Marie-Claire Saindon has composed a moving choral adaptation of a poem by Mahvash Sabet titled “The Imaginary Garden”. The poem was published in Prison Poems, a collection smuggled out Evin prison during Sabet’s unjust 10 year imprisonment for being a Baha’i and for being one of the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran (known as the Yaran). Marie-Claire’s composition won the 2018 Eastern Horizon Choral Writing Competition, which was hosted and performed by Choirs For Change, Nova Scotia, Canada, on June 14th 2018.
Baha’i Blog: Marie-Claire, could you please tell us a little about yourself and your background as a composer?
I come from a fairly artistic family: my father is a painter, and my mother was a singer-songwriter, my brother is a pianist. Though she chose to be a full-time mother once my brother and I were born, she still composed and gave creative workshops, and would often include us in the process. I got to write a bit for a few creative collaborative projects while in high school (Nancy Campbell Academy in Stratford, Ontario). However, my first official composition was a music theory assignment in grade 12 while attending an arts high school. I decided to compose for that assignment, even though I could have chosen to do an analysis instead (which most of my classmates ended up doing). I thought, “Heck, analysing vs. creating? As if that’s even a question!”. My second composition was a (mandatory) choir composition competition launched in all of our theory classes. Canada’s very own well-known choral composer, Stephen Hatfield, was giving workshops in our town. As he visited my school during the time of the competition, he was made to be our competition’s jury and to pick the winner, which to my great surprise was me. I’d never really composed much before – but I seemed to have discovered that, though my theory and my technique were far from perfect, I actually felt like I had something to say at that moment, and composing for choir gave me a voice. From then on, I knew I wanted to compose no matter what. It took quite a bit of time for me to go through a few music composition degrees in university, which focused more on avant-guard intellectual music. It also took me over fifteen years to really shed my false beliefs of what I thought others expected me to write. However, once I came out of that mental prison I’d inadvertently erected for myself, my goal slowly became quite clear: to keep composing for choirs. More specifically, I thrive on finding beautiful or powerful poetry that truly resonates with me, and I do my best to do justice to them by interpreting their meaning through music. Working with the choirs to bring the pieces to life, from their first read-through to the concert, is, to me, where all the magic happens (in short – when the piece is out of my hands!). I can safely say I’ve finally found my voice as a composer.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to create this piece?
A group called “Choirs for Change” initiated a choral composition competition in Halifax during the spring of 2018. Their mandate was to approach composers from underrepresented communities in the choral world for this competition, and I was told I could apply since I was a woman. I definitely didn’t feel underrepresented as an individual – I’d been winning a lot of competitions recently. However, my conductor friend who had sent me the information about the competition mentioned, “Well, what about composing something that represents your Baha’i community?” It didn’t take long for me to remember that some of the Yaran were finally being released from the notorious Evin prison just a few months earlier. And so of course my mind went straight to one leader in particular: Mrs Mahvash Sabet. I knew she had covertly published a collection of poems during her 10 years of incarceration, thanks to the help of her family and friends that were allowed to visit her after her initial two years in solitary confinement. And that’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the competition. This was going to be my way to celebrate their release and to encourage any listener to persevere with hope during trials and tribulations – which is the message shared in Mrs Sabet’s poem that I chose to set to music.I had a wonderful time flipping back and forth through Mrs Sabet’s book and had many potential poems I could have set to music, but “The Imaginary Garden” is the one that kept calling back to me, as it is filled with so much hope. It also has such wonderful natural and active imagery, which I always look for in a poem that I’m about to set to music. An unexpected twist to this project is that I now also have a lovely dialogue with the owners of George Ronald, Publishers (Prison Poem‘s publishers).In the end, I won the competition. The recording I have on SoundCloud is the concert recording of the competition in June 2018. I’ve also just recently re-arranged it for a female/upper-voice choir formation (it had been originally composed for Choirs for Change, the mixed choir that had organised Eastern Horizons Choral Writing Competition, as you can hear from the original recording). I’m excited to have Chœur Adleisia perform this version of the piece during the first weekend of May 2019 in Montreal.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Marie-Claire! You can listen to more of Marie-Claire’s composition here on Soundcloud.