PENETANGUISHENE – One of the last people who can speak the Wendat language is a consultant for a special composition commemorating French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in the Penetanguishene area.
Brookside Music Association commissioned the piece, called “Wendake/ Huronia,” which will be performed throughout the region in time for this summer’s Rendez-Vous Champlain event. It takes the perspective of the Wendat people when Champlain landed in the area 400 years ago.
“It’s such a rich culture. The cultural life of our community is important,” said Brookside artistic director John French.
John Steckley, a professor of liberal studies at Humber College, is a leading expert in the Huron language and has been brought on to help the performers perfect their pronunciation of some Wendat words.
The six-movement composition by distinguished Canadian composer John Beckwith aims to take audiences from pre-contact times through Champlain’s arrival, a lamentation of European influence and the hope for reconciliation.
The piece features writings from the 1600s, such as poetry, a Jesuit narrative and a description by Jean de Brebeuf of the Feast of the Dead ceremony at the Ossossane bone pit in Tiny Township.
Work by Wendat poet Georges E. Sioui will also be incorporated.
The performers will include 20 members of regional choirs, including from La Clé d’la Baie in Penetanguishene, the Toronto Consort, alto vocalist Laura Pudwell, baritone Theodore Baerg as narrator, and First Nations singers and drummers.
Toronto Consort artistic director David Fallis will conduct the choir members, who will sing in French and Wendat. English subtitles will be displayed. The 30-minute show will also feature music from period instruments.
Music lovers “can go anywhere and hear a string quartet,” quipped French.
“Wendake/Huronia” will premiere July 30 at St. Paul’s United Church in Midland, and French said he hopes to organize a discussion panel.
The composition will also be performed in Parry Sound and Barrie on July 31 and in Meaford on Aug. 1.
“I’m quite thrilled with how this is turning out,” said French.