The St. John’s New Music Collective is a loose grouping of musicians spearheaded dedicated to presenting concerts with a focus on contemporary classical music, interdisciplinary performance, and the freedom to incorporate influences from across genres and media. The collective has presented concerts based around the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as Joanna Newsom, and has performed original music in series such as Night Music and the Cape St. Mary’s Performance Series. The ensemble performers of the St. John’s New Music Collective are veteran St. John’s-based musicians with extensive playing experience in a wide variety of genres, each of whom contributes to making a unique, boundary-crossing collaboration.
At Sound Symposium XIX, performers will include Chris McGee, Michael Collins, Bert Power, and Maggie Burton. They will present the world premiere performance of The Objects in this House, a song cycle by Chris McGee from a text by Maggie Burton.
This interview has been edited for length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: I also have split interests — music and radio. For me, they influence each other. Describe how music influences your work with politics and vice versa.
Maggie Burton: Lifelong involvement in music and the arts in general definitely influences the way I think and contributes to the reasons behind the decisions I make. I like to try new things and regular performance of music is a great way for me to explore. I think it helps me continue to see things in new ways, which is helpful when considering policy changes at the City, for example.
The administrative side of music was extremely influential to me. Running a private violin studio and directing the Suzuki Talent Education Program, a charitable nonprofit, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I learned that arts administrators have to become highly skilled jacks-of-all-trades very quickly in order to run an effective organization, which is an important part of electoral politics as welll, and remains a huge part of the daily troubleshooting and creative thinking that politics asks of you. I think great leaders are creative, empathetic and kind, which are qualities and skills that are honed when one is involved in the arts.
AC: The New Music Collective seems to play a little bit of everything. How do you choose what music to perform? What is “new?”
MB: We want the collective to be involved in as many aspects of the performance of contemporary music as is possible. We have so many amazing artists in the province and we want to add to the canon of Newfoundland and Labrador music in a meaningful way by exploring themes relating to NL people and place in our work and showcasing the diverse skills of our artists through classical and interdisciplinary performance. “New” means any music with a new perspective.
The SJNMC formed for the purpose of Sound Symposium XVII in 2016, where we decided to do an arrangement of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis, a piece about the zodiac, with spoken word poetry written on astrological themes about rural experiences in NL. Pisces, for example, was “She fished in the tinder box/kept beach rocks warmed our feet”. Chris McGee arranged it for chamber ensemble and we had a group of recent MUN graduates play with us.
In Fall 2016 we did a Joanna Newsom Tribute Show at George Street United Church, we chose this because we are huge fans of Newsom’s, and wanted to bring her music to St. John’s. We performed at the Cape St. Mary’s Performance Series in Summer 2017, premiering a piece for violin duo, saxophone and electric guitar. In Fall 2017 we played a suite of short pieces for string quartet for Night Music at the Ship also written by Chris McGee, my favourite movement was “Shea Heights at Night”.
For this Sound Symposium, Chris McGee wrote a piece inspired by and using the words from a collection of poems I wrote called “Margaret, the objects in this house”. I mostly write poems about my experience growing up in rural Newfoundland, surrounded by strong women who have for generations been dedicated to homemaking—doing chores, raising children, dealing with precarious economic situations while managing household budgets.
AC: Why did St. John’s need a group like The New Music Collective?
MB: We graduated from MUN in 2013 and wanted a way to continue to perform classical chamber music with our peers. We formed in 2016 because we saw a lack of venues for performance opportunities for classical musicians wanting to make weird music together. Our arts scene is remarkable in St. John’s and in the province and I think that audiences have an appetite for more and more new and interesting music. If anyone would like to get involved with the collective they can get in touch with me.
St. John’s Music Collective At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Concert, world premiere — Friday, July 6 at 8:00pm (D. F. Cook Recital Hall, MUN School of Music)
*Times and locations subject to change.