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Port Symphony A Hoot!

Quebecers tend to be a hardy lot, willing to go out in just about any kind of weather to listen to a free concert, so when the 2007 edition of the Port Symphony took place on a mild Sunday afternoon in early March, several hundred people turned out to enjoy it. This was the 13th annual Port Symphony, held on the waterfront of Montreal’s Old Port, and organized by the Pointe-à-Callière Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. Every year this event features a new composition incorporating the sounds of ships’ horns, train whistles and church bells.

Percussionist Merlin Ettore
The ships that take part in the symphony are lakers – vessels that in summer carry cargo on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and St. Lawrence River. Several lakers always spend the winter in the Old Port, locked in ice beside the piers. Besides the ships, two blue locomotives were parked on the railroad tracks that run through the port, ready to play their parts in the performance.

The opening act was a lively percussion piece, played on green metal drums, cymbals and a large sheet of aluminum. Montreal composer and drummer Merlin Ettore performed his original work with percussionist Joannie Labelle. The musicians, dressed in white jackets and pants and with their faces covered behind white ski masks, blended in with the snowy surroundings, but their beats were reminiscent of tropical, tribal lands.

Composer André Duchesne’s specially commissioned work featured an electric guitar in dialogue with the horns and whistles. On stage, guitarist Bernard Falaise made his instrument transmit a twangy morse code message, “Hello, New York, Montreal here. Come in, please!” The ships and locomotives across the street responded.
Musical ships

You never know just how this concert will turn out. The music may be blown away by the wind, or it may echo between the surrounding buildings. If you stand near the ships, you will have a very different experience than if you are close to the stage. And you may be comfortable or cold, depending on whether you are in the sun or exposed to the wind. Never mind, that’s all part of the fun!

Copyright Janice Hamilton 2007