Voices from the past

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A rising star in the world of opera will be performing in Hay River in February.

Jeremy Dutcher – the winner of the prestigious Polaris Music Prize for 2018 – will appear in the community on Feb. 9 as part of a tour presented by the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife.

Jeremy Dutcher - a classically-trained operatic tenor and composer from Wolastoq First Nation in New Brunswick - will be performing in Hay River on Feb. 9. Photo courtesy of Northern Arts and Cultural Centre
Jeremy Dutcher – a classically-trained operatic tenor and composer from Wolastoq First Nation in New Brunswick – will be performing in Hay River on Feb. 9.
Photo courtesy of Northern Arts and Cultural Centre

Marie Coderre, executive and artistic director of NACC, said Dutcher – a classically-trained operatic tenor and composer – will perform accompanied by recordings from 1907 featuring singing in the Wolastoqey language of the Wolastoq First Nation in New Brunswick.

“This recording from 1907, it’s his community singing and it’s really rare that back in those days there was a recording of Indigenous singing,” she said. “So he’s using that to sing along and play piano.”

Coderre noted that Dutcher appeared at NACC in September just two weeks before winning the Polaris Music Prize, which is awarded annually to what is judged to be the best full-length Canadian album.

“It’s really, really magical,” she said of Dutcher’s concert performance. “It’s really a mixture of traditional and contemporary, modern music.”

Dutcher’s performance in Hay River will be at Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic Church because of the good acoustics in the building.

“We are extremely lucky to have him because I booked him last year and it was before he won the award,” said Coderre. “So right now he’s playing all around the world. I don’t think we would have been able to have him next year because of his busy schedule. But he’s very committed to go to smaller Indigenous communities and he’s very thrilled to pass along his skill and knowledge.”

Coderre described Dutcher’s performance as uplifting.

“It’s very rich in content,” she said. “It’s very touching, too, because you have to understand also that Jeremy speaks Wolastoqey, the language, and there’s only 100 people left speaking the language, and he’s only 28 years old.”

Dutcher’s debut release is called Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, which features rearrangements of the early 1900s wax cylinder field recordings from his community.

“Many of the songs were lost because our musical tradition was suppressed by the Canadian government,” he said in comments provided by NACC. “I’m doing this work as there’s only about a hundred Wolastoqey speakers left. It’s crucial that we’re using our language because, if you lose the language, you’re losing an entire distinct way of experiencing the world.”

Dutcher, a member of the Tobique First Nation, has roots in the Wolastoq First Nation.

The NACC tour will also take the performer to Norman Wells, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.

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