Common themes in their work, and experiences shared by their communities, helped bring Brandon University (BU) School of Music professor Melody McKiver together with filmmaker Sean Stiller for a new project.
McKiver’s latest album is the official motion picture soundtrack for Stiller’s lauded documentary Returning Home, which intertwines the stories of the Pacific wild salmon and the effects of Canada’s residential school system.
McKiver, an Anishinaabe composer and musician, had previously worked on the APTN television show Amplify with Stiller, who is a member of Williams Lake First Nation (T’exelcemc), a part of Secwépemc Nation in British Columbia.
“A recurring theme in a lot of my musical art is maintaining a really strong connection to the land and speaking to those issues,” said McKiver, who joined the School of Music earlier this year as an Assistant Professor of Music Composition. “I think Shawn was drawn to my work because of the land-based components, especially with him telling the story of the salmon in the movie.”
While McKiver does not share any Secwépemc ancestry, the horrors of the residential school system resonate with Indigenous peoples across Canada. McKiver found inspiration in family members who went to residential schools in northern Ontario. They were also able to base their work off Stiller’s visuals.
“For my process I was writing to pictures,” McKiver said. “We already had close to a locked cut when I was brought on as the composer. For most film music it’s really important that it follows the images on the screen very closely, so I had the opportunity to become really intimately familiar with the documentary as I was working on the score.”
Stiller’s film is the first feature released by Canadian Geographic Films, and it has been awarded top Canadian documentary at international film festivals in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Stiller follows residential school survivor Phyllis Jack-Webstad, the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day, on a national school tour as part of the effort to heal generations of trauma caused by the residential school system and the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in her home Secwépemc territory. Stiller parallels this story with effects of the declining Pacific wild salmon population as a fishing moratorium and the global pandemic tear away the traditions of Secwépemc traditions.
McKiver’s compositions tell a similar story as their mix of solo viola and electronic music examine trauma to the natural world, while the echoes of residential schools continue to haunt Indigenous peoples across the country. In announcing the McKiver’s new album, a news release from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society states: “Despite the grief, the music is connected by an undercurrent of love and hope for the land, and the interconnected healing journeys of Indigenous communities and their fish relations.”
McKiver is grateful to see the response the film has been getting, and they hope that releasing the soundtrack as an album will bring further attention to the subject.
“I wanted to contribute to the messaging by releasing the music as well, which I think amplifies the story to a different audience.”
The album was released on Wednesday, Dec. 15 to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is available for purchase at MelodyMckiver.Bandcamp.com or to stream on Spotify. Any profits from the soundtrack will aid residential school survivors from McKiver’s matrilineal community of Lac Seul First Nation.
About Melody McKiver:
Melody McKiver’s debut EP Reckoning was nominated for an Indigenous Music Award, and they are a recurring participant in the Banﬀ Centre for the Arts’ Indigenous Classical Music Gatherings. McKiver was the 2020 recipient of the Robert Fleming Prize awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts to an exceptionally talented young Canadian composer. A frequent performer across Turtle Island, Melody has performed at the National Arts Centre, Luminato Festival, Vancouver’s Western Front, and the Toronto International Film Festival. They have shared stages with Polaris Prize winners Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, and Jeremy Dutcher, and performed with acclaimed ﬁlmmaker and musician Alanis Obomsawin. Melody is an Assistant Professor of Music Composition in the Brandon University School of Music. Upcoming projects include composition commissions for TorQ Percussion Quartet, Megumi Masaki, Duo Airs, and releasing a new full-length solo album in 2022 including a feature by Jeremy Dutcher and Anishinaabe elder Josephine King. To learn more about Melody McKiver, please visit MelodyMcKiver.com.
About Canadian Geographic Films:
For nearly a century, Canadian Geographic has been dedicated to making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world, primarily through its award-winning magazine. As our country undergoes signiﬁcant changes to its population, climate, environment, economy and culture, Canadian Geographic Films is leading a digital transformation to support a greater understanding of Canada’s geography — the diverse human and physical landscape — as well as the changes aﬀecting its people and the environment. Returning Home is a true testament to this, as Canadian Geographic Films’ ﬁrst feature documentary. The production company has a number of other projects currently in development, with documentaries and television series slated for release in 2022.
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