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It changes you: How the Northern Lights inspired a musical masterpiece

roman zvada plays the piano under the northern lights

It changes you: How the Northern Lights inspired a musical masterpiece

There’s a magic to this place.

It’s the way the skies come alive at night to awaken the creative spirit. It’s how all of your daily distractions melt away when you surround yourself with the silent stirrings of the land.

In the Northwest Territories, life does not take place at some future time. It happens right now, right in front of you. 

Here, you will find yourself inspired by the wonders all around you. You will come to realize that the farther you go from home, the closer you get to who you are.

You will discover that the Northwest Territories changed you.

roman zvada plays the piano in the northwest territories wilderness

The Aurora aren’t supposed to be visible in Los Angeles. They are the Northern Lights after all.

But last March, Québec pianist Roman Zavada took the wondrous celestial light show to a southern California stage when he performed Résonances Boréales, an album of original music he composed under the spectacular Northern Lights outside Yellowknife years earlier. 

Playing to crowds in the glow of a panoramic backdrop of Aurora dancing high above the subarctic NWT landscape, Zavada brought the fluorescent phenomenon he witnessed to life sonically. His compositions are at times playful, mimicking the Aurora when it shimmers across the dome of night. Other songs are epic in scale, building with layer upon layer of sound until reaching a crescendo that pounds with intensity to depict every Aurora fanatic’s dream—the awe-inspiring coronal aurora. These hypnotic events are best likened to a Northern Lights storm, which pulsates and flows with such indescribable energy that part of you believes you might be swept up into the cosmos.

a piano is place on the Canadian shield waiting for the lights to come out

Zavada made the journey north from Montreal, after staring at the stars one night and imagining what creative powers might be unlocked by witnessing the Aurora. Although he had never seen the Northern Lights before, he had an inkling that they would inspire him. He came to Yellowknife, where tens of thousands make the pilgrimage every year to see the lights. He came to understand his muse intimately. Every night for two crisp September weeks, he sat at his grand piano, perched at a scenic lookout outside the capital and away from the city lights. It was here that he let the Northern Lights guide his fingers.

the aurora dance over a piano in the wilderness

Zavada recorded every keystroke he made throughout these nights, improvising the notes based on the sights and sounds he experienced all around him. It took six people to lug the massive instrument to the lookout, but it was well worth it for his unimpeded view of the Aurora from the stark Canadian Shield at Prelude Lake. Zavada soon began to feel a connection with the lights. “Sometimes I started playing and all of a sudden, they showed up,” he said to the CBC. “So I followed them and maybe they followed me too?”

Later, Zavada returned with a film crew to capture high-resolution, 360 footage of the Aurora, which he projects onto panoramas to accompany his concerts. He has toured the show across North America, even playing at planetariums, where audience members position themselves horizontally below a domed screen and let their senses feast on the intimate sounds and sights. 

Zavada’s love of the Aurora is infectious. Résonances Boréales has inspired others to travel to Yellowknife to see the Northern Lights for themselves. “It’s very magical. Almost spiritual,” Zavada said. “There’s something. There’s a special feeling I can’t put into words.”

Listen to Roman Zavada capture that special feeling on Résonances Boréales here.

Book your own transformative Aurora experience with one of our excellent operators.

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