composed by Beverley McKiver and Melody McKiver
from stories of Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation told by Garnet Angeconeb, Josephine King & Tom Chisel

performed by
Beverley McKiver, piano
Maria Nenoiu, violin
Magali Gavazzi-April, violin
Kathryn Cobbler, viola
Raphael Weinroth-Browne - cello
and No Borders Community Voices

co-produced and presented with Ottawa New Music Creato rs, Jumblies Theatre and No Borders Community Voices

website: beverleymckiver.com
website: melodymckiver.com
bandcamp: melodymckiver
bandcamp: beverleymckiver
instagram: @bev.piano
instagram: @melodymckiver

From Different Trains to

by Ruth Howard (Jumblies) and Emma Fowler (Soundstreams)

This project began as a partnership between Jumblies and Soundstreams. Our launchpad was Steve Reich’s Different Trains, presented by Soundstreams in February 2019. The idea was that we would co commission a composer to create a new work inspired
by Different Trains, drawing on the expertise of both partners and bringing together professional and community musicians and artists.

At a fortunate meeting in Sioux Lookout, Melody McKiver shared with Ruth Howard a pre-existing desire to compose a piece in response to Different Trains. Melody had learned about Different Trains from their mother, Beverley, also a composer, who ha studied it as a successful example of music that expressed inherited cultural trauma. And so we commissioned both Melody and Beverley to create the two interrelated works that we are calling Odaabaanag (‘trains’ in Anishinaabemowin).

Where Steve Reich’s piece incorporates Holocaust survivor voices referencing his Jewish heritage, Odaabaanag draws on the cultural memories Melody and Beverley and on interviews conducted in their Anishenaabeg ancestral home of Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation). Where the trains in Reich’s piece are literal, in Odaabaanag, they become a metaphor for journeys, ruptures and returns. As well as music for a accomplished quartet, we have added songs for a mixed-ability community choir.

With gratitude to Steve Reich, Odaabaanag has taken on its own life. As well as combining professional and community musical practices, it has traversed divides of culture (Indigenous and Settler Immigrant) and region (Toronto and Northern Ontario).

Thoughts on the
Odaabaanag Song Cycle

by Beverley McKiver

When I was around 13 years old in the early 70s, my step-mother and I boarded a train in Sioux Lookout, Ontario to visit her relatives in Sudbury. We lived in Dryden in northwestern Ontario which wa on the Canadian Pacific Railway line, but we had to travel over an hour away to start our trip on the Canadian National line. It was a new experience for me, eating in the dining car and sleeping in a pullout berth. I recall endless vistas of lakes, rocks, trees and muskeg en route and random stops in the middle of nowhere to pick up travellers waiting on the side of the tracks. We passed through small First Nations communities and waved to people waiting for the train.

I have always enjoyed train travel and it is my favourite mode of transportation for short jaunts from Ottawa to Montreal or Toronto. In 2008, I attended a performance of Different Trains by Steve Reich at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. In a journal where I recorded my impressions of the festival, I noted that thi performance affected me the most. Reich enjoyed the train rides of his childhood, but being of Jewish descent, he speculated on the type of trains he might have been forced to travel on had he lived in Europe during the time of the Holocaust. Earlier that day, I had been researching themes for educational materials for a website about the Residential School System based on the Where Are the Children photographic exhibit curated by Jeff Thomas. I was haunted by on of the archival photos of a group of Native families seeing their children off at the train station.

My mother, from the community of Frenchman’s Head on the Lac Seul reserve, attended Cecilia Jeffrey residential school run by the Presbyterian church in Kenora, Ontario. I was born in Kenora, removed from her care as an infant and adopted at age four, growin up in Dryden with non-Indigenous parents.

The three compositions in the song cycle written for The Gather Round Singers are based on interviews by Melody McKiver with Garnet Angeconeb, Josephine King and Tom Chisel. Similar to Reich’s work, the intended structure of the song cycle is before during and after the Residential School System.

While neither Garnet nor Josephine mentioned trains in their reminiscences, I kept the train metaphor in mind as I was composing “Before We Went Away”. Garnet described his memories of living according to the seasons before going to residential school. I imagined each season as a train stop, with the underlying rhyth slowing down for each change of season and then departing again. The “train” slows as the children depart for residential school, but they do not lose their essential spirit and carry bravely onward.

“What is going on?” conveys Josephine King’s essential instructions for a good life, as well as her anger towards and resistance to the unjust treatment received during her time at residential school. Her rallying cry could apply to many contemporary situations in which we are called to question and act.

The train makes a brief appearance in Tom Chisel’s tale of two brothers who were shipped to residential school by train and later fled via a perilous passage across Lake Superior and partly by foot along the train tracks. “We’re Not Going Back to Shingwauk” is inspired by this story lovingly passed down through severa generations of the family that bears the Lac Seul name. It has a gentler pace but endeavours to capture the boys’ quest fuelled by determination and love. Over a century later, “Shingwauk” could represent many things that we do not wish to revisit.

I am grateful to Garnet, Josephine and Tom for entrusting us with these teachings and stories. The lessons they carry are universally applicable and it has been a joy and privilege to humbly offer my musical interpretation of their words.