Commemorating the Cherry Blossom Festival during Covid

On a chilly morning in early May, I stood on a hillside in High Park, listening to the taiko ensemble Nagata Shachu perform amidst the cherry blossoms. We were there to commemorate the Cherry Blossom Festival, cancelled due to fears about Covid.

It was the most humbling and awe-evoking experience of my artistic life…

I’d proposed the event after hearing that the City was closing the park to prevent an onrush of people. I argued that we couldn’t just cancel a ritual: we needed to create something—harness the energy of artists who could mark this moment, inscribing this historic year within the ongoing cycles of nature and culture. Two city staffers, Randy McLean and Carolyn Taylor, saw the merit in this idea. Five days later, we were on the hill. For me, it was a moment of gravity and grace: the musicians and I knew we needed to honour an ancient tradition, while offering an immediacy of sensation to people who were at home, unable to be among the blossoms.

You can watch the performance on the City’s Youtube channel, and read the essay that formed the basis of the event. Thanks to drummers Kiyoshi Nagata, Tony Nguyen, and Aki Takahashi of Nagata Shachu.