A light kiss on the right cheek, and then the left. This is how my friends in France and Italy greet me. But haven’t crossed the ocean, just the border. While most of the border, from Vancouver to Ottawa, defines English-speaking Canada, we in New York State also share a border with French-speaking Canada. Even though we share a border with Quebec, we think of Canada as a country much like ours. We all too often forget of the rich French Canadian culture that is so close. Not only French culture, but many other Francophone cultures that have been drawn to Quebec make up this beautiful, complex tapestry of French language, food, music and so much more…and it is right next door.
Over the last 10 years or so, I have worked with the Choeur classique de l’Outaouais of Gatineau, Quebec, first under the direction of Robert Filion and now Tiphaine Legrand. Many of the choir members have sung some of my other works, so this project represents a new chapter in a long and very productive artistic relationship.
Also, I am getting to know my hosts, Louise and Richard, who graciously welcomed me into their home and their lives. They are marvelous ambassadors for French Canada. After our first few conversations about culture, politics, music, and history, I thought I deserved 3 college credits! They have been excellent guides for me as I get to know this new world that sits just over the border.
I look forward to meeting new musicians in this project that can add to our long association, especially those in the Haitian community. Many American cities have Haitian neighborhoods that preserve the language and culture of Haiti, but as an Anglophone country, we don’t offer the same level of linguistic hospitality. Quebec has a large number of Haitian musicians that American cities close to me cannot match. They continue to preserve their traditional music and create new innovations. I look forward to learning from them and creating a new piece that brings them together with other French Canadian musicians.
Louise talked about new connections in one of our early discussions. She saw in this commission the opportunity for their choir to learn more about the musical resources of their region. So, the Missa Kreyol is not only designed to bring Canadian and American musicians together, but also to build bridges over cultural barriers that exist within our respective countries.