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Yellowknife composer nominated for Western Canadian Music Award

A work inspired by the Braden family's move North and the science of magnets has been nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award.

Carmen Braden's song Magnetic North, featured on her first studio album Ravens, has been nominated in the category of Classical Composition of the Year.

The only resident of the Northwest Territories on the list of nominees and the only female composer in the category, Braden said she is proud to represent the North in classical music.

"I'm doubting that there was a nominee from the territories in any of the classical categories, so I'm really proud to be kind of busting through that glass ceiling of the sixtieth parallel," she said.

The piece is inspired by her father's move from Saskatchewan to Northern Canada and eventually Yellowknife in the 1960s and the tensions and struggles that come with leaving the familiar for the unknown. As well as magnets.

"Magnetic North merges scientific information about magnets in the Magnetic North Pole, which may seem kind of sterile and dry, with my personal reflection on my family's journey to the North many years ago,” she said. “So something that's kind of the opposite of something empirical and very, very personal.”

The piece was originally written for famed Canadian violinist James Ehnes and first performed by Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong last year. On the album Ravens, Yellowknife violinist and fiddler Andrea Bettger plays the violin alongside Braden on the piano.

"There's this really frenzied kind of section but there's also some really peaceful, almost ethereal type moments of reflection and all of that in this one composition," said Bettger, of the song. "So I just think that it really is a masterpiece."

Bettger sees the nomination as recognition of Braden's hard work as a composer in a place where not a lot of people are making classical music.

"She's made a name for herself everywhere so she's not only deserving being from here but she's deserving to be recognized that way wherever she goes," she said.

Artists are represented from every province and territory in this year's Western Canadian Music Awards, including former Yellowknife-turned-Alberta musician Jay Gilday, nominated for Indigenous Artist of the Year.

Robyn Stewart, executive director of the awards, said Braden's nomination is very special because her organization doesn't see much classical music from the North.

"Having her in that category is really wonderful, especially with classical because often so many of the classical artists come from Alberta, Manitoba … Saskatchewan," Stewart said.

To foster strong classical artists, Stewart said support systems such as symphonic presenters and music organizations are important.

Braden, who discovered her love for classical music as at Sir John Franklin High School, advocates for music education in the Northwest Territories to foster more classical artists.

"In order to actually produce more top-level musicians that are pushing boundaries like this or that are kind of doing anything, even if they're kind of sticking to one genre and doing it really well, there has to be more support for music education in schools," she said.

The winners of the Western Canadian Music Awards will be announced at BreakOut West in Edmonton on Sept. 13 to 17 this year.

A work from composer Carmen Braden's recently released album Ravens is nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award. Emelie Peacock/NNSL