By Noor Khwaja
VANCOUVER – If Joni Mitchell were first coming out on the radio today, what would her music sound like? This is the question that guides Anna Kuman and Andrew Cohen’s millennial interpretation of Mitchell’s music in Circle Game. By mashing up some of the politically driven songs and adding additional instruments, the production, which premieres at the Firehall Arts Centre on April 29, gives the “intrinsically ‘70s” voice of Mitchell’s music a modern revamp.
After speaking with creators/directors (and dynamic musical spouses) Kuman and Cohen, it quickly becomes clear that the delicate music of one of Canada’s most renowned sweethearts couldn’t have been in better hands. The idea of the project was sparked from Cohen’s memory of his mother’s “tinny record player” and her sing-alongs to the “sensory nostalgia” that characterized Mitchell’s albums. “I remember being a kid and thinking how kind of funny it sounded,” Cohen laughs. While Cohen at the age of eight couldn’t grasp the “almost religious connection” that earlier generations had with Mitchell’s music, he later discovered the lyrics’ transcendent nature. Adding on to the recognition of this intergenerational relationship, Kuman explains that the couple quickly became aware of how “poignant her lyrics were to [them] now as adults.”
The creative process, too, stemmed from the power of Mitchell’s lyrics. Cohen describes “riffing on a theme of hers” or “really resonating with a certain phrase and seeing where that goes.” In terms of the sound of the re-imagination, Kuman admiringly notes about her husband: “Andy is a musical prodigy in his own right … he has his own style that people will catch on to.” While influences from many current artists, as well as Cohen’s original direction, are embedded into the performance, the overarching genre will be indie rock.
Many of the issues that Mitchell artfully incorporates into her music are still very much relevant today. Kuman notes the parallels between feminist values in Mitchell’s work and the current “influx of our generation becoming politically charged” with controversial policy changes. There are also relevant relationships between Mitchell’s theme of environment and current conversations. However, as Cohen explains, many of his friends and his generation, in general, “didn’t really know who she was.” That is, “except for maybe ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’” Kuman chimes in.
Issues in politics, environment, and love present in Mitchell’s music are just as significant as they ever were. Hopefully, Circle Game can help to take the timeless influence of her legacy and make it into something new, connecting generational themes and bringing things full circle. After all, as Mitchell herself so beautifully phrases, “We’re captive on a carousel of time.”
Circle Game runs at Firehall Arts Centre from April 29 – May 20.Firehall Arts Centre, Joni Mitchell