The new St. John’s New Music Collective is putting off a Joanna Newsom tribute concert as a fundraiser for Girls Rock NL on Saturday, November 5th at Gower Street United Church fomr 7-10pm.
This will be the collective’s second concert since they formed in 2015 with the goal of bringing St. John’s based musicians together to create boundary busting, genre blurring performances. They had their debut performance at Sound Symposium XVIII 2016, where they played a new arrangement for chamber ensemble of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (Signs of the Zodiac). The performance was arranged by Chris McGee and featured poetry by Maggie Burton.
Burton and McGee, the organization’s Co-Artistic Directors, hope to put off three or four performances a year all featuring new music or new arrangements of original music.
Both Artistic Directors are huge Joanna Newsom fans and were inspired to put together a performance of their favourite Newsom songs after seeing the singer/songwriter in concert in Toronto.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the release of the album Ys, Joanna Barker, Maggie Burton, Danielle Hamel, Matthew Hornell, and Kira Shepard will all be performing new versions of Joanna Newsom favourites.
For Burton it’s Newsom’s overtly feminist lyrics that make her such a unique and powerful performer.
“The lyrics are the main feature of her work … some of the songs are fifteen minutes long and they stay interesting right until the very end. None of the lyrics ever repeat, it’s very masterful storytelling.”
Burton explained that the show will experiment with having classical musicians perform in a pop music environment. McGee has spent almost a hundred hours working on new arrangements of Newsom’s original songs, he has written pieces for string quartet, double bass, piano, electric guitar, and percussion.
“They sound a bit different but the original tone and aesthetic of all the songs is totally preserved,” Burton explained.
This is not McGee’s first time engaging with Newsom’s work, he also wrote a paper about the critical reception of Newsom’s music. The essay argues that the scathing reviews Newsom often receives about her high-pitched voice are a sexist response to her expression of femininity.
“It becomes a feminist issue you want to make sure people see her as a skilled performer,” Burton said about the negative response to Newsom’s voice.
Proceeds from the Joanna Newsom Tribute Show will be donated to Girls Rock NL. A new organization in St. John’s that hosts an annual week-long camp where girls between the ages of eight and sixteen learn to play in a band and rock out on stage.
“We wanted to support the initiatives of the amazing women of Girls Rock NL who provide opportunities for girls and young women to learn new musical skills in such an empowering environment,” Burton said.
The feminism in Newsom’s lyrics and her refusal to change her vocal style in response to criticism about her pitch made Girls Rock NL an obvious choice for the recipients of the fundraiser.
“We hope the show, which features performances by a lot of strong female role models… will help inspire young women to share their own unique musical experiences with audiences like Joanna Newsom does.” Burton said.