David MacIntyre walks into the recently refurbished Vancouver Museum's Joyce Walley Learning Centre and gasps.
"I want the singers to stand right there," he insists, thrilled at the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Burrard Inlet. "That's perfect - just beautiful."
MacIntyre is one of five British Columbian composers who were commissioned to write three-minute choral pieces in honour of the province's 150th anniversary, under the auspices of the Canadian Music Centre's New Music in New Places program.
The resulting Five Songs for B.C. 150 will be presented tomorrow, beginning a year of special events to celebrate the CMC's own 50th year in operation.
The songs - to be sung a cappella in the museum's galleries - are each related to a period in the history of British Columbia. First up is Find Your Fortune, an exploration of the 1850s gold rush by Tobin Stokes. Jocelyn Morlock's One Black Spike tackles the 1914 opening of the Grand Truck Pacific Railway, while Yvonne Gillespie's A New Beginning looks at the post-Second World War years. B.C.: Where are we going? is the question posited by Brian Tate's piece covering the growth years between 1958-1986, and the collection wraps up with MacIntyre's Hammer, representing the time between Expo 86 and today.
When he was offered the commission, MacIntyre says he headed straight for the library and started pulling the works of B.C. poets. "I took down Tom Wayman's The Face of Jack Munro, and it fell open at the poem Hammer," recalls MacIntyre. The Kooteney-based poet's work spoke immediately to the sense of the province the composer was looking for, MacIntyre explains. Coincidentally written in 1986, Hammer describes the industrial achievements of man as the collective force - the hammer - of individual effort. "Wayman writes a lot about the equality of all work - that the street sweeper is no less valuable than the doctor," notes MacIntyre. "I think Hammer really captures the extraordinary work ethic of B.C."
Sunday's performance is free to anyone with museum entrance: The New Music in New Places program is designed to expose audiences to contemporary classical music in unconventional locations around Canada - art galleries, libraries, breweries, lighthouses. "This really is guerrilla music-making," MacIntyre says, laughing.
It's also a program that's under threat due to federal funding cuts. "This is one of the last events in the program," says CMC regional director Colin Miles. "It will be a victim of the $42-million arts cuts - unless the government has a change of heart."
Though he despairs at the situation, Miles is delighted that his idea, Five Songs for BC 150, is already gathering momentum: The celebrated Vancouver choral group musica intima has announced plans to feature the piece in its concerts in Vancouver and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and on an upcoming tour of northern B.C.
Miles is also hopeful that this weekend's audience will find that the location enriches the songs: "I hope that, as they move through the galleries, they will notice the artifacts and words really complement each other."
As he watches the storm clouds gathering on the mountains, MacIntyre smiles at the irony of his piece being performed in the current economic climate, at the conclusion of a week which has seen the city's finances under deep scrutiny. The ending is incredibly apt, isn't it?" he shrugs, before proffering a quote from Wayman's poem: "The hammer has risen for centuries high as the eaves, over the town. In this age it has climbed to the moon but it does not cease rising everywhere each hour. And no one can say what it will drive if at last it comes down."
Five Songs for B.C. 150, 2 p.m. tomorrow, Vancouver Museum; Jan. 25, 4 p.m., Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria; Feb. 15, 7 p.m., Rocky Mountaineer Train Station, Vancouver. See musiccentre.ca for details.