Images and improvisation from the True North

Wendy Elliott
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Photographer Nick Newbery and well-known musician Peter Anthony Togni are combining talents for a third season of True North concerts. They are coming to Denton Hall in Wolfville on Feb. 15.

Newbery spent three decades living and teaching in places like Taloyoak, Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq.

In Nunavut, he worked with at-risk aboriginal youth and took pictures.

Capturing as much of Inuit life as possible, he travelled broadly in the territory. Newbery was present at many history-making northern events, in 1999 he was the government photographer at the creation of Nunavut.

Retired since 2005 and living outside Halifax, Newbery teaches would-be teachers to succeed in the North. He offers northern studies courses at Mount St. Vincent University and runs a Nunavut teacher practicum program. He is currently working on a plan to bequeath a set of his entire photo collection to the government of Nunavut, so he returns to the North on a regular basis.

Three years ago, it was music maven Barbara Butler who connected the photographer Newbery and Togni, a Juno-nominated musician and composer. She saw how Newbery’s photographs of the eastern Arctic might be accompanied by Togni’s improvised music.

Togni had lunch with Newbery while on a break from recording his then-CBC Radio 2 Sunday morning show, Choral Concert. The two men from different backgrounds clicked.

The two Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal winners began in Lunenburg, then did three more concerts last year. Three more are planned for this winter, including one in Wolfville.

Newbery wants people south of 60 to know about the Arctic from the pictures he took in the Central and Eastern Arctic between 1975 and 2003.

“It’s one-third of our country and most people know nothing about the North,” he said.

The Arctic region, he says, gets into your soul. It offers the kind of freedom that allows for thinking outside the box. Newbery would like to spark more public interest.

“It’s one big wide open book. If you want you can open a B and B or start a charter airline.”

While he lived there, his often went out on the land with his students, learning from them. Newbery captured everything from flowers in summer to the caribou hunt.

“Nobody else was doing it,” he said recently.

Today, the eastern Arctic is in flux. Newbery calls it a ‘new hybrid world,’ where traditional survival skills and modern technology coexist.

He believes with issues of global warming, mineral development, and sovereignty concerns over the Northwest Passage, the region should be on Canadians’ radar.

For over 20 years, Togni has been a broadcaster, hosting CBC radio programs like That Time of the Night and the award winning Stereo Morning, Weekender. Currently, in addition to performing, he’s been teaching composition and musical culture part time at the Acadia School of Music. He likes the idea of combining disciplines and loves to improvise.

“I’ve been doing it since I opened my left eye,” he chuckles.

But this production is not totally improvised. Togni has themes he will explore like the landscape, the animals and the people. The images prompt feelings.

“It’s like jazz,” he says of the one-of-a-kind evening. “It’s never the same twice.”

He will be using a piano and an electric instrument that offers synthesized effects.  

Togni, who says he grew up on Mile 42 of the Alaska Highway in Northern B.C., views True North as an experience where he goes on a journey and the audience goes along with him.

True North examines themes not seen in the south, including northern icons like ice and icebergs, flowers, inukshuks, shelter, equipment, clothing, travel, animals, hunting and fishing.

The show’s format allows for an introduction beforehand, Newbery says, coupled with a question and answer session afterward. He hopes it will provide both an experience and an education for those attending.

The Acadia University concert is set for 7:30 p.m.

Organizations: CBC, Mount St. Vincent University, Acadia School of Music Acadia University

Geographic location: Nunavut, Arctic, Wolfville Taloyoak Qikiqtarjuaq Halifax Juno Lunenburg Northwest Passage

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Recent comments

  • Marcia McReynolds
    January 20, 2014 - 20:10

    Where could I get recordings or a video of this program? I am an improvisatory singer who has dreamed of doing something similar, perhaps singing the soundtrack of a movie, or paintings in a gallery. (I see music as if it were paintings in progress). I am fascinated by what you are doing. Please, more more more!