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Sweet music

Tom Gordon follows the road less travelled

By Catherine Burgess

How great it is to be a musician in a community such as Memorial, a community where music truly matters, said Dr. Tom Gordon.

“Music is valued in Newfoundland and Labrador more than almost any other place I’ve encountered in my life,” said Dr. Gordon who is stepping down later this month from his position as director of the School of Music where he has served for 10 years.

While he may be leaving his role as director, during the coming year he will take a leave of absence from the faculty, recalibrating as he engages with his ongoing research in Labrador. For the past several years, Dr. Gordon has been researching and documenting Moravian music in coastal Inuit communities of Labrador, such as Nain and Makkovik, a pursuit initiated through a colleague at Memorial.

The story of Moravian music in Inuit communities is a remarkable one. What was once high-art music of German missionaries of the 18th century – the music of Haydn, Bach and Mozart – has become music that is very much a part of an Inuit tradition.

“What this story tells is that there was a process of adoption but also of adaptation, and because the music now is so much an expression of Labrador Inuit culture, and very little an expression of European culture, it’s ... a tribute to the triumph of peoples’ inherent expressive abilities.”

Dr. Gordon’s aim is to document the music in these communities through book, recording and documentary film projects. In the coming year, he will spend much time living on the coast of Labrador, where he hopes to listen to the stories of the musicians, and learn their way of performing.

“We hear so many bad stories about Aboriginal communities,” he said. “We don’t hear enough about how vital and how creative those cultures are; how much integrity they have.”

He hopes that projects such as the documentary film will provide insight for those who have never visited the coastal communities.

“I really want to help them tell their story,” Dr. Gordon says of a goal of the project, “Both because the music itself is very compelling, but also because of the ... antidote-to-colonialism element of it.”