In a world where almost everything — people, music, cultures — get labeled and slotted into simple categories, Cris Derksen represents a challenge. Originally from Northern Alberta she comes from a line of chiefs from NorthTall Cree Reserve on her father’s side and a line of strong Mennonite homesteaders on her mother’s. A Juno-nominated classically trained cellist and composer, Derksen braids the traditional and contemporary, weaving her classical background and her Indigenous ancestry together with new school electronics to create genre-defying music. Derksen has performed Nationally and Internationally with some of Canada’s Finest Including; Tanya Tagaq, Buffy Sainte Marie, and Naomi Klien.
This interview has been edited for length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: Does it feel good to fit into all musical categories and yet none at all, or does it feel lonely?
Cris Derksen: I don’t mind either way of fitting into all the boxes a little and not fitting into any wholly, (minus the Indigenous box). It allows me the freedom to roam between audiences and presenters and always leaves a lot of room for me to work full time. (Well, overtime if we wanna get technical.) So totally not lonely. I have friends all over the globe.
AC: “Traditional plus classical” is a concept that speaks to many musicians in St. John’s, too. Have you ever received pushback from either genre when you explored the other?
CD: I create within the intersection of Traditional and Contemporary. One is not more important then the other and they both lend a hand to the other. I look at it the intersection as a sphere in which I can lend my perception of what Contemporary and Traditional is in a multitude of ways.
AC: What came first, cello or electronics, and how did you think to mesh the two?
CD: I started Piano at 5 years old, cello at 10, electronics at 19 — and clarinet for a brief terrible part of teenager years. I wanted to bring the cello out of its class bracket and bring it down to the street level. I wanted to make the cello relatable to my rez friends, to my punk pals, to my hip hop kids, to my queer dates.
AC: What role did music play for you growing up?
CD: I learned school in Edmonton in the public school setting. It is amazing to have low-barrier music programs. It gave me a career.
Cris Derksen At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Concert — Friday, July 6 at 8:00pm (D. F. Cook Recital Hall, MUN School of Music)
*Times and locations subject to change.