Backstage: Student’s family history key element of Remembrance concert

Get to know us in our Backstage at CCPA blog. Contributors are students, faculty, and members of our community. 
Year II student Emma McEvoy speaks to Public Relations Liaison Michael D. Reid about the personal significance of our upcoming Concert of Remembrance.


When Emma McEvoy was a middle-school student in her hometown of Rothesay, New Brunswick, the significance of Remembrance Day really hit home for her in a way that she says she never expected.

The Canadian College of Performing Arts Year Two student’s father Charles McEvoy, a history teacher at Rothesay Netherwood, a private school in this suburb of St. John, N.B. that she attended, read passages from letters that provided heart-rending insight into the wartime experiences of Frank, her great grandfather’s brother who served in France as a foot soldier with the Canadian Armed Forces during the First World War.

She’ll never forget hearing her father read those revealing letters in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day during the daily morning chapel service in the local Anglican archdiocese.

“When my grandfather died, my mom, dad, aunts and uncles went through the attic and found all these letters that my great grandfather A.J. [Arthur James] had kept,” said Emma, recalling a life-changing revelation that occurred when antiques and wartime memorabilia were discovered prior to the sale of the house.

Her family’s discovery became an integral part of the story behind A Concert of Remembrance.

A first-of-its-kind partnership between the College, the Band of the 5th Field Regiment – Royal Canadian Artillery, and the District of Oak Bay, the concert event arranged by Director of Education & Programming Heather Burns and staged by Matthew Howe will feature students from the two-year Diploma and one-year Certificate programs and the Band of the 5th Field Regiment.

Admission to the public performance that will take place at the Dave Dunnet Community Theatre on Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. is by donation. Tickets will be available at the door.

Emma recalls traveling for years during her childhood to Fredericton, N.B., home to the legion that still honours the memory of her grandfather, who served in the Navy during the Second World War.

“We’d go with the entire family, about 25 cousins, to place a wreath at the Cenotaph as a group for my grandfather.”
Since her great great uncle Frank later lived in the U.S., he corresponded frequently with her great-grandfather A.J., who lived in Canada, Emma recalled.

“I didn’t really know what was happening back then. It was such a shock when my father got to the end and read a letter from Frank’s wife, Hannah, telling A.J. that he had been killed in action,” she said.

In the “concert of remembrance with a story” as she describes it, Emma will re-enact Hannah’s painful reaction to the news that her husband has died. He was buried at Pas de Calais, France.

“My sister’s name is Hannah, so to call myself Hannah feels weird,” admits Emma, whose knowledge of First World War history has come from her studies and watching the Canadian film Passchenhdaele.

Her great great uncle’s experiences inspired elements of the story that links a number of classic wartime songs such as I’ll Be Seeing You, Homeward Bound and After the War to capture the impact of combat.

Burns sifted through Emma’s collection of letters and documents to craft a fictional story about a soldier who survived the war but is haunted by its impact.

“The soldier who lives in our story is referencing the story of the soldier who died,” she said.

“We also wanted to bring it into the current day. For those who weren’t killed, what do they have to live with? What was it like for a soldier to come back and try to process that and re-engage with his family and those who love him but have no context for what he has been through?”

Her script is augmented by the translation of a poem written in Spanish by international student Fernando Jimenez that begins the story. This year’s program of spoken word and choral music continues a tradition of Remembrance Day events dating back to the College’s beginnings 20 years ago. Presenting an annual tour of Remembrance Day concerts to local legions, community centres and schools is something Burns describes as a gift back to the community.

“We live in the world of the performing arts, and the creation of stories and that sort of thing, but I think what the Remembrance Day stories do is pull them into something really grounded in history in a different way,” says Burns, noting the Remembrance Day tour honours the College’s heritage beyond the arts.

“It is historically an event the community looks forward to.”