“Storytelling” through music: Andrew Balfour’s Transformation concert, Feb 24, 2024

February 14, 2024

Hussein Janmohamed, Sherryl Sewepagaham, and Andrew Balfour

Andrew Balfour’s Transformation
Saturday, February 24, 2024 at 7:30 PM
Ukrainian Labour Temple (591 Pritchard Ave.)

Composers’ pre-concert talk:
Storytelling Through Music
6:45-7:15 PM

Special thank you to concert sponsors Ron and Sandi Mielitz

What happens when Gujarati chant meets its First Nations counterparts? For Andrew Balfour’s Transformation concert this Saturday, February 24th, Andrew is expanding his concept of Truth and Reconciliation, collaborating with nationally recognized composer-performers Hussein Janmohamed (South Asian Ismaili) and Sherryl Sewepagaham (Alberta Cree-Dene). All three composers bring a unique voice, transforming the way we see the world and each other. Conducted by Mel Braun and featuring the Dead of Winter choir, cellist Leanne Zacharias and traditional Indigenous Songkeeper Cory Campbell, this concert is one in a series designed by Andrew that has received national acclaim with performances in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton.

Get your tickets here.

The Dead of Winter Truth and Reconciliation projects are paired with a Composer Gathering. For years, Andrew and Mel have been honing their skills to create “concept concerts” where a rich theme is chosen, and the curators choose composers and guest artists to collaborate in special projects, such as Andrew’s four Truth and Reconciliation concerts. We have taken this a step further in recent years, inviting our chosen composers to a 4-day gathering at the Herdsman House Artists’ Retreat in Neubergthal, Manitoba.

This has turned into a magical experience. Rather than simply submitting a work based on Andrew’s description of the concert theme, the composers work together to define the theme, building the repertoire and developing exciting ideas for each new work and how it will integrate into the whole.

Much more than that, composers from across the country get to meet one another and become friends. In our most recent Composer Gathering last August 2023, Hussein Janmohamed talks about Sherryl Sewepagaham leading the group in a smudging ceremony. He, in turn, taught the group to sing a Gudrati chant. Ideas and stories flowed in an environment of trust, sharing, and building community. In Hussein’s own words, “Coming [to Manitoba], I’m connecting with the land, I’m connecting with other people, I’m getting to know myself better, I’m finding new language to describe what I do and what I’m interested in – what a gift!”

Andrew Balfour adds, “These connections are already leading to new future collaborations. As Dead of Winter, we feel privileged to be part of this creative sharing across cultures and regions. We have been exploring and developing the idea of a platform for Indigenous storytelling through choral music for the past 10 years. In that time, we have forged and collaborated with some of Canada’s leading Indigenous artists, taking many of these collaborations across the country.”

Get your tickets here.

Performance of Andrew Balfour’s Notinikew at the Montreal New Music Festival

About Andrew Balfour and his Truth and Reconciliation concert series
Andrew Balfour’s Truth and Reconciliation concert series is one such instance of individual storytelling turned political. Balfour, a Cree composer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, has embarked on an ambitious project to inform—and transform—the landscape of Canadian political storytelling, through fusions of musical styles and the sheer power of the human voice. In collaboration with Dead of Winter and a talented roster of Indigenous and Métis guest artists, Balfour performed the third installment of the series, Captive (2022), and the fourth, Notinikew (2023) in Winnipeg, and a combination of Toronto, Edmonton, and Montreal. Each performance was received with tremendous gratitude, a response that speaks to the powerful catharsis one can experience through artistic storytelling.

“Andrew’s direct approach, his direct words and body language, was so refreshing to witness as an Indigenous woman and artist,” reflected Cheri Maracle, an Indigenous Canadian actress who was featured as a guest artist in the Toronto performance of Captive. “His artistry was captivating, evocative and true. The words hit and strung on my nerve, to where I had tears streaming down my cheeks. We know what we went through, what our ancestors went through, and what we still live. Picking up the dead pieces of colonization and claiming them is difficult for a nation. Andrew’s [work] drew attention to this reality—the bitter truths of life for us as Indigenous people—through beautiful music, voices, words, and movement.”

“We do these one-word thematic concerts — Fallen, Captive, Notinikew — for our non-Indigenous audiences,” says Balfour. “For instance, what’s the Indigenous perspective on “captivity”? If these concerts were specifically for Indigenous people, we would need to perform them in an Indigenous language. But we want to tell stories about misunderstandings between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples, making a crucial point that these stories are not ancient history, but repeat themselves into the present day.”

Andrew Balfour’s Captive receives a standing ovation at Choral Canada’s 2022 Podium Conference and Festival in Toronto, Ontario.

About Hussein Janmohamed
Hussein is a dynamic singer, musical curator, composer, choral clinician, and educator. He is an Ismaili Muslim of South Asian East African descent. Hussein facilitates transformational experiences for communities and teams to connect across their differences through an unconventional approach to collaboration, creation, and singing. His work bridges gaps in music education and provides access to music, sound, and creation for all people regardless of their musical background.

Hussein recites traditional Ismaili devotional poetry and is an active community arts educator leading the revitalization of Muslim traditions through intercultural vocal arts. His compositions express a pluralistic vision of culture creating harmony through diversity.

Highlights include commissions for the Esoterics, Amabile choirs, Aga Khan Museum, Ontario Presents, and the Westcoast Sacred Arts Society with Lil’wat composer Russell Wallace for a Tribute Concert for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 2021, Hussein worked with Russell Wallace and Amirali Alibhai (Aga Khan Museum) to produce a digital community-engaged response to the discovery of the remains of 215 children anonymously buried under a residential school in Kamloops, BC, and many more across the country. Hussein has been recognized for his inspirational leadership and is a two-time recipient of the Irene R. Miller and Anoush Khoshkish Fellowship at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.

About Sherryl Sewepagaham
Sherryl is of Woodland Cree and Dene ancestry from the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta and resides in Edmonton. She holds degrees in Master of Education, Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Music Therapy. Sherryl is an experienced K-6 elementary music specialist and Orff-Schulwerk Specialist focusing on Indigenous music pedagogies and taught elementary music for 14 years and continued with consulting and presenting in the field. With the land as her teacher, Sherryl is furthering her knowledge of Indigenous Ways of Knowing and learning traditional practices on the land and waters in Treaty 8 territory.

Sherryl is a published composer of Cree choral works and First Nations songs. She is also a music producer having co-produced and composed the soundtrack for the documentary Re-ken-si-le-a-shen by Métis filmmaker, Jamie Bourque. Her 2014 debut solo album, Splashing the Water Loudly, received a 2015 Indigenous Music Award nomination and is featured in APTN’s Chaos and Courage series and All Our Relations. Sherryl wrote the music and lyrics for the National Arts Centre’s Music Alive Program (MAP) theme song, “Music Alive”, which has been shared with elementary schools across Canada. Sherryl also created and co-created three teacher resources for the MAP program and created a secondary music resource called Kanata: Contemporary Indigenous Artists and their Music with MusiCounts Education Charity. She continues to develop cultural music programs and teacher resources in education locally and nationally.

Sherryl was a 22-year, founding member of the retired 2006 Juno-nominated, Edmonton-based trio Asani and received a 2010 Canadian Folk Music Award, a 2010 Indian Summer Music Award, a 2005 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award, and many other prestigious music awards nominations. Asani toured extensively around the world performing at Carnegie Hall in New York, The Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C., the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, BC, and stages in Finland, France, South Africa, Hawaii, Boston, Newfoundland, and Yukon.

clockwise from top: Cory Campbell, Leanne Zacharias, Mel Braun

About Mel Braun
Music Director Mel Braun is a long-time baritone soloist, known for his work in Early Music with Tafelmusik and Opera Atelier, his New Music explorations with Banff Centre and Groundswell, and his Art Song projects focusing on the works of Schubert and Wolf. Professor of Voice at the Desautels Faculty of Music, where he also directs the Opera Ensembles, Mel has seen many of his students go on to professional careers as performers, teachers, and Arts Administrators. He has been with DOW since 2010, specializing in workshopping and directing the premieres of new works by Andrew Balfour. When not teaching or directing, Mel is an avid Bombers/Jets fan, with a keen interest in the local pop music scene, many of whose young singers he continues to mentor.

About Leanne Zacharias
Cellist Leanne Zacharias performs across genres and geographies, with unique concerts and installations presented in museums, art galleries, chimneys, stairwells, rowboats and other unorthodox sites by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, LandMarks2017, the International Cello Festival, Austin’s New Music Coop, Winnipeg Design Festival, Iceland’s Nes Residency, Open Ears Festival, Agassiz Festival, Winnipeg Symphony New Music Festival, Sound Symposium (NFLD), Churchill’s Northern Studies Research Centre and Winnipeg’s Warming Huts Art & Architecture Competition.  From the National Arts Centre to the Venice Biennale to the Andy Warhol Museum, she performs widely as soloist and in ensembles including the Australian Art Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and ORFIX in Mexico. She collaborates, records, and tours extensively with songwriters and composers including John. K Samson, the Mountain Goats, Eric Platz, Robert Honstein, Travis Weller, the Hylozoists, Nicole Lizee’s SaskPower, and her long-time collaborator, Christine Fellows. She recently premiered Nicole Lizee’s new cello concerto and appeared as soloist in Andrew Balfour’s Notinikew at Montreal’s Place des Arts. She will appear as guest artist in Glasgow, Scotland’s Art-making in the Anthropocene Outdoor Art Residency this spring.

On faculty at Brandon University, Leanne co-directs Wheat City Nuit Blanche, A Wild Studio (Canadian National Parks) and has taught at the Rosamunde Academy, Cadenza, Prairie Cello Institute, Domaine Forget International Festival, Hybrid Intensive (San Francisco). A popular speaker, she adjudicates across North America and has delivered lectures at the Parsons School of Design in New York, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s 10x20x20 series, the Banff Centre’s Research in Culture Workshop, Germany’s IIAS conference and at Mexico City’s UNAM. Her solo album Music for Spaces was released on Redshift Records in 2021, featuring the acoustics of unique historic buildings around the prairie region.  Leanne plays a French Couteriuex cello dating from the 1820’s.

About Cory Campbell
Cory Campbell, Ojibway Songkeeper, was raised in Winnipeg’s North End and was exposed to great music through his parents and extended family. Cory’s first experience with traditional singing as part of his cultural exploration helped him find his voice and connect to his spirituality in a profound way. He has been blessed with opportunities to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Dead of Winter (Camerata Nova Inc.) and the University of Manitoba Concert Choir. He takes special pride in his work within numerous schools in and around Winnipeg as part of his passion for helping young Indigenous people find their voice as an expression of pride in their heritage. Singing at ceremony is one of the most important ways Cory is able to engage in self-care. On a personal note, Cory enjoys life with his wife and three foster children, as well as time with his ten grandchildren. Cory is a very active participant within the spiritual community in and around Winnipeg and abroad. He frequently lends his voice to various activities, including ceremonies and celebrations. Currently, Cory is Executive Director of Project Neecheewam, a community-based organization designed to meet the unique and individual needs of Indigenous youth requiring safe care through a holistic approach that encourages a sense of positive self-worth through emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual and social growth.

About the Choir
Taylor Burns is a first year Masters student in Vocal Performance at the Desautels Faculty of Music, where she studies with Monica Huisman. A native of Kingston, she holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Western University. Besides being a fine singer with considerable Early Music experience, Taylor also wields a mean set of crochet hooks. This is Taylor’s first appearance with DoW. Welcome, Taylor!

Brittany Melnichuk holds a Masters Degree in Choral Conducting from the Desautels Faculty of Music, with an Undergraduate background in Jazz. Active as a singer in the local choral scene, Brittany is Music Director for the Rainbow Harmony project and also works for the Manitoba Choral Association.

Sara Clefstad is a long-time member of the Winnipeg choral scene, having sung numerous performances with Dead of Winter, Canzona, and PolyCoro. A versatile singer, Sara is as comfortable in pop as she is in classical music. Nothing suits Sara better than singing together with other folks. We’re so glad to have her back for this concert.

Keely McPeek is an Indigenous soprano and actor who holds a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Voice from the Desautels Faculty of Music. Numerous local theatre performances and tours and a recent debut with Manitoba Opera in Suzanne Steele and Neil Weisensel’s new opera Li Keur have kept this talented young artist busy. Tonight is Keely’s first appearance with DoW. Welcome, Keely!

Donnalynn Grills is a long-time soloist and chorister on the local scene. She has appeared in mezzo-soprano roles with Manitoba Opera, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Little Opera Company, and Rainbow Stage, while also gracing the alto section of all Winnipeg’s professional choirs. Donnalynn runs the Preparatory Division at the Desautels faculty of Music.

Katy Harmer holds a Masters Degree in Choral Conducting from the Desautels Faculty of Music. Ongoing tours as a member of the Canadian Chamber Choir, along with her work as Music Director at St. Andrews River Heights Church and various community-based projects, keep Katy fully occupied. This winter term also finds her standing in for Dr. Elroy Friesen as conductor of the University Singers.

Ashley Schneberger is a recent graduate of the Desautels Faculty of Music, where she completed a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance. She recently performed Berlioz’ Nuit D’ Étés with the University of Manitoba Orchestra. When not singing, Ashley is found at the Manitoba Opera offices, where she is Assistant to CEO Larry Desrochers. This is Ashley’s first appearance with DOW. Welcome, Ashley!

Nolan Kehler holds a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Victoria. Nolan keeps up a busy performing schedule. Along with singing the tenor solos in the Winnipeg Baroque Festival performance of Bach’s St. John Passion, Nolan sang the Evangelist and Tenor solos in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the CMU Choir, Notinikew with Edmonton’s Chronos Vocal Ensemble and Dead of Winter, an Evening of John Denver songs with the WSO, and a role in Manitoba’s premiere of Suzanne Steele and Neil Weisensel’s Li Keur. When not performing, Nolan is busy behind the scenes as a CBC Radio broadcaster and producer.

David Sawatsky holds a Doctorate in Choral conducting from the University of Illinois. An experienced choral musician, formerly a member of Edmonton’s Pro Coro, David was the long-time Director of the choral program at Providence College. These days, David is the President of the Board for Manitoba Choral Association and a website designer, who keeps busy singing with local professional choirs and conducting the choir at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church.

Mike Thompson is one of the founding members of Dead of Winter. His long connection with DOW as well as Winnipeg Singers has made him one of the busier choral tenors in the city over the years. An avid hunter, Mike also works part-time as an Armed Guard for Brinks and happens to be the lone professional digeridoo player on the prairies. Along with Al Schroeder, Mike provides much of the overtoning for DOW.

Dr. Matthew Knight is DOW’s resident Ethnomusicologist and an expert in Georgian choral music and Shaped Note singing. A valued member of the local professional choirs, Matt  curated the set of Georgian carols that were the highlight of DOW’s Celebrating the Carol concert and the Shaped Note carols that were part of last November’s Wintersing. When not curating Georgian choral events or exploring Sacred harp repertoire, Matt can be found singing back-up vocals with local folk group The Small Glories.

Al Schroeder is another of the founding members of DOW. Also active with the Winnipeg Singers, Al’s deep bass and overtoning skills are a much prized part of the DOW sound. Evidence of Al’s expertise as a carpenter is found in homes around the city, an expertise he has recently been taking way up north to Churchill.

John Anderson is a graduate in Vocal Performance from the Desautels Faculty of Music. His lovely bass-baritone voice is much in demand with local professional choirs. Possessed of many skills, including Arts Management, John keeps himself busy these days teaching voice at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, and working on his songwriting/recording profile.

Caleb Rondeau is currently a student in Music Education at the Desautels Faculty of Music. He is one of the founding members of NUOVOCE, a choir directed by DOW singers Sarah Sommer and Justin Odwak, and was recently appointed Assistant Conductor for the group. As part of the exploration of his Metis heritage, Caleb has taken an active part in various EDI initiatives with the Manitoba Choral Association.

Get your tickets here.