Music alumna finds ways to showcase talent, explore Métis heritage during pandemic
'Everyone, myself included, is on a journey with finding their own path'.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and play, Desautels Faculty of Music alumna and rising star Julie Lumsden [BMus(Perf)/15] has continued to find ways to showcase her talent and explore her Métis heritage.
Last fall, Lumsden worked with Against The Grain Theatre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) appearing in a video version of Handel’s Messiah called Messiah/Complex featuring soloists and choirs from every province and territory. It streamed online from December 2020 through January 2021. The show was even twice featured in the New York Times.
Lumsden also started a social media account aimed at showcasing Métis culture and artists in Winnipeg. UM Today caught up with Lumsden to hear about Indigenous performances she’s been involved with, and to find out more about her Instagram initiative, the Métis Meeting Place.
Tell us about your experience shooting Messiah/Complex.
Funnily enough, even though I was the representative for Manitoba, I was living in Edmonton during the creation of Messiah/Complex. I got the opportunity to meet Reneltta Arluk, my director, in Banff to shoot the video portion. Being a prairie gal, I always stand in humble awe of mountains. I wanted to be near the mountains as a symbol of strength, and resilience. I loved the opportunity to show off the stunning land we have in Canada, and the responsibility we have to that land.
What was it like to be a part of a production that updated Messiah to include Indigenous voices from across Canada?
I was so honoured to have been asked to be a part of this production of Messiah/Complex. I haven’t sung a lot of classical music since graduating, so being able to honour my heritage and represent Manitoba and Treaty One was a big pull for me to participate. Joel Ivany and Reneltta Arluk really gave each artist such autonomy in regard to approaching this piece. To be able to hear Indigenous languages set against this piece is revolutionary. I am so humbled to have been a small part of this momentous piece.
What was it like to perform this traditional piece of Christmas music during the pandemic when people couldn’t gather to attend performances in person?
The arts have taken such a hit with this pandemic. I’ve had almost two years of work cancelled. Some things have moved online, and while it is not the same as sitting in a theatre taking in live art, it must do for now. Without the pandemic, I don’t know if Messiah/Complex could have happened. It united artists from across Canada, in their own communities, in their own languages, and melded them with the TSO in a free, accessible film for all to view. That in itself is such a gift, especially during a holiday season that was unlike any other we have had before.
Messiah is a tradition for a lot of families, it is a musical event in almost every city, whether that is at the symphony, or a pub sing along. To be able to bring this piece of art into everyone’s living rooms and connect our country at a time of mass divide and isolation was really meaningful to me. It meant so much to me that my grandmothers, who I cannot visit right now, were able to see my face and hear me sing. I hope it was a positive experience for others as well. I can’t wait to make art in person one day soon!
Tell us about some of the Indigenous productions you’ve been involved with.
I’ve had the opportunity to portray three Indigenous women on stage in Sarah Ballenden by Maureen Hunter at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, The Flats/Les Flats by Ginny Collins at Prairie Theatre Exchange/Cercle Moliere and Only Drunks and Children Tell The Truth by Drew Hayden Taylor at Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay.
What does it mean to be Métis and perform in an Indigenous production?
A memory that stands out to me, was performing in Sarah Ballenden, a true story of a strong Métis woman in Fort Garry. Part of the play spoke about the family of the Ballendens/Ballendines, a line of which my family comes from. I was backstage for this moment and had chills every time this scene came around. It was an overwhelming feeling to be telling the story of your literal family on a stage only blocks away from where the actual events of history take place. It reminded me of the huge honour and responsibility it is to be a storyteller, I think of that feeling often.
What have you learned about yourself from preparing for Indigenous roles and productions?
I’ve learned that everyone, myself included is on a journey with finding their own path, and part of that path is your identity. The journey is different for us all, and sometimes we trip on our way, but being able to be a part of Indigenous art and theatre has shown me how integral community is to finding my path. I am grateful and grounded by my community of friends, artists, family and loved ones.
Do you have a favorite memory or moment you experienced while performing an Indigenous role?
My favourite moments have been the time shared with new friends, a feeling of instant connection and community!
How did the Métis Meeting Place come to be?
While in lockdown, spending more and more time on social media, I was looking for a space that was Métis-centered, and couldn’t find one, so I figured I would create one, if only for myself. I post bi-weekly, one #michifmonday post where I can connect with the language of my ancestors in an active and accessible way, and a historical or art-based post, highlighting our history, community, art, and resources.
What are the goals of the Métis Meeting Place?
I’d love to be able to give visibility and a platform for Métis artists. I would love for it to become a place where Métis artists and community members can connect.
What have you discovered after starting the Métis Meeting Place?
The beauty of the Michif language. The complexity of what it means to be Métis. The many faces, languages, identities and sides of what being Métis means. The endless journey of knowing who I am and trying to do my best for my community.
Follow and learn more about the Métis Meeting Place on Instagram at instagram.com/metismeetingplace.