Land acknowledgements have become increasingly common over the past few years. Most public events- from football games to City Council meetings to conferences and performing arts productions- seem to now begin with these formal statements recognizing Indigenous communities’ rights to territories seized by colonial powers.
But what if a land acknowledgement was possible without a word being spoken?
This concept is the inspiration behind Sinfonia Ancaster’s latest concert, Land Acknowledgement. The community ensemble has brought together three Indigenous composers with music that celebrates the natural world and combined them with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which is notable for its musical depictions of nature.
Dawn ieri’hó:kwats Avery (Kaniènkéha, Mohawk descent, turtle clan), is one of the composers whose work will be featured at the concert. Avery’s work, Indian Territory- Ancaster will receive its world premiere at the October 20 concert, meaning that the audience in attendance will be the first ever to hear the piece performed live. The piece was written specifically for Sinfonia Ancaster and is the first commission ever completed by the organization.
Her name may sound familiar. Avery is an accomplished musician, with accolades including a Grammy-nomination, performances at New York’s Lincoln Centre and collaborations with Phillip Glass and John Cage.
Although Avery currently runs a world music program at Montgomery College in Maryland, she can track her heritage through the nations with roots to the lands acknowledged by Ancaster. She notes it was important to Sinfonia Ancaster that their commissioned work have direct connections with the land the Orchestra plays on- something she was able to offer.
Calling the opportunity to create Indian Territory-Ancaster a way to “honour the land and its peoples,” the composer hopes that her creation process and the subsequent finished work will honour the legacy and land.
Finding ways to share these sentiments through music allowed Avery to explore the different ways that instruments can make sounds. While Indian Territory- Ancaster is scored for full orchestra, the piece begins with “harmonics and the sounds of wind to honour the ancestral spirits, the first peoples of this land.” notes Avery. She mimics the sounds of footsteps in the clicking of winds and brass instruments, meant to represent ancestors of past and future. String instruments use the wooden part of their bow to make sounds as an Indigenous sonic indicator of native rattles. The bass drum and other percussion instruments are used for added effect. Avery has even found a way to incorporate the most common instrument- the human voice- into her music.
“Performers of Indian Territory- Ancaster are asked to recite the names of the two main tribal groups Annishinaabek and Haudenosaunee who have and do live in the area today. . .The recitation by musicians, with Indigenous soundscapes, and recognition of the land and people through music are part of my small effort of Indigenizing composition and performance.”
While audiences may be excited to hear the new music written specifically for and about Ancaster, Avery is excited to share the stage with her contemporaries.
“I am so fortunate to be on the program with other Indigenous Composers!” Avery said. “[I] Can’t wait to hear the sounds of twigs by Jessica McMann and snow by Spy Denomme-Weich and his collaborator!”
Who: Sinfonia Ancaster
What: Land Acknowledgement
Where: Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre (357 Wilson Street East)
When: October 20 at 7:00pm
Tickets: $15-$25 via the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre