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Mother and son explore their family's story of surviving the holocaust through improvisation in St. John's show

Irene and Daniel Oore give their first performance on their cross Canada tour in St. John’s. The mother and son duo are using their experience as the descendants of holocaust survivors to explore trauma – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Irene and Daniel Oore give their first performance of a cross Canada tour in St. John’s. The mother and son duo are using their experience as the descendants of holocaust survivors to explore trauma – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Growing up in Poland and Israel, the echoes of the Holocaust were never far from Irene Oore’s ear. While her father rarely spoke about those times, her mother did so obsessively. And she told it all to her young daughter over and over again.

“She could not help herself,” Oore says. “She could not stop.”

The stories began when she was around four or five and were a constant in her life. In her recent book, "The Listener," Oore explores the question of how to listen to someone you love compulsively talk about something you find unbearable.

“There was probably something about it that she felt she needed to say and (she) probably did not feel at any given time that she actually said it,” Oore says.

Irene Oore and her son Daniel perform ‘Genocide and improvisation,’ at the Suncor Energy Hall - Andrew Waterman
Irene Oore and her son Daniel perform ‘Genocide and improvisation,’ at the Suncor Energy Hall - Andrew Waterman

“She would consistently reproach that my listening wasn’t right. I wasn’t listening the way she wanted me to listen. Except she never told me how to listen.”

In between having her third and fourth child, Oore moved to Halifax to accept a position as a professor at Dalhousie University. But the fear of passing on trauma was present from the moment she had her first child.

“With time it became rather clear to me that whether I talk about it or I do not talk about it, it is passed — it gets passed on,” she says.

“How does one stop that, I have no idea, but I know that facing it is essential.”

With that in mind, she sent her writing to each of her children and said it was up to them whether they read it. She then requested they write a response, if they felt they could, and included it at the end of her book.

“They all responded,” she said.

Not only did her children respond, but her son, Daniel, had the idea to have his mother join him onstage to perform.

Daniel recently moved to Newfoundland to continue studying for his post-doctorate in music at Memorial University. He focuses on improvisation, performance and composition. 

The first performance was Tuesday at the MUN school of music. The title of the event, "Genocide and Improvisation," is meant to be discordant.

“We think of genocide as a deliberate plan of extermination,” he said. “Right away you have potential, implied opposition between those two words.”

In the Suncor Energy Hall, under a picture of her mother holding her as a child, Irene read from her book while Daniel experimented with various instruments, alternating between sombre runs on the saxophone and vocals, single notes on the piano and playback from audio files on his computer. 

At one point, Daniel blew through his saxophone directly into the grand piano, making the strings resonate and rise up into a quiet metallic drone.

Daniel’s grandmother was like a second mom to him, he said, so he was no stranger to her stories. But while studying music in university Daniel became fixated on his origins. 

“Making sense of all these puzzle pieces in the family history became the most important thing I had ever done in my life,” he said.

“I would sit down with (my grandmother) with a video camera or with some paper and I would ask her to tell me the stories.”

“Making sense of all these puzzle pieces in the family history became the most important thing I had ever done in my life." — Daniel Oore

After reading his mother’s book, he realized there were differences in how those stories were transmitted across generations.

“My mother didn’t talk about any of those stories with us,” he said. “But she’s been telling us those stories in all sorts of other ways … so it’s an enormous relief to actually have these conversations with her.”

Despite it taking so long for the family to feel comfortable talking and listening about their past, Irene is happy to place it on a stage in front of an audience.

“I was silent about this for most of my life and I’m an old woman,” Oore says. “For me to talk about it is an incredible breakthrough. Now that I’ve started I want people to listen and to hear and to think and to react to it.”

Twitter: @andrewlwaterman


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