Archives: music

The Music Lesson from Colours in the Dark

March 2017 in Halifax: King’s Theatrical Society’s production of James Reaney’s Colours in the Dark. (Photo by Erica Guy)

The Music Lesson scene in James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark (Act II Scene 5) borrows from an earlier poetic cycle about Stratford, Ontario: Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962).

Pages 6 and 7 from Twelve Letters To A Small Town (1962). Drawings by James Reaney.

CBC Radio commissioned Twelve Letters to a Small Town and John Beckwith composed music to accompany the poems. In the Eighth Letter (subtitled “The Music Lesson”), James Reaney pays tribute to his Stratford piano teacher Cora B. Ahrens.

The Eighth Letter “…  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.” [Source: John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” November 5, 2016]

From Colours in the Dark (II v) The Music Lesson: PUPIL: Miss Miller. Tell me the truth. Are you really Mr. Winemeyer in disguise? Are men and women the same? (Photo by Erica Guy, King’s Theatrical Society)

 

5. THE MUSIC LESSON

(The GRANDMOTHER is the music teacher; the FATHER is her pupil.)

TEACHER: That will do for your scales. Now play me your piece. Play me “The Storm.” What shall I set the metronome at?

PUPIL: Set it at summer and pink and white and yellow bricks sunlight with blue sky and white feather dumpling clouds.

The cast enters and assists orally.

THE STORM

A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
Came into the blue afternoon room
A cloud and a cloud and a cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
a cloud
Mac Leod
A Cloud
And a cloud and a cloud
Down down down came the cloudy
With a windowpane shudder
And mirrors for your feet
People running into stores
Darkness in the library
Umbrellas blossom
Church is nearer through the rain.
A cloud and a cloud and a cloudy
Came out of the yellow garage
Joseph MacLeod in a many-coloured vest
Danced to the music dying in the west.

This whole piece should have the feeling of yellow and “Chansons sans Paroles” by Mendelssohn.

TEACHER: Why are you looking so sad?
PUPIL: I’ve lost something. I’ve lost a piece of the star Mr. Winemeyer gave me. I was trying to kick it all the way into town and it disappeared in the dirt.
TEACHER: Here – as a reward for playing “The Storm” so well.
She hands him the star.
PUPIL: But Miss Miller. How did you get hold of this? It’s my piece of the star… that I lost while kicking it into town.
She sits down at the piano and begins to play.
TEACHER: Now here’s the next piece of music I’d like you to learn.
She plays him the same piece of music the Hermit played, “On Wings of Song.”
PUPIL: Miss Miller. Tell me the truth. Are you really Mr. Winemeyer in disguise? Are men and women the same?
She smiles and continues playing. The light fades. The Wind and the rain doll pass with their branch shadows. The GRANDMOTHER exits. The GRANDFATHER, still playing the Hermit, crawls onstage. The BOYS run over to him.

((( ♦ ))) For more about “The Music Lesson” in the “Eighth Letter” section of Twelve Letters to a Small Town, see composer John Beckwith’s talk on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Fest 2016. 

((( ))) For more about the play, see Colours in the Dark and Mr. Winemeyer” and the March 2017 production by Edie Reaney Chunn and the King’s Theatrical Society.

John Beckwith at WordsFest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

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 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).

 

 

© 2017 James Reaney