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A solstice tradition

Daniel Janke conducts the Problematic Orchestra in 2018. This year's show is on December 20 & 21.

By Amy Kenny

How do you define Canadian music? Maybe it’s Neil Young, or Buffy Sainte-Marie. Maybe it’s The Tragically Hip, or the sound of loons calling across a lake. Either way, that’s what Daniel Janke is interested in exploring with this year’s Longest Night. His Problematic Orchestra will perform its annual concert at the Yukon Arts Centre on Dec. 20 and 21 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“It’s a different theme this year,” Janke said over the phone, a couple weeks out from the concert. “We are trying to come up with ideas and we wanted to play some more Canadian music and give locals a chance to develop that theme … old classics for a certain generation, but also TV show themes, or other themes, or issues. Political issues that manifest in music.”

What started as a story-telling event back in 1995 has turned into a much-anticipated event to mark the Solstice. Janke says many of the 26 musicians are returning musicians (it can be tough to find new talent interested in playing classical music in the North), including Andrea McColeman. 

McColeman, who plays percussion and accordion, has been part of the orchestra since the 90s.

“I have played so much interesting music with this group and have stretched my limits of what I thought was possible to do in music,” she says of the reason she keeps returning. “I have been able to play with some amazing players, both from here as well as special guests from Outside (including Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee, Toronto vocalist Mary Margaret O’Hara and Vancouver violinist Jesse Zubot.

“The most valuable thing has been having the opportunity to write for the orchestra. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity over the years to compose and arrange music for this eclectic group and I have learned so much from the experience. Daniel is a great mentor and being able to hear top-notch musicians play what you have written right away is a bonus!”

Janke says there will be new pieces this year from himself, as well as ensemble members Emily Tredger, Paul Lucas, Scott Maynard and Keitha Clark, who plays violin. 

This is Clark’s first year with the orchestra. She says taking on the orchestration of a piece is no small feat. 

“The piece I arranged and adapted is called “Big Bear,” she says. “It was composed by respected Saskatchewan Metis composer (and Order of Canada recipient) John Arcand. Big Bear was a well-respected Cree Chief who spoke out against signing Treaty Six because he knew it would not benefit his people. Generations later, my family farmed on land given up by First Nations when they signed Treaty Six. As I was orchestrating this piece, I was thinking of all of the people on the prairies, where history is a living thing and the effects of treaties signed more 100 years ago are still profoundly felt today.”

She says the program for the night is diverse and represents a cross-section of musical styles and cultural perspectives in a way that is entertaining and thought-provoking.

Included in that is a performance by the Kwanlin Dághàlhaan K’e Dancers. Janke says they will be singing and dancing songs they have written and performed in the past.

“We are adding arrangements, trying to wrap the orchestra around them.”

Janke says it’s been a challenge, mostly because it’s tough to get all 26 musicians together in the weeks before Christmas (“everybody’s really busy.”), but they always manage to find the time. It’s a fun event for the community, which doesn’t often get to see such large ensemble performances due to the cost of bringing up a band of such size, but also for the musicians. It’s an annual effort to challenge their skills with something new

“The performance is an occasion to rise to,” he says.

Tickets are $30. Click here for Dec. 20 tickets and here for Dec. 21. Or you can purchase them at the Yukon Arts Centre box office.