It’s with a devoted commitment to highlight music by Indigenous composers and performers that the Orchestre classique de Montréal (OCM) decided to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day (NIPD) by paying tribute to acclaimed Kahnawa’kehró:non violinist Tara-Louise Montour.
From music performances, to engaging webinars and a host of other events to acknowledge NIDP – the annual celebration taking place on June 21 is equally an opportunity to show appreciation of Indigenous Peoples and cultures, as it is a day to encourage increased public awareness on the historical and ongoing issues faced by Onkwehón:we.
For the OCM, the commemorative day represented an occasion to shine a spotlight on Montour – a community member recognized by many as North America’s foremost Indigenous classical violinist.
“It’s so important to highlight that there is diversity in orchestras and that we are part of that too now,” said Montour. “They (the OCM) have always had a mandate to present Indigenous content in their programming every year. This is something which is still unusual for orchestras across the country.”
Already having performed as a soloist with the OCM in 2018, Montour officially joined the orchestra as a permanent member in 2019.
She expressed that while it was an honour to receive this recognition, the gesture was made all the more significant by the notoriety it brings to Indigenous Peoples’ music and talent.
“It’s a lovely thing to be able to bring attention to the fact that Indigenous people are branching out and to show what we are doing, how we are expressing ourselves artistically, and culturally,” she said. “I want that to be seen – and I want for young people to see this as well.”
Prior to joining the OCM, the Kahnawa’kehró:non had spent the last 15 years with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In addition to this tenure, Montour appeared as a guest soloist with a number of orchestras, including the Orchestre Métropolitain, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and the Hamilton Philharmonic, to name a few.
With so many years of distinguished work under her belt, Montour said that orchestras presenting the revered work of Onkwehón:we composers was unheard of until recently.
“The idea of exploring all these musical possibilities is something that has only happened in the last 20 years or so,” she said. “Trying to bring the worlds of classical music and of Indigenous music, sounds and ideas, just hadn’t been done before.”
Through the presenting of works by Odawa First Nation composer Barbara Croall and Cree multi-faceted artist Tomson Highway, Montour conveyed that the orchestra’s dedication to bringing music by Indigenous composers to light is monumental.
It’s with a continued eagerness to show the merging musical worlds that OCM conductor Boris Brott expressed how Montour’s talent has provided a welcomed opportunity for his orchestra to launch a new precedent.
“We’re so lucky because there are very few orchestras in Montreal who even have the benefit of having an Indigenous member,” said Brott, adding that this is, in more ways than one, a blessing. “We have a great desire as the Orchestre classique de Montréal to embrace our community in its totality, with all of its diversity.”
The conductor explained that the choice of underlining Montour’s work for NIPD was a no-brainer considering both her innate talent and dedication to her community.
Namely, he stated that her drive allowed the presentation of a program featuring multimedia work by Croall on the life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha to be showcased to audiences in both Montreal and Kahnawake.
“We were talking about how she could best develop herself as a musician, while also giving something back to her own community,” said Brott. “It was also about inspiring young Indigenous artists and talent to pursue musical training, and to really use those gifts.”
Montour said that the emergence of Onkwehón:we composers in classical music also represents a vehicle to incentivize the general public in becoming more aware of the colonial history in Canada and its contemporary legacy.
“It’s beautiful ideas and music that are coming out of this – but history as well, which is being expressed through the music,” said the violinist. “It’s vital to Canadian culture that people be made aware of what is part of our history and our present.”
When all is said and done, she said efforts by the OCM should first and foremost serve as a path for Canadian orchestras to build upon.
“What our Indigenous artists are doing needs to be showcased and included into mainstream programming where there is definitely a place for it,” said Montour. “Just to be visible is really important.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door