Learning and making music with Cris Derksen

by SSO Principal Oboe Erin Brophey

“When you meet Cris Derksen for the first time, you are so aware of her infectious energy. She is a force.” Erin Brophey Principal Oboe- SSO 

Through a Canada Council Grant, our woodwind quintet Mistral 5 commissioned a ten-minute work from composer, Cris Derksen. I was a fan of her hip-hop cello music and I felt a little bit like a fan-girl the first time I met her.

She came to this project with a huge international reputation.

In the fall of 2018, we received a piece from Cris that was called Ideal Winds. We read through it in a rehearsal and sent her some musical feedback via email. Our comments included things that are specific to our particular combination of instruments. (Things like the flute down low paired with the oboe down low can’t be heard…….the oboe is rather impolite in that range.)

A couple months later, Cris came to Saskatoon to workshop the piece. When you meet Cris Derksen for the first time, you are so aware of her infectious energy. She is a force. 

The piece that we played in the fall was just a bare outline of what was to come. ‘Ideal Winds” had changed a great deal. It had more detail and was twice as long. While in Saskatoon, she worked feverishly and to watch her create and refine her work was fascinating.

During the workshop, we had three sessions with Cris over two days, every time we rehearsed, Cris came with different parts for us to play.

Some of the changes included changing the name to from ‘Ideal Winds’ to ‘Five Bucks a Head’. She decided to change the Clarinet part to a Bass Clarinet part. As well, she created an electronic track as our partner in the piece. For the electronic part, she spliced together archival recordings from the CBC and CFB of white settlers journalists talking about Treaties.

Towards the end of the last session, when we finally played the piece with the electronic track, I found the work very moving and powerful. I think that the cornerstone of the composition is the electronic track and we (the Woodwind quintet) provide the emotion and pathos of what Cris feels about the archival recording.

 It was a joy to watch Cris and her process.

Hear her Five Bucks a Head at our Paris of the Prairies concert

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