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Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Scotia Festival of Music goes outside

Halifax's Northwest Arm will be filled with music on June 3 as musicians play on either side of the water.

Halifax cellist and composer India Gailey brings a new piece to this year’s Scotia Festival of Music with Music Across the Water, an ambitious outdoor composition on and around the Northwest Arm.

It will be reminiscent of the ocean, with hints of whale song, or gulls who gather and chatter, and ships barrelling through the water. – India Gailey

The free concert will take place on June 3 at dusk, utilizing the natural acoustics of the Northwest Arm. Over twenty musicians will be positioned on the shore near the Dingle Tower, with others on the opposite side of the water, including Gailey. Jeff Riley will conduct the proceedings from a boat in the middle of the Arm. Audience members are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, find a spot on the shore, or, better yet, enjoy the performance from their boats.

“People on a boat in the middle can move around and change the balance of what they hear,” says Gailey. “Those on land will hear one group the most, but they’ll also get to listen to the conversation of the different groups responding to each other across the water.”

Inspired by the sounds of the ocean and how it travels across the water, Gailey’s composition is designed to enhance the natural soundscape. “It will be reminiscent of the ocean, with hints of whale song, or gulls who gather and chatter, and ships barrelling through the water,” she says.

Gailey began thinking about the project after spending time on a friend’s houseboat on the Northwest Arm. “I was down there one morning, and it hit me because the sound travels in a really interesting way across that body of water, and sometimes I could almost make out what people were saying as they were walking along The Dingle,” she says. “A lot depended on the weather and wind direction, but I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to play music across the water?”

With that initial spark, Gailey called on her friend Jeff Riley to test it one afternoon. “Then we put on the show last summer where I was on my friend’s dock, and [Jeff] was below the Dingle Tower, which is the narrowest part of the Northwest Arm,” she says. “And people started to gather on either side to listen. It felt magical, especially at sunset, as our music accompanied the transition from light to dark.”

Now, with a proof of concept, Gailey contacted the Scotia Festival of Music about doing a version with more musicians and a more complex composition to account for the additional instruments and locations. The Festival was immediately onboard.

“I’m writing the musical map for the whole thing,” explains Gailey, who says it is not typically how she composes a new work. “I’m starting with more of a flow chart because it’s not like every note is written out. I’ve got to give each group little cells of material to work with, and then Jeff will cue them when we move on to a new section or if someone has a solo.”

Music Across the Water features an original composition created especially for this event by Halifax cellist and composer India Gailey. Photo by Zach Bachand.
Music Across the Water features an original composition created especially for this event by Halifax cellist and composer India Gailey. Photo by Zach Bachand.

While Gailey admits that how the musicians will play together across such a considerable distance will be unpredictable and challenging, the logistical difficulties of coordinating a performance across a body of water are equally significant. “The amazing team at the Scotia Festival is handling that aspect, and so we’re working together to figure out what’s possible and how we arrange things,” she says. “I think their job is harder than mine in many ways.”

In case of rain, the concert will move to the Joseph Strug Concert Hall, home of the Festival. “It’s just perfect for us in terms of the acoustics, layout, and size,” says Scotia Festival’s Simon Docking. “The lobby is over three levels with various balconies and places for the musicians to play and will work very well in terms of the antiphonal nature of the music.”

Acknowledging it will be different if they move indoors, Gailey says it will still offer the same spatial experience. “In that version, people could walk around and change the balance in a way they couldn’t if they were stuck on one side of the water,” she says.

Gailey sees Music Across the Water as an opportunity for Halifax residents to enjoy the beauty of the Northwest Arm wrapped inside a unique musical event. “It’ll be a special moment of community coming together outside to enjoy the environment and the offering of all these artists in collaboration with nature,” she says.

The Scotia Festival of Music runs from May 27 to June 9 and offers a variety of classical and other music events. Music Across the Water, which takes place on June 3, is free and open to the public. Visit scotiafestival.com for more information.

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