Strachan, speaking to Windspeaker.com from his home in Ottawa.

Strachan was put in contact with artist and academic Jessica McMann to help put the project together. McMann is a Cree from Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is a dancer, choreographer and classically trained flutist.

“Because I'm a non-Indigenous person, I didn't want to be the ringleader,” said Strachan. “I thought that would be an inappropriate way to go about it. So one of my colleagues put me in touch with Jessica McMahon, who agreed to come on as curator and moderator.”

 Strachan said McMann was the perfect person for the task, taking on the assignment with ease and confidence while demonstrating a strong ability to bring a broad spectrum of diverse artists into the project.

Strachan’s initial goal was to utilize the prestige of the Banting fellowship and the funding available to him to provide a space for Indigenous artists to conduct an open discussion, without outside interference on what they view as important directions for their field of artistic expression.

After initial meetings between McMann and her panel of participants it was decided that there was no interest in investing their energy in the past, and collectively it was decided that the forum would instead focus on the future of Indigenous music in Canada.

“So, it seems that the people who are involved in this panel, they don't want to dwell on the past history of misuse,” said Strachan. “I think that's like my thing to deal with as a researcher. So I'm quite happy about it. I think it provides a good sense of continuity and a good sense of momentum.”

Instead the event may focus on the experiences that have shaped the musicians and their artistic visions, or how to create safe spaces and make music on their own terms. The roundtable may express their desire to give back to their communities what was taken through colonialism or their dream of seeing themselves represented in the music departments of educational institutions.

Voices Carrying Forward: A Roundtable on Indigenous Futures in Contemporary Music is a free online public event.

There is a limit of 300 free tickets available for this unique roundtable which can be ordered online at eventbrite.ca. For more information on all the participating artists see https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/voices-carrying-forward-tickets-161327343427

Strachan believes there is a true Renaissance in Indigenous music that spans across the board from traditional and improvisational to electronic and classical styles.

As a musicologist and researcher he’s incredibly excited to see the Voices Carrying Forward mandate focus on a wide open conversation that seeks to envision the possibilities of what could be on the horizon for Indigenous music and Indigenous music makers.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.