Water circulates as the planet’s lifeblood, sustaining life everywhere, ecologically, rivers act as arterial expressions of hydrology where ceaseless transformation and mutability––from mist and condensation, to dewdrops, rain, ice, snowmelt and runoff, waterflow and oceanic wave––are the norm.
Aesthetically, river sounds carry the melodies of time and space, biotic flux, interconnection and interdependence, local and cosmic meanings.
Human breath and plant leaves transpire vapour that connects atmosphere to aquifer, marsh to glacier, plant to human. With all that water offers, shaping countless landscapes, nourishing myriad lifeforms, it is unimaginable that oceans, rivers, lakes, and other waterways remain under serious and increasing threat, globally.
RiverChants was conceived to deepen our understanding of the plight of water as well as to celebrate the sinuous waterways that surround and shape the city of Guelph.
Envisioned as a convergence of interactive community events stretching over two months in Spring 2020, the project brought together artists, activists, ecologists, poets, musicians, instrument makers, videographers, youth groups––and more. An ambitious collaboration of diverse voicings, the intent was to engage the wider community in creatively re-imagining the Grand River watershed, the largest inland river system in Southern Ontario.
The Grand River watershed is home to the Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest First Nations reserve in Canada and a place where, in 2018, under 10% of its population had access to safe, potable water.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, everything from a cross-town, river-to-river parade to educational outreach programs and performances in multiple venues dried up. RiverChants collaborators were left wondering how to flow forward.
Slowly, in consultation with the Canada Council for the Arts, the original idea was reshaped. Rivulets of the project conjured greater confluences.
Words, sounds, images, and new musical instruments came together, like isolated streams yearning to merge. Through remote technologies and with a graphic score as a guide to improvised soundings, the musicians, poets, inventors/instrument makers, and filmmaker began to behave like a watershed––finding fluid ways around obstacles in order to flow.
Memory is a watershed.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances arising from the pandemic, RiverChants embodies what poet Karen Houle articulates in The Grand River Watershed: A Folk Ecology as “Ephemeral streams expand[ing] and contract[ing] with variation …”
Our hope is that the expansive soundscapes and imaginary waterscapes of RiverChants transport you both upstream and downstream––and that you experience the deep reservoir of stories, memories, and sonances of the Speed, Eramosa, and Grand Rivers.
Gary Diggins & Daniel Fischlin, Artistic Directors, RiverChants