Music and mental health in North Central


author: quinn bell | a&c writer

Strong messages from the RSO. / Courtesy of the Regina Symphony Orchestra 

Festival shows classical music can be socially relevant too. 

The opening remarks at the Regina Symphony Orchestra’s second annual Forward Currents Festival, shared by conductor Gordon Gerard, highlighted the importance of being Treaty People in all that we do here on Treaty 4 Territory. Building off last year’s Festival, which was centred around Truth & Reconciliation, the theme for this year’s festival was Raising Hope: Music & Mental Health. Gerard expressed the hope that, in gathering for music and performance in Treaty 4 Territory, we might continue to heal and understand our communities. Acknowledging mental illness and its roots, both past and contemporary wrong-doings, is an important step on the way to reconciliation. 

Fitting with the theme, the festival was hosted at the Mâmawéyatitân Community Centre in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. It’s no secret that the neighbourhood has suffered an unfair amount of poverty in its history. The beautiful Mâmawéyatitân Centre, built in 2017, is a multi-use symbol of strength and healing for the community, and is an ideal space to host this event. One regular symphony-goer commented that, had it not been for this festival, they would likely never have stepped foot in the space. Props to the RSO and Mâmawéyatitân for helping to erase the stigma. 

And, of course, there’s the other big stigma being addressed in the room: mental illness. Mental health is still somehow a taboo topic, and the music festival is trying to change that. Because it is a newly discussed social issue, it requires new music to focus on it. This year’s featured composer was Vancouver’s Jocelyn Morlock, much of whose work is openly written in times of emotional turmoil. On Friday night, two of Morlock’s’ pieces were performed; one of which she wrote following her father’s death. Before the performance, the composer told the audience to listen as each instrument in the chamber ensemble began suffering from its own loss of control, from emotional breakdowns, from sorrow. Chaos ensued: it was indeed the soundtrack to a mind burdened with anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, or any such mental illness. 

The festival included several other collaborations. On Friday, there was a pre-concert talk by Regina’s Jim Demeray of Understand Us, as well as performances by the Youth Ballet of Saskatchewan and spoken word artist Dan Innes (aka ‘hatManDan). Saturday featured presentations by the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, as well as a workshop by Cree-Dene-Métis community-based educator and author Zoey Roy, with students of Scott Collegiate. 

Finally, on Sunday, the RSO performed with former Barenaked Ladies frontman & mental health activist Steven Page. Through sharing songs and humorous, inspiring conversation, the Canadian Music Hall of Famer hopes to raise awareness, improve our healthcare system, and ignite social change. 

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