After a pandemic-induced wait of about 16 months, it’s here! The World Premiere of composer Mari Alice Conrad’s SATB Choir setting of Journey Song, sung here in a live recording in Toronto by commissioning choir Babel, under the baton of Elaine Choi.
I first published a version of Journey Song in my 2009 collection, Fifth World Drum. Since then, I’ve played with it and revised it various ways. I made a live performance version back in 2010 for the Olympic edition of The Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver. There’s a video poem posted here on prairiepomes.com a few years ago. And then there is this spectacular rendering of an expanded lyric I offered to Mari Alice Conrad when she was chosen for a national mentorship program for young composers, based in some small part on her successful setting of our first collaboration, Tax Day Homestretch.
Journey Song holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. Behind the poetry are stories that revealed to me, in many ways, the resilience and courage of humans, and of this world of song in which we are blessed to live singing. Particular stories that inspired Journey Song? For one, in 2002, I worked with Dinka people from Sudan, who were undertaking to use music to teach literacy in their language. I come from journeying peoples, and my own family has undertaken epic voyages down the generations; but they journey they recounted to me was astonishing.
They spoke of walking hundreds of miles, carrying little but their hymnals and the songs therein, seeking refuge from the wars ravaging what is now South Sudan. And they held one of those books open before me, on the day they asked me to sing with them, leading my uncomprehending eye along the lines of text, while they sang into my eager ears, that I might join and raise my voice, even though I did not know the words. Unforgettable power and grace.
Then there are the people I met in Kobe in 1995, when I took a day off my teaching job to go with a friend to help with relief efforts after the earthquake. Again, the grace, dignity and resilience of the people I met made an indelible impression.
And there are many other stories of journeys great and small, made by humans, yes, but also so many of our fellow travellers in their yearly migrations, in their search for home and rest, in their desire to find a good place to be, that Journey Song brings into my heart and mind. I hope it calls to you remembrance of the journeys in your own life that inspire you to go on, that remind you that, however slight our voice or small our path, we are all part of the Great Song.