Fall Forum #2 – Sing Me a Song of Canada

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submitted by Janet Broadley

Thea Herman opened our second fall forum meeting of 2018, ‘Sing Me a Song of Canada’, presented by Robin Elliott, Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. Professor Elliott was introduced by Jill Humphries and thanked by Bob Accinelli. Unfortunately, the technological sources were incompatible resulting in no visuals during the talk; however, Professor Elliott’s enthusiasm, clarity, knowledge of his subject and melodious singing voice kept the audience totally absorbed. He even managed to encourage some of the braver souls to sing the Canadian songs along with him.

Toronto has been known as the choral capital of North America; it has been said that the Scottish Presbyterian immigrants invented Canada. In the 1800’s the Scottish Caledonia Society celebrated the patron Saint Andrew with an annual feast and music. ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ is a patriotic song composed by Alexander Muir in 1867, the year of confederation. The song celebrates English Canada’s identity, there is no mention of the French or any other immigrant identities.

Music may have been the midwife at the Confederation Conference in 1867 with Sir John A. Macdonald, bringing all regional participants together for evening festivities with music, dance and song after a day of serious, boisterous debates.

‘O Canada’, music by Calixa Lavallee, French lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier remained a French only anthem for some 20 years. It was not performed in English Canada until 1901. English lyrics were written by Robert Stanley Weir but the piece was first heard in french one evening on the campus of Laval University in Quebec City in 1880. Saint Jean Baptiste Day is a holiday celebrated on June 24th by Quebecois and French Canadians across Canada, Jean Baptiste is a saint in Quebec.

‘Gens du pays’ has been called the unofficial anthem of Quebec. Written by poet, songwriter Gilles Vigneault, avowed Quebec nationalist and Gaston Rochon, it was first performed on Mount Royal on June 1975 at the Fete nationale du Quebec ceremony. Rene Leveque, leader of Parti Quebecois, called it, ‘the most beautiful Quebecois song in the minds of all Quebecers’. He attempted, through a referendum, to negotiate the political independence of Quebec..

In 1914/1915, WWI patriotic music was needed, and marching songs were in abundance. A few of these songs were, ‘Good Luck to the Boys of the Allies’, with words and music by Morris Manley and sung by his daughter, Little Miss Mildred Morris, in a family vaudeville act. Another popular song, Onward Christian Soldiers, was written by Arthur Sullivan of the famous operatic duo, Gilbert and Sullivan.

In 2009, ‘Oh…….Canada’, – words and music by rapper ‘Classified’/Luke Boyd, sampling of ‘O Canada’. He sings about hockey sticks, beavers-ironically poking fun at classical Canadian symbols. In his video he has fun with Canuck stereotypes and hockey, showing 90 percent of the players are white as fist pumping and stick wielding devotees look on.

Keyann Cabdi Warsame / K’naan, a Somalian refugee to Canada and gifted musician, raised over $1, 000, 000 In 2010 with his song, ‘Wavin’ Flag’, for earthquake victims in Haiti. There were more than 25 million views online. This same song was the anthem of the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 2010 and represents what Canada is and can be in future.

Music is played at political events- the recent legalization of marijuana, sporting events. It also celebrates our diversity, a sense of community and nationalism. Recently, there has been a strong upsurge of Indigenous musical repertoire reflecting our country’s complicated tensions around traditions. We are a country of regions both geographically and musically. A Metis fiddler performed at Vimy Ridge to represent the deep roots of fiddle music in both large and small communities across Canada…..perhaps a reflection of the future of Canadian music.

Thanks to Talks Committee for a patriotic and musical forum.