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They Sing and They Clap and They Shout

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Music is often referred to as the “universal language” - the lingua franca that unites people of different cultures. Music becomes a means of expression, a way to give voice to something when words fail. But while every culture creates music, not every person sings the same song. Some voices are so loud that they drown out others, and some words are privileged.  This program explores the words behind the music, the ways in which different people have used music to give themselves or others a voice. And, we meditate on music’s role in silencing some voices while privileging others.

Read about each piece below and feel free to click on the composer photos to read more about them.


A Lot of Words                                                              Phong Tran

A lot of words

to say nothing about, anything about

words that say

something about, nothing about, anything for anybody and everyone

and nothing for nobody at some time

so you write about people talking about

nothing and everything that goes

no where, for no rhyme, or reason or time

or season or reason for time or rhyme 

or reason for anyone and anywhere

but really no one.

(so you try again and say)

a lot of words to say

a lot of words to say a lot of bullshit

because we're all saying the same things for the same people

and as you can see, we're running out of breath.


it's exhausting, it's exhausting

we're so damn tired of saying the same things

over and over and over and over


and we all just ___, and just ___

and we're all so ___

because we don't know how else to ____

because who wants to ___ about ____

so ___ ___ I guess.

but what we have is ___

so we have to ___ until it's not ___ ___

so we keep on ___ and ___ until it's not __ ___

and it's __ until it's __ because we ___ ___

so we keep on ___ and ___ until it's for ___

until it's __ because we __ about ___ 


but these words themselves don't really mean much

but the act of saying the words, the act of saying the ___

the act of saying the words and doing the ___


(that's important)

so we have to ___ until it's ___

because we have to ___ about ___ ___

so we keep on __ because we __ ___ 
so we keep on __ and ___ about ____

so keep on ___ and saying the ___ ___

because we ____ so we have to keep on saying the

same things

same things

same things

same things


new cosmologies                                              inti figgis-vizueta

"I see fundamental connections between the improvisatory and interpretative processes in my music and the formation of new, imagined histories of indigenous peoples. I think violence lives in our bones and our blood and that we still feel remnants from the first settlers to murder and poison our ancestors. Imagining a future for us means imagining a past separate from the settler colonialism that killed so many of our mythologies and stories. 

When I think about Steve Mackey's piece Indigenous Instruments, I think about the power of a white man's imagination. The power of being able to conjure into being a New Indigenous peoples, not ravaged by genocide. I imagine the power of being celebrated, featured, and written about for it. Perhaps it's just a small piece in the scheme of things, but I can't shake how much that piece radicalized me to tell my own stories, to imagine new pasts and futures, and to fundamentally understand that white people gain their power from stealing our traditions and knowledges, our proximity to the divine, the cosmological, and the truth." 
 - written by composer

new cosmologies - ifv- 2020.jpg

Pots 'n Pans Falling                                                     Edward Top

A young survivor of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School described the gunshots as sounding like “pots and pans falling to the floor”.  This innocent and disarming description of an incomprehensible act of violence is especially poignant, being a father of a young child.  I imagined the victims in that moment of horror, and the irreparable damage left on the survivors.  This tragedy weighed on my mind, and it was this emotional impulse that I wanted to translate into music.


After attempting numerous approaches and perspectives, the drafts were either self-indulgent of my own grief for the victims, or they became my portal of anger.  Upon much introspection, I returned to the basic root of the event.  Thus, it felt right to choose the perspective of a seven-year old child, as I wanted the work to celebrate their lives with an uplifting sound.


Having worked with children as a music teacher, I became familiar with certain musical elements that, without fail, always made them laugh, and I hoped to incorporate some of that innocence into the piece.  There are repeated, simple calling motives and a driving pulse, derived from a world experienced through the ears of a child.  The six members of the ensemble play a simple calling motive of g–e, expanded to g-e-a-g-e, which, in fact, consists of the four open violin strings, a basic foundation for children beginning to play music.  The work consists of this simple motive replayed in different rhythmic repetitions and durations. It is set in unison, but at all times the instruments play slightly out-of sync, producing a delay-effect.


I chose to include a recording of the motive hummed and played by a young violinist. My seven years old violin student John Lang has kindly assisted in working with me on these recordings. To assure a perfect blend of the recordings with the live players, the six adult musicians are amplified.  The motive was inspired by our broken mantle clock, which coincidentally chimed, g-e, prompting the work’s opening with the two gongs imitating the clock.  Towards the end of the piece this ‘clock’ chimes 26 times for the victims.


Pots ‘n Pans Falling is commissioned by Acoustic Panel, which inspires individuals and groups in the Vancouver community to contribute to the creation and premiere of a new composition for the Standing Wave Ensemble. The mastermind and visionary behind Acoustic Panel was the late Tom Cone (1947-2012), playwright, philanthropist, and personal friend.  It is in this spirit that I have decided to contribute part of the funding for this commission to the Sandy Hook School Memorial Scholarship Fund by the University of Connecticut.


Edward Top, 2013


Have and Hold                                               Allison Loggins-Hull

Have and Hold was commissioned by The Library of Congress as part of the "Boccaccio Project." Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century work The Decameron, a written piece about escaping the deadly effects of the Black Plague, the Boccaccio Project is a collection of micro-commissions responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.


Have and Hold reflects the desire to be near others during an extended period of social distancing and isolation. Personally, I have realized that being around people and experiencing life with them not only brings me great joy, but fuels my energy, creativity and spirit. This piece is truly dedicated to all of the people in my life who I miss dearly and long to be near again.  

- Allison Loggins-Hull

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Hot Take                                                             Robin McLaughlin

Inspired by the tweetstorm that followed the awarding of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music to Kendrick Lamar, Hot Take is a homage to the bad opinions we love to hate.

Hot Take is written for, and dedicated to, clarinettist Kyle Kostenko, with whom I have appreciated many "hot takes."

The sources that provide the text for Hot Take have been edited so that it's hard to trace them to their sources.

chris mayo.jpg

They Sing They Clap They Shout                   Christopher Mayo

They Sing and They Clap and They Shout is based on the songs of Swedish-American labour activist Joe Hill (1879-1915). Hill was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, an international labour union founded on principles of “revolutionary industrial unionism”, and he contributed numerous protest songs to their “Little Red Songbook”. In 1915, Hill was executed for murder in Salt Lake City after a lengthy and widely-publicized trial. The IWW—and many subsequent historians—have maintained that Hill was framed, and he has since been held up as a martyr for the labour movement. After his execution by firing squad, his ashes were divided into 600 packets and sent to various branches of the IWW and their allies. The ashes were marked with the epitaph: “Joe Hill murdered by the capitalist class, Nov. 19, 1915”. 

They Sing and They Clap and They Shout incorporates many of Joe Hill’s songs, or, more specifically, many performances of his songs. The piece is peppered with transcriptions of tiny fragments from performances by Joe Glazer, Cisco Houston, Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock, Pete Seeger, Earl Robinson, Barbara Dane and, particularly, Swedish folk singer Finn Zetterholm (drawn from his 1969 album Joe Hill på svenska). 

Joe Hill travelled across America lending his voice and his songs to IWW strikes and protests. In 1912 he travelled to British Columbia where he joined the Fraser River railway strikes and composed several new songs specifically for the striking workers. These included “Where the Fraser River Flows” based on the then-popular tune “Where The River Shannon Flows” by James I. Russell. They Sing and They Clap and They Shout incorporates a recording of “Where the Fraser River Flows” by the great American folk singer and activist Utah Phillips, used here with the generous permission of his estate.

They Sing and They Clap and They Shout takes its title from Joe Hill’s most famous song “The Preacher and the Slave” in which he coined the phrase “pie in the sky”:

Long-haired preachers come out every night
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right
But when asked how 'bout something to eat 
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay 
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.


They Sing and They Clap and They Shout was commissioned by Standing Wave.

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