Archives: John Beckwith

John Beckwith honoured on his 90th birthday

John Beckwith honoured on his 90th birthday

February 23, 2017 — The University of Toronto Opera Division honoured composer John Beckwith with an evening of music from four of his operas — The Shivaree, Night Blooming Cereus, Crazy to Kill, and Taptoo! — all with librettos by James Reaney. The concert was held at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.

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 March 23 his Fractions for microtonal piano and string quartet (2006) will be performed at Schulich Hall, McGill University.

♦ 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.

((( ♦ ))) John Beckwith on James Reaney and Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7I7cIjO4hA

Composer John Beckwith speaks on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Fest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

John Beckwith at Words Fest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

James Reaney: Reflections on Shelter, Food, and “When the Great Were Small”

James Reaney: Reflections on Shelter, Food, and “When the Great Were Small”

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?

James Reaney's childhood home near Stratford, Ontario

James Reaney’s childhood home near Stratford, Ontario — Summer Kitchen entrance.

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]

James Reaney's copy of "When the Great Were Small: Childhood Stories of the Great Artists and Musicians as Told By Kellogg's Singing Lady", 1935 booklet for The Singing Lady radio programme, copyright Kellogg Company. Image courtesy Western University Archives, James Reaney fonds AFC 18.

James Reaney’s boyhood copy of “When the Great Were Small: Childhood Stories of the Great Artists and Musicians as Told By Kellogg’s Singing Lady”, 1935 booklet for The Singing Lady radio programme, copyright Kellogg Company. Image courtesy Western University Archives, James Reaney fonds AFC 18, Box A12-082-029.

* These autobiographical excerpts are from James Crerar Reaney, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 15, pages 295-297, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1992.

James Reaney, age 1 1/2 years, on his front porch, January 1928.

James Reaney, age 1 1/2 years, on his front porch (summer kitchen side) January 1928.

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

James Reaney and Music: Musical bees, marching bands, and dandelion horns

James Reaney and Music: Musical bees, marching bands, and dandelion horns

Illustration from "All the Bees and All the Keys" (1973) from Scripts: Librettos for operas and other musical works (James Reaney 2004).

“All the Bees and All the Keys” (1973); illustration by Ross MacDonald.

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.

Bandmaster C.F. Thiele leading the Waterloo Musical Society Band, 1947. Photo courtesy Waterloo Public Library (images.ourontario.ca)

Bandmaster C.F. Thiele leading the Waterloo Musical Society Band, 1947. Photo courtesy Waterloo Public Library (images.ourontario.ca)

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 […]”

MARCHING SONG

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
Playing, playing

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.

Two pages form the draft manuscript for "I, The Parade" (1981-1982) courtesy Western University Archives James Reaney Fonds AFC 18.

Two pages from the draft manuscript for “I, The Parade” (1981-1982) courtesy Western University Archives, James Reaney Fonds AFC 18.

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 bandleader Henry 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.

All the Bees and All the Keys; illustration by Ross MacDonald.

Illustration by Ross MacDonald from “All the Bees and All the Keys” (1973) from Scripts: Librettos for operas and other musical works (James Reaney 2004).

 

John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Festival

John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Festival

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

Words Festival, London, Ontario November 4-6, 2016.

Thank you all for coming to Museum London for the Seventh Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture to hear composer John Beckwith speak on “James Reaney and Music” and their collaborations together.

NOvember 5, 2016 -- November 5, 2016: James Stewart Reaney introduces composer John Beckwith (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney).

November 5, 2016 — James Stewart Reaney introduces composer John Beckwith. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

John Beckwith was the first composer to set James Reaney’s poetry to music. Thank you, John, for sharing your memories and your music with us.

November 5, 2016: journalist James Stewart Reaney and composer John Beckwith at Museum London. Photo courtesy Cameron Paton.

November 5, 2016 — James Stewart Reaney and composer John Beckwith at Museum London. (Photo courtesy Cameron Paton)

Our thanks also to our hosts Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support in organizing this event. A video of John Beckwith’s lecture is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7I7cIjO4hA

November 5, 2016 -- Western Archives display of James Reaney's writing prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

November 5, 2016 — Western Archives display of James Reaney’s writing prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

We hope to see you all again next year when author and curator Tom Smart will give a talk on James Reaney’s visual art.

James Reaney's watercolur painting "David Willson Forest", 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda morita, McMichael canadian Art Collection)

James Reaney’s 1962 watercolour painting “David Willson’s Vision // David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”. (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, Archivist, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

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

The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

Join us on Saturday November 5 at 4:30 pm at Museum London to hear composer John Beckwith speak about his 40-year collaboration with poet and dramatist James Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

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.

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

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.

Museum London is located at 421 Ridout St North, London, Ontario.

Museum London is located at 421 Ridout St North, London, Ontario.

 

nbclibretto01

From John Beckwith’s 1997 book, Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer (page 219): Page from James Reaney’s draft of the libretto for Night Blooming Cereus, with notes on the central character, Mrs. Brown (Faculty of Music Library, University of Toronto).

 

 

Composer John Beckwith’s music at the Canadian Music Centre

Composer John Beckwith’s music at the Canadian Music Centre

JBCMC

James Reaney was fortunate to have composer John Beckwith set many of his poems to music: The Great Lakes Suite, A Message to Winnipeg, and Twelve Letters to a Small Town. Beckwith and Reaney also collaborated on longer operas Night-blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, and Crazy to Kill.

To listen to original recordings of Beckwith-Reaney works, visit the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase and  set up an account – it’s free!

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

 

Note from Susan Reaney: In his new memoir, Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer,  John Beckwith recalls his career as a composer, including his collaborations with James Reaney. The book is available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

James Reaney’s The Killdeer in Toronto April 12-27

On April 12-27 in Toronto, The Alumnae Theatre Company will present James Reaney’s play The Killdeer, which was first produced by the Company in January 1960. The Killdeer is part of Alumnae Theatre’s “Countdown to One Hundred,” as Alumnae Theatre moves closer to celebrating its first century.

For director Barbara Larose, the play is “a story of growth and coming of age, with elements of love and innocence, a search for identity, and a courtroom drama that arises from a murder mystery.” Sound designer Rick Jones’s score, inspired by John Beckwith’s original music from the 1960 production, also includes “magical elements” — a gypsy motif for Madam Fay, bird cries, and the storm.

When: April 12-27 at 8 pm, Wednesday to Saturday
Sunday matinee at 2 pm on April 14 & 21
Where: ALUMNAE THEATRE COMPANY, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2W6
Tel: 416-364-4170
Tickets: Wednesday: 2 FOR 1 ($20)
Thursday, Friday & Saturday: $20
Sunday Matinee: PWYC

 

"Killdeer" drawing by James Reaney, 1986

“Killdeer” drawing by James Reaney, 1986

 

Pamela Terry (1926-2006), who directed The Killdeer in 1960, was a member of the Alumnae Theatre and directed its first production of Waiting For Godot in 1957. She and her husband, composer  John Beckwith, were friends of James Reaney’s, and she encouraged him to write The Killdeer and persuaded the Alumnae Theatre to produce it. John Beckwith put together a background score for The Killdeer, and in his book, Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, he describes how he composed the score: “… following Pamela’s directorial suggestions, I improvised musical cues at the piano, as she and I devised various muting devices after the model of John Cage’s ‘prepared piano’” (see page 256).

 April 18, 2013 update: To see what reviewers are saying about Alumnae Theatres The Killdeer, see Stage Door, Mooney On Theatre, Cate McKim, and JBNBlog.

Trillium, April 6, 2013, Vancouver, BC

Trillium, April 6, 2013, Vancouver, BC

Twelfth Letter: The Bicycle

Here is James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” — the Twelfth Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

 

The Bicycle

Halfway between childhood & manhood,
More than a hoop but never a car,
The bicycle talks gravel and rain pavement
On the highway where the dead frogs are.

Like sharkfish the cars blur by,
Filled with the two-backed beast
One dreams of, yet knows not the word for,
The accumulating sexual yeast.

Past the house where the bees winter,
I climb on the stairs of my pedals
To school murmuring irregular verbs
Past the lion with legs like a table’s.

Autumn blows the windfalls down
With a twilight horn of dead leaves.
I pick them up in the fence of November
And burs on my sweater sleeves.

Where a secret robin is wintering
By the lake in the fir grove dark
Through the fresh new snow we stumble
That Winter has whistled sharp.

The March wind blows me ruts over,
Puddles past, under red maple buds,
Over culvert of streamling, under
White clouds and beside bluebirds.

Fireflies tell their blinking player
Piano hesitant tales
Down at the edge of the bridge through the swamp
Where the ogre clips his rusty nails.

Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down

On a soul whose only knowledge
Was that everything was something,
This was like that, that was like this–
In short, everything was
The bicycle of which I sing.

September 1966: James Reaney on Richmond Street bicycling to Middlesex College (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)

September 1966: James Reaney bicycling to Middlesex College on the campus of the University of Western Ontario (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. The poems were specially written for composer John Beckwith, who then set them to music for broadcast on CBC Radio’s “Wednesday Night” program.

These photos are from September 1966, when painter and broadcaster William Ronald brought a CBC TV crew to London, Ontario to interview Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers, and James Reaney for the arts magazine show “The Umbrella.”  In ¨The Umbrella¨ segment on London, Ontario’s art scene, William Ronald praises James Reaney as “the best known bike rider in London.″

James Reaney’s drawing for the poem “The Bicycle” from Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962)


Taptoo! in Toronto and John Beckwith’s new memoir

Thank you and congratulations to all the fine musicians and singers who performed Taptoo! so splendidly last month at the Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.  Your spirited performances brought the characters to life.

We especially liked young Daniel Bedrossian as Seth Jr. and Teddy Perdikoulias as Ebenezer Jr., and Lise Maher as Mrs. Jarvis and Allison Angelo as Atahentsic were wonderful in Act II. We loved Todd Delaney as Major John Graves Simcoe and Robert Longo as Colonel “Mad Anthony” Wayne.

Thank you, Larry Beckwith, for conducting and directing the orchestra and singers so well. And thank you, Guillermo Silva-Marin, General Director of Toronto Operetta Theatre, for making the premiere of John Beckwith and James Reaney’s work possible. We wish you every success in the future.

John Beckwith, composer, and his son Larry Beckwith, Conductor and Chorus Director at Taptoo!, February 25, 2012.

 

The Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, February 25, 2012

James Reaney and John Beckwith developed Taptoo! in 1994, when it had a workshop reading at Historic Fort York. Before this professional production (February 24-26, 2012), there were two presentations of Taptoo! by the students of McGill University (1999) and by the opera division of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music (2003).

In his new memoir, Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer John Beckwith recalls his life as a composer, including his collaborations with James Reaney. The book is available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

Taptoo! premiere in Toronto on February 24-26

On February 24-26 next month in Toronto, the Toronto Operetta Theatre will present the premiere of Taptoo!, an opera in two acts, libretto by James Reaney and music by John Beckwith.

The opera is based on events surrounding the founding of the town of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto), roughly from 1780-1810. Using real historical characters like Major John Graves Simcoe as well as imaginary ones, the story tells how a Quaker family, the Harples, flee America to Canada to escape mob violence:

From Scene 1:

MOB: Take off your hat
To the emblem of our state,
Our state, our state!

TWO VOICES:  (shouting) The rattlesnake!

JESSE: Friends, I will
Take off my hat
To neither king nor republic
Nor a flag, nor a …

MOB: You don’t want freedom?

JESSE: Yes. Freedom from all oppressors
Kings or — mobs like yourselves!

MOB: (shouting in unison)
Take off your hat!

(Jesse does not move. Pause, then sudden quick action as they seize him.)

MOB: Tar and feather him!
Seize that tub,
Burn that little flag there!

In a recent article about his collaboration with James Reaney, John Beckwith describes the music of Taptoo! “as the modern equivalent of a ballad opera, in which scraps of familiar songs and dances would now and then drift in to the musical score. I included about 20 such musical references — hymn tunes, popular sentimental or patriotic songs, dances, marches and, of course, historical military music.”*

Taptoo! will be led by Larry Beckwith, Conductor, and Guillermo Silva-Marin is the Stage Director. Featured performers are Robert Longo,Michael Barrett, Todd Delaney, Sarah Hicks, and Mark Petracchi.

When: February 24 and 25 at 8 pm; February 26 at 2 pm

Where: Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front Street East Toronto, M5E 1B4

Order your tickets here from the St. Lawrence Centre box office, or

by phone: (416) 366-7723 or 1-800-708-6754

See you there!

Old Fort York at the foot of Bathurst Street in 1793

The full libretto for James Reaney’s Taptoo! is available in Scripts: Librettos for Operas and Other Musical Works, published by Coach House Books.

*John Beckwith, “Portrait of a partnership,” Opera Canada, Fall 2011, page 32.

© 2017 James Reaney