HAMILTON – Audiences of all ages will enjoy the HPO’s matinee performance of The Spirit Horse Returns at FirstOntario Concert Hall on Sunday, October 30. This highly collaborative production combines music from Kevin Lau, Jodi Contin and Andrew Balfour; a story by Rhonda Snow, Jodi Contin and Ken MacDonald; and visual art by Rhonda Snow and Ken MacDonald (former HPO Principal Horn from 1997 to 2014). This concert tells the story of a symphony horn player and an Indigenous friend traveling across time and all of North America to learn about a mysterious group of small horses who can teach people of all Nations the importance of taking care of each other and the land we share. 

“I don’t know of any Canadian work for young audiences that so deeply integrates Indigenous and non-Indigenous composers and performers,” said MacDonald. “We are all so grateful to the Elders and Knowledge Keepers of the Ojibwe Horses who have contributed stories and wisdom to this work. The Spirit Horse Returns is a hopeful truth and reconciliation story suitable for all ages. I’m proud to be bringing it to Hamilton audiences.” 

MacDonald is the social glue that holds the musical components of this concert together. He has known Cree composer Andrew Balfour for many years, and they have been conducting cross-cultural school workshops through the National Arts Center even before there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “When I became involved with the Ojibwe horses, we started talking about what musical projects could bring awareness to this critically endangered breed. So that was the germ of the idea,” said MacDonald. At another cross-cultural workshop, he met Jodi Contin whose powerful voice and original songs about the Ojibwe Horses became the centre of the show. Then Kevin Lau, who is becoming internationally recognized as one of Canada’s finest orchestral composers, orchestrated Andrew’s musical ideas and Jodi’s songs to create the music landscape of The Spirit Horse Returns.  

Ken MacDonald met Rhonda Snow after looking for ponies to take care of after purchasing a small family farm in Winnipeg and learning about Ojibwe horses. Rhonda Snow, Knowledge Keeper who received a lifetime achievement award from Rare Breeds Canada, provided Ken with his first Ojibwe horses. He soon learned that she is also an artist whose Woodland style artwork tells stories and legends about the Spirit Horse and their relationship with Indigenous people whose traditional way of life was nearly eradicated through colonization.  

“The role I have is to keep the promise I made to the little herd of Spirit ponies. The promise is to advocate for them so they can once again have respectful relationships with people of the land who can learn from them, just like long ago when they were free. The Elders said, ‘Let them be free, if you capture them, it’s a theft of life!’ To be Spirit Ponies they need to be free (sacred is free and never sold) so they can help us decolonize ourselves. Mother Earth needs them more now than ever.” 

It’s confusing to put it into words so I paint it. I slept among wild herds that were free and they taught to me so much. The whole process is all about gifting, receiving, replenishing and never-ending reciprocity with respect of all living things, balanced by Grandmother Moon.”  

Rhonda Snow, who paints under the name Miinogishibakwebik, about her artwork, advocacy work and The Spirit Horse Returns. 

The matinee concert offers a relaxed setting where families and children are welcome. Educational material provided by The Spirit Horse Returns team will enhance the listening experience and guide audiences through the stories featured during the concert, creating an excellent learning opportunity. These materials will be made available by the HPO ahead of the performance.  

This concert is mask friendly and will last approximately 90 minutes with an intermission. Concessions will be open. 

Sunday, October 30 at 2pm 
FirstOntario Concert Hall 
1 Summers Lane, Hamilton 
$10 – $30 (General Admission) 

Published September 29. 2022