LIGHT (ARCTIC DREAMS 2) for flute, vibraphone, multiple children's choirs (or single children's choir) and digital audio playback. Commissioned by the Toronto Children's Chorus with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. 2003. 10:30 minutes. Score, parts and CD (with the digital audio playback material) available though PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


LIGHT (Arctic Dreams 2) is a palimpsest: a work composed on top of a pre-existing work, which in turn is based on a yet earlier work. The original source is Voices of the Land, the third movement of Footprints In New Snow, a radio documentary/composition about the Inuit and their culture that CBC Radio producer Keith Horner and I created in 1995 with the support from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Ontario Arts Council. Voices of the Land employs the same audio as the present work with the addition of the haunting voice of Winston White, an Inuit Elder and broadcaster from Nunavut, in the foreground speaking about the north and its inhabitants. During one of the mixing sessions of Footprints at the Toronto CBC Broadcast Centre, I asked the engineers if they could also make a separate mix of the Voices of the Land without the speaking voice. They did, and this was the starting point for the Arctic Dreams series.

It was my intention all along that this separate mix would become the audio part of a completely different composition. The opportunity did not present itself until seven years later, in the spring of 2002, when my wife Beverley Johnston and flutist Susan Hoeppner asked me for a work for the two of them to perform as a duo. The result of that request was Arctic Dreams 1 for flute vibraphone and audio playback. At the time that I was engaged with the composition of that work, Jean Ashworth-Battle, the Music Director of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, invited me to be the Canadian composer-in-residence for the UNESCO Songbridge Project, an international gathering of several children’s choirs from around the world which was to take place in Newfoundland in the summer of 2003. The project guidelines recommended that the composition was written in such a manner that at some point, the audience could actively participate in the performance and that it had a theme particular to the country of the choir’s (and corresponding composer’s) residence. It immediately occurred to me that a further evolution of Arctic Dreams 1 might be the ideal piece for this occasion. It has a central, constantly repeating melody that can be easily learned by an audience and it is imbued by a New-Age-like optimism and hope that is very appropriate for the mandate of the Songbridge project and for children’s voices in general. It also features predominately Inuit throat singers and ayaya singers in the audio playback that establishes a strong connection with the Canadian northern experience. A short text was added to the main melody referring to the northern lights: "Disturbing the darkness, the endless night: a miracle of light" as well as iterations of the word "light" in various languages reflecting the kaleidoscopic makeup of the participating choirs.

The rich vocal and voice-like synthetic textures of the work, the rather dense, but at the same time soft, layering of the various musical components, its New-Age and/or pop overall sound and, last but not least, its constant reference to the northern lights, both literally and in terms of the visual imagery that is evoked by the music, make LIGHT a work that can be presented in a multimedia context and to a considerably larger audience than that of classical music. While composing it, I was imagining choreography of children skating on an ice rink and a light show simulating the colour modulations of the northern lights. LIGHT is about optimism, hope, and the purity and innocence of a child’s heart without which we shall "in no way enter the Kingdom". C.H.

Premiere performance: June 2 2003. The Toronto Children's Chorus and other participating choirs; Susan Hoeppner, flute; Beverley Johnston, vibraphone. Songbridge, Festival 500, St. John's, Newfoundland.

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