[We suggest you listen in to this music as you read this article...enjoy]
It comes as no surprise that the 1000 Islands was the conversation of many conservationists in the late 19th Century. It is a treasured River archipelago that faces developments that could have been protected, more than a century ago, if an international park had succeeded. The Anglers’ Association, which maintained an impressive international membership, during the push for an international park, took a curious route to protect their River valley and pastime: vigilante ransacking of commercial fishing nets.
“The Water Bearer Suite”, a new saxophone quartet, commissioned by the Donald Sinta Quartet in 2015, is a pageantry of the northern border, highlighting this act of pillaging with purpose. The idea for the piece came about, as the composer, John Paul Brabant, spent some time sifting through old news articles on file in a Clayton museum. One article expressed the Association’s conservationist concerns and good-intentioned actions. It struck him that after amassing the fish nets, the Association members would burn them.
Exercising artistic license, John Paul went on to construct a series of tunes, or “neo-folk, that’s what I like to call it,” he said in an interview, following the recent premiere, which was enthusiastically received. He went on to say, “neo-folk is a way of looking to written and oral history, to inspire fictional, sometimes fantastical, recounting of the past that sheds light on our present time in profound ways. My medium to do this type of folk culture creation is music.” John Paul holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Musical Studies, from The Crane School of Music, at SUNY Potsdam, as well as a Master’s in Music Composition, from NYU. While at NYU, John Paul studied film scoring and has since taken part in a prestigious career, with progressing opportunities, such as the ASCAP Television & Film Scoring Workshop, in both Los Angeles and New York City. His time alongside the motion picture arts has encouraged his compositional output towards a focus on story.
One might think that the only types of musical stories are operas, oratorios, and other obvious forms. In fact programmatic music, which originated in the 19th Century, is a manner of instrumental composition that is neither narrated nor staged and is intended to convey a story as described in an accompanying program. The program for the Water Bearer Suite begins with a senior Anglers’ Association member persuading a young girl to be torchbearer in the net burning spectacle. The middle movements portray a series of scenes between the young girl and wise river community members who inform her of the complex politics surrounding the Association. The final movement culminates with the net-burning ceremony, to which our heroine bears water instead of a torch as a gesture of peace, and of reflection.
The Suite was premiered May 2016 in Ann Arbor, just a “short” boat ride up the St. Lawrence Seaway system. John Paul describes the second quartet as having an immensely different process from the first, in that it was realized through significant non-musical conceptualization, prior to composition. It is also essentially song-based. Donald Sinta Quartet—more colloquially referred to as DSQ—describes the Suite as an “incredible piece” that is “moving, authentic, and demanding.” Their favorite movement of the Suite? The final movement; a beautifully crafted dance that rivals the best of new works, of the classical saxophone quartet genre.
DSQ is a young quartet, with exceptional accolades to their name, that found their beginnings at The University of Michigan, in 2010, under a celebrated mentor whose namesake they carry. Pioneering and prodigious, one of the core values of DSQ is the promotion of new music by emerging composers. Their recent concerts include performances in Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the National Center for the Performing Arts, in Beijing, to name only a few. With this last season wrapped, DSQ flew to Strasbourg, to perform a number of commissions.
“I have always felt happy when amid the islands. There are many stories and landscapes that I plan to explore that pertain to the St. Lawrence Seaway, some of which I have already begun compiling files on. I think of myself as something of a musical Michael Ringer. We’ve always had Ringer artwork hanging in the house, growing up. One day people will boat the River humming a tune I wrote.”
With numerous generations based on the River, it is true that John Paul’s ancestry has played a major role in the shaping of the area’s culture. Even today,one uncle is an active fishing guide and community resource on the 1000 Islands Fishing Guide Practices and Lore. John Paul is currently a graduate assistant at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Between advocating for music in the Graduate Student Organization, dissertation work and gigging corporate events and weddings, on a concert grand harp, he finds time to paddle and hike. Find him on the web at www.1000musicsolutions.com.
By Neil Fuller
Neil Fuller was born in Watertown, in 1958. He is a 7th generation resident of Jefferson County, NY. Having a keen interest of life in the 1000 Islands, along with his own genealogy, his family farmed the area near the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario for several generations. Together with his wife, Clayton native Dee Streets, Neil resides on a small farm outside Clayton and they are actively engaged in the community, in their work, as well as church and social programs.