Ebb and Flow: Tides of Settlement on Prince Edward Island is a multi-faceted multimedia multicultural presentation put together by Laurie Murphy and Amanda Mark, running at the Carriage House at Beaconsfield Saturday evenings until August 31. Beyond all those multis, the show is difficult to categorize because it has so many moving parts, including photographs, video, live music, archival documents, dance, poetry and a lecture-style Q&A session.
The first half-hour of the show was instrumental music, and it was outstanding. Luis Anselmi introduced us to the Venezuelan Cuarto and Tiffany Liu to the Pipa, the foremost musical instrument in China. The pipa, said Liu, has 56 methods. And she promptly demonstrated all of them in her final piece. Through this segment of the show, I swear those two instruments produced everything from Gypsy jazz to thrash metal.
The featured artist for the evening was James Mark, father of Amanda, former director of the PEI Symphony Orchestra and a very talented saxophonist and clarinetist. Mark played a few tunes popularized by Duke Ellington, tying into the Black settlers of PEI. We heard the story of Louis Armstrong’s visit, when he was turned away by the Charlottetown Hotel and, as we learned, taken in at the Dundee Arms. Anselmi accompanied Mark with some great jazz piano.
The main segment of Ebb and Flow features a timeline of the tides of immigrants coming to our shores, each pairing information about the settlers with music from those cultures. The Island’s first settlers, of course, were First Nations, the Mi’kmaq. Julie Pellissier-Lush, PEI’s current Poet Laureate, presented the creation myth, the plants and animals and then Kluskap’s creation from the sand of the earth, formed and activated by lightning.
It was Black settlers that inspired Marks and Murphy originally. Murphy spoke of visiting Wightman Point Pioneer Cemetery, and seeing evidence of the sandstone markers for the graves of slaves disintegrating into the earth. In this presentation, we saw images from the cemetery and its beautiful surroundings, along with archival documents about Black settlers.
Acadian settlers were next and we saw images from the recent Acadian reunion celebrations. Olivia MacPhail sang a beautiful Gaelic song about – if I recall – the perils of angering fairies. We heard an excerpt from Emily Nasrallah’s “Flight Against Time.” We saw Craig Mackie’s photographs from DiverseCity and heard Tamara Steele reading Yvette Doucette’s poem “All fruits ripe, Mama.” Laurie Murphy sang cousin Margie Carmichael’s song about out-migration to Alberta for work and the longing for home.
The venue is rustic and homey and the presentation style is casual. For example, a minor hitch within minutes of starting meant it was time for a lemonade break; throughout the evening, those who weren’t actively performing at any given moment might be sitting onstage shooting video of those who were. Mark’s daughter, Shannon Mullally, and Murphy’s granddaughter, Ava Brooks Murphy, provided the dance element (with a little help from Anselmi). I’m still looking for a category for this show – seeking something that integrates multimedia and multicultural with the spirit of a down-home family ceilidh.