Listening Room

07 IspiciwinIspiciwin
Luminous Voices; Andrew Balfour
Leaf Music LM267 (


Ispiciwin I

Rise up, my Love

Girls Hour

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Having had the good fortune to review both a CD (Nagamo) and a live performance of Andrew Balfour, the Toronto-based Cree composer and member of Fisher River First Nation, I looked forward to exploring Ispiciwin (Journey), a project on which Balfour serves as composer and creative lead. Once again, I was tremendously impressed. Impressed by both the ambition of the conceit of the project, as well as the resulting beautiful sonic capture from either the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University in Calgary, or the Chapel at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus Camrose, both fitting venues for this haunting and engaging set of new music.

A meaningful attempt in sound to explore the concept of artistic reconciliation, Ispiciwin pairs Balfour’s immense talent, creativity and insatiable desire to push musical borders with the vocal group Luminous Voices, Timothy Shantz artistic director, along with Jessica McMann on bass flute and Walter MacDonald White Bear on Native American courting flute. The result is an expansive set of new choral music sung in Cree that derives from, explores and celebrates various histories, backgrounds and extractions (from Sherryl Sewepagaham to Sofia Samatar to John Dowland). 

Although this recording most certainly does not prioritize a political agenda over the music, there is indeed something inherently political about the fact that, as Balfour acknowledges in the album’s liner notes, such a recording would have been virtually unthinkable some 30 years ago when he was coming up as a young choir boy and lover of Renaissance vocal music. The result writes important new voices into the canon of choral music and is recommended listening indeed. 

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