Home 9 Composers 9 Andrew Balfour

Prominent Winnipeg composer Andrew Balfour, of Cree descent, has written a body of choral, instrumental and orchestral works, including Take the Indian, Empire Étrange: The Death of Louis Riel, Migiis: A Whiteshell Soundscape, Bawajigaywin, Gregorio’s Nightmare, Wa Wa Tey Wak (Northern Lights), Fantasia on a Poem by Rumi, Missa Brevis and Medieval Inuit. He has been commissioned by the Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Ensemble Caprice, the Winnipeg Singers, the Kingston Chamber Choir and Camerata Nova, among others.  His works have been performed and broadcasted locally, nationally, and internationally. Andrew is the Artistic Director of Winnipeg’s Camerata Nova known for their inter-genre and interdisciplinary collaborations. He is passionate about music education and outreach, particularly in schools located in low-income areas of Winnipeg and in northern communities.


by Andrew Balfour

SSATB a cappella – CP 1571   – duration 2:30
Choirs will love the rhythmic drive and energy of this meaningful composition.
The Ojibway text means “Come in, two-legged beings. Come in all people. There is good life here.”

This piece is based on an original song in Ojibway that was gifted by traditional drummer and singer Cory Campbell to Andrew Balfour and the University of Manitoba Concert Choir. Cory describes the song as “a call to the people to the ceremonial way of life or to the red road or, quite frankly, to whatever we have going on, because everything happens with spirit and in spirit.”
Andrew has created an original composition inspired by Cory’s song which uses the same text and echoes the steady rhythm of the drum, unifying the piece. The melodies of Andrew’s piece are all original but hints of Cory’s song remain. For Andrew, the steady beat throughout represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the lyrical first soprano melody that emerges from this rhythmic texture at measure seven conveys the powerful totem of the eagle which represents the teaching of love, wisdom, and strength.
The accompanying recording of Cory singing his original song is provided for conductors to hear the pronunciation of the text and to share with choristers the inspiration behind the composition. It is not meant to be reproduced by choirs or other singers without Cory’s permission unless it is being used in a ceremonial manner.
Many dialects and local writing systems for Ojibway exist. The pronunciation for the text is based on the dialect spoken on Sagkeeng First Nation in Cory’s home province of Manitoba. Specifically, the pronunciation of the word Anishinaabeg [a’nis:iʌnɑ:bek~g] or phonetically,  a-nis-ee-uh-nah-bek/g, reflects one of the teachings that have come to Cory involving the etymology of the word in representing not only the Ojibway people, but people of all nations, or two-legged beings.

Representation of Text in Standard Ojibway Double Vowel Writing System:
Ambe, ambe Anishinaabeg
biindigeg Anishinaabeg
Mino-bimaadiziwin omaa

[ʌmbe ʌmbe a’nis:iʌnɑ:bek]
[bindɪgek a’nis:iʌnɑ:bek]
[mɪnɔ pɪ’mɑ:tɪzɪwɪn omɑ:]

k, p, t are light and unaspirated; somewhere between voiced and unvoiced

Idiomatic translation:
Come in two-legged beings
come in all people
The way of a good life is here
Come in!

*Mino-bimaadiziwin is an Ojibway philosophy–the way of a good life—as explained by the traditional teachings of the Anishinaabe

This commission was made possible through a Creative Works Grant from the University of Manitoba. Andrew, Cory, and Catherine met throughout the compositional process to discuss the cultural context of the piece, the form of the original song, the meaning of the text, and the needs of the choir, and to learn from one another. Cory was offered ceremonial tobacco for his gift of the song. Thank you also to Patricia Ningewance and Diane Morrisseau for help with pronunciation, translation, and representation of the language. This composition stands as an example of respectful and meaningful dialogue between Indigenous artists and culture bearers, and composers, conductors, and choirs.

Anang (A Star)

by Andrew Balfour

SATB with piano and glock. – CP 2163   – duration 3:20

I first met Cree composer Andrew Balfour at a national choral conference in St. John’s in 2018, spellbound after hearing Ambe for the first time.  The following summer, I spoke with him about an Algonquin legend which I’d found very moving – about stars representing grandmothers offering their earthly families love and protection – then asked if he would compose a work for VOCA’s upcoming (Spring 2020) “Star Songs” concert.  Andrew enthusiastically agreed, and his exquisite, moving and reflective Anang (A Star) was the result.  We were thrilled and honoured to present the World Premiere of this stunning work on April 30, 2022, featuring Elizabeth Acker, piano and Jamie Drake, glockenspiel.  Here is Andrew’s dedication for the premiere: “Anang (A Star) is dedicated to my wonderful wife, who told me about the Indigenous understanding of the Star People, who are among us, representing where we all came from, the Universe and the stars.  Only some can see them – among them, little children who attract the Star people as the little ones have just emerged from the unknown.  Star people are also attracted to shells, which is why you might see shells in some Indigenous ceremonies.”  

Jenny Crober, Artistic Director/Conductor, VOCA Chorus of Toronto

Anang, Anang. (a star)
A star fell through the sky towards me
Anang giipiidagoojin
(trans. “a star fell through the sky towards me)

Baga kaasigeway anangoog
Baga kaasigeway anangoog
(trans. “stars shine brightly”)
Stars shine brightly
Stars shine brightly

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

by Andrew Balfour; poem by Wilfred Owen (1917)

SATB a cappella – CP 2165   – duration 4:25

Andrew identifies as a war buff, strongly interested in the history of the World Wars in particular. Research and learning stories on the role of Indigenous soldiers in these and more recent conflicts led to the large-scale work Notinikew, which was premiered in Winnipeg in 2018 by Dead of Winter, formerly Camerata Nova, featuring Andrew Balfour, Cris Derksen, and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir, under the direction of Mel Braun, with traditional singer/drummer Cory Campbell. The larger work is primarily in Cree; this movement sets a text by the English war poet Wilfred Owen, killed in action in 1918. He describes how no bells toll for those who die in battle, and that only the sounds of war mark their passing. Andrew’s setting paints the described sounds of bells, rifles, shells and the bugle. (Jordan Van Biert, from conversations with the composer)

Gaze Upon the Trees

by Andrew Balfour; poem by Duke Redbird

SATB a cappella – CP 2159   – duration 6:45

Love is like a waterfall that happens in the spring
When the snow has melted in the mountains
and rushes to the sea

Noopimiing, noopimiing
And just you happened on it when you walked out in the forest
Just to gaze upon the trees
Mitigoog, mitigoog
And you find a wisp of loveliness floating in the magic
And the leaves

God Be in My Head

by Andrew Balfour

SATB a cappella – CP 2152   – duration 2:25

God be in my head,
And in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes,
And in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
And in my speaking;
God be in my heart,
And in my thinking;
God be at mine end,
And at my departing.

The medieval French original from the frontispiece of a Book of Hours (1514).
The English translation from the Sarum Primer of 1558,
and then in John Cosin’s A Collection of Private Devotions.


by Andrew Balfour

SATB with piano, organ, or strings – CP 2069   – duration 5:55
String parts are available: viola, cello and double bass
Mamachimowin (The act of singing praises) is a choral work that explores the difficult relationship between Indigenous spirituality and the impact of the Christian culture on First Nations people.  Translating Psalm 67 into Cree, I wanted to add a musical perspective that added a dimension of fragmentation into the structure of the work.  Also I wanted to utilize the instrumentation of violas, cellos and double basses to give the idea of the strings representing a foundation of the ground, or Mother Earth.  I wanted to present the idea of musical tension and musical phrases along with the choir whispering some of the text to add an element of uncertainty.  (Andrew Balfour)

Music is Vibration

by Andrew Balfour

SATB with piano, organ, or strings – CP 2068   – duration 4:35
This poem by the late Dominic Gregorio really touches the heart.
Listen to the performance by the amazing National Youth Choir of Canada.
Music is vibration, can you see it?
Sound is emotion, can you feel it?
Invisible, intangible
Yet touches deep within.


by Andrew Balfour

SATB a cappella   –   CP 1739   – duration 3:00
SA a cappella   –   CP 2042   – duration 3:00
This lovely composition provides a nice contrast to the up-tempo energetic “Ambe“.

Inspired by travels in Baffin Island in 2009 and a collaboration with Iqaluit folksinger and songwriter Madeleine Allakariallak, Qilak was composed as part of a concert project for Winnipeg-based Camerata Nova entitled Medieval Inuit: Stories of the North. The theme of the concert explored the early contact between Scandinavian explorers and the Inuit 1000 years ago. Balfour tells us: “Qilak is about the northern sky which is so breathtaking up in the Arctic. I loved the open space, the Inuit’s relationship with the land, and the musical sound of Inuktitut.”

The aesthetic of the piece reflects the expanse of sky and the shimmering reflection of sun on snow. Balfour’s composition hints at influences of Inuit throat singing and hauntingly echoes the vocables of traditional Ayaya songs of Southern Baffin Island. A heartfelt thank you, Elder Fred Ford, for your teachings on the Inuktitut language, and to Piita Irniq for your teachings about Ayaya songs.

Vision Chant

by Andrew Balfour

SSAATTBB – a cappella   –   CP 1888   – duration 3:30

Vision Chant incorporates the Ojibway word, “babamadizwin”, which means “journey”.
This is an excerpt from a larger work, Bawajigaywin, commissioned by the Kingston Chamber Choir.
Listen to the convincing rendition by the Canadian Chamber Choir (director – Dr. Julia Davids)
Based on an Indigenous chant style, this work is striking for both its stillness and its intensity.  The journey that is evoked begins and ends with a soprano melody, at first divided and then, symbolically perhaps, unified. What takes place in between these musical bookends is the vision itself. The vision described in the title and painted in the music is somewhat fearsome at its climax. For comfort, Grandmother (Nokomis) and Grandfather (Mishomis) are called upon. By the conclusion, there is resolution, and perhaps of awakening to a sunrise.