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Kuyas is an eight-minute work for voice, flute, and percussion and is one of Harry Somers best-known works.

Somers wrote it on commission from the International Institute of Music of Canada for the Montreal International Voice Competition of 1967. Somers was known as a lover of languages, and for this work set lines in the Cree language taken from a Cree grammar book, an English-Cree primer and vocabulary book, and a story told by Coming Day, a Cree of the Sweetwater Reserve. The work is dedicated to Mrs. Lou Waller, a Cree from Alberta, who worked with the composer to on specific pronunciation, cadences, and meanings.

The opening of the song is a solo vocal cadenza invoking the sunrise and is a quotation of a lamenting song of a Wolfhead chief of a Nass River tribe in British Columbia, in the Nass people's language. After the sunrise, the singer announces to the Great Spirit "I who am hungry will hunt" and names the animals he will hunt. Then there is a short section announcing the sunset, and finally the beginning of a story: "Long ago (Kuyas), that one was a chief..." and a few more words to establish the age and source of the story..."

A few years later, in writing his opera Louis Riel, Somers was having trouble composing a lullaby to open its Act III. Eventually he came to sense that Kuyas would be the perfect material for this passage, and therefore used it as the opening of Act III.


Louis Riel an opera in three acts was commissioned by the Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation and produced by the Canadian Opera Company (COC). This work was one of many to be created to commemorate Canada's centennial year and was Canada's first bilingual opera. The opera has its premiere performance, with Victor Feldbrill conducting, at the Toronto's O'Keefe Centre on September 23, 1967 and was performed at Montreal's Place des Arts in October of the same year.

The work depicts the post-Confederation political events bounded by the Indian and Métis uprisings of 1869-70 and 1884-5 and the personal tragedy of the uprisings' leader, the Manitoba schoolteacher and Métis hero Louis Riel. In writing this opera, Somers was having difficulty composing a lullaby to open Act III. Eventually he came to sense that Kuyas would be the perfect material for this passage, and therefore used it as the opening of Act III. It would also inform much of the musical material for the rest of the Act.

The production would be repeated a number of time Toronto, Ottawa and Washington, DC and was adapted for CBC TV and issued in a complete recording on the Canadian Music Centre's Centrediscs label. Opera McGill presented the first full staging of Louis Riel in 30 years in January 2005, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of McGill University's music program.

Cantate pour une joie Fall Fair Kuyas Canada dash Canada dot - part III North Country

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