Monday, October 21, 2013

Canada's music: Maria Dunn

Emigration, immigration. The choice or circumstance that brings one to make a living and a life in a country not one’s native place. How to live, what to learn, what to keep from home, what to let go, what to change. These are ideas debated by lawmakers, in community gatherings, in churches, in homes, and in the thoughts of those who travel. In the ideas of artists, too: in her album Piece By Piece Maria Dunn distills voices and ideas and thoughts on these ideas and on the lives of those who live them out day by day

Dunn, who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, has often looked to the intersections of history and social justice as inspiration for her songs, The music on Piece by Piece draws on material Dunn came by in interviews with women who worked at a clothing factory in Edmonton over its ninety three years history, from 1911 to 2004. The women came from countries across the globe, from eastern Europe, from Viet Nam, from Italy, from Ukraine, from China, from rural Alberta and other places in Canada.

Pray for my safety on the journey
I’ll send word from the other side

-- from the song I Cannot Tell You (the whole story)

click on the album cover image or the text link to hear samples of the music

As Dunn weaves their stories, we hear of a woman who wrote to her World War II soldier in Italian while those on the line helped her learn English and a union leader,originally from Ukraine who went to Toronto to confront company board members. There’s a song of hope and resilience based on a lullabye a woman from Viet Nam sang during an interview and a song called Speed Up, which with words and music captures the rhythms of the workday and the thoughts of women whose hands and minds did the work of making clothing, and another called Blue Lung, which finds a woman thinking about one of the consequences of such work.

There is connection, there's distance, the family, there's friendship and weathering all sorts of change in these stories,. There’s a song of called Farewell, occasioned by the thoughts of those who’d worked together for years when they learned that their factory would be closing.

“Day by day and side by side, our common ground ensured, we stitched together more than just the work,” Dunn sings.

Dunn has a gift for both words and melody, shown on these songs in the ways she adds flavors of the sounds of different countries while maintaining a through line of song and story bringing together these elements in much the way the women from different countries worked side by side in the factory. Dunn is herself an immigrant to Canada, “though my situation was very different -- I was born in Scotland, and my family emigrated to Canada when I was a baby, and my father had a good job,” she says. “Still, I think that has helped me understand their feelings and their stories.”

Dunn, who plays guitar and accordion as well in addition to singing, has an inviting storyteller’s way with her voice, and her melodies tell engaging stories on their own. She’s well supported here by producer Shannon Johnson, who plays violin, and other gifted folk who sit on sitar, bass, cello, and other instruments in spare yet atmospheric backing.

You may also wish to see
music of Canada
sounds of Cape Breton
Maria Dunn’s web site

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Sheryl said...

Your writing and descriptions are beautiful; no doubt as nice as the music you describe.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Jane Louise Boursaw said...

So many of your music notes sound like they'd make great documentaries, including this one. - Jane, the Movie Girl

9:34 AM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

good eye. this music was actually written as part of a multimedia project on the lives of workers at an Edmonton clothing factory, which is now closed

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Brette @ PuttingItAllontheTable said...

I've often thought about what it must have been like to be an immigrant and recently visited a coffin ship replica in Ireland, that carried Irish to America during the potato famine. When you consider what people left behind and the risks they took, it is truly astounding.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Alexandra said...

This post felt so appropriate as I was just editing my dad's memoir, which deals with reversal of fortune when he left Russia after the Revolution and made his way in the USA.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous ruth pennebaker said...

I agree with Jane -- your descriptions are so vivid that I could "see" all these stories. Can't wait to go to this link.

5:56 PM  

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