Whale songs mingle with soulful harmonies

Separation, both animal and human, from the natural world needs to be healed through musical connection, says Leah Abramson, singer-songwriter/composer of Songs For a Lost Pod. Using orca vocalizations as rhythmic beats, Abramson explores themes of interspecies communication, intergenerational trauma, and sorrow for a polluted planet.

The show is imbued with compassion for orcas, who have suffered inhuman treatment; and as well, Abramson has built in elements of her own family’s plight during and after the Holocaust.

Co-presented by Music on Main and Simon Fraser University School for the Contemporary Arts, Abramson’s world premiere (May 27-29) Songs for a Lost Pod intends to serve as a means of reconnection – natural and human – through musical communication.

Leah Abramson looked towards salmon-eating orcas to find inspiration | Photo courtesy of Leah Abramson

From thesis to music

Originally written and composed for her Masters of Fine Arts thesis at UBC, Abramson researched the history of the resident orca near Vancouver and its surroundings. From 1965-1973, groups of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest were regularly rounded up and sold to marine parks. Many died during the process of capture or within a few years of living in captivity. A family of northern resident salmon-eating orca, named the A5 pod, lost at least three of their family members to capture on December 11, 1969. The story of their capture is told in the song Pender Harbour.

The A5 pod serves as a muse. Several songs from Songs For a Lost Pod were, in a way, written in collaboration with the pod.

Songs For a Lost Pod is available as a digital album or as a graphic novel. | Photo courtesy of Leah Abramson

Musicians Andrew Lee (Holy Hum), Sandro Perri, and Aidan O’Rourke (Lau) used selected A5 pod orca vocalizations, along with Abramson’s other field recordings, to create beats and tracks.

The new sounds synced to Abramson’s underlying foundation of her songwriting and musical process.

Originally, Songs For a Lost Pod had three performances in 2017–18 with a 12-piece musical ensemble and narrator, all directed by Abramson. The show’s narrator, Barbara Adler, provided details included in the comic book, while also adding original writing to regroup the songs thematically.

Following these performances, Abramson – adding playwright, producer, and music director to her credits – put together a creative team to further development a full-length stage show. With the participation of director/dramaturg Megan Stewart, producer and musician Joanna Dundas, the nine-cycle song now features live narration, six vocalists, and a five-piece band.

Added for imagery, shadow puppetry and projections from Mind of a Snail visual artists, whose handmade projections create a dreamlike, abstract visual world to underpin songs and narration, leading audiences into a world of contemplation.

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