John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music”, November 5, 2016 at Museum London

Words Festival fo the litereary Arts, London, Ontario November 4-, 2016.
Words Festival of the Literary Arts, London, Ontario November 4-6, 2016.

The 2016 James Reaney Memorial Lecture was given by composer, music educator, and writer John Beckwith, who became friends with James Reaney during their student days at the University of Toronto in 1946. A shared love of music drew them to collaborate on several operas, plays, and musical collages. In his lecture, John Beckwith recalls their work together and James Reaney’s approach and influences. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

((( ♦ ))) Archived recordings of several Beckwith-Reaney works are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase.

((( ♦ ))) A video recording of John Beckwith’s lecture is available on YouTube:

James Reaney and Music

To accompany his 2001 article about Branwell Brontë in the journal Brontë Studies, James Reaney contributed the following brief biographical note: “James Reaney at 14 was sent to market to sell potatoes; earned more than enough to buy a cheap copy of Wuthering Heights…and life was never the same again.” Writing for a history of the Guelph Spring Festival a decade or so earlier (1992), he said, “My experiences of opera were scrubbing kitchen floors on Saturday” – his kitchen had more than one floor? – “and hearing the Met broadcasts as I did.” These references evoke the persona Reaney created for himself, now so familiar to his readers: the figure of a Southwest Ontario farm boy who as likely as not on breaks from his potato-marketing or his scrubbing enjoyed a cup of tea accompanied by a slice of bread sprinkled with brown sugar (see his preface to the reprint of Ann Cardwell’s novel Crazy to Kill). Such reminders frequently occur in the work of the sophisticated adult Jamie.

Jamie and I met in the late 1940s as undergraduates at the University of Toronto. I had a strong interest in literature and especially theatre, and he was very keen about music, so we became close friends. We sometimes played piano duets together, attended student get-togethers, concerts, plays. I accompanied him to many of the movie replays he was so fond of. He would find that Oliver Twist was showing on some suburban screen, a film he’d already seen a dozen times but had to see again. At least once, we attended two films on the same day – Chaplin’s City Lights in the afternoon followed by Olivier’s Hamlet in the evening. Through him I became part of a university literary scene and developed further valued friendships.

It was inevitable we should consider some sort of collaboration. He loaned me a typescript of The Red Heart, the poetry collection which when published earned him his first Governor General’s Award. “The plums are like blue pendulums / That thrum the gold-wired winds of summer.” (The original lines I loved and memorized are slightly different.) The passage has a musical resonance but I didn’t feel moved to actually set it to music. I relished the beginning and end of “Scenes for a Stereoscope,” and recited them in my head many times:

By the see-saw shore

Walks a tall man

Who looks at the sea

And says:

Oh sea, as you forever see-saw,

Where, where is my marjorie daw?

And the sea replies: Haw, haw,

You will never find your marjorie daw

But must go back to your wife

For the rest of, haw haw, the rest of

The rest and remainder of your life.

Again there’s a musical beat in those echoes and repetitions and syncopations, but it was my feeling that singing the words would not be any kind of useful enhancement or amplification.

However, I was stimulated in a more active way by the six poems of “The Great Lakes Suite” – another inclusion in that 1949 collection — and with Jamie’s permission I made them into a chamber cycle for two voices and three instruments. It has been performed and broadcast many times over the years; sad to say, there is no commercial recording. It marks an advance in my development as a composer and was, I think, my first artistic encounter with my Canadian surroundings and background – an encounter that opened a significant chapter in my work, for which I have always been tremendously grateful to Jamie.

We kept in touch though no longer living in the same town. Colleen once wrote a short play about a family visit by the Reaneys to our home in Toronto, and one summer with our children we gathered for a hilarious softball game on a sand-dune near Goderich. No one who attended can forget James Stewart calling out: “No, Dad, you hold the bat at the other end.” [slide 4]

Reaney’s abilities in music and the effect of music on his creative work have in my opinion not received the recognition they deserve. Growing up in Stratford he studied piano and music theory with Cora Bell Ahrens (1891-1964), whose teaching and original publications earned her a distinguished reputation throughout Canada. If students in the mid-twentieth century didn’t attend lessons and classes in her studio they at least knew the pedagogy text and the harmony and sight-reading manuals of the author with the musical initials “CBA.” Under her guidance, Reaney followed the Toronto Conservatory piano exam syllabus up to its penultimate level, Grade X. He was a collaborator with whom I felt I could discuss musical values, one for whom the musical vocabulary was familiar ground – more than it is, let’s say, for the average casual listener or lover of music. At the same time he was a follower of musical happenings and knew a lot of musical repertoire through either performing or listening.

In his poetic cycle about Stratford, Twelve Letters to a Small Town, Jamie paid tribute to Cora Ahrens in the “Eighth Letter,” subtitled “The Music Lesson.” The cycle was a CBC Radio commission for which I was the collaborating composer, and I therefore had input on several of the poems, including this one. It depicts a piano lesson in which the student, after playing a few exercises and a set piece called “The Storm,” is asked to display his progress on another piece called “A Year in the Town,” by playing each of the four sections (representing the four seasons) first one hand at a time and then with both hands together. Both “The Storm” and “A Year in the Town” have appropriate spoken texts to which the music corresponds. Although the published Twelve Letters clearly indicates it’s a collaborative work, several reviewers dismissed this “Music Lesson” sequence as the ultimate in modernist nonsense. [slide 2: “The Music Lesson.”]

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was the second in a series of half a dozen radio “collages” (as we called them) which Jamie and I produced for CBC Radio between 1960 and 1967. They are informal and sometimes experimental pastings-together of literary and musical ideas, using small groups of voices and instruments. In the first two collages the voices speak against music; in the later ones they both speak and sing. The most ambitious of these efforts was the centennial collage-trilogy Canada Dash, Canada Dot – consisting of, first, an imaginary cross-Canada tour; second, a trip north from Toronto and into the nineteenth-century past; and finally a series of brief Canadian images, the last one being a hockey game. This excerpt is the Newfoundland sequence from Part One, where the soprano (Mary Morrison) has to pretend she’s an iceberg. [slide 3: “A Riddle.”]

In 1973 Jamie and I were commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to write something for their children’s series. The idea was a story for narrator and symphony orchestra. The standard piece in this genre, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, had much charm and some good tunes, and with a prominent personage as the narrator could always be counted on as an audience-pleaser. But the Orchestra had done it repeatedly and was looking for something different, maybe (it was daringly suggested) something Canadian. Jamie entitled his story All the Bees and All the Keys. He said he had always wanted to write about a) bees and bee-keeping and b) small-town Ontario marching bands. The work picks up where the much-anthologized poem “The Royal Visit” from The Red Heart left off. Rivalry between two brass bands is sorted out by the intervention of the queen bee (enacting the part of a fairy godmother), and the result is performed during a state visit to the town by the governor-general. “All the Keys” were represented by the residents of, originally, twelve bee-hives; but I had to remind Jamie that the tonalities based on the twelve degrees of the chromatic scale could be either major or minor, so we had to have not twelve but twenty-four hives. He was fascinated by the idea of a special skill needed by clarinetists, trumpeters, and sometimes other instrumentalists – the skill of quick transposition. He went overboard in having the villainous bandmaster demand this of every auditioning player, and moreover into all the keys, and I went along with this fantasy. The bee-keeper’s talented but impoverished son, auditions on (among other things) a “dandelion horn,” and is expected to play a sight passage a fourth higher than written. The piece has been done several times over the years by the TSO, and I made a chamber reduction which has also had a few performances.

In 1981 Jamie returned to the town band theme in one of his “urban community plays,” theatre pieces on local themes performed by casts of local amateurs. This is I, The Parade, based on the career of the German-born bandmaster, composer, and entrepreneur Charles F. Thiele, and produced in Kitchener, the town where Thiele lived and where his Waterloo Music Company, a publisher and instrument maker, still survives. A pageant rather than a play, the piece at one point depicts a penniless band performing on –yes – dandelion horns.

Our first opera predated all these ventures. We worked on it slowly through the mid-1950s, almost entirely by correspondence, while starting to raise families and work on tenure, he in Winnipeg and I in Toronto. No one seemed interested in staging it, but we were fortunate that CBC Radio offered a broadcast production, and, encouraged by its success, repeated it the following year. In the season 1959-60 we were supported by a small committee of friends to raise funds for a live staging of our own. The painter Louis de Niverville had just had a successful exhibition at a Toronto gallery, and joined our team as designer of the set and costumes. We used his image of the cereus flower posed on one of the chairs in all our publicity, and the set, Mrs Brown’s kitchen-parlor, was reproduced with an advance article in the Globe and Mail, with some of the costume sketches superimposed. The high backs de Niverville imagined for the chairs had to be reduced because they dwarfed the singers. [slides 5, 6: NBC poster & set]

In Hart House Theatre’s Evening with James Reaney and John Beckwith in April 1960 we created unintentionally an event, a “happening.” Robert Fulford’s Daily Star review described not only what occurred onstage but also the kind of first-night audience it attracted: “The combination of a literary, musical and theatrical event – unparalleled in recent history – brought out the Toronto intelligentsia in astonishing force: a thick cluster of literary magazine editors, a good-sized clutch of poets, some scattered avant-garde musicians, a strong delegation from the groves of academe, and a fair sprinkling of experimental theatre people. This created only two problems: the writers tended to talk during the instrumental passages, and the musicians sometimes indicated they didn’t know what Reaney was talking about. In Toronto in 1960, the artistic life is normally lived in tight compartments. Last night was an historic exception.”

This Evening consisted of a short brass work by me as a curtain-raiser, then A One-Man Masque performed unforgettably by Jamie, and after the intermission our first opera, the one-act Night Blooming Cereus.

It was a departure from conventional opera fare, first, in that all the sex and violence in the story happens before the curtain goes up. Second, the central character, played by a mezzo soprano, is a pious old woman in a small Souwesto community, probably Shakespeare, just down the road from Stratford. Third, the middle scene is a fifteen-minute solo for Mrs Brown depicting one by one various aspects of her lonely life – giving thanks for food, dishwashing, sweeping, sewing, watering her plants, and accompanying herself at the parlor harmonium in a hymn. There is a second hymn near the end, sung by Mrs Brown and most of the other characters. It was Jamie more than anyone who convinced me of the importance of hymnody in the lives of Canadians in earlier generations, and stimulated me to investigate the idiom of North American tunebooks and hymnals: research and writing in this area later became one of my main academic preoccupations. Jamie’s hymn texts, and the Cereus plot itself, display an outlook familiar from Christian devotion. Jamie stopped going to church in his early adult years but later resumed; in an interview he said he wasn’t sure whether he qualified as a bona-fide Christian. I stopped going to church and have never resumed – which makes us different. But I have never felt any conscientious objection to the biblical or overtly Christian passages in this or our later collaborations: they belonged to the characters or to Jamie, and my job was to find the appropriate music for them.

Regarding the much-criticized “domestic song cycle” of Mrs Brown, Jamie had some characteristic words. “The people who want to dress up and drag their husbands in tuxedos to an opera were certainly not going to accept an aria about washing dishes.” “What a contrast to Debussy and Verdi where Mélisande and Violetta have no house plants to take care of and do not seem to have washed a dish in their life.” The dishwashing song has a refrain, “plate, cup, knife, fork, spoon, and jug,” which is repeated for five verses, each time with a different permutation of these nouns. Patricia Rideout, who made such a strong impression as Brown, said that refrain was the hardest part of memorizing her role. I could have made it harder by using corresponding permutations of six notes for each repeat, but fortunately that didn’t occur to me. The dramatic point of the song is that the domestic chore keeps reminding her of her long-lost daughter. [slide 7: Dishwashing Song]

When I first showed the score of Night Blooming Cereus around, I was told it was far too difficult for a student opera department to consider producing. To date there have been to my knowledge three full stagings and two more partial performances of the work by university opera schools among our revivals. Mrs Brown hasn’t always had real water for her dishwashing, as Rideout did in that first production.

In Jamie’s essay “An Evening with Babble and Doodle” (in Canadian Literature) he says that when I called for more variety of metre in the draft libretto of Night Blooming Cereus he was “galvanized into, at the time and for me, incredible labours of counting syllables, making parallel lines exactly the same length and finding good clean, clear and sonorous rhymes… From those Manitoba fall nights…I date my birth as a craftsman in words.” In the detailed critical commentary of Reaney’s playwriting career in Craig Stewart Walker’s The Buried Astrolabe, the author calls this libretto “one of the most successful of Reaney’s early works.” Walker applies the musical terms “rhythm” and “incantation” to quoted passages from two of the early plays, The Killdeer and The Easter Egg. About the speech of Mrs Budge in Act 2 of The Killdeer, “The River of Time,” he writes that the character “suddenly find[s] herself bursting into inspired lyricism.” Actually, in the original production under Pamela Terry’s direction, Budge sang these lines, as I can testify, having created the music for the show.

The hymn tunes in Cereus are my own invention, imitating the North American protestant hymn style. Jamie had convinced me that this style was widely familiar in earlier days – a form of pop melody in fact. So I decided my background score for The Killdeer would consist of variations on a hymn tune, this time an existing tune rather than a made-up one. It’s called Blessed Name, and I got it from a gospel collection edited by Homer A. Rodeheaver that Jamie lent me. This bit of musical borrowing had no religious intention; the melodic and rhythmic features simply seemed the right sort of vernacular for these Reaney characters and the locale and era of their stories.

After the experience of Night Blooming Cereus, both Jamie and I were keen to work on another opera. In view of the bewilderment some people felt at the retrospective nature of Cereus, I said I thought the next one should be a fast-moving comedy. Jamie came up with a libretto based on the ancient marriage tradition of the “charivari,” or in North American lingo “shivaree”—a raucous tin-pan serenade under the newlyweds’ bedroom balcony, for which the groom is expected to pay a forfeit to the serenaders, who spend it on an alcoholic spree. The Shivaree is in fact the opera’s title. Jamie had family lore relating to shivarees enacted in Stratford in his growing-up days. In our premiere production, we didn’t go so far as the buzz-saw he remembered from some of these real events, but the outsize auto horn, horse-harness jingle bells, and resonant frying pan from that premiere will give you the flavor. [show-&-tell]

Daisy, tired of waiting for her shy bookworm boyfriend Jonathan to propose, has agreed to marry the village moneybags, fifty-eight-year-old William Quartz. As the shivaree troupe gathers, Jonathan elects to join them, and together they manage to rescue Daisy before the union is consummated. It is then discovered that Quartz has inscribed his first wife’s name in the register instead of Daisy’s, so the marriage is invalid. Jamie is recalled as a mythopoetic disciple of Frye. If Quartz is Bluebeard, Daisy (carried away to Hell by this monster) is Persephone, and Jonathan (who accompanies himself on a soft guitar in contrast to the loud shivaree band) is Orpheus. For my part I imagined classical opera models for Miss Beech (the Queen of the Night) and the hired man Ned (Despina). The band makes three successive tries at rousing Quartz. I heard these “Shivaree Musics 1, 2, and 3” as variations on a familiar vamping routine of Tin Pan Alley days. [piano; slide 8] After the first burst, Quartz disperses the band with his shotgun. Jonathan is heard with faint sounds from his guitar. He persuades the band to give it another try. Rousing Quartz again, they draw him away by warning him that a gypsy troupe has invaded his property. Jonathan has an opportunity to sing to Daisy. With Quartz again in charge after the false gypsy alarm, Jonathan joins the shivareers in a threat to burn Quartz’s barn, and their third serenade ends with a shout of “Fire!”

Cereus engaged us over a period of five years, though actually working on it consumed altogether maybe half a year. Urjo Kareda in the Globe and Mail noted the similarly lengthy gestation of The Shivaree and concluded that our interest in it had waned. It was written between 1966 and 1978, a period of twelve years – a period when both of us were heavily occupied (with jobs and families); again the actual creation (writing, re-writing, composition, scoring) took not twelve years but something like a year-and-a-half. For our next operatic collaboration, Crazy to Kill, we were fortunate to have our first commission, from the Guelph Spring Festival, and so production proceeded more rapidly – we finished it in less than a year, in fact.

When we were approached by the Guelph organization, Jamie suggested two possible topics – one based on the Children of Peace sect in early-nineteenth-century Ontario and the other adapted from a detective novel published in Stratford around 1940. I had just finished a couple of other works focusing on the Children of Peace, so I favored the second idea. Jamie eventually completed the Children of Peace libretto and it was set to music by Harry Somers, as Serinette.

The detective novel, Crazy to Kill by Ann Cardwell, concerns a gory series of murders in a mental institution. The Guelph commission was for a modest cast and instrumental backing; we fast-talked them into allowing us slightly more than the originally-allotted two singers and a piano: our piece called for three singers and two actors, plus piano, percussion, and a certain amount of pre-recorded sound. The cast of the story is of course much larger – more than twenty individual roles. Jamie’s concept, based on some of his other theatre works, was to have each live performer handle several roles, with the aid of doll-puppets. A gifted puppeteer, Anna Wagner-Ott, created eighteen doll-puppets, of about two-thirds life-size but light enough to be manipulated by the performers. [slides 9, 10, 11: pictures of doll-puppets]

Jamie, with his wizardly stage-sense, envisioned, among the doll-puppets, some representing characters that are also played by live performers. This led to interesting situations where the audience had to imagine the baritone as a live police detective conversing with a doll-puppet as another police detective, and then the reverse, or the live Agatha transforming into Agatha the doll-puppet and having her face slapped by a live nurse. In one of the murder scenes, the baritone sings (falsetto) the lines of the nurse, Miss Currie (actually a police spy), while holding the Currie doll-puppet. Miss Currie at the start of the scene is depicted settling Agatha, and another patient, the eccentric francophone Madame Dupont. (The costume design for Madame Dupont is by Sue LePage.) [slide 12, 13: Mme Dupont; Crazy murder scene]

My contribution was to urge Jamie for some extended musical moments, such as the aria where Agatha imagines escaping from the nursing home or her summing-up near the end, which took the form of a verse-song like those in the Brecht-Weill musicals. I was always looking for opportunities in the libretti for such set-pieces — to provide gratifying moments for the singers. In The Shivaree, for example, I persuaded him to expand some passages for the characters of Miss Beech and Aunt Annie, turning them into formal solos. There are occasional spoken lines in all our operas, but singing a line or an extended text always intensifies it – an obvious and essential point of the operatic genre.

Jamie paid tribute to Harry Somers in his notes on Serinette and said how he had enjoyed having “no rewrites” – a no-doubt-unconscious reference to his work with me. With the unparalleled success of Serinette in its run at the historic Sharon Temple in 1990, John Miller (manager of that production, and Jamie’s agent at the time) proposed making it the first of a trilogy of operatic works on Ontario history. Serinette treated a crisis period in the Toronto of the 1830s. A second opera would be a “prequel,” based on the founding of the city, and the concluding piece would have William Lyon Mackenzie as its main character. That third script was never written. For the second, Jamie spent a long period researching the Simcoe diaries and consulting with archivists at Fort York, and produced what I always thought was one of his finest scripts, Taptoo! The title refers to the evening bugle call that signalled the return to barracks of carousing troops, a signal that grew into a musical performance now known as the “tattoo.” Jamie’s researches extended to the musical habits and usages of Upper Canadians in those pioneer years. The script, I was surprised to learn, was rejected by two other composers before Miller offered it to me. I worked on it with Jamie for over a year, and we had a good tryout before an invited audience. But funding for a full-scale stage production was elusive, partly because the economic scene of the later 1990s wasn’t as favorable for the arts as it had been a few years earlier. Eventually Taptoo! did reach the stage, once in Montreal with modified instrumental support and twice in Toronto with the intended orchestration. In a poster for the 2003 Toronto production, we used a photo that Kathleen and I took at Fort George, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the site of most of Act 2. [slide 14.]

It’s the longest and most demanding of our operas. The first of its two acts depicts John Graves Simcoe as a major in the British force during the American War of Independence, while the second moves ahead in time to portray him in the founding of Fort York, which at the final curtain is a fragile town under threat of the War of 1812. The narration is mainly handled by two boy sopranos. In our initial tryout and in the downtown Toronto production, we had excellent children for these parts, although in the other stagings we had to accept slightly built young women singers, which proved disappointing — an unsatisfactory substitute for the intended vocal quality. With the knowledge of the locale and the historical period he had acquired, Jamie’s libretto contained numerous quotations from writings and proclamations, and similarly my score quotes from over twenty musical sources – military tunes, tavern songs, hymn tunes, patriotic numbers of the period. The opening chorus echoes “Yankee Doodle,” and Simcoe sings his proclamation of the new town to phrases from “Rule, Britannia.” The treatment was quite different from our other operatic works; it resembled the mix of drama and familiar tunes found in the eighteenth-century form of the ballad opera, and I took to calling Taptoo! a “documentary ballad opera.” The illustration is an Act 2 duet for Elizabeth Simcoe and the indigenous wife of our now-grown-up narrator no. 1. This piece was not part of the original libretto, but I urged Jamie to enlarge the roles of these two female characters and he produced a fresh and beautiful text. Atahensic introduces elements of the Niagara area to the newly-arrived governor’s wife – five of them, representing the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Mrs Simcoe is reminded of elements from her life in England. When Atahensic wants to know if she and her husband will be invited to the Simcoes’ ball, Mrs Simcoe says, only if they’re “properly married,” at which Atahensic rather loses her cool. [slide 15: Taptoo! duet]

I’m sorry to have to play you that duet with the instrumental part reduced to a piano. In an age when new operas are regularly captured for posterity on either compact disc or video, the archival resources for our first three operas include full-scale recordings, but for Taptoo! the only extant complete recording is of the first workshop with piano and drums, and I really regret that for none of our productions is there any usable video.

In Craig Walker’s book, he writes of an “unfinished opera” called The House by the Churchyard. This reference comes from the publication (in Books in Canada in 1988) of a fragment under that title, taken from Jamie’s sketches for a new stage work using the juvenile writings of the Brontës – Branwell and his three famous sisters. In the mid-1980s Jamie and I had both visited the Brontë parsonage in Howarth, Yorkshire, the “house by the churchyard” of the title, and we had many discussions about this projected work, in which not only the stories but their authors would be portrayed. I began to receive from him bundles of new script, always with extensive additions to the already-oversized cast and multiple scene-changes. At length he said the piece was turning into another trilogy like The Donnellys. It was all fascinating but hard to keep straight and hard to imagine as an opera, practically speaking. I told Jamie I felt unequal to the task and suggested he should consider making it a play. This he did, and as Zamorna! it was successfully staged by a student cast of George Brown College under David Ferry’s direction. I was deeply impressed by it and hope to see it revived.

In 1992, we were invited to devise something in the style of our early radio collages for a University of Toronto symposium honoring Northrop Frye. This was In the Middle of Ordinary Noise: an auditory masque. It was produced at the symposium in the acoustically challenging venue of the Victoria College chapel, and afterwards the script was published in the symposium proceedings. I was uncertain about the possibilities of a revival, but the live production in 2005 by the Toronto Masque Theatre, in a program which also included One-Man Masque, was encouragingly received. The title of the program was “Masques for a Reaney Day.” Ordinary Noise is a mix of music and words, this time mostly words by Frye and quotations from literature. I chose some of the literary quotes, and Jamie suggested several specific musical ones. An actor portrayed Frye and we had a singer and three or four assorted instruments.

I was eager to embark on another opera, and found an attractive story, set in Scotland, not Canada. Jamie liked it, and sent me an original and lively draft scenario. I was unlucky however when I showed this to several potential producers: they didn’t agree with me regarding its possibilities. Jamie and I had both said we weren’t ready to start on such a venture without some assurance of a production. Then Jamie’s illness was a further obstacle. So that idea remains just an idea.

Though ours was a close friendship and we worked together on many schemes, I had hardly any knowledge of Jamie’s life as a mentor to younger writers. In the late 1990s my son Symon sent an 80-page original essay to various writers he knew, including Jamie, asking for their comments. The essay was a dark, often savagely satirical comment on modern-day living, presented in the character of Balthasar from Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. Another writer he approached was Steven Heighton, whose recent book, The Waking Comes Late, is the 2016 winner of the Governor General’s Award for poetry. We were touched to discover that book is dedicated to Symon. Jamie’s letter contained both praise & encouragement. His advice was that Symon should “loosen things up…and keep the metaphysical structuring down, down, down. In the thirties,” he said, “Aldous Huxley used to do this well – then he lost the knack.” “Keep a diary,” he told Symon, “and keep at it.” Revised versions of the essay, and other similar writings, continued, but whether they were sent for publisher consideration I can’t be sure; Symon handled his writing with strict secrecy. In the early 2000s Symon’s depression defeated him. His passing was a great shock. Jamie sent us a drawing of Symon as a defiant fist, and we continue to display it alongside a couple of other artworks by Jamie in our living room. [slide 16.]

Jamie and Colleen attended the 2003 performances of Taptoo! at the University of Toronto. The University’s Munk Centre organized a program of discussions around the opera’s topic and Jamie & I both spoke. [slides 17, 18: poster; photo] I think it was his last visit to Toronto.

Copyright John Beckwith, 2016. Reproduced with permission of the author.

For more about composer John Beckwith and his work with James Reaney, see his 2012 autobiography Unheard of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.