by Lori Littleton -The Standard, Friday June 30, 2006
For members of the Niagara Symphony, the annual Canada Day concert at Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls is going to be a blast in more ways than one. The symphony will premiere a piece it commissioned, entitled Water and Light Fireworks at the Falls, at the St. Catharines Street Party in the afternoon, and later that evening in Niagara Falls. What’s especially unique about this 15-minute piece, which was composed by Toronto-based musician Ronald Royer, through a Canada Council for the Arts grant, is the fireworks show has been choreographed around it for the Falls concert. Daniel Swift, Niagara Symphony music director, said previous Canada Day fireworks concerts have always been a high point for symphony musicians. “I could see their faces when something was happening at the same time (during the concert),” he said. They couldn’t stop talking about it when they finished.”
A year ago, Swift approached Royer about the possibility of composing a piece especially for the Falls fireworks extravaganza. Previously, the symphony has played classical pieces while Canada Day fireworks are set off. “They asked me and it was a great honour to do something like this,” Royer said. “I’ve never worked with fireworks before. It’s not a normal thing as a classical musician.” Last summer, Royer, Swift and David Whysall, who designed the fireworks display, met to determine an artistic vision for the piece. “We wanted something connected with Niagara Falls to celebrate Canada and what it stands for, “Royer said. “We came up with a day in the life of Niagara Falls.” Royer said his piece describes the falls at different times of the day, how the varying light affects the water. The fist movement begins in the afternoon with mist and rainbows, while the second movement features moonlight. The third movement is set at dawn. “There’s structure to how fireworks are organized, just like a musical piece or a story,” Royer said.
Born in Los Angeles, Royer began his musical career as a cellist, playing with the Utah and Toronto Symphonies. During the 1980’s, working as a freelance musician in L.A., he played the cello for film scores such as Star Trek, Little House on the Prairie and Gremlins. “It was really an incredible experience for me, he said. “It was so exciting. The music had just been written and you go in and play it. I got the bug. I thought I have to compose music.” He began studying composition in the 1990’s, receiving a Master’s degree in composition from the University of Toronto in 1997. Royer, who is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and a music instructor at the University of Toronto Schools, began composing Water and Fire in January.
He finished the 100-plus page piece a month ago. The work involves a lot of notes because the orchestra must play “fairly aggressively to compete with the fireworks,” he said. The writing process for Water and Fire, he added was very much like composing a film score—the music must connect with images. “Like this, you have to tell a story,” he said.
Royer said he’s looking forward to seeing how the piece comes together Saturday night as obviously, he hasn’t heard it accompanied by fireworks. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity and, too, as a classical composer, you usually write music for the concert hall that seats 1,000 to 2,000 people,” he said. “I’ve heard estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 people will be hearing the music at the Falls and also in St. Catharines. It’s exciting that many people will hear it.”