Confederation Told Through Music and Monologues in Robert Chafe’s “What Was Needed Most”

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The Tuckamore Festival is launching the provincial tour of “What Was Needed Most” in Admiral’s Cove on December 2nd. The show features monologues written and performed by Robert Chafe and new compositions by Duane Andrews, Bekah Simms, and Aiden Hartery. The music will be performed by Duo Concertante (Nancy Dahn, violin; Timothy Steeves, piano) and emerging cellist Any Collyer-Holmes.

Juno Award-wining Duo Concertante are critically-acclaimed chamber musicians who have been performing together for twenty years. They have been recognized for their interpretations of Bach and Beethoven but also for their performances of new work commissioned from exciting contemporary Canadian composers.

“What Was Needed Most” is the newest instalment in a series of collaborative pieces Duo Concertante have created with contemporary writers and composers, all of which splice together dramatic readings with performances of new music.

“What Was Needed Most” is based on a collection of interviews playwright Robert Chafe did with people from all over Newfoundland and Labrador who were alive in 1949 and remember confederation. Chafe shaped the interviews into seven monologues, each with a powerful and distinct voice. The three composers responded to specific monologues with short trios for violin, piano and cello. The show will alternate between dramatic readings of the monologues and performances of the musical pieces.

“The music functions as an interlude but it’s also a commentary on what we’ve heard in the pervious monologue and it foreshadows what’s coming next,” Dahn said. “…these are complex pieces that will probably have a life of their own after the show.”

Steeves explained that giving the text and music equal weight is a way of challenging audiences’ expectations of what a chamber music concert can be. It’s also about seizing an importunity to draw people’s attention to issues of injustice.

“Sometimes people get a bit too comfortable so it’s nice when they come into the hall expecting a concert but what they get is something that might start an important discussion,” Steeves said.

In the case of “What Was Needed Most” that discussion is about calling into question whether confederation is worthy of celebration. Chafe’s monologues make clear that for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the decision to join Canada was one made under duress. Some of the speakers believe joining Canada was a good decision and others do not but everyone seems to agree that people were living in poverty and the baby bonuses and pensions that came with joining Canada made it very difficult to vote “no”. The show was conceived of as a Canada 150 project but it’s one that refuses the idea of an uncritical commemoration.

In December the show will tour the communities where Chafe collected the interviews, giving people a chance to hear his interpretation of their conversation and the music their stories inspired. After each show organizers will collect video responses from audience members, to capture more stories and keep the conversation going.

For a full list of scheduled performances visit the Tuckamore Festival website.

About Author

Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a writer from St. John’s, her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, was published by House of Anansi Press in 2017.

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