By Yazmeen Kanji

An established composer of opera, orchestra and song, Ian Cusson was one of 8 participants in Tapestry’s 2018 Composer-Librettist Laboratory (LIBLAB) where Tapestry operas get their start. Ian was impressed with the unique opportunity that the program provides to create new work. Traditionally, creating opera is expensive and opera development requires a significant amount of time. LIBLAB lights the spark with the creation of a total of sixteen different potential projects in the span of just one week. With less time to obsess over details there is more opportunity to discover what you are creatively capable of, as Ian discovered.

Ian recognizes that his Metis background exerts a profound influence on his music but he consciously avoids using indigenized sounds that are not authentic to his experience. Instead he is developing his own voice in his music. He has also explored contemporary political Metis issues with Indigenous writers. When beginning a project, Ian takes his inspiration from the text to shape the structure of his piece. He imagines the voices of the character(s). If a character is not present in a particular piece, he creates one in his imagination to help inspire the composition.

Ian applied to participate in LIBLAB expecting an exciting challenge that might verge on terrifying. He was eager to engage with different collaborators and discover how the process varies when writing with four different librettists. One of the unexpected results was that he found that having the time-pressure paradoxically evoked a new freedom by forcing him to not overthink particular musical decisions. The pleasant surprise of being able to compose 25 minutes of music in a week, proved the incredible capacity of the human mind. Despite expecting an intense experience, it really hit him when he tiredly sent a music piece he wrote one night and minutes later thought, “what did I just write?”. A couple of times, coming to rehearsals, Ian would hear a piece he wrote being performed and not realize until several bars into the piece why it sounded so familiar.

Forming new professional relationships has always been an important part of the program and as Ian spoke to the bond the participants shared, “We had the same challenges, the same assignments, the same crunch, the same sleeplessness. All the pressures were the same and so I feel really close to these people and that is a huge support in a very lonely world of composing which is often a solo profession.” Ian hopes to develop lasting partnerships and relationships with the other creators in the program this season and found that LIBLAB exposed him to alternative compositional processes, used by other composers in the program, that he will explore in future.

Yazmeen Kanji is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Cinema Studies, Equity Studies and Peace Conflict and Justice Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She is an emerging filmmaker and the founder of a filmmaking organization called Films With A Cause.