It’s Saturday evening and I’m sitting on a hard plastic chair in an echo-y school gym at the end of a hot, un-air conditioned day. I’m here to listen to a classical music quartet as part of a summer-long artist residency program in the tiny village of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, gateway to Grasslands National Park. The concert will start in half an hour. And I have doubts. My doubts aren’t about the quartet. I’ve heard them play during rehearsals, and I know how good they are. My doubts are about the audience. Not the quality of the audience. The size. Will there even be one?
The quartet is the Shaw Street Collective. The artist residency program is sponsored by Prairie Wind & Silver Sage, Val Marie’s provincially recognized ecomuseum, in partnership with Grasslands National Park and funded by the Saskatchewan Arts Board and SaskCulture/Saskatchewan Lotteries, and I’m its coordinator. As residency coordinator I work hard to create connection between artist and community. This is the last event of a rich and challenging season and I want it to be good. The artists are wonderful, but this community is small. Its official population is 137. I’ve recently been visiting my sister, in Peterborough, Ontario. Around 80,000 people live in Peterborough. My sister warned me about hosting classical music. In her community, the concert association disbanded for lack of a classical music market. Why would my tiny town have one? Is there any connection to be made? Though I know that value doesn’t only lie in numbers, I ache for the possibility that there will be no numbers at all.
I needn’t have worried. Before the music begins we’re putting out extra chairs. There are almost 50 people in attendance. If you go with straight percentages, think of the size of crowd that would be in Toronto or Vancouver. Children, focused and attentive. Their parents and grandparents, holding the kids on laps. Artists, farmers, seasonal researchers, people who’ve driven long distances for the pleasure. Rapt, attentive. Here.
Trombone, trumpet, percussion and cello. Searching and ethereal, how sweet a sound they make. Schubert, medieval chant, Arvo Part, multi-media improvisation, Chick Corea, music composed and arranged by Collective members themselves. It reaches out over us, like the wind in these hills or the birds in these skies. Outside this school gym, the moon rises.
Maybe the difference in audience can be found in connection. During their two week residency in Val Marie, the members of the Shaw Street Collective led a sound walk, an improv session, and a music symposium at the Val Marie school. They toured the park and talked to people and they played and sang in church. They met with local photographers to look for images shown during the concert that would support the music they played. They even worked the bar at Val Marie’s annual September Rodeo. They loved the place they had come to and they looked for ways to connect to it.
The Collective knows how to connect, and by the time the concert is over, they’ve taught us what they know. You can hear it in our applause, confident, strong, prolonged. We’ve become not just 50 separate people, but an audience joined in our love of what we’ve experienced.
We’re everything I could have wanted.
How do you connect in your artist’s life?
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