LISTEN TO EXCERPTS OF MUSIC BY BARBARA CROALL
Nenooshkaazhiins (Hummingbird, 2013) for pipigwan, voice and shaker, with CD playback; original song and text in Ojibwe/Odawa by Barbara Croall
Hummingbirds have always held a special fascination for me since I was very young, and for some reason I have had many close encounters with them. On Manitoulin Island we have a lot of the Ruby-Throated ones in the summer. They would come around me usually when I was just sitting or playing quietly. And over the years, they would tend to come around me when I was working in my medicine garden. At first I would sense ‘being watched’, then hear a buzzing around my head. Once, when I stood up from kneeling, a hummingbird came right up close to my face—staring right at me in the eyes—as it hovered in the air with its wings very rapidly beating. Then suddenly, like a flash, it flew away—whoosh!
On other occasions, when I have been in my spring fasting ceremony deep in the woods, I would wake up on a sunny morning and see these countless playful hummingbirds buzzing and darting around near the tops of the poplar trees above my tent, like they were playing in the sunlight. I never knew until then that there were so many of them!
The word for hummingbird in Ojibwe/Odawa (various dialects) refers actually to this bird’s ability to hover in the air (called “the hoverer”), making it unique to all over birds. I wanted to learn more about the hummingbird’s migratory life cycle between Mexico (and other southern areas in the Americas) and Northern Ontario, and also learn about what special meanings this mysterious, magical and mischievous little bineshiinh held for Mesoamerican Indigenous peoples. The speed of its flight, the buzzing sound it makes, the flash of light and colour it gives in flight, how it loves to ‘dance’ around the flowers and to play around with us—all of these things about the hummingbird inspired me to compose a piece, using my own experimental techniques in playing the pipigwan (traditional cedar flute), my voice, and song. We, ourselves—being like flowers—can only draw them toward us when in a complete state of peace, contented calm and stillness.
Mazhenaabikiniganiing Aagawong (Inscription Rock, 2008) for piano solo
This piece is about Agawa Rock, a cliff facing on the edge of Gichi Gamming (Lake Superior) wheremidewiwininiwag in my family have painted images from ceremonial visions on the rock. I visit this place often to feel close to my ancestors and learn from their messages in paint.
recorded world premiere performance by Emanuele Arciuli
Lullaby (2008) for Anishinaabekwe vocalist, alternating on pipigwan (traditional cedar flute), with suspended shells; original song and text in Ojibwe/Odawa by Barbara Croall
I composed this piece to commemorate the many missing and deceased children that my mother spoke of when talking about her residential school experience. There are many unmarked graves of these children—some as young as infants—who were taken away by force from their loving parents (many who themselves have passed on never knowing where their children went and what happened to them).
This piece expresses that grief, but also the eternal love and hope of mothers who lost their children this way, who see the spirits of their little ones coming to visit them in different natural forms—a little bird singing, a fleeting gust of breeze, a tiny but bright star twinkling in the night sky...
performed and recorded by Barbara Croall
Agamiing (On the Shoreline, 2010) for Anishinaabe Performer (voice/traditional First Nations flutes/hand drum/shakers/rattle/shell chimes and other traditional instruments) and clarinettist (E flat clarinet, B flat clarinet, bass clarinet, set of tin whistles) and CD playback
Commissioned by Harbourfront Centre for the Toronto Music Garden, this work was composed during the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the United States where many shoreline and marsh birds perished. As part of my outdoor teaching work, I have collected many marsh and lakeside habitat sounds—calls and songs of birds and other wetland creatures and insects, and the sounds of moving gently through the tall reeds, paddling through calm water, footsteps on shorelines, and the sounds of waves rolling in from lake waters—from which to develop and shape my own musical ideas. Our Elders have always told us that the birds taught people how to sing. To think that certain species of water birds would be wiped out and never heard again was deeply saddening. This work is inspired by and dedicated to the many migratory birds that live around the Great Lakes regions—bringing awareness to people about the importance of protecting shoreline, marsh and wetland habitats for the birds and other life forms inhabiting them.
performed by Barbara Croall and Peter Stoll (clarinets and tin whistles)
Calling From All Directions (2008) for Anishinaabe Performer (traditional First Nations flutes, voice, shakers, rattle, hand drum and other traditional instruments) and trumpeter (various keyed trumpets and conch shell)
This work was commissioned by Harbourfront Centre for the Toronto Music Garden, with the world premiere and repeat performances at Toronto’s beautiful harbourfront gardens on the shore of Lake Ontario. It was composed in memory of those who were lost and those who survived the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001. Featuring the conch shell—one of the most ancient of wind instruments, traded over many networks across indigenous North America and elsewhere, which is also the ancestral instrument of brass instruments developed in Asia and then later in Europe—along with traditional First Nations wooden flutes, the voice (accompanied by shakers/rattle/hand drum/other traditional instruments) and trumpets as calling instruments which rotate facing the four directions.
performed and recorded by Barbara Croall and Anita McAllister (conch shell, trumpets)
Falling Leaves, Fallen Leaves (2006) for First Nations traditional flutist/musician, flautist (piccolo/C flute/alto flute/bass flute), clarinettist (recorders, B flat clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet) and percussionist
This chamber work depicts the sounds, colours and gestures of autumn leaves as they are stirred by the wind and fall in twirling motions to the ground. It is also a piece about loss and the natural cycle of death and decay, which is necessary for the regeneration of life. When all of the leaves have left their branches and form a blanket of many colours on the earth, there is an inner peace we feel before the coming of winter.
performed by the ERGO Ensemble (Barbara Croall, traditional First Nations flute and other traditional instruments; Philipp Jundt, flutes; Peter Stoll, clarinets; Richard Moore, percussion)
If There Be Butterflies All Around (2004, rev. 2005) for 2 flautists (piccolos,C flutes, alto flute, bass flute), clarinetist (E flat/B flat/A/bass clarinets), percussionist & dulcimer player, harpist, violinst, violist, cellist and Anishinaabe traditional flutist
When I was fourteen years of age, I witnessed a field of grazing monarch butterflies in late summer on Manitoulin Island—located very close to a very old traditional burial ground of my family. There were so many (too many to count), the field was orange, as they sleepily and slowly opened and closed their wings while they soaked up the light from the late afternoon sun. This ‘dreamlike’ experience has stayed with me for many years, and this work expresses the memory of this. Elders have told us that the spirits of our ancestors will sometimes come to visit us in the physical world in many forms—including butterflies—to hold their own celebratory gatherings and to remind us that they are always with us.
world premiere performance by New Music Concerts Ensemble
Calliope (2001) for 2 flautists (piccolos/C flute/alto flute/bass flute), clarinettist (alto recorder/bass clarinet), percussionist (tin whistles in B flat, C and F; vibraphone, glockenspiel, mbira) and harpist
This work recalls a childhood memory of a steam-driven calliope at a local fall fair. The elderly man at the time, who through much hard work maintained this rare and vintage 19th century mechanical music instrument, showed so much joy and passion performing for small crowds who marvelled at the complexity of tubular pipes and mechanically triggered percussion. This instrument would take fits of ‘false starts’ before finally playing a set of musical tunes, then break down sporadically also as it needed more coal to heat the water to create the steam. But there was something charming about the haphazardness of these performances—reminding us all that seeking perfection is really pointless when sheer enjoyment is more important. For some time, after this man passed on, his calliope had been silent, but recently I heard that a younger man in his family had taken up the task of getting it running again.
performed by the ERGO Ensemble (Philip Jundt and Camille Watts, flautists; Peter Stoll, clarinettist; Richard Moore, percussionist; Erica Goodman, harpist; Tania Miller, conductor)—world premiere, Munich, Germany, and Canadian premiere, CBC Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.
Naawashkosiw (In the Middle of the Meadow, 1999) for 2 flautists (piccolos/C flutes/alto flute/bass flute), oboist, 2 clarinetists (E flat/B flat/bass clarinet) and bassoonist
This chamber piece reflects the traditional Anishinaabe belief of being part of and at one with nature around us. It describes the experience of lying down among the tall grasses of an open meadow and just listening to the sounds and activities of insects, different small birds flitting about through the grass, small animals and a mysterious ‘creature’ that is unseen, but heard as it breathes—exhaling and inhaling, snorting, growling. This also simulates the experiences of the traditional hunter or the healer seeking a vision for medicine knowledge—how by intently studying different life forms we can understand the importance of being at the ‘center’ of consciousness … in the moment and acutely aware of the sacred essence of mystery.
world premiere performance by members of l’Orchestre Lyrique of Avignon-Aix-en-Provence with Sylvio Gualda, conductor; Canadian premiere at ‘Aboriginal Music Days 2000’ (University of Toronto) by ERGO Ensemble with Fabio Mastrangelo, conductor; American premiere by Verge Ensemble, National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Washington, D.C.
Revision (1998) a musical allegory, for flautist (piccolo/C flute), clarinettist (E flat/B flat/bass clarinets), pianist and percussionist
This work was composed as a dedication to my theory and composition teacher, Dr. Samuel Dolin, in honour of his 80th birthday celebration at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto. It reflects back on the inherent meanings of metaphorical sounds, with the opening expressing a ‘cacophony of birds trapped inside a church belfry, looking for a way out’. After the sounds of a hammer and chisel chipping away at the stone, the bell tower structure crumbles as the birds fly out and seek freedom and peace. It also reflects influences of Messiaen (I have performed a number of his piano works from Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus—full of brilliant and kaleidoscopic hues), but from a different First Nations and indigenously spiritual perspective of sounds, resonance, birdcalls and nature’s colours.
Noodin (There is a Wind, 1999) duo for 2 C flutes performed by the ERGO Ensemble
This work expresses the spirit of wind, as a ‘sound character’ of many guises and physicalities—mainly through various shades of ‘breath’, many other inherent sounds that European flutes naturally make (microtonally shaded, breathy, various kinds of multiphonics, overtones, etc.), and whispered fragments of human speech in the Ojibwe/Odawa language. It is intended to capture the fleeting nature of wind—ranging from powerful and extroverted to subtle and mysterious—from a distinctly Anishinaabe perspective.
performed by flautists Philipp Jundt and Dorothee Binding
MULTI-MEDIA / MULTI-DISCIPLINARY / INTERDISCIPLINARY WORKS
Gookom’s Purse (2010) a multi-media, multi-disciplinary and inter-generational theatre work for Aboriginal/First Nations youth and Aboriginal/First Nations Elders; original story/script in English/Ojibwe/French and original music/songs in Ojibwe by Barbara Croall (featuring sign language for the deaf throughout).
This is the story of ‘Gookom’—an urban Elder and residential school survivor who has become mute due to a recent stroke. She walks the streets of Hamilton, Ontario, and tends her own ‘secret’ and private garden space in Gage Park, where a group of Aboriginal teenagers have observed her comings and goings about town—and they have especially been wondering about that mysterious, old beaded purse she carries slung over her shoulder. Their imaginations run wild, and as they cope with their own struggles at home, at school, and inner-city daily life, they learn more about Gookom; her own life history, and her special ‘gift’ which is interconnected with the purpose and meaning she represents in their lives… and about the power her purse holds.
Gookom’s life story is narrated by a young girl—both deaf and mute, but an expert lip-reader (in both English and Ojibwe alike)—who has a special relationship with this Elder and empathetic understanding of her sufferings and strength to overcome hardships.
Gookom as a young girl—named Anangonse (Little Star)—and her sister Bernadette are taken from their reserve in southeast Saskatchewan and sent to different residential schools. After graduating they find each other again years later as adults and try to re-build a co-supportive family life together in the north end of Winnipeg. After Bernadette’s passing, Anangonse gathers her children and belongings and heads to Hamilton, Ontario. As the years pass and her children leave home and start their own families, Anangonse becomes a grandmother—Gookom—and draws on the totality of her life experiences to guide the group of city teenagers who long for and need a ‘grandmother’ in their lives… and she especially provides needed protection from a feared and dangerous gang with supernatural powers, known as the ‘Wolverines’, who roam the streets of Hamilton.
ORCHESTRAL WORKS (LARGE AND CHAMBER-SIZED)
Wezoowaad Anang (Shooting Star, 2012) orchestral theatre work about the 13 Moons or life-phases of renowned Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh (“Panther-Who-Crossed-the-Sky”)—from birth, through childhood, through different stages of manhood, to chieftainship, his role in the War of 1812, and his eventual death in battle; featuring 3 First Nations performers (lead actor/dancer/singer, portraying multiple character roles of both genders; two supporting actors/singers/musicians portraying different character roles that interchange between historical figures and ‘spirit beings’), with choreography, dramaturgy and lighting design.
Tree People & Seven (2011) orchestral dance theatre work, about how First Nations peoples of coastal British Columbia influenced and inspired renowned Canadian painter, Emily Carr—exploring these influences within the duality of Carr’s indomitable spirit, energy and soul as found in key paintings spanning her career; featuring two Aboriginal contemporary dancers, and two First Nations performers (singers/musicians).