CARIBOU — Erica Quin-Easter has been a composer for 11 years and a musician for even longer, but she hasn’t been able to showcase her skills as much as she would like. That will change next month, when a concert she conceived will premiere in Portland.
Quin-Easter, a Caribou resident, will be in Portland to celebrate the first showing of “(F)light,” the centerpiece of a full concert built around the theme of migration, culture, identity and environment in the Canadian border regions of northern Maine and the Mexican border regions of southern Arizona. It also is a presentation about migration, and the composer’s desire to bridge the experiences of birds and humans.
It will debut at 7 p.m. May 14, at the Woodlands Congregational Church in Portland. A second presentation will follow at 4 p.m. on May 15.
(F)light will be part of a spring concert titled Moving On: Immigration in Song, which will be put on by Women in Harmony, a 60-member chorus of women’s voices in Portland that Quin-Easter sang with for a time. The entire musical event features songs ranging from Acadian arrangements to a special appearance by the Pihcintu Children’s Chorus of Maine.
During the two years it took to put the project together, Quin-Easter collaborated with poets Wendy Burk and Eric Magrane of Tucson, Ariz. They wrote a series of poems that serve as the libretto for the song cycle. During an interview on Wednesday, Quin-Easter said the presentation will highlight environmental and cultural conflicts and changes that are at the cutting edge of the nation’s political and social concerns.
Quin-Easter traveled to work with Burk and Magrane in Arizona and the trio visited wildlife refuges, working farms and historical sites and talked with naturalists, cultural workers and residents of southern Arizona about living near the border. They then went to Fort Kent and New Brunswick and held similar discussions with cultural workers, people with dual citizenship and community advocates so they could weave that information into the project.
To interweave the theme of migration into their work, the trio spent time studying birds in Maine and Mexico, and used the Blue Mockingbird, a species native to Mexico but rare in the United States., as a metaphor. Burk and Magrane noted in a written statement that when they caught a rare glimpse of the bird in Arizona, the language used to describe an animal that freely crossed the border was vastly different to how most people describe humans who cross the border.
“People who cross the border [in that fashion] are called illegal aliens or illegals,” they said. “The Blue Mockingbird is called a ‘Mexican specialty.’”
Quin-Easter arranged and composed choral works before, but she said she had never composed collaboratively with artists in other genres. She also had never taken on a project that large.
“It was time-consuming, but fun and I learned a lot,” she said on Wednesday.
Burk and Magrane noted that people who live close to borders with Mexico and Canada carry ideas about border politics and culture.
“This is true of any border, but especially true of the one between Arizona and Mexico, which has become a site of heated political rhetoric, mounting violence, and intense personal struggle, affecting all of our lives,” they wrote.
All three said they are hoping that people who see the piece will emerge with a better understanding of themselves and their neighbors.
For more information on the performances or to purchase tickets, visit www.wihmaine.org.