In 2020, Jessica McMann and her husband moved to Cochrane, a shift that had more of an impact than the musician and composer had perhaps been anticipating.
The flautist holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Calgary and was required to study composition as part of her course load. But it wasn’t until the pandemic that she began composing in earnest and delving into her culture, inspired by the view outside.
“Outside my studio window, I’m on the third floor, you can see the dusk happening from east to west because we are south-facing,” says McMann. “On the east, you have Cochrane, on the west, you have Morley and Star Ranch and the landscape of the reserve. In that moment of dusk – I just wrote it in that moment of seeing that change of colour. When I started working on the album, I started to reflect on what that meant. I looked at the pieces I already had written and I realized there was something about coming home, there’s something about my life as a Prairies person, as a Sixties Scoop adoptee, there is something about that journey. There is something about being from the Prairies and living on the Prairies and what does that mean to me as a Cree person.”
There is nothing on McMann’s new album, Prairie Dusk, to suggest she is a relative newbie to composing. The recording features McMann on flute and voice, American Navajo pianist Connor Chee, violist Holly Bhattacharya and Metis baritone Jonathon Adams but the compositions all came from McMann. This lineup will also be featured in an upcoming tour of western Canada, which includes an Oct. 29 show at Found Books in Cochrane.