A thundering truth: Indigenous war hero’s story told anew in music and verse

Chamberfest preview

Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow

When & the place: 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, De La Salle High School, 501 Old St Patrick St.

Tickets: $35, out there at chamberfest.com


With 378 confirmed kills, Indigenous-Canadian soldier Francis Pegahmagabow was the deadliest sniper of the First World War. Now a brand new musical manufacturing pays tribute to his life earlier than, throughout and after the war.

Commissioned by clarinetist James Campbell, inventive director of Parry Sound’s Festival of the Sound, which is close to the group the place Pegahmagabow was born, the piece was written by Ojibwe poet Armand Garnet Ruffo with music by contemporary-classical composer Timothy Corlis. Conducted by Larry Beckwith, it’s carried out by an ensemble of a couple of dozen musicians, actors and singers.

In this dialog with Ruffo, the author talks about being drawn into the undertaking, what he realized in regards to the Canadian war hero and how the story contributes to the truth-and-reconciliation course of.

Q: How did you get entangled?

A: It was attention-grabbing as a result of I had simply acquired by the mail the e-book Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow by Brian D. McInnes asking if I’d assessment it. This might sound odd however after I end a writing undertaking, I by no means search for one other one. I at all times really feel it’s going to return to me. I had completed (writing) the Norval Morrisseau biography and a group of poems so I used to be ready, and then all of a sudden the decision got here in asking if I’d do that. I felt it was an indication that that is one thing I ought to contemplate significantly.

Q: I perceive Brian is the great-grandson of Francis Pegahmagabow, and he’s additionally narrating the present. What did you consider his e-book?

A: I simply beloved it as a result of Brian actually created a special form of narrative that’s actually grounded in Ojibway epistemology, storytelling, life writing. It was actually a special form of textual content. It was grounded in the tales of his great-grandfather however it was actually about his household and group and the land, the historical past of the group, Wasauksing First Nation. It’s actually a stunning e-book.

Q: How did you arrive on the three-act format for this manufacturing?

A: It was a pure option to do it. Obviously the three-act construction is traditional in Western theatre, but in addition it simply appeared so pure for Francis’ story as a result of he begins off as a younger man, studying about his tradition, and then the second half, he goes to war, which is a giant a part of it, and then the third half is when he’s out of the war.

Q: What did you find out about Francis’ life in your analysis?

A: Many Canadians know his title vaguely as a result of he was a war hero. But it was the third act that I discovered so attention-grabbing as a result of he grew to become a political organizer. He was accountable for forming and getting concerned in a few of the early political Indigenous organizations in Canada due to the situations that had been imposed by the federal government.

Q: What form of situations?

A: Francis got here again from the First World War as a veteran. There had been veterans’ advantages, however he didn’t get something as a result of he was a standing Indian. He was denied all the pieces from Indian Affairs. He needed to purchase a cow to assist his household and begin perhaps getting milk, and they wouldn’t let him. All of these items got here from the analysis so it’s included in the third act the place we see him operating into these roadblocks.

Q: Are there some classes for Canadians in it?

A: Yeah. There’s definitely a didactic ingredient to it, I assume. But from a writerly viewpoint, I actually needed to create an interesting narrative. I didn’t need to preach. I didn’t need folks to show off and suppose, ‘Oh, another one crying about the past.’ I needed to incorporate these components that we as Indigenous folks have endured however on the similar time I needed to inform a story that was compelling. I needed to create a way of hope, and of chance.

I needed to create a way of hope, and of chance.

Q: Is there a theme?  

A: One by no means seems for a theme firstly, however when you get your drafts going, you go, ‘What is this really about?’ and it occurred to me that it’s about religion. It’s about Francis’s religion in the long run. And then in a time of reconciliation, do we’ve got any religion that it’s really going to occur. Are we going to do one thing about it? Or are we simply going to express regret and go on, enterprise as traditional? I actually needed to have that underlying theme in it so there’s a second of reflection however on the similar time, it’s participating as a story in itself.

Q: This is your first undertaking involving music. What was that like?

A: The first draft was lengthy, like a theatre piece, and I believed, ‘Hmm, I think they need some elbow room to let the music soar.’ If there’s speaking on a regular basis, there’s no room for the music. It was a studying course of for me to chop it again. Tim (composer Timothy Corlis) and I had a very symbiotic relationship in phrases of constructing this collectively. We had been on the cellphone always, and emailing one another. He requested me at one level to file my voice in how I categorical the strains, so I did that and he captured these moments splendidly.  

Q: It’s not precisely a play. Is it a musical? An opera?

A: It took us some time to conceptualize it, to essentially know what we needed to do. The thought of an opera got here up however we needed to discover our personal type. And I feel that’s the energy of this piece. We discovered our personal type, and it’s a hybrid type that features spoken phrase, track, music and projections. We discovered a type that actually works.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from it?

A: This is a interval of fact and reconciliation. Understand there’s a fact in this in phrases of the roadblocks which were put as much as maintain Indigenous folks in our place, so to talk, and out of the mainstream of Canada. We are marginalized folks. So I need them to see that as the reality. But additionally as a part of the reconciliation, I feel that there’s hope. This is a manufacturing that emphasizes Francis’s religion in the long run, in his folks, in Canada. And in fact, he went to war as a proud Canadian soldier so it’s about Indigenous contributions to Canada. That we’ve at all times been right here. So the takeaway is that there are prospects if we glance to the long run in a constructive method. Which goes to take dedication and motion, not simply merely discuss.

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