Music has been called a universal language; a way of communicating that transcends traditional words. For some, music itself is a refuge. However, for individuals forced to leave their homes in an effort to find safe haven elsewhere, musical instruments- whether an item that represents a livelihood or hobby- are often left behind to an uncertain future.

For those starting a new life in a new country, music programs have emerged as a valuable tool to help integrate refugees into new Canadian surroundings, with the potential to overcome the emotional, linguistic, academic and social challenges of adjusting to a new home. Perhaps one of the most successful groups that represent this outcome is Kuné, Canada’s Global Orchestra, featuring an eclectic ensemble of musicians from all corners of the globe who now call Canada home and explore diversity through music.

For Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, one of the world’s leading period-instrument ensembles who perform on instruments and in styles appropriate for the era of music, the influence of refugees on the current and future of state of music is as important as the past. In the time of Tafelmusik’s repertoire, waves of refugees had a huge influence on the music and culture of Europe. No stranger to Hamilton audiences (their last performance in the city was in 2019), Tafelmusik will be making another appearance for one concert only to further explore the impact of refugees, past and present on music. The concert is being presented as part of The Socrates Project.

Safe Haven, a multimedia concert, will explore the influence of refugees on the music and culture of baroque Europe and Canada today. Through music, the group will examine the parallels that exist between 18th-century Europe and the issues currently facing our world. The concert will feature music by composers including Bach, Vivaldi and Lully; composers who were influenced by interactions with migrants.  

The concert also weaves the stories of recent Canadians into this tapestry. The Hadhad chocolate factory shipped specialty treats for over twenty years in the Middle East, until their factory was destroyed by bombing. Forced to leave everything behind, the family started a new life in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where they rebuilt their chocolate factory, naming it ‘Peace by Chocolate’ and now employ over twenty local people.

Originally premiered in 2017, Safe Haven was created by Tafelmusik’s longtime player and collaborator, Alison Mackay (who retired from a performing role with the orchestra in 2019). This is not the first project for the Orchestra that Mackay has created, with past successes including The Galileo Project and House of Dreams. Her musical adventure, The Quest for Arundo Donax was awarded the 2006 Juno Award for Children’s Recording of the Year.

Mackay has invited a number of accomplished artists from around the globe to join her in presenting this concert, including percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand and master kora player Diely Mori Tounkara. Also joining the ensemble is renowned Egyptian-Canadian vocalist Maryem Tollar, who will act as narrator. Tollar has received numerous Juno Award nominations and a 2014 Juno Award, but is perhaps best known to mainstream audiences as a voice on the theme of CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie and A.R. Rahman’s Bollywood hit Mayya Mayya.

Who: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Presented by The Socrates Project
What: Safe Haven
Where: Concert Hall (L.R. Wilson Hall, 1280 Main Street West)
When: January 31, 2020 at 8pm
Tickets: $15 General Admission; $5 Students
More Information or To Buy Tickets: https://socrates.mcmaster.ca/events/tafelmusik-baroque-orchestra-safe-haven/

Feature Photo credit Jeff Higgins

Edit: This article was edited to reflect that Alison Mackay retired from Tafelmusik at the end of the 2018-19 season.

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