Classical Composer of the Year (Monica Pearce) – ECMAs 2022
Classical Recording of the year – Music Nova Scotia 2021
“Aunt Helen” is a one-act opera for soprano, with music and lyrics written by Canadian composer Monica Pearce, inspired by Dr. Helen Creighton. And it’s available for purchase and/or streaming on all platforms. Aunt Helen was nominated by Music Nova Scotia for Classical Recording of the Year (2021).
Based on her autobiography A Life in Folklore, the libretto was written as a one-sided radio interview that might have occurred in her seventies. The unseen interviewer asks three questions: 1) How did you come to be a folk song collector? 2) What are some of your favourite stories from your travels? and 3) What are some of the obstacles you encountered? Through answering these questions, “Aunt Helen” gives us a glimpse into her life and into her personality. Amidst her interview, several folk songs are heard, partly to give further meaning to her answers, and partly to colour her experience with the most intrinsic material of her life.
When I hear Aunt Helen now, almost ten years after its writing, it is like visiting with an old friend. With this recording, I hope that many more have the opportunity to hear the work and learn more about Helen Creighton. ~ Monica Pearce
Monica Pearce is an arts administrator, concert presenter, and composer specializing in opera, chamber music and everything toy-piano-related. She was born in Prince Edward Island, began her professional career in Toronto, and recently relocated to McAllen, Texas after a couple of years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pearce’s work has been performed and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, International Contemporary Ensemble, New Music Detroit, Array Ensemble, Talisker Players, Essential Opera, Bicycle Opera Project, TorQ Percussion Quartet, junctQín keyboard collective, and Thin Edge New Music Collective, among others. Her operas have been performed across Canada and the United States, and toured across Ontario, and her toy piano works are frequently played internationally. She is currently working on recording a multi-work piece entitled Textile Fantasies which includes chain maille (percussion quartet), houndstooth (solo piano), damask (toy piano/tabla), denim (two toy piano/two percussion), velvet (for marimba quartet), leather (piano and percussion), toile de jouy (harpsichord), and silks (solo piano). She recently won the Harry Freedman Award for her harpsichord work toile de jouy, commissioned by Wesley Shen.
Monica co-founded the emerging composer collective the Toy Piano Composers in 2008 with Chris Thornborrow. The Toy Piano Composers have presented over 120 new works and released their debut album Toy Piano Composers in 2017.
She is also active as a librettist and has worked with composer Cecilia Livingston on a Dora-nominated opera on the life of Anne Frank entitled Singing Only Softly. Monica’s written works have been performed by Loose Tea Theatre, Musique 3 Femmes, Bicycle Opera Project, Opera Nova Scotia, Vocalypse Productions, Caution Tape Sound Collective, and the Toy Piano Composers.
Watch Aunt Helen as a short opera film between December 21-31, 2021. Tickets available via Side Door.
Aunt Helen – Short Opera Film Credits
Music and Libretto: Monica Pearce
Dr. Helen Creighton: Maureen Batt, soprano
Piano: Simon Docking
Director/Director of Photography: Claire Fraser
Editor: Claire Fraser
Art Department/Production Assistant: Anna Shepard
Background Actor: Anna Shepard
Audio Recording: Leaf Music (Producer: Jeremy VanSlyke, Associate Producer: Ben B. Creelman)
Archival Images, courtesy of Dartmouth Heritage Museum:
Family Photograph of Creighton Family c. 1905
Dartmouth Street in aftermath of Halifax Harbour Explosion 1917
Helen Creighton standing with Ben Henneberry and Mr. & Mrs. Faulkner, c. 1940
Helen Creighton standing in front of Ambulance c. 1918
Stock Footage of Car driving through vineyard & Nova Scotia Flag from Adobe Stock
Special thank you to Terry Eyland, Shannon Baxter, and the Dartmouth Heritage Museum. And heartfelt thanks to Mickie Zinck and the Creighton Family.