The University of British Columbia Archives recently assisted the Canadian Music Centre in British Columbia in the production of a short documentary film on the work of composer, ethnomusicologist, and UBC School of Music professor Elliot Weisgarber.
The film is part of CMC BC’s Legacy Composer Film Series, celebrating the first generation of Canadian composers to write Western concert music on the West Coast of Canada. The films each honour one of five B.C. composers, in addition to Weisgarber: Murray Adaskin, Barbara Pentland, Rudolf Komorous, and Jean Coulthard. According to CMC BC, “Each of them contributed something unique, completely new and remarkable to the nation’s cultural mosaic, both through their body of work and the living legacy of students they inspired”.
The six-minute film, directed by John Bolton, is titled Aki-No-Hinode (Japanese for “Autumn Sunrise”), after one of Weisgarber’s short works for flute and piano. Weisgarber’s daughter, Karen Suzanne Smithson, discovered the previously-unknown piece in her parents’ garage in 2002 while sorting through some of her father’s belongings looking for manuscripts to donate to the Archives.
Throughout the film, the sparse notes of Weisgarber’s composition, played on flute and piano, can be heard in the background, while the camera focusses on the manuscripts. An emotional highlight is Smithson’s story of her discovery of the Aki-No-Hinode manuscript, and playing it “possibly for the first time”.
Aki-No-Hinode was shot in the Mackenzie Seminar Room in UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, with additional scenes showing the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) where the Weisgarber manuscripts are stored. Karen Smithson and archivist Erwin Wodarczak are featured. Smithson talks about her father and his work, his fascination with Asian music, and how as a composer he was a pioneer in incorporating Asian (in particular Japanase) influences and instrumentation into Western concert music. Wodarczak describes how archival collections are stored and can be retrieved from the ASRS. “There’s a story behind every document, behind every collection” like Weisgarber’s, he says, and describes how gratifying it is when such collections are entrusted to the Archives for safe-keeping.
The film had its debut at an Elliot Weisgarber celebration at the CMC BC’s Creative Hub in Vancouver in April. It can now be viewed on-line. The Aki-No-Hinode manuscript is one of 450 compositions by Elliot Weisgarber included in his collection, consisting of textual records and audio recordings, held in the University Archives.