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Moravian music travels to national airwaves

By Jeff Green | April 13, 2009

The revival of Moravian brass music in parts of Labrador is the focus of a national radio documentary airing this Easter weekend.

And, Memorial is playing a major role in the program.

In fact, the show follows the university’s Brass Ensemble as it journeys to Labrador communities to perform a historic musical tradition.

Last fall, the group spent a week in Labrador, stopping in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Northwest River, Makkovik, Hopedale and Nain, touring local schools, conducting workshops and holding concerts in Moravian churches.

In total, eight students, as well as four faculty members took part in the trip.

They visited communities with long histories – some dating back more than 200 years – of having brass bands attached to their churches.

Some of these settlements may have been the first in Canada to hear music by Mozart, Bach and Haydn. Music was an integral part of the Moravian missionaries survival kits as, from the middle of the 1700s, they filtered over from central Europe to bring their message to the Inuit people.

To this day, visitors and residents along the Labrador coast can still hear old Moravian hymns sung in English and Innuktitut in churches.

But the sound of Moravian Inuit brass bands – which were once a key part of their faith – has died out.

That was until last fall when the Brass Ensemble revived some of the old tunes and took them back to Labrador communities where they were once so familiar.

Now that journey will air across the country thanks to the efforts of CBC broadcaster and producer Francesca Swann who accompanied the group to document the experience.

“From the many hours of conversations, workshops, performances that we shared during that trip, Francesca has created a wonderful radio documentary entitled Three years of provisions and two French horns – Music of the Moravian Inuit, which will air for the first time this Easter Sunday on CBC’s national network program Inside the Music,” said Dr. Tom Gordon, director of Memorial’s School of Music.

He has been intensely interested in the Moravian music history of Labrador and has spent several years cataloguing the vast collections of Moravian brass music that still exists in several coastal communities.

“Having listened to Francesca’s documentary, I relived some of the memorable experiences we shared on that unforgettable trip while having the opportunity to reflect once again on the powerful role that music has played in the lives of the people on the coast for hundreds of years,” Dr. Gordon added.

Three years of provisions and two French horns – Music of the Moravian Inuit airs on Sunday, April 12, at 9:30 p.m., NL Time on CBC Radio One.