Friday, October 11, 2019

Post written by Michelle MacQueen

Today, we started our own migrations across Cape Breton Island.


Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen


First, we stopped at the Highland Village in Iona. We were able to learn about some of the history and cultural practices of Gaels on the Island. We learned a few Gaelic songs and sang them together while we had a Milling Frolic – a process to shrink and soften cloth where people (usually women) would accompany their work with songs to make the process more enjoyable. Though milling cloth is no longer very common, people still gather for milling frolics to beat the cloth back and forth and share songs and stories.






Then we moved to the Iona Heights Inn to hear from our second Keynote presenter, Alex Chávez.

Alex gave us an introduction to his work in a public presentation on Wednesday, but today his presentation was titled Sound, Citizenship, and Aural Ecologies of Place.

He spoke about his decade of research among Mexican migrant musicians in the United States. He emphasized the social and political mandates shaping their art within the context of intensified attacks on their communities.

The presentation focused on a new research project listening to the city of Chicago and specifically Latinos in Chicago. He talked about the importance of listening: how might listening animate memory and be a vehicle for collective witness? How does sound figure into creative cultural citizenship?

Photo credit: Rachael Murphy

Looking at Chicago (and as is the case elsewhere in the United States), Alex spoke of how Latino migrants have moved from a kind of mobility to emplacement; they have settled and there is a general realization by dominant groups that “they’re staying here.” He used this example to talk about the social feelings of what it means to feel at home, and what roles sound and music can play in activating those feelings.

What might you hear – or not hear – when entering a community? What distinguishes music from sound? He explored these questions by looking at youth-based radio, podcast, and soundscape projects in Chicago. From these projects, he told us about how sounds have the ability to claim public space. Sound is significant for how people exist and sound gives merit to what can exist.

Photo credit: Rachael Murphy







He talked about the “official discourse” about the neighbourhoods of Chicago. Often, these stories talk about the segregation of space: every neighbourhood is divided into its own separate, discrete place. He described how art can be a creative engagement to move beyond these “official” stories: we can push the boundaries of who is allowed to create a semblance of home, how we hear it, and how we experience it. Through these artistic engagements, we can amplify the intent of whose voices are heard.

To illustrate these points, Alex shared his experiences working as a producer for Olmeca and showed us the music video for “Define.” 

He ended his presentation by emphasizing how we need to take seriously the capacity of sound as an aesthetic site of citizenship.


Next, we drove to Chéticamp. The following two groups of presentations were hosted at École NDA.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen

First, we had a group of presentations under the theme Mobilizing Memories.

Dr. Stephanie Conn presented first. She is an ethnomusicologist specializing in the performance practice of Gaelic traditional music, with an ongoing interest in music of the 20th-21st centuries. She is also a singer of Gaelic songs. Stephanie is the Cape Breton contributor for Memorial University of Newfoundland’s forthcoming online exhibit of MacEdward Leach’s archival recordings.

Her presentation was titled Traces, memories and monuments: Archive and Cape Breton Gaelic Singing.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen

She focused on the role of recording archives in present-day Cape Breton. She notes that Gaelic singers turn to recording archives as cultural storehouses, learning tools, and representations of the song canon. Singers also invest these archives with authoritative power. Because of digitization, these archives are largely available to the public. However, Stephanie warns that archives are repositories of traces, evidence of past individual experiences. They are not monuments representing collective memory.

Her presentation built on her previous research. She described how there is a tension between the weight of a recorded source and a lived experience. Archives are static manifestations of cultural practices, a representation of memory which might only reflect a limited aspect of the more dynamic living canon. Archives also involved re-evaluating and re-shaping through collectors, ethnomusicologists, and Gaelic singers themselves.

Her presentation considered how current ways of learning Gaelic songs are divorced from embodied performance and first-hand memory.  Yet she notes that contemporary singers can and do attempt to engage with these traces. By having embodied engagements with these archival traces, we can reimagine archives to better represent, contextualize, and embody Gaelic singing in Cape Breton. She concluded by sharing some of her own embodied experiences with Gaelic songs and sang one of these songs for us.


Next was Dr. Meghan Forsyth. She is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, specializing in the instrumental music and dance traditions of the Acadian diaspora and francophone North Atlantic. She is an active applied ethnomusicologist and her current research explores intradiasporic transnationalism and secular pilgrimage in the context of the pentennial Congrès mondial acadien, as well as the social history of instrumental music of les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec. In 2016, she produced a SSHRC-funded, multimedia exhibit and website on Acadian set and step dance traditions on Prince Edward Island, in association with le Musée acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen

Her presentation was called Performing la Grande Acadie: Public Memory and Pilgrimage at le Congrès mondial acadien.

The presentation focused on the pentennial Congrès mondial acadien (Acadian World Congress) as a site of convergence, renewal, and redefinition for the global Acadian community since its inaugural meeting in 1994. She described how the Congrès has been a place for pilgrimages to the Acadian “homeland” as well as celebrations of intradiasporic relations.

Specifically, she examined how the Acadian diaspora is reimagined through the lens of cultural tourism and secular pilgrimage. She told us some of the deep-seated and often romanticized public memory of the Acadians’ story of mid-eighteenth century exile, survival, and return. She notes that this story in public memory acts as a unifying discourse and informs how Acadians (and the rest of the world) define, participate in, and perform Acadie.

While there is this unifying story, there are also tensions between the unity and diversity of the diaspora. These tensions are exposed as regional differences between Acadian communities separated by the Deportations (1755–1763). However, these differences are debated and celebrated.

She told us how Maritime Acadians’ political and musical connections to their First Nations and Celtic neighbours and American ‘cousins’ are embodied through musical citation, collaboration, homage, and themes of perseverance and shared minority experience. She demonstrated how the musical enactment of intradiasporic transnationalism (and other relationships afforded by the Congrès) provide a platform for its participants to negotiate complex relationships between diverse local and transnational identities associated with membership in la Grande Acadie—the full Acadian diaspora.


The next pair of presentations followed the theme Houses of Worship, Sacred Sounds.

Our first presenter was Dr. Julia Byl, who gave a public film screening on Tuesday. Her presentation was called Chants of Rock and Water: Cross-Religious Devotion in Maritime Southeast Asia.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen

She described to us how the South Asian communities residing in Malaysia and Singapore are doubly dispersed. The initial migration was tied to resource extraction, and enabled by the proximity of British colonies. Their subsequent dispersal occurred when the colony fragmented into nation states: postcolonial Singapore and Malaysia created different narratives of “native” and “foreigner,” resulting in very different outcomes for South Asian communities.

She introduced us to the Tamil population of North Sumatra and described them as divided from Malaysia and Singapore by the Malacca strait and the experience of Dutch colonialism and Indonesian citizenship. Yet in spite of these divisions, there are continuities within these Tamil communities. Julia described some vectors across them:

  1. The presence of Hindu temples, Marian shrines, and mosques and dargahs connected to the religions of India’s coasts in all three places
  2. The discourse of belonging
  3. The occasional pilgrimages that connect the Tamil populations of the three countries



Her presentation contended that power and protection are the primary sonic offerings of these houses of worship. These offerings enable a continued relevance within South Asian communities themselves, and a persistent purchase in the religious ecosystem of maritime Southeast Asia.


Next up was the Director of the Centre for Sound Communities, Marcia Ostashewski. Her presentation was titled Byzantine Ukrainian Congregational Singing in Cape Breton: A Living Music.

She showed us how the history and contemporary cultural practices of Ukrainians on the Canadian prairies has been well-documented, extensively studied, and highly celebrated in academic and public culture. However, she notes that the contributions of Ukrainians in Atlantic Canada are much less so.

Her presentation attended to stories and music that are centred at the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia an island at Canada’s eastern, Atlantic coast. She focused on the Byzantine Ukrainian congregational chant-based responsorial singing that is part of liturgical celebrations in this church. Marcia spoke from her perspective as the parish’s lead singer – cantor or djak. In doing so, she drew on several years of collaborative research with this community.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen

Throughout the presentation, she explored how musical practice has shaped social life and experiences for herself, for co-researchers and for other interlocutors in the field. She shared stories and sounds to illustrate ways in which identities have been constituted by and are constitutive of musical worlds in motion.

She told us about historical migration relating to Ukrainians in Canada generally. But she also explained some of her own migrations, having grown up on the prairies and lived in most regions of the country and settled recently in Cape Breton. She explained how all of these migrations have shaped musical practice, senses of place, and home. These aspects were shaped not only for her, but also for her family, and for people in different places where she lived and worked, and with whom she has sung.

She concluded by noting that while the musical imaginaries, relations, and practices discussed in this presentation are part of her lived experience– they also embody a history of cultural politics within modern multicultural Canada.


We ended the night with a concert at Église Saint-Pierre in Chéticamp. The concert was titled Songs and Stories of Cape Breton. Since we were in Chéticamp, it told some of the stories from this region:


In the early 1600s, the first French settlers arrived in the new world bringing with them a rich oral tradition of songs and stories. The tradition of orally transmitting songs and stories continued even after the forced removal of these Acadians from their lands and their dispersion throughout the thirteen British colonies and to Britain and France. Many Acadians eventually found their way back, and founded new communities, mostly on marginal lands owned now by the British. Because of its geographic isolation from other communities, the Acadians who settled Chéticamp in the late 1700s preserved their language, culture and rich song and story tradition that has survived to this day. The concert programme featured some of these traditional songs that have travelled through time for hundreds of years. The concert also featured songs of other groups who have migrated to Cape Breton, including those of Ukrainian and Scottish traditions. Overall, this concert was a collection of songs and stories that tell us about different migrations to and from Cape Breton as well as the encounters we have along the way.


The concert started with Le Choeur du Havre under the direction of Michel Aucoin. This choir has acquired an enviable reputation for its melodious sound and varied repertoire. True to its Acadian heritage, a good part of the choir’s repertoire is sung in French and includes traditional Acadian folk songs. Just as their repertoire, the choir members come from diverse backgrounds and this may be what lends itself to the choir’s special sound.


Photo credit: Marcia Ostashewski




We then heard from our presenter Stephanie Conn, who sang Gaelic songs and some Puirt à beul.



Robert Deveaux shared some Acadian songs and stories with us. He is an Acadian fiddler, pianist and singer. He is also a respected researcher and collector of Acadian songs.



Photo credit: Marcia Ostashewski

We heard tunes from Colin Grantaccompanied by Robert Deveaux on the piano. Colin is a versatile fiddler at the forefront of the East Coast traditional music scene. Although he is most at home with traditional Cape Breton fiddle music, his flexibility as both a lead and side musician has given him experiences in a variety of traditional styles, in addition to folk, rock and country genres.



Photo credit: Marcia Ostashewski




Chester Delaney shared some more traditional Acadian songs with us. He is an Acadian singer, known for his unique style renditions of traditional songs where he accompanies himself on the fiddle.





Finally, we heard from Julian Kytasty, one of the world’s premier players of the bandura (Ukrainian lute-harp), and the instrument’s leading North American exponent. He performed songs and stories of the Ukrainian immigrant experience alongside Marcia Ostashewski, soprano.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen






The concert closed with some fiddle tunes by Colin, Chester, and Julian (who played fiddle tunes on the bandura), with Robert accompanying them on the piano.






Unveiled at this concert was the artwork Treasures in the Hearts of Many by Betty Ann Cormier.

Photo credit: Betty Ann Cormier

Betty Ann Cormier is from Cheticamp, world capital of the hooked rug and she is a 4th generation rug hooker. Where once there were several hundred rug hookers in the area, now there are only about 30. In her younger years, Cormier used traditional patterns and colours as she was taught. But she has developed her own style, no longer sketches on the burlap first, and now hooks using bright colours and creates unique, bold patterns. Cormier’s pieces can be found all over the world in homes and galleries.

Photo credit: Michelle MacQueen



She created a new piece in honour of the 26th ICTM Colloquium. Inspired by the description of the Colloquium theme, Betty Ann expresses in this new piece the vast possibilities of how sounds and words travel across all parts of the world and are carried in the hearts of those treasuring them. This 16×24 inch rectangle is made up of 24 different pieces that, when set together like a puzzle, reveal a larger image as if looking through a window pane over land and sea out to the horizon. One of each of its pieces has been gifted to Colloquium presenters and partners.



Photo credit: Rachael Murphy