“Come away, O human child!
…With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
– William Butler Yeats
Yeats’ verse on the Celtic fairy culture inspires wonder, adventure and strong emotions.
Samantha Whelan (Kotkas), an equally inspiring writer, uses these notions to explore the fairies here in Alberta in her production More Rocky Mountain Fairies, playing at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University on May 15th at 2pm.
“I was at the Banff Centre for a year as an artist in residence.” She begins. “I met Dave Duret, a double bass player from California.” She goes on to explain that Duret, a magical storyteller in his own right, might not be ‘of this world’. “I told him I wanted to start creating some great art for kids, but I didn’t know how to get into it.” She relays his response, “Oh Sam… he said. Don’t you know that there’s fairies that live up in the meadow behind the mountains in Canmore?” And with that idea, the Rocky Mountain Fairies were born.
Once she found the fairies, she began to write.
She found that the fairies had unique colours.
She discovered the fairies had voices that could be embodied by musical instruments.
She heard their music.
It was jazz.
“I was looking for a composer.” She identified, “and Tyler (Hornby) had worked with me out at the Children’s Festival in Canmore as a marimbist on one of my classical concerts said he’d be interested.”
“I put lipstick on to meet him.” she confides. “If I show up at a meeting with lipstick on… I want something.”
The story of their collaboration was a fairy tale match-up, mostly because, as it’s known in the music community in Calgary, Samantha Whelan Kotkas is impossible to say ‘no’ to.
“It was a much bigger project than he thought it was going to be.” She admitted.
“Writing music for stories is kind of like writing movie music.” She notes, with the instruments of the compositions personifying the emotions of the colourful fairies in the text.
One of the key things she teaches is music. “Between each of the stories is a tune to showcase the (instrumental) music with no voice.” she describes. “The kids are drawn to the story, but I like to keep them connected to the music.”
“I have the kids listen to the order of the instruments playing. They’re having conversations.” she explains. “Sometimes, it’s between the guitar and the bass, sometimes the piano and the saxophone.”
The reaction Samantha gets lets her know that the teaching is getting through to her audience, “Even some of the adults come up afterwards telling me that they never knew it was a conversation with the instruments. They didn’t know that they weren’t reading their parts…that they were made-up and improvised.” Then, with the magic of a fairy who has cast the spell and solved the mystery, she disappears into the wings, getting set for another show.
Little did she know, when creating these Rocky Mountain Fairies that they would ‘take her by the hand’ to adventures in concert halls across Canada and the United States. Just thinking of it, Samantha Whelan Kotkas rolls her eyes and, with a mischievous smile, laughs, “It took someone from California to show me what was happening in my own backyard.”
More Rocky Mountain Fairies
Samantha Whelan Kotkas – Narrator
Tyler Hornby – Percussion
Aaron Young – Guitar
Jim Brenan – Saxophone
Rubim de Toledo – Bass
Mark DeJong – Soprano Saxophone
Pat Belliveau – Baritone Saxophone
Chris Andrew – Piano