Bruce Ruddell’s “Vigil” for lost women of DTES

Don't miss this powerful dedication to the DTES's missing and murdered women.

Credit: Catherine Young

On February 21, composer Bruce Ruddell presents “Vigil,” dedicated to the murdered and missing women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the “Highway of Tears” (Highway 16 in Northern B.C.).

Ruddell explained the piece has four movements, each opening with a similar underscore as vocalists sing the names of 79 missing women. The piece ends on an instrumental movement, during which a single candle is lit.

“The movements start with the women as children… [and] as the work progresses, it becomes hard and edgy as their lives become more complex, though glimpses of hope brighten the work,” said Ruddell. “My understanding of a Vigil is that it is an act that living people perform to let people who have passed away know they are not alone.”

This focus on music as a way to connect people has long been part of Ruddell’s creative aesthetic and follows the example of British composer Benjamin Britten. Growing up in Northern B.C., Ruddell remembers driving Highway 16 as a child and recognizes home every time he sees Bill Reid’s sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii at the Vancouver International Airport—the subject of one of his musical pieces.

“I think all art needs to spring from a person’s experience in a community,” he said. “A CD is a ‘thing’… once it’s made, that’s it—there’s one performance, and that’s it. It’s not alive. Live performance changes every time it’s done: in terms of the musicians, the conducting and the interaction with audience,” he said.

“Vigil” was inspired in part through Ruddell’s work scoring the National Film Board documentary Finding Dawn, which tells stories of the missing women. With 95 percent of the missing women from Highway 16 and more than two-thirds from the Downtown Eastside of Aboriginal descent, Ruddell turned to their communities’ artistic traditions when composing.

As someone who’s long worked with First Nations communities, he contacted the families who own the songs in order to ask permission and follow important protocols. For example, he worked with the family who own the song “Strong Women,” the theme of the Women Against Violence march held in the Downtown Eastside every February 14.

Ruddell said his experience working alongside First Nations communities has also opened his eyes to the challenges they face—challenges that, while in close proximity to anyone with a car, remain largely hidden to many.

“In the years I’ve worked with First Nations people, I have to say that the condition of the Aboriginal reserves are a disgrace for us all. You realize once you step on a reserve for a moment and see the poverty… it’s an absolute disgrace… And it’s hidden—you don’t have to go far at all to see [these conditions],” he said.

February 21 at 2:00 p.m.
Christ Church Cathedral, 690 Burrard St
Tickets: $20 general, $15 students and seniors