In 1998, after hearing a solitary robin singing in Vancouver’s east side, Savage Media’s artistic director Nelson Gray envisioned an Inter-Arts Oratorio—a musical performance that would explore and celebrate the twinned relationship between humans and birds. He then contacted DB Boyko, one of Vancouver’s most original vocalists, who came on side both as a composer and as a music director.
Over the past 3 years these works have been developed and adapted for the SongBird Oratorio a staged musical event that explores the twinned worlds of bird and human. The SongBird arias have been performed at Dawn Chorus events, BC Rivers Day and at nature festivals throughout BC. Excerpts from the SongBird Oratorio work in progress were performed in England last summer. Upcoming performances will be in Arizona in June 2001 and in Devon, England.
Diverse Songs Make Diverse Worlds
Seeking diversity and range for the production, Boyko and Gray took an entirely fresh approach to the music. With the help of the Canada Council, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Roundhouse Community Centre, Savage Media, commissioned a diverse array of Vancouver songsters—from art/rock diva Veda Hille to master shakuhachi player Takeo Yamashiro to Brazilian-jazz-roots composer Celso Machado. Gray then co-wrote lyrics for two additional songs by DB Boyko and Mark Parlett, penned a series of dramatic monologues, and—with some dramaturgical urgings from Andreas Kahre--the SongBird Oratorio came to life.
Staged as a site-specific event for the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Gardens, the SongBird Oratorio is a one of a kind performance in which natural and human worlds reconnect in new ways.
Through an integration of birdsong and human song the SongBird Oratorio explores the inner life of a character who is on a quest to understand the language of the birds. In the course of a single night he is visited by a series of winged messengers: actual birds sitting perched on power lines and branches; and “spirit birds” that come to him in his dreams and visions.
At the end of the night, the sun will rise and the sleeper awaken to a new world. What will that world look like? What will it sound like? The SongBird Oratorio embodies the hopes and fears of our own age. It enacts, through song and image, warnings of an ecological imbalance, and the persistent desire for regeneration and renewal.
For thousands of years birds have figured large in the human imagination, appearing to us as messengers, as admonitions, and as visions of hope & renewal. Perhaps now, in the face of a planetary ecological crisis, we might do well to pay attention to them.
-- Nelson Gray