NACO’s Canada 150 tour: Hip hop with two clarinets and a viola

Sean Rice (holding clarient) and Paul Casey (playing viola) work with hip hop artists during rehearsal for a Friday night show in the Pavilion in Halifax. Photo: Peter Robb

HALIFAX • The Halifax Pavilion has seen a lot of shows in more than two decades delivered by bands like Wintersleep, Alexisonfire and Sum 41, but it’s likely been a long time since two clarinets and a viola have appeared on its stage.

The Pavilion is a cinderblock space near Citadel Hill that holds about 200 sweaty bodies who are usually moving to some hip hop, punk or metal music with the volume cranked right up.

On Friday night, there was some pretty fine hip hop. But it was with a different kind of back-up band that included Sean Rice, the NAC Orchestra’s second clarinet and NACO’s Paul Casey on viola. They played alongside the principal clarinetist with Symphony Nova Scotia, Dominic Desautels, and keyboardist Tim Crofts.

MC MAJE rehearsing Friday night at the Pavilion. Photo: Peter Robb

Friday’s show capped an outreach program initiated by Symphony Nova Scotia and Music Nova Scotia with NACO. The goal was to make a connection with the urban music scene in Halifax, especially with artists from the African Nova Scotian community.

Scott Long, the executive director of Music Nova Scotia said the project began last March. Two writing teams went out into a small studio in north Halifax, tasked with creating a song and preparing a professional demo that will eventually be recorded.

Each artist will be able to take that recording and do what they want with it, Long added.

Friday night the two crews each did a set and then they were joined by the classical musicians to perform the songs. It was a friendly battle, Long said.

Music Nova Scotia represents the music industry in the province. The organization wants to work more closely urban music artists.

“I don’t think we have always done a great job of reaching out to these genres and they are becoming really important. We want to get more in touch with that community.”

MC Shevy Price on stage Friday night. Photo: Peter Robb

Symphony Nova Scotia, which is presenting NACO in Halifax, had a similar goal, said D’Arcy Gray, who handles music education for the Halifax -based orchestra.

“It’s a big part of Halifax and they don’t always have access to concerts,” Gray said. And young people who have graduated from school are hard to reach, so this project accomplished that. The artists were all in the early 20s.

Music Nova Scotia, Long said, also wants to encourage song-writing in collaboration, he says.

“When we first met with hip hop artists, collaboration was a foreign concept to them. They didn’t want anyone else to know what they are doing.

“There is,” he added, “a historical issue around trust in the black community in Nova Scotia. And there is also a rebellious side to hip hop,” that prevent collaboration with someone working in another musical form.

MC Shevy Price led one crew that performed Friday night. She says of the project, “Nothing like that has happened down here before.”

MC MAJE was the other crew leader. He doesn’t “really collab that often” in his music. But he does work with young people in after school programs.

He knows from that work that “great things can happen when you work together.”

Shevy Price said that collaboration is a good idea but “some people want to collab but they don’t have the resources. It’s been so stagnant this is like a new thing.

“There are not a lot of things on our side,” she added.

Both NACO performers embraced the idea of working with a different form of music.

“It gets me out of my element,” Rice said.

He says he likes to listen to a lot of different types of music.

“I don’t tend to listen to classical when I’m not at work or preparing for work. I tend to listen to indie-alternative music.”

Casey echoed that, but added that he doesn’t listen to a lot of hip hop or R&B.

Both of them got a bit of a baptism of fire in this project. Earlier this week they were sent some audio tracks to get a feel for the pieces they would play. But there was no sheet music to work from.

“Basically it was improvise and react. Use your ear,” Rice said.

Casey said that the second piece, from MC MAJE’s crew called Love Songs, slower with a more traditional rap sound was easier to adapt to. The song from MC Shevy Price’s crew was called Stay Lit and had more of a pop sensibility.

Both songs were “very good,” he said.

In the end it all came together in a great show for about 100 enthusiastic patrons in the Pavilion.

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.