On March 8, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music held a 90th birthday celebration for former dean John Beckwith, and he presented a lecture on Canadian music since 1967. Congratulations on your 90th, John!
More concerts featuring John Beckwith’s music are planned:
♦ On April 28, New Music Concerts in Toronto will present a program he is curating, featuring his Avowals (1985) and the premières of two mixed instrumentation chamber works: Quintet (2015) and Calling (2016).
((( ♦ )))Archived recordings of John Beckwith’s music, including several Beckwith-Reaney works, are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre’s Composer Showcase.
In his November 2016 lecture on “James Reaney and Music”, composer John Beckwith recalls James Reaney writing that “My experiences of opera were scrubbing kitchen floors on Saturday and hearing the Met broadcasts as I did.” What did Reaney mean, John wondered, his kitchen had more than one floor?
Yes, it turns out that “scrubbing kitchen floors” plural is accurate because the farmhouse where James Reaney was born in 1926 had two kitchens – a summer kitchen used May through October in the newer part of the house, and a winter kitchen used November through April in the older part of the house.
In his 1992 autobiography*, James Reaney reflects on “Shelter” and his first home:
[From his diary:] “Tuesday, January 3, 1939 – Wind: east, a sleety and very cold wind. Weather: very cold, snow deep, hard to get around.” Two months before we would have moved the stove and ourselves into the winter kitchen; a constant house-in-winter image, therefore, was passing through the summer kitchen, all cold and deserted, on the way to the pump or the barn. […] [p. 297]
On the topic of “Food”, he describes making toast in the summer kitchen:
“The summer kitchen would be filled with smoke resulting from our toasting of thick bread slices over, top of stove lifted, lids and all, open fire. As we sat down to breakfast, the kitchen was transformed by big, blue sun ladders coming in the east windows and slanting down to the linoleum.” [p. 296]
“Asked to name first foods that impressed me almost to the point of saying ‘dietary gods,’ I should have to say OATMEAL, MILK, WATER, TOAST. By many a mile, oatmeal comes first although the hard, hard water from our hundred-foot well is hard to beat.” [p. 295] […]
Now, the farm actually produced oats, a beautiful crop to watch turning from blue-green mist to yellow curved spikelets to dead-white ripe spilling into the granary from the threshing machine pipe. But the pursuit of status symbols prevented us from slipping backwards into primitivism, and my parents shopped for either Quaker Oats (not instant, long cooking; instant is an abomination) or rolled oats (plain brown paper bag). Sometimes in summer (see Alice Munro) we hereticized to Puffed Oats, shot from a cannon and supported by a radio serial called “Sunny Jim.” We even backslid to Kellogg’s Cornflakes or even Rice Krispies – again a radio programme tugged at us, in this case Irene Wicker’s “Singing Lady”; and for a box top from either of the above you could obtain a booklet called When the Great Were Young [sic] – stories of Michelangelo, Giotto, Bach − filled with notions of how to escape if need be from the farm one day. […] [p. 296]
* These autobiographical excerpts are from James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, pages 295-297, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1992.
In his November 5 talk on “James Reaney and Music”, composer John Beckwith recalls their collaboration on a children’s story with symphonic music, 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.” Beckwith also mentioned a scene in James Reaney’s play I, The Parade, where a penniless band with no instruments has to perform with dandelion horns.
I, The Parade tells the story of bandmaster and composer Charles F. Thiele (1884-1954), bandmaster of the Waterloo Musical Society (1919-1951) and Father of Canadian Band Music.* Commissioned as part of the City of Waterloo’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the play was presented at the University of Waterloo in November 1982.
In I, The Parade, the penniless dandelion-horn band appears in a story-within-a-story (told by Charles F. Thiele’s mother and father) that hints at some of the history of the Waterloo Band and its rivalry with the Berlin [Kitchener] Band. As John Mellor notes in his memoir about Professor Thiele, “This keen rivalry between the bands of Waterloo and Berlin/Kitchener became so intense that for a long period no Berlin musicians played in the Waterloo band and vice versa.”**
In this scene from Act I, trumpeter Albert Nafzinger is blackballed from joining the Music Society Band because he lives in the rival village. His sister, Gretel, desperate to play in a band but without an instrument, forms a band of her own: “… and they played with the stems of dandelions — which they called dandelion horns […]”
One two three together
Let’s hear it from the drum
Never mind if it’s a rusty kettle
Down the street we come
Down Park Street, down Union Street,
Turning right on King
Up Albert Street, up Margaret
Buzzing like a bumble bee
Our music’s easy come by.
Break your horn, we’ll never mind:
On Park Street &c. A PASSERBY PUTS A PENNY IN THEIR DRUM.
[Angry at not getting into the band, Albert plots his revenge:]
ALBERT: Gretel, how much would you give me for my trumpet.
GRETEL: Albert. (PAUSE) You didn’t get into the village band.
ALBERT: I’ll get them. I’m not getting mad, no I’m getting even. […]
GRETEL: I’d give anything, do anything to have a trumpet that was my own.
ALBERT: Listen – this is what you must do then. First of all I have Sunday morning rights to practise – I can’t quite give it up, but there’s lots of lonely places outside town I can practise. But – cut your hair real short, put on a suit of my clothes and audition for the empty place in the band and. (PAUSE) It’s all yours.
GRETEL: Do you think I’d get in the band?
ALBERT: If you do, I’ll have my revenge on them. But – if they keep you out – I still keep the trumpet.
GRETEL: And my hair grows back and I can wear a dress again. Albert. (PAUSE) Albert, let me play a bit. Please.
HE DANGLES IT OVER HER HEAD, THEN RUNS OFF WITH IT.
Note from Susan Reaney: This scene is excerpted from a draft manuscript version of I, The Parade, which is part of the James Reaney fonds at Western University Archives. The title at the top reads“Sally Trombone”, which is a ragtime-influenced novelty tune from 1917 featuring a “trombone smear” (true glissando), the specialty of composer and bandleaderHenry Fillmore (1881-1956).
* For more about C.F. Thiele, see John Mellor’s book Music in the Park: C.F. Thiele Father of Canadian Band Music (1988), Waterloo, Ontario. ISBN 0-9692301-2-5 ** John Mellor, Music in the Park, page 18.
John Beckwith and James Reaney became friends during their student days at the University of Toronto in 1946, and a shared love of music drew them to collaborate on several operas, plays, and musical collages. Four operas Night Blooming Cereus(1959), The Shivaree (1982), Crazy to Kill (1988), and Taptoo! (1994) are among the most notable.
Archived recordings of several Beckwith-Reaney works are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase.
When: Saturday November 5 at 4:30 pm
Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario
Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.
Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.
August 23-29, 1965 in Leith, Ontario — Family friend Leith Peterson shares this Polaroid photo taken by her mother, Jay Peterson (1920-1976), who invited James Reaney and family up to her cottage at Leith to create the marionettes for James Reaney’s children’s play Apple Butter.
Here are the Reaney children (James, John, and Susan) and Jay’s niece Elizabeth Tinker with new-made marionette Apple Butter, soon to make his stage debut at the Western Fair in London (September 3-12, 1965).
In The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, James Reaney notes that “what follows here is an account of the events that culminated in the killing of the ‘somewhat notorious Donnelly family’ [4 February 1880] and what happened to the survivors, William and Robert Donnelly, up to their departure from Lucan in 1883. Indeed, subsequent events merit another volume: their arrival in their new home in Glencoe; the fact that the Donnelly brothers retained their father’s farm in Biddulph; that in 1905, Robert came back to live in Lucan, along with his nephew, James Michael, son of the ill-fated Michael Donnelly…” (See The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xv.)
Here is an excerpt from Act II, Scenes 3 and 4, where the two boys visit the old hermit, Mr. Winemeyer, and see his sculptures.
BOY 1: Where’d you get the peacock feather, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: Had a pet peacock once when I was a boy. A big old sow we had had a peeve about it – and one day caught it in the orchard and devoured it. This – was all that was left of my beautiful bird. Sticking out of that beast’s mouth.
BOY 1: holding the feather And nothing else has happened to you lately?
HERMIT: Well – yes – this happened. I happened to be out in the yard scraping out my frying pan when coming down through the air I saw – a falling star.
It does. It is yellow.
BOY 2: What are you going to do with this falling star, Mr. Winemeyer?
4. CEMENT SCULPTURES
SCREEN: Actual slides of the Goderich, Ontario, primitive sculptor Laithwaite – his cement figures.
HERMIT: Come out with me to the orchard and see my latest cement sculptures.
On cue, the sculpture slides appear. They could also be mimed by the Company.
Now here’s Sir John A. at the plow!
Here’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That’s the only film I’ve ever seen and the only one I’ll ever see. You can’t go any higher than that in film art.
BOY 2: Who’s this?
HERMIT: That’s the infant Riel suckled by the buffalo Manitoba.
BOY 1: What’s this one doing, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: I finished that last April — that’s Mackenzie King cultivating the rows of compromise. Now – here is where I’m using this falling star. Here’s Good – in a terrible combat with his brother Evil – over – this.
He places the star between the statue-actor’s hands. The star has now become a lump of rock.
BOY 2: Could I have a piece of that star?
HERMIT: Why sure. These two projecting knobs will never be missed. Both have a piece.
BOYS: Gee, thank you, Mr. Winemeyer.
We hear music. The Windlady appears with her Rain Doll.
HERMIT: Now there’s a good subject for a piece of sculpture.
BOYS: What, Mr. Winemeyer?
HERMIT: The Wind and the Rain.
He and his statues fade slowly. BOY 1 starts playing the bicycle spokes. BOY 2 goes back and says:
BOY 2: Mr. Winemeyer – was the pig your brother? Were you the peacock?
♦ For a delightful tour of George Laithwaite’s sculptures (summer and winter!), see Harrison Engle’s film “Legacy” (1960?), which features commentary by Laithwaite’s family and J.H. Neill, then Curator of the Huron County Pioneer Museum.
Colours in the Dark by James Reaney is available fromTalonbooks.