National Arts Centre Orchestra inspired by poet Rita Joe

What: National Arts Centre Orchestra with Jan Lisiecki
Where: Royal Theatre
When: Monday, Oct. 30
Tickets: $32 to $85
For more information, go to

For maestro Alexander Shelley, performing a piece based on the work of Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe in her Cape Breton community this year with the National Arts Centre Orchestra was a defining moment.

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“It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, frankly,” said Shelley, who is on a cross-country tour with the country’s flagship orchestra, which stops in Victoria on Monday.

“Rita Joe’s family was involved from the beginning. To take it to her community and have everyone cook for the orchestra, dance and celebrate with such pride and positively, it meant a lot.”

The piece I Lost My Talk by composer John Estacio — which is part of Monday’s program — is one of four commissioned by the orchestra that explores the stories of exceptional Canadian women in multimedia works: Joe, author Alice Munro, astronaut Roberta Bondar and anti-bullying activist Amanda Todd.

I Lost My Talk is based on Joe’s poem about her time at the Schubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia and the suffering she endured there, as well as the hope she found, Shelley said. The work incorporates orchestral music, film, dance and live narration.

“It’s very affecting and fascinating to see the audience engage,” Shelley said.

The orchestra’s national tour is part of Canada’s 150th celebration. Shelley said that seeing the country coast to coast, meeting musicians and doing outreach with young people has been eye-opening.

“The arts are thriving in this country,” said Shelley. “It’s geographically so big that getting places and meeting people is a big project.”

Outreach for organizations such as the orchestra is more important than ever as school districts tighten music-education budgets, he said.

“We have a vital role to play right now. It’s incumbent upon organizations like us to do something,” he said, pointing to the skills music promotes, such as non-verbal communication, empathy and listening.

“They’re simple ideas, but some of the most fundamental skills.”

Shelley will work with musicians from the University of Victoria while he is here, and other outreach events are planned. The NAC performance includes a pre-show concert in the lobby with Viva Youth Voice.

The concert program includes Antonín Dvorák’s New World Symphony No. 9 and the Robert Schumann Piano Concerto performed by prodigy pianist Jan Lisiecki.

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