The Society

Carvery, Blue Engine String Quartet,

Gray present Mosaic

Halifax Herald | Feb 22, 2010

AFRICVILLE, the historic settlement on the northwest shoulder of the Halifax peninsula, was bulldozed out of physical existence in the late ’60s. But no one can bulldoze the poignant memories from the minds of those who grew up there.

Herald Photo
Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogical Society, at a rehearsal for Maritime Mosaic: Let It Shine concert, will read his poem We are Africville during the concert with Halifax’s Blue Engine String Quartet on Tuesday in Pier 21’s Kenneth C. Rowe Heritage Hall. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / Staff)

Irvine Carvery is president of the Africville Genealogical Society. For several decades, he and society members have carried on a fight for reparations and recognition of the community. Carvery was 13 at the time of the expulsion.

His poem, We Are Africville, is the centrepiece of the Maritime Mosaic: Let It Shine concert to be presented by Halifax’s Blue Engine String Quartet on Tuesday night in Pier 21’s Kenneth C. Rowe Heritage Hall.
"It started out being an all-Canadian composer concert," Blue Engine’s second violinist Anne Simons said last week. "There are so many good composers in the Maritimes, we had a brainstorming session and asked ourselves, ‘why not do an all-Maritime composer concert?’ "So we are playing quartets by Steve Tittle, Peter Allen and Peter Togni. Then we decided to commission Scott Macmillan to write us something, a piece for percussionist D’Arcy Gray and string quartet."

Looking for a focus for the commissioned piece, and realizing the concert would take place in Black History Month, Macmillan talked with Carvery and found his poem We Are Africville in a book called The Spirit of Africville. It was published in 1992 to commemorate an exhibition on Africville organized by Mary Sparling and Shelagh MacKenzie and staged at Mount Saint Vincent University in 1989. Carvery’s poem is profoundly touching in its simplicity. It captures Africville in nine, two-line verses of childhood memories. "We are the little children who takes their first dives into the water from the big rock down Kildare’s Field," reads one.

The plural noun "children" doesn’t agree with the singular verb "takes" but, grammar-cops aside, it creates immediacy and a simplicity that goes to the heart of childhood memory. "My kids grew up on stories of Africville," Carvery said. "They are as much Africville as I am now." As soon as Macmillan read the poem, he knew it was exactly what he was looking for.

"Irvine said he would be happy to read it during the performance. I thought this is ideal," he said last week. "The stanzas are quite happy childhood memories. I had already been thinking about writing something not so sad and tragic about Africville, something happier. This poem was perfect."

In his search for musical ideas, Macmillan remembered that Duke Ellington’s second wife, Mildred, though born in Boston, was the daughter of a former Africville resident. A popular idea in the community is that she was the Sophisticated Lady in Ellington’s memorable tune, though that is only one of several theories about which of several eligible sophisticated ladies the Duke had in mind.

"I did the usual composer stuff," Macmillan said, "turned Sophisticated Lady upside down. I actually put the book on the piano upside down but it’s quite disguised in my composition. Right off the top the first couple of notes are the last couple of notes of the bridge upside down and backwards and sped way up. All the way through I used that to generate themes."

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