When the list of Juno Award nominees came out last month, Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock immediately got a text from Jordan Nobles.
Last year, Nobles clinched the national accolade for his piece Immersion and was eager to tell his friend she was up for this year’s prize in the same category: Classical Composition of the Year.
“It was a nice surprise,” Morlock said, referring to Nobles’ news, “and hopefully it will be a good omen.”
Two years ago, the National Arts Centre debuted Morlock’s 10-minute work, titled My Name is Amanda Todd, in Ottawa as part of its Life Reflected multi-media series that focused on the lives of four Canadian women with strong voices.
Todd, a Port Coquitlam teen whose suicide in 2012 sent shock waves around the world, was featured in the innovative project alongside author Alice Munro, astronaut Roberta Bondar and First Nations elder and poet Rita Joe.
But Morlock said she wasn’t sure at first how to express Todd’s story musically when she got the commission.
She had heard of the narrative — a girl being bullied on cyberspace by an adult in the Netherlands, reaching out for help by creating a video with cards, then taking her life — on the news.
Still, Morlock didn’t want to write a requiem for a young victim.
So, to guide her through the sound journey, the composer-in-residence for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra met with Todd’s mother, Carol, for tea.
And in awe her late daughter would be the focus of an original classical work, Carol Todd was happy to oblige. “In my mind, Amanda is my little girl,” she said. “She was 16 and she wasn’t yet a woman and, here she was, being lumped into three other stories of powerful Canadian women. It was just unbelievable.”
Morlock took two months to carve out the composition, crafting mostly staccato notes — in a minor key — from the string section in the first part, to represent the fast-paced “micro gestures” on social media (i.e., tweeting and liking), before moving into a sorrowful chorale with the brass.
The ending, however, is in a major key that repeats the first music but in an enlightened tone. This is meant to reflect the impact of Todd’s life and the subsequent uplifting messages that can go viral.
“It’s the little things that people can do every day that can become a snowball of positivity,” Morlock said. “I just didn’t want it to be all dark because she was a performing person. You don’t want to show a child by their tormented death. You need more humanity in there.”
While the composition is a tribute to Todd, Morlock said it’s also a nod to her mother’s work with the Amanda Todd Legacy Society, a charity that aims to spread awareness about mental health and carries the motto “Stay Strong” (last week, Carol Todd was recognized as a Women of Worth by L’Oreal Paris, in Toronto, and her non-profit group received $10,000).
Next Sunday, Carol Todd will accompany Morlock to the Juno broadcast at Rogers Arena, which will be emceed by Burnaby crooner Michael Bublé. There, Morlock, who earned a Juno nomination in 2011 for classical composition of the year, is up against: Alice Ping Yee Ho (Coeur a Coeur); Andrew Staniland (Phi, Caelestis); James Rolfe (Breathe); and Vincent Ho (The Shaman: Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra).
Carol Todd said she’ll be thinking about Amanda at the ceremony.
“If you know Amanda’s story, you know it’s a love story,” she said. “She wanted to have her name up in lights like any teenager and, when you see the performance [of My Name is Amanda Todd], it’s really powerful.”
She added, “As a mom, you see her face up on that stage and you can’t even imagine. It’s so emotional… but Jocelyn did a beautiful job and the National Arts Centre did a visually beautiful piece.
“I’m so proud.”