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NACO in Nunavut: ‘They get so little live music’

A high school choir performs in Iqaluit earlier this year.

National Arts Centre

If you want to play the trombone at the Arctic Circle, you need to really warm up the chops – and beware of crosswinds.

That's the advice of Colin Traquair, second trombone with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, who has just spent several days in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a hamlet south of the Arctic Circle on the east coast of Baffin Island. Traquair, trumpeter Steven van Gulik and french horn player Julie Fauteux were visiting the town to bring live music into the community and encourage a school band program, but got stuck there when fog and high winds forced the cancellation of flights in and out of Pangnirtung this week.

"There are worse places to be stuck … The community is fantastic, very friendly and very open. They get so little live music; even bands from Iqaluit very rarely [visit,]" Traquair said over the phone from the Auyuittuq Lodge, where the brass trio was staying when not visiting local artists and community leaders, photographing the mountainous landscape, and waiting for better weather. The temperature has been hovering around zero this week, with snow flurries and high winds. (Scheduled to leave Wednesday morning, the trio and administrator Caroline Matt finally left late Friday afternoon after cancelling school concerts in Rankin Inlet) "It's not minus 50 yet," Traquair said. "It's a little hard on the chops, you have to warm up seriously on the lips … but that is true in Ottawa in the winter too."

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Set on a fjord in Cumberland Sound and surrounded by mountains, Pangnirtung is the jumping-off point for visiting Auyuittuq National Park. If the place is spectacular, however, it suffers not only from notorious crosswinds that make landing planes difficult, but also from the poverty and isolation that plague many Northern communities.

The brass trio has been touring Nunavut as part of NAC's Music Alive program with the goal of exposing Inuit children to the live music and instrumental programs that many Southern children take for granted. This week it was playing community and school concerts in Pangnirtung as well as introducing interested Grade 10 students to the possibility of taking up brass instruments they had never seen before. Attagoyuk Ilisavik High School, which is trying to get a band going, already has second-hand horns and violins donated by Southern schools.

Since 2009, the program has brought 20 NACO musicians north and reached 5,000 people in Nunavut. The orchestra members have performed some classical music, but mainly they team up with Inuit musicians and work with local traditions including throat singing, drumming and the fiddle and folk music introduced by Scottish whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"There is a real need to celebrate Inuit language and culture," said Geneviève Cimon, director of music education at the NAC, from Ottawa. "Sadly, western classical music is associated with colonialism … it's really important for us to show respect."

Northerners will hear more European classical music this weekend, as the whole NAC orchestra begins its northern tour, an extension of the Music Alive program and part of the national centre's efforts to celebrate 2012-2013 as the year of the North. The orchestra tours Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories next week; next spring, the NAC will host 250 artists from across the North as part of its Northern Scene festival.


The National Arts Centre Orchestra is currently touring the Canadian North, playing the following concerts:

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  • Sat., Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Iqaluit, at the Nakasuk Elementary School, the orchestra will perform a program that includes traditional Inuit music, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Take the Dog Sled, a new work by the Canadian composer Alexina Louie, with Canadian violinist James Ehnes as soloist and the Norwegian Arild Remmereit conducting. The concert is a fundraiser for Qaggiavuut, a group dedicated to building a performing arts centre in Iqaluit.
  • Tues., Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. in Yellowknife, at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, the orchestra performs a similar program, and also offers a 1 p.m. student matinee with the Weledeh Fiddlers.
  • Sat., Nov. 3. at 8 p.m. in Whitehorse at the Yukon Arts Centre, the orchestra performs the Vivaldi and Louie, and also offers a 2 p.m. family concert.
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About the Author

Kate Taylor is lead film critic at the Globe and Mail and a columnist in the arts section. More


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