April 29th & 30th, 2020
Jack Singer Concert Hall
Arts Commons


Napi and the Rock

A traditional Blackfoot story is coming to life with music both onstage and in classrooms. Napi and the Rock, a collaboration involving the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society, not only teaches children about local Indigenous culture, but also introduces them to the instruments of the Orchestra. The concert will be performed for elementary age students in the Jack Singer Concert Hall and live-streamed to classrooms across the province in April.

“This collaboration gave us an opportunity to get insight on how to work together to make something that everybody wants to celebrate,” says Associate Conductor Karl Hirzer of the Calgary Philharmonic. “Making Treaty 7 taught us how to do this.”

Justin Many Fingers, Artistic Director of Making Treaty 7, says the society was approached by the Calgary Philharmonic about working together and those conversations led to Napi and the Rock. Napi the trickster is a familiar character in Blackfoot culture whose stories have been told to children for generations, and the Rock refers to a glacial erratic near Okotoks known as the Big Rock.

Unlike the shape-shifting tricksters of other Indigenous cultures, Napi is a man who struggles with his impulses when making decisions, which can lead to unexpected results. “The Elders always refer to Napi as those good energies and bad energies in all of us,” says Many Fingers. “Ultimately, the choices we make have a larger impact than we think they do — and that’s why things are the way they are.”

The story has strong ties to nature, painting a picture of the Blackfoot territories. As the Rock it makes its way through Drumheller and Calgary to Okotoks, it encounters the animals who live there and changes their lives forever. For example, the beavers in the story have thick beautiful tails that are the envy of the animal world, but when they band together to stop the rock, it rolls right through them and flattens their tails. Eventually the rock comes to a stop near Okotoks — a Blackfoot word for ‘rock.’

One of the first steps in creating the education concert, according to the Calgary Philharmonic Associate Conductor Karl Hirzer and Education + Outreach Manager Alysha Bulmer, involved learning a few lessons themselves. The pair spent time with Many Fingers and three Elders who talked about the significance of stories and the environment. “We wanted to learn about the culture and history and perspective,” says Hirzer. “It was really interesting and enlightening. After talking to the Elders, we were captivated by the role storytelling plays in their culture, and the respect they have for nature.”

They also talked about what shape the concert could take, and decided on having a narrator tell the story, while the music conveys the mood and characters. Several people helped in the early stages, then the project was turned over to Cris Derksen, a Juno-nominated cellist and composer

who combines her classical background and Indigenous ancestry to create new music. Derksen combined the story with the musical score, which features an overture by Sonny-Ray Day Rider, an Indigenous composer and pianist studying music at the University of Lethbridge. In January, the Orchestra was introduced to the music at a note reading. “Hearing it played for the first time, getting that first listen, I was really happy with it,” Hirzer adds.

Justin Many Fingers says there are many lessons to be learned from the story of Napi and the Rock as well as the collaboration with the Calgary Philharmonic. “As we move forward in this world of reconciliation, it’s such a poignant story that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can relate to,” he adds. “It’s bringing us together in a celebration of unity to help us better understand each other.”

Performance Information

29 April 2020 / 10AM + 11:30AM
30 April 2020 / 10:30AM + 12PM

Open to all educators and students from public, separate, private, charter, and home schools

30 April 2020 / 2:30PM
Open to social service agencies, corporate employees, and the general public

Jack Singer Concert Hall
Arts Commons
205 8 Avenue SE, Calgary
Students $15
Chaperone Ticket Free with every 8 tickets purchased
Additional Chaperone Tickets $15
Adults $25

The 2:30PM performance on 30 April 2020 will be live-streamed worldwide for free thanks to the generosity of Inter Pipeline (IPL). Visit calgaryphil.com/live-stream.
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