When Rhonda Head left her home on Manitoba's Opaskwayak Cree Nation for school in Toronto, she wanted to try something she had never done before.
You know, besides living in a big city and going to school off reserve.
She was 18 years old when she opened the yellow pages, closed her eyes and pointed to a name on a page that was full of voice teachers.
“The teacher I chose happened to live in my area, Toronto is a huge place, so I thought I was lucky,” recalls Head.
Head was scared and excited before her first lesson but those emotions were quelled when she knocked on the door and met her first voice teacher.
“He introduced me to opera and I fell in love with the music,” she says.
Head eventually returned to her community where she currently works as a family enhancement worker, but she continues to seriously pursue music. The mezzo-soprano has studied with teachers as far away as Denver, Colorado, and has been mentored by mezzo-soprano Barbara McAllister and world-renowned vocal teacher Richard Armstrong at the Banff Centre for Arts.
'The Cree language itself has a spirit. It’s such a beautiful language and I often compare it to the languages of love, it flows just like Italian, Spanish and French.'- Rhonda Head
Her first album Kayas was filled with standard opera and musical numbers and garnered her a Native American Music Award in 2011. Her new CD Nikumoon (which means “sing” in Cree) takes her in a different musical direction.
In early 2012, Head was asked to be a part of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Indigenous Music Festival. She had decided to sing a Cree hymn.
“When these songs are sung at wakes in my community there is a spirit in the room, the songs seem to comfort the families in mourning when they are sung,” she explains. She felt that same spirit fill the concert hall that night, and she knew right then that her next album would be full of hymns.
“I did my research for the songs at the wakes and chose the ones that were sung the loudest and the ones where you felt a presence in the room.”
Head, who has never sung in a church choir, recorded both Cree hymns and English hymns translated into Cree. Though she considers herself more spiritual than religious, she just felt the overwhelming need to record the songs in her language.
“The Cree language itself has a spirit. It’s such a beautiful language and I often compare it to the languages of love, it flows just like Italian, Spanish and French,” she says proudly.
Rhonda Head’s CD release party for Nikumoon is November 15 at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre Lounge at 8 p.m.