Rediscovering hope at the Banff Centre

I just returned to Vancouver from a three-week creative residency at the Banff Centre. The 15-hour bus ride through Beautiful British Columbia gave me some time to take stock of the last 18 months of my life. Since August 2011, I have moved between Canada’s coasts three times, officially held three addresses plus four transient ones, attended two composition workshops, gave three public talks, and wrote 39 minutes of music in addition to completing a 36-minute chamber opera. My three-months’ stay in Ukraine last fall, though offering some incredible opportunities to hear authentic performances of folk music, was a psychological nightmare from which I came back feeling broken and depressed.

In that mind state, the Banff Centre, despite everything it has to offer, seemed like yet another place to travel to, yet another place to have to work very hard at. I was still trying to finish my chamber opera. I was terribly behind on a piece I was supposed to be workshopping with the Thin Edge New Music Collective and was absolutely dreading having to face them. I was too worn out to enjoy the prospect of yet another three weeks away from home.

But I went. And it ended up being exactly what I needed.

In Ukraine, there’s a saying that without your piece of paper, you are just a piece of poop. This idea infects almost every aspect of life. Going from that to the Banff Centre, I suddenly found myself in an environment where everything and everyone makes you feel supremely important. You have incredible facilities at your disposal and, most importantly, you are surrounded by an intense concentration of talent and energy. It’s absolutely infectious. The residency takes you away from the daily grind and reminds you why you work so hard at this ephemeral idea of music. And it makes you want to work even harder to reach your ultimate goal.

I came to the centre totally exhausted, but managed to write a 5-minute chamber piece amidst constant trips to Calgary for opera rehearsals. I worked like mad, but there is no way I could have done that at home. Somehow I came back to Vancouver feeling more rested and energized than I did when I left three weeks ago. Then, my only goal was to finish my current projects and hibernate indefinitely. Now I am looking forward to facing new challenges and new pieces.

The Banff Centre is truly a magical place and I very much hope that the current restructuring it’s going through will not take these residencies away from us. The centre is not just “inspiring creativity,” as all the signs on campus proclaim. It inspires a kind of radiantly innocent hope for the rest of your life as an artist.

In my hut with the lovely ladies from the Canadian Federation of University Women, the organization that generously funded part of my Banff Centre experience.

3 thoughts on “Rediscovering hope at the Banff Centre

  1. Anna,

    What wonderful words of inspiration! Yes, there are certainly times when the creative spirit is crushed within us, and we feel that we will never see projects through. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to return from Ukraine feeling psychologically damaged, knowing you had so much on your plate ahead of you. You have proven to yourself and others, however, that you are more than worthy of being who you are, where you are. It was a privilege to work on your piece, and I look forward to hearing more of your works.

    • Deedee, it was so rewarding to work on the opera with all of you. I always feel so lucky when I see performers working so hard to learn something of mine. The rehearsal process for the opera, as exhausting as it was sometimes, was one of the things that helped get me through the rough times 🙂

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