With a typewriter and tuba, Orchestra Wars arrives in Yellowknife


Yellowknife’s Borderless Art Movement will perform Orchestra Wars, a story of warring musicians in a post-pandemic world, at NACC on Friday and Saturday.

Shows by the group, known as BAM!, combine music and visual arts. This weekend, an orchestra will play different arrangements while artists paint live on-stage.

Musical director Jo Pamplin said Orchestra Wars will please lovers of classical orchestral music as well as people who aren’t as familiar with the classics.

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Orchestra Wars, written by Yellowknife musician and performer Jeremy Findlay, tells the tale of a musical civilization destroyed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In that post-apocalyptic world, orchestras battle one another, attempting to make sense of music once again.  

Findlay says he wrote the story while self-isolating and experiencing what he described as “pandemic angst.”

“One of the things I noticed during Covid was there seemed to be a weird hierarchy with the musicians and with choir members – who was required to do what to mitigate,” said Findlay.

“It struck me as this weird new society emerging, and then combining that with seeing everyone working so hard, pulling together to bring music and arts back into the public scene.

“That sparked the idea. And then I thought, what if it was the opposite? What if people weren’t working together and there was this fracture, and people taking sides?”

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Terry Pamplin is one of three artists who will paint to the sound of the orchestra, something he has done many times before. Having the opportunity for artists to collaborate with musicians is crucial, he says, especially in a town where the two work so closely together.

“Artists tend to work very isolated. We don’t work with a group of other people like a choir or an orchestra,” Pamplin said.

“It’s really nice when we get to get out of our studios and not only paint with each other and the orchestra, but also see the reaction of the audience.”

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Orchestra features typewriter

Painting alongside Pamplin will be Sheila Anderson and Donna-Lynn Baskin. The orchestra, meanwhile, features some instruments the ensemble hasn’t seen before.

Corey Paquin plays percussion. He’ll be playing a typewriter in one of the performance’s songs.

“The typewriter is definitely unique,” said Paquin, “and the first time I’ve played a non-conventional instrument in a show. But it adds a nice touch.”

Paquin says the most difficult part was finding the right typewriter to play.

“We found an old one at the dump and we tried it out but the keys were too sticky. It was unplayable at the speed of the piece,” he explained.

“One of our other players has a vintage typewriter that we’re using. It’s in very good condition and, once I figured out the tempo and speed of the piece, it’s been quite fun to play.”

This year’s group also features a tuba played by Travis Burke – an instrument that has been missing in the past.

Burke says he’s happy to be back playing with an orchestra, and especially with a group playing about an alternate Covid response.

“It’s kind-of an ode to all of the feelings we’ve all been feeling in the last couple years,” he told Cabin Radio.

“But it also recognizes that we’re all trying to make a sense of normalcy in a world that is still a world of chaos.”

This will be Burke’s first performance with BAM!. After a few months of rehearsals, he says he’s feeling ready to appear in front of an audience, especially with the involvement of the artists.

“Everybody interprets music a little bit differently. The way I feel when I play these pieces is probably different than what the painters interpret it as,” he said.

“It will be a nice surprise to see how they hear it, and how the audience interprets and responds to their visions.”

Although the interpretation of the music may differ, Jo Pamplin says the pieces are especially accessible for a range of audiences, and recognizable even to those who aren’t orchestra fans.

“The songs will be very recognizable to people who get intimidated by the thought of orchestra,” she said.

“It’s a very friendly repertoire. It’s going to be a very fun show that I’d consider family appropriate, especially for kids who haven’t been exposed to this kind of music.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to kind-of visualize it as well as they get to hear the story through it.”

Orchestra Wars runs Friday and Saturday night this week at 7:30pm. Tickets are available on the NACC website.