Jamie Meyers-Riczu (University of Alberta), "Nature and the Construction of National Identity in Jean Coulthard’s The Pines of Emily Carr".

Landscape plays a central role in the construction of a Canadian national identity, and artists lie at the forefront of creating a national iconography that frames how people see and understand their country. Christopher Tilley’s work on the phenomenology of landscape describes how topographies can become non-verbal texts that take on symbolic meanings that people read and interpret like any other text. The idea of the Canadian wilderness, therefore, is not linked to a specific place, but constructed within the imagination— something internal and idealized. This paper analyses the opening and closing sections of The Pines of Emily Carr by Vancouver-born composer Jean Coulthard to examine the creation of a national identity through a musical representation of Canada’s landscape. Coulthard draws from her own experiences on the West Coast as well as Emily Carr’s journals and paintings to portray the images the Vancouver Island forests in its various moods through mimetic sounds including wind, birdcalls, and storms. Like Carr, Coulthard uses these external expressions of landscape to point to an idealized, internal spirit-world beyond the physical landscape. Coulthard’s compositional techniques, such as the embellishment of the narrated text with an alto voice, and an emphasis on mood and atmosphere attempt to move the listener from hearing a landscape to acknowledging its deeper symbolic significance. Although not overtly nationalistic, Coulthard’s piece examines the role of imagination in forming a collective vision of the landscape.


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