Remember Africville

Maritimers will Shine
Carvery, Blue Engine String Quartet, Gray present Mosaic

AFRICVILLE, the historic settlement on the northwest shoulder of the Halifax peninsula, was bulldozed out of physical existence in the late ’60s. But no one can bulldoze the poignant memories from the minds of those who grew up there.

Irvine Carvery is president of the Africville Genealogical Society. For several decades, he and society members have carried on a fight for reparations and recognition of the community. Carvery was 13 at the time of the expulsion.

His poem, We Are Africville, is the centrepiece of the Maritime Mosaic: Let It Shine concert to be presented by Halifax’s Blue Engine String Quartet on Tuesday night in Pier 21’s Kenneth C. Rowe Heritage Hall.

“It started out being an all-Canadian composer concert,” Blue Engine’s second violinist Anne Simons said last week. “There are so many good composers in the Maritimes, we had a brainstorming session and asked ourselves, ‘why not do an all-Maritime composer concert?’

“So we are playing quartets by Steve Tittle, Peter Allen and Peter Togni. Then we decided to commission Scott Macmillan to write us something, a piece for percussionist D’Arcy Gray and string quartet.”

Looking for a focus for the commissioned piece, and realizing the concert would take place in Black History Month, Macmillan talked with Carvery and found his poem We Are Africville in a book called The Spirit of Africville. It was published in 1992 to commemorate an exhibition on Africville organized by Mary Sparling and Shelagh MacKenzie and staged at Mount Saint Vincent University in 1989. Carvery’s poem is profoundly touching in its simplicity. It captures Africville in nine, two-line verses of childhood memories.

“We are the little children who takes their first dives into the water from the big rock down Kildare’s Field,” reads one.

The plural noun “children” doesn’t agree with the singular verb “takes” but, grammar-cops aside, it creates immediacy and a simplicity that goes to the heart of childhood memory.

“My kids grew up on stories of Africville,” Carvery said. “They are as much Africville as I am now.”

As soon as Macmillan read the poem, he knew it was exactly what he was looking for.

“Irvine said he would be happy to read it during the performance. I thought this is ideal,” he said last week.

“The stanzas are quite happy childhood memories. I had already been thinking about writing something not so sad and tragic about Africville, something happier. This poem was perfect.”

In his search for musical ideas, Macmillan remembered that Duke Ellington’s second wife, Mildred, though born in Boston, was the daughter of a former Africville resident. A popular idea in the community is that she was the Sophisticated Lady in Ellington’s memorable tune, though that is only one of several theories about which of several eligible sophisticated ladies the Duke had in mind.

“I did the usual composer stuff,” Macmillan said, “turned Sophisticated Lady upside down. I actually put the book on the piano upside down but it’s quite disguised in my composition. Right off the top the first couple of notes are the last couple of notes of the bridge upside down and backwards and sped way up. All the way through I used that to generate themes.”

Macmillan’s composition is written for Poet, Marimba and String Quartet. The marimba part will be played by Dalhousie percussion professor D’Arcy P. Gray.

Gray will also play Tittle’s let it shine all the time for string quartet and vibraphone which was originally written for the Kronos String Quartet and premiered on an InNOVAtions in MUSIC concert in Halifax in the ’70s.

Maritime Mosaic: Let It Shine featuring the Blue Engine String Quartet, narrator Irvine Carvery and percussionist D’Arcy P. Gray, begins Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in Pier 21’s Heritage Hall. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and are available by calling 225-6846, or at the door.


Blue Engine String Quartet premieres a new work by Halifax’s Scott Macmillan, “We are Africville”, inspired by the nine stanza poem by Irvine Carvery on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at Pier 21. Since its very beginning in 1997, Blue Engine String Quartet has brought a wide variety of chamber music to audiences from all walks of life.

The premiere of “We are Africville” with Carvery, Chair of the Africville Genealogy Society, reading his poem, and D’Arcy Philip Gray playing percussion, is a timely addition to their repertoire during African Heritage Month. The first eight stanzas of “We are Africville” speak from the heart about Carvery’s childhood memories of growing up in the community on Bedford Basin. The ninth expresses his regret that his own children can never have those memories. Macmillan’s piece has nine miniatures, each standing alone and underscoring the readings.

“The Maritime Mosaic: Let It Shine” features the work of four local composers. In addition to Macmillan’s new composition, Blue Engine will present another work written expressly for them: Peter Allen’s “String Quartet (2005)”, a demanding virtuosic piece with a calm intermezzo sandwiched between two forcefully rhythmic outer movements.

The concert will also include “Strange Birds”, by New Brunswick’s Alasdair MacLean, chosen by the quartet because they feel his works embody something unique about the Atlantic Canadian identity. This particular quartet was influenced by migrating birds on the edge of the Tantramar marshes. According to MacLean, “I was often surrounded by great flutterings of wings and sudden outbursts of raucous birdcalls.” Steve Tittle’s “Let it Shine All the Time” for string quartet and vibraphone, completes the program. Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and completed in 1977, it strikes a balance between structural clarity and intuitive spontaneity.

Blue Engine String Quartet (Jennifer Jones, Anne Simons, Alexandra Bates, and Hilary Brown) presents a celebration of Maritime music and history, Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Kenneth C. Rowe Heritage Hall, Pier 21, 1055 Marginal Road in Halifax. Tickets are $20 (adults), $15 (students/seniors) and are available at the door. Seats may be reserved by calling 225-6846. Blue Engine String Quartet is grateful for support from The Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.


See for electronic press kit.

For further information:
Judy Campbell, 429-3788