By Adam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With its latest edition of instruction resources for music teachers, the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) has shone a spotlight on the work of talented composers worldwide, including Anishinaabekwe composer, performer and educator Barbara Assiginaak.
The sixth edition of the Celebration Series, which officially launches on April 27, contains the work of 73 living composers. Four of the pieces in this series are by Assiginaak.
“We are just thrilled that Barbara has contributed to the series,” said Elaine Rusk, vice-president of Academics and Publishing at the RCM.
Assiginaak’s resume includes the Glenn Gould Award in Composition, numerous scholarships at RCM and the Glenn Gould School, recognition by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and a Visual and Expressive Arts Program Award from the National Museum of the American Indian.
“Really, so deeply honoured to be part of this publication,” said Assiginaak. “Still so hard to believe.”
Assiginaak works as assistant professor of Composition at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“Teaching and learning embodies dialogue_respecting, listening, guiding and humility. Every person has a creative inner-voice that is unique and which holds a wider purpose beyond the self,” Assiginaak’s biography at Laurier reads.
With the teaching rights expiring after seven years for the 2015 series’ content, the RCM offered up this new edition of the instruction book series to teachers.
“We knew that more than ever, teachers would be excited about exploring new pieces and discovering things to share with our students,” said Rusk.
Along with the publication of the series, the RCM is giving more than 400,000 books to 20,000 music teachers in the U.S. and Canada.
“Through the generosity of a donor who stepped forward, we are able to gift our teachers with sets of the books,” Rusk explained.
“Each revision has served to better embrace the needs of today’s students and what they’re looking for.”
The series contains commissioned pieces from a diverse group of composers from more than 20 countries, including 32 recently composed pieces.
“We specifically were interested in including some pieces by Indigenous composers, but what we found was that many pieces are written for instruments other than piano, flute, violin, ensemble, voice, etc. We were thrilled when (Assiginaak) agreed to do so,” Rusk said.
“I do hope that this inspires other Indigenous composers to think about writing for a non-traditional instrument for them.”
Assiginaak’s four contributions are titled Miimii (Mourning Dove), Niimi Aandeg (Crow Dances), Paswewe (It Echoes), and Biidaaban (First Light of Dawn).
“I think for students, they’re going to jump off the page,” Rusk said about the compositions.
When it comes to the inspiration for her work, Assiginaak drew from the natural world around her.
“The joy of bird calls and songs at this time of the day is so uplifting and full of hope, love of life,” said Assiginaak in describing Biidaaban, saying pieces “have come to me through my time immersed in nature.”
A 2019 recipient of the Order of Ontario, Assiginaak’s recordings have been heard on APTN, CBC Radio, Bayerische Rundfunk – Bayern 3, Deutsche Radio Swiss (DRS-II), Radio France, Italian National Television, and Kennedy Center Live Broadcasts.
“I grew up surrounded by all kinds of birds and crows, and they have a certain way of hopping and stretching in the autumn. We especially see them a lot around the fields of corn, pumpkins and other squashes and hear their loud calls. They are smart and cunning, but playful and goofy too,” Assiginaak shared via Rusk, who hopes that students will take something positive away from learning Assiginaak’s work.
“In those few words, she communicates quite a profound message to our students,” Rusk said of Assiginaak’s description.
Adam Laskaris is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Windspeaker.Com . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.TURTLE ISLAND NEWS does not receive LJI funding.