The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
Get our free newsletter
Sign Up

Move Over Dead Songwriters, There’s a New Tune in Town

The Sonic Boom Music Festival showcases BC’s modern music scene on instruments dating back centuries.

Andrew Hung 23 Mar 2021 |

Andrew Hung is a freelance writer and music teacher in Vancouver.

It’s not every day that the Pacific Baroque Orchestra gets to play music by living and breathing composers. But in New Music for Old Instruments, the ensemble will be performing the latest works from B.C. composers with instruments dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

“For us, that’s unusual, because the composers we usually play are dead, and you can’t talk to them,” says the orchestra’s music director Alexander Weimann.

New Music for Old Instruments is one of six concerts being offered online as part of the Sonic Boom Music Festival running March 23 to 28. This year’s event features new compositions written for the period instruments of the baroque orchestra.

While it won’t exactly be the 2Cellos duo wailing AC/DC’s "Thunderstruck" on their instruments, the festival promises an eclectic mix of modern-meets-classic compositions and includes performances of solo piano, small ensembles, solo oboe, English horn, and the trombone and organ duo of Jeremy Berkman and Angelique Po.

Unlike many Early Music organizations, Early Music Vancouver, which supports the baroque orchestra, has already ventured into contemporary music, including a performance of Vancouver composer and music educator Jocelyn Morlock’s "Revenant." To put contemporary into context, in 2018 Morlock won a Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year for her piece "My Name is Amanda Todd," about the life and suicide of a 15-year-old Port Coquitlam bullying victim.

But for baroque — a catch-all phrase for one of the richest periods in European music stretching from about 1600 to 1750 (think Bach, Handel and Pachelbel) — new music is still largely foreign territory, made even more unfamiliar by modern songwriters’ broad diversity of musical styles.

In New Music for Old Instruments, the musicians must switch gears constantly, playing neo-classical, expressionist and popular styles — just to name a few.

582px version of PacificBaroqueOrchestraPianoViolin.jpg
New Music for Old Instruments sees musicians playing contemporary music on 18th century instruments, creating new sonic experiences. Photo by Mike Southworth.

There are the lush harmonies in Kamran Shahrokhi’s "Ocean Rush," creating a cinematic and meditative atmosphere. Henry From’s "Dance at the End of Time," with its rigour and precision, is more reminiscent of the baroque era.

“Usually, if you do a program, you don’t have as many musical languages in one show,” says Weimann. “Even if you have Telemann, Vivaldi, Handel, it’s three people speaking a similar language. But these five composers are really far away from one another.”

Weimann, recently nominated for a Juno Award himself, has worked with celebrated Early Music ensembles across North America and Europe, including Canada’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Les Violons du Roy. While his recordings and performances usually centre around baroque composers, Weimann also has experience performing compositions by living songwriters, and he says he looks forward to the contemporary music programs every year.

Period instruments have in fact been the medium for a great deal of artistic exploration, both past and present, Weimann points out. The challenge in writing new works for period instruments is upending musical conventions.

“New music and old instruments are not an unnatural combination,” he says. “One of the core things of the Early Music movement is actually discovery. It’s not just playing the canon of pieces we know and love, but to discover something that hasn’t been performed yet.”

Although the Pacific Baroque Orchestra’s instruments date back to the baroque era, contemporary versions are quite different in their physical structures and dimensions. These variances create sounds that aren’t achievable by their modern counterparts.

For instance, in stringed instruments such as the violin or cello, the period instruments have more of a curve to their tone than modern instruments, producing a growing and sighing quality that is unique to them.

In addition to physical differences, there are ideological shifts to consider when old meets new.

“How can we make a composition that uses that window [of musical history] but is at the same time relevant today?” asks composer Edward Top. It’s a musical riddle that Top will explore in his festival piece "Clairvoyant."

As the title suggests, "Clairvoyant" is written from the perspective of a baroque composer who tries to predict the music of the future. While typical baroque gestures appear in the piece, Top infuses the composition with dissonant harmonies, a nod to contemporary masters like Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Unconventional pairings of instruments and sounds appear in the other concerts at Sonic Boom, most notably in Jennifer Butler’s "Shelter." Performed by the acclaimed pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, "Shelter" blends the open and bare sonorities of the piano with the sounds of broken glass in a jar.

Butler, a Vancouver composer, teacher and flautist, describes the tinkling glass as a metaphor for human vulnerability. Glass is rarely used in music of any genre, but "Shelter" captures its paradoxical aural quality, one that is both rough and graceful, but at the same time “beauty in the brokenness,” she explains.

Although it was written during the fall of 2019 and grew out of a personal experience that Butler had, the piece now, a year into a global pandemic, seems to take on a more universal quality in its expression of challenge and hope.

“It’s about a struggle and coming through it,” Butler says. “The arts season is our community, it’s our friendships and livelihoods. When that was wiped clean, there’s been a lot of grieving and loss of that support and community.”

For many musicians and composers, this past year has been turbulent. The cancellations of live, in-person concerts and music festivals have shaken many of those in the contemporary music space. But artists and programmers tend to be resilient, says Butler, and they are “flexible and can flip their art forms to create new things.”

In the midst of this difficult season, composers and new music organizations have still been creating innovative art and projects. Groups such as Little Chamber Music and Music on Main have been featuring virtual concerts showcasing the latest compositions and performances from a wide range of B.C. composers and musicians.

There has been a great deal of pain over the past year, but Butler hopes that through this difficult time, more people will come to understand the significance of art in our society. “The art that moves us, gives us hope, or helps us get in touch with our vulnerable sides — that shows us why art is so important.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Music

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll