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Shannon Graham on “First People, First Story”


After being presented with the theme of “Toronto’s Identity”, my first instinct was that the program should have something that acknowledges Canada’s aboriginal people. I began looking into various topics to inspire my piece, mainly in the relationship between aboriginal groups and the Canadian government. However, I became hesitant on making political statements as someone who is nothing but an observer in the field of aboriginal politics and struggles.


When Matt Roberts suggested composing a piece based on the Huron creation myth, I felt much more at home. I have always been interested in the religion and creation myths of many cultures. I read through a few different versions of the Huron and Iroquois creation story (which are similar in several ways), and thought of all the ways that modern day Toronto can identify with and learn from this story.  On a lighter note, writing a piece of music this programmatic has been fun and challenging, and it has become a very evocative and theatrical piece.


My piece “First People, First Story” is a personal interpretation, using the tools that I have as a composer, of this creation story without attempting to appropriate or diminish this aspect of spirituality. I hope that Spectrum’s audience can relate to this story, and perhaps learn a bit about traditions that have been de-valued in Canadian identity. One example that immediately comes to mind is the important role of animals and the natural environment in the story, which could be powerful to keep in mind while Toronto faces environmental issues.  



When my most idealistic self reflects on Toronto/Canadian identity (being hopeful in spite of the unfortunate political obstacles from the Canadian government), I would like to see an increased inclusion of the culture of Canadian indigenous people.


- Shannon Graham

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