Ecology of Being –Duo Concertante

In childhood I heard musicians and performers protesting the Vietnam War or advocating as part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since I’ve admired activist artists. Music, film, satire, humour, painting, can all be powerful voices advocating change, moving emotions, touching hearts, influencing and shaping culture.

The emotional landscape for current artists is especially fraught in 2022. Two years into a pandemic, almost two months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as prices are sky-rocketing, the ongoing question of climate change and our exploitation of the Earth might be getting lost in the shuffle of horrors.

No wonder there are protests in Paris, seeking to call attention to the issue in the days before their crucial run-off vote this coming week.

If not now, when?

That’s background for Ecology of Being, a new project from Duo Concertante (Nancy Dahn violin and Timothy Steeves piano), including a new recording on the Marquis Classics label, stage performances throughout Canada, an innovative online school program (presented with The Tuckamore Festival) that includes videos, links and live performances, and further performances in Europe. The concerts in the Toronto area are likely to come in summer or fall. So far I’ve listened to the CD and watched some video.

Duo Concertante: Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves (Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp)

Their CD takes its name from one of the series of newly commissioned musical compositions inspired by nature and the climate emergency:
Ian Cusson – The Garden of Earthly Delight
Carmen Braden – The Seed Knows
Randoph Peters – Frisson
Dawn Avery – Onekha’shòn:a, Ya’kòn:kwe (The Waters, the Women)
Melissa Hui – Ecology of Being with Clara Steeves, actor
Bekah Sims – shedding, as if sloughed

We are parents of two children and it makes us incredibly sad that they and the younger generations face huge climate-related challenges,”
comment Nancy and Tim.
“We hope this project will encourage people to reflect more on their own relationship to nature and the precarious state of the environment.”

Ian Cusson

I’ve been listening to the compositions. Cusson’s Garden of Earthly Delights is not your usual pastoral, because the title comes from a painting of Hieronymus Bosch, suggesting something dark and apocalyptic. Braden’s “seed” is deftly captured as if in a miniature picture, narrow yet perfect. Peters’ “frisson” is deliberately aiming to induce shivers: and succeeds admirably.

Dawn Avery

I listened to Avery’s piece several times before reading her composer’s notes. The music takes us in a completely different direction, suggesting solemnity, ritual, prayer, and seems apt for the weekend of Passover or Easter. As Avery explains in her composer’s notes, the compositions Onekha’shòn:a, Ya’kòn:kwe (The Waters, the Women) are

dedicated to the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, Onekha’shòn:a, Yakòn:kwe explores the symbiotic relationship between the well-being of our water and our women.

The works titled Ecology of Being by Hui incorporate poetry by Shannon Webb-Campbell, who says

These poems chart questions of belonging, a reciprocal relationship to the land and water, as well as love, longing, and Indigenous resurgence. The poems provoke the personal and are deeply ancestral.

Bekah Simms

Bekah Simms explains the context for her concluding piece shedding, as if sloughed, with program notes that add an essential layer. She invokes the grotesque image of an animal shedding skin
“which fall off “as easy as if sloughed like boiled tomatoes,… “

It begins to make sense if we remember how precarious life may be in the days and years ahead, an ordeal that may be survivable but will be harrowing.

She adds:

“I also wanted to consider a strange balance between wonder and beauty, strangeness, and unease/discomfort. This is partially achieved through types of psychoacoustic phenomenon and tuning systems that use ratios and natural properties of sound, even though they can sound “out of tune” on the concert stage. A blend of acoustic and electronic, tempered and non-tempered, slow/simple and hurried and complex… it all boils down to a conflicted, strange, desperate shedding of all that has gotten us to this point.”


I realize listening to this CD that the conversation is no longer a debate between those who resist climate change and those like myself who recognize that we’re living in the Anthropocene, the era of human-caused transformation of the world. The agnostics / disbelievers are in a separate silo, muttering heresies that no longer interest me.

A better question at this point is how do we feel about the Earth, and what are we going to do about it? That’s what this CD addresses.

Melissa Hui

Here is Ecology of Being, a short film featuring the music of Canadian composer Melissa Hui and the poems of Shannon Webb-Campbell with actor Clara Steeves.


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