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West Kootenay-born composer wins Juno Award for classical composition

Keiko Devaux attended Mount Sentinel Secondary and Selkirk College
Keiko Devaux is a contemporary classical music composer raised in Nelson and based in Montreal. Photo: Juno Awards

When she was a student at Mount Sentinel Secondary in the Slocan Valley, Keiko Devaux played piano in the school’s concert band and jazz band.

Her teacher, Rick Lingard, would lend Devaux his vinyl editions of classic jazz albums. She was surprised that he would trust a teenager with such treasures, but his generosity fed her intense curiosity about music.

Fast-forward 22 years and Devaux, now living in Montreal, received a Juno Award for best classical composition on May 15. Her winning music at the 2022 awards is Arras, a piece for 14 musicians.

An arras is a woven wall-hanging or tapestry. Devaux says her Juno-winning piece is a weaving together, not of threads but of sounds derived from generations of her European and Japanese ancestry, a “sonic history.”

The weaving metaphor is introduced at the beginning of the piece, where percussion instruments emulate the sounds of a loom.

She wanted to “capture the idea of family history and family identity through sound. And so the form of the piece presents these two parts of my family and then exchanging and having them bleed into each other and move into each other and synthesize.”

After graduating from Mount Sentinel, Devaux entered the music program at Selkirk College and took composition classes from Don Macdonald.

A recognized composer himself, Macdonald recalls that as a student Devaux had three central traits of a successful musician.

“First of all, she’s extremely musical. Secondly, she’s very personable and makes everybody around her better just from being a positive energy force. And she’s a tireless worker.”

Macdonald calls Arras “an incredible 21st century composition – adventurous and beautiful and richly textured, and very forward-leaning. This is not somebody who’s playing it safe. She obviously knows her craft. She knows how to write for orchestra.”

Composer Keiko Devaux at work. Photo: Marie Isabelle Rochon
Composer Keiko Devaux at work. Photo: Marie Isabelle Rochon

While at Selkirk College, Devaux and two fellow students started a band called People for Audio, which played music she calls “nerdy” and “post-rock.” They all moved to Montreal and continued the band there, performing and recording while Devaux continued her music education.

She increasingly gravitated toward composition, and earned a Master’s degree in instrumental composition from the Université de Montréal. She is currently working on a PhD.

Meanwhile, Devaux’s works have been performed in many countries by a variety of respected ensembles, and she has won numerous prizes and awards.

Devaux says she is proud of Arras, and is pleased that this is the piece she was recognized for.

“I feel really touched. I mean, I just work all the time. I’m obviously very immersed in my work, and so I don’t stop very often to think about the impact it has.”


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

Bill has lived in Nelson since 1994 and has worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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