On the home stretch of a cross-Canada tour, Western’s Ensemble-in-Residence is learning as much as they are sharing about this country.
In Norway House, Man., a community that’s an 800-kilometre drive north of Winnipeg, they marvelled at a virtuoso Cree fiddler’s performance. At Hopewell Rocks, N.B., they serenaded the low tide, taking care to ensure the damp sea air didn’t damage their instruments.
Formed in 2006, Ensemble Made In Canada is a quartet of internationally recognized musicians, featuring Western Viola professor Sharon Wei, Angela Park on piano, Elissa Lee on violin and Rachel Mercer on cello. The quartet has been the university’s Western Ensemble-in-Residence since 2014.
During Canada’s sesquicentennial, they hatched an idea to commission 14 original Canadian compositions and then perform them in communities across the nation. With that notion, MOSAïQUE was born.
“It’s been really exciting to perform in every province and territory,” said Wei, co-founder of the quartet.
The 14 compositions highlight the diversity of landscape, culture and language and range in style from jazz and reels, to Indigenous drumming and classical music. “It’s a really eclectic mix,” Wei said.
MOSAïQUE began touring in July 2018; they are planning their finale concert in British Columbia in January 2020, after having performed for audiences in 50 different communities in all provinces and territories.
In Iqaluit late last year, they were joined by the Inukshuk Drum Dancers, led by Mary Piercey-Lewis, and the Iqaluit Fiddlers ensemble, led by Darlene Nuqingaq. Inuit throat singers complemented the pieces.
“They’re amazing people and they have brought out so much music in the community. They’re growing this next generation of musicians and music-lovers,” Wei said of the two northern music directors. They’re already making plans to bring Iqaluit musicians south in a music exchange in 2021.
In between tour dates with MOSAïQUE, Ensemble Made In Canada continues with their collective and independent concert and teaching careers.
As they have driven and flown across the country, they have discovered the vastness of Canada. But during their visits to far-flung communities – conducting workshops, making school presentations, playing concerts and collaborating with local musicians – distance shrinks and time slows, Wei said.
“We take a lot for granted in urban centres like London,” she said.
In Norway House, for example, a text message might take three hours to transmit using the lone cell tower in the community. That causes problems of accessibility, she noted, because even downloading apps is challenging.
Along with sharing music, they encourage participants and listeners at each concert to create squares of artwork inspired by the music they have heard. The squares – more than 1,800 of them so far – are part of an online gallery of images representing Canada.
The MOSAïQUE tour has become a giant montage of music, geography and artwork, just as they had hoped.
“Just meeting people on the ground and hearing their stories and working with so many different kinds of students – there’s such a hunger for art everywhere across the country.”
Along the way, they’ve experienced weather befitting one of the most diverse countries on Earth: searing heat in Ontario; salt sprays along the east coast; bone-chilling temps at minus-54 in Manitoba.
The final performance of the MOSAïQUE tour is scheduled for January 24, 2020, at Partridge Hall in St. Catharines.