narrator, vln, db, cl, bsn, tpt, tbn, perc
Commissioned by Après L'Histoire
Premiered by Après L'Histoire, June 3, 2018, Constellation, Chicago
text by Stephen Collis
In the summer of 2017, a poet friend posted the sixth stanza of Stephen Collis’ “Thirteen Trees” on instagram. I read it over and over again.
The stanza, in my reading, is a tender invitation into the comeraderie of struggle for a better world. It reminded me of the collaborative relationships I most value, which have developed in the context of deeply purpose-driven work.
I bought the collection in which the poem was published (Once in Blockadia, Talonbooks, 2016) and discovered a much broader context for the poem. Collis wrote Once in Blockadia about his experience protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada in 2014. The proposed pipeline expansion was and is a deeply misguided enterprise in the eyes of anyone serious about environmental stewardship and justice. In 2018, while writing this piece, its future was still a matter of intense conflict between indigenous, provincial, national, and international parties, with developments reported daily.
The poem "Thirteen Trees" was written after Trans Mountain cleared a forested site on Burnaby Mountain to make way for experimental drilling. The poem contains the sounds of the site and the conflict – ravens and bears, helicopters, the cacophony of protest and threat. It is rich with cultural allusions and ambivalent about the authority of its canonical antecedents. It changes tempos and moves words smoothly between functioning in the prior clause to functioning in the next. In other words, it is quite musical. I wanted to set it. The instrumentation of Stravinsky's L’histoire du Soldat seemed a perfect fit: Stravinsky too, in the language of his time and place, warned against greed that is deaf to consequences and plunders the soul.
Stephen kindly agreed to meet in Burnaby in December 2017. We hiked into the clearing on Burnaby mountain, discussing each others’ work, the protests, academia, politics. We listened to the sounds of the clearing where the stumps of the felled trees still stand, rotting and covered in moss.
This piece is my attempt to set Stephen’s poem in a way that honors the things I have heard in it and because of it.