All journeys lead, eventually, to the same place. But the voyage that Mark Haney and Diane Park have planned for this summer solstice will take us deep into the heart of Mountain View Cemetery, whence we’ll emerge transfigured but alive.
Haney and Park—the artistic director and general manager, respectively, of the Little Chamber Music Series That Could—are artists in residence at the East Van necropolis, a green oasis in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood. And along with songwriter Sarah Wheeler and choreographer Caroline Liffmann, they’ve opted to centre this year’s solstice celebrations around the notion of the journey, whether inner or outer.
For composer and upright-bass virtuoso Haney, there’s an obvious spark for the curiously titled Life Is Not a Horse Farm: his 2015 trek along the famous Camino de Santiago in rural Spain.
“I knew the whole time I was there I was going to write some kind of music about it,” he says in a telephone interview from his East Vancouver home. “I knew I was going to write a piece, and that it would be in stages, because the walk is in stages, and at some point it seemed right to do it for summer solstice. And the title comes from a German speaker I walked with for a while; that was her expression for ‘Shit happens,’ basically. Something would go wrong, and she would say, 'Well, life is not a pony farm.' ”
Haney laughs, but admits that his pilgrimage had a transformative effect, leading him to create a string-quartet score that is arguably simpler yet more expressive than earlier, narrative-driven works such as his Terry Fox–inspired 3339, which will be reprised at Mountain View on June 28.
“I’m trying not to analyze myself as much as I used to,” he says. “I mean, I’m still kind of a neurotic freak; don’t get me wrong! It’s not like I’ve found the Zen place or anything. But in writing this music, I’m really just trying to find that headspace from the Camino. It's this really inward thing that's new to me, and I'm enjoying that.”
Costume designer and visual artist Park is contributing a photographic self-portrait, but it’s more of an installation than a simple selfie. In the tradition of Renaissance portraiture, it will incorporate symbolic materials—beeswax, papery wasps’ nests, and silk, she says—and it will be placed at the end of a restful, urn-lined, and tree-shaded laneway. But this calm setting is at least partially at odds with the work’s psychic reality.
“This past year, from last solstice to this, has been kind of a year from hell for me, personally,” Park reveals. “My relationship ended, and my best friend died of cancer, and shortly after that I had to have surgery for something that looked like it was probably cancer, but luckily was not. And then my mother died, which was absolutely brutal, and in January my brother was buried in, but not killed by, the avalanche in McBride. It's been a very difficult year.”
Yet she, too, has emerged from her trials strengthened, not destroyed. “I’ve come out okay,” she says. “And part of the reason for that is that I have these artistic outlets, and these huge connections with community arts groups, like with this solstice event. Solstice has been a major factor in my feeling healthy.”
Just how healthy can be seen in the fact that Haney is Park’s former life partner. Despite their domestic estrangement, they’re continuing to work on Mountain View projects together, including a June 25 performance of Brian Eno’s ambient classic Discreet Music by Toronto’s Contact Contemporary Music ensemble.
Life is never a pony farm, but the journey goes on.
The Little Chamber Music Series That Could presents Summer Solstice at Mountain View Cemetery on Sunday (June 19).