Emily Armour, a classical pianist and piano instructor from Cobble Hill, on Vancouver Island, has composed a suite called Stories from Yugoslavia: Reflections on Canadian Peacekeeping.
With Remembrance Day right around the corner, the recently recorded work is particularly timely.
The pieces are for solo piano and Armour says she was inspired by Canadian peacekeeping veterans who served in Croatia and Bosnia.
“I have been very fortunate to learn from these veterans and the subject matter is deeply personal. Their honesty, willingness to share, and patience, while I worked on this project has opened my eyes and helped me understand a very significant part of Canadian history. It is my hope that this work will inspire questions from those like me who once knew little about this conflict, and provoke further inquiry into veterans issues relating to peacekeeping.”
The four movements listed in order are ‘No Birds in Sarajevo,’ ‘Elegy,’ ‘The Pocket,’ and ‘Epilogue’.
It was recorded in one live take at Silverside Sound Recording Studio in Cobble Hill. In the video caption there is a short poetic fragment written by the composer’s colleague, Lucas McKinnon:
“Heavy arms anticipate
the burden of time.
As the last leaves fall,
we walk into pale woods.”
Armour said she never planned on composing the work.
“I’ve just been fortunate enough to know a few veterans who served overseas and hearing them talk about their experiences has really inspired me actually. I got my masters in music a few years ago but I never composed during that time period. Composing is a new thing for me.”
“I’ve written for my students a bit — a couple of pieces that are more accessible for kids — but I haven’t written any pieces like this one.”
Armour said she was inspired by her partner, who served overseas in Croatia, and other friends who are veterans.
“I’ve just been really lucky to hear their stories. It’s really opened my eyes about what peacekeeping really means and what it has done to the veterans who have done that particular thing.”
Bosnia and Croatia are not conflicts that are on everybody’s lips but the peacekeepers who went to the Balkans were all marked by that experience.
“That’s maybe why I was kind of moved by it. These veterans who went there saw a lot of terrible things. They experienced PTSD. I think we need to acknowledge their sacrifices and honour them. I think it’s sometimes overlooked. That particular aspect of the military — peacekeeping — is misunderstood sometimes. Just to hear them talk about it highlighted how little I know about it.”
Listening to the music and looking at the picture that accompanies the video (which is of Armour’s partner) certainly makes the listener think about what happened there.
“That’s what I was hoping for. I didn’t really grow up learning about Canadians in Bosnia and Croatia, and I didn’t know how significant it was for the people living there and for the veterans who went there. My whole point was that people will hear and have questions about it, what it has been like for them, and maybe, if they know a veteran, to ask them about it. It’s a significant time.”
The poetic comment by McKinnon — the owner of Silverside Recording Studio in Cobble Hill — was inspired by his hearing the music.
“He also writes poems, and he came up with that fragment while I was playing. He’s very insightful. He did a great job, understanding what I was playing.”