Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Encyclopedia of Music in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Encyclopedia of Music in Canada

Article excerpt

HELMUT KALLMANN, GILLESPOTVIN, and KENNETH WINTERS, eds. Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1981, xxix, 1076 pp.

About Canadian Music: the P.R. Success

"Canada; the country that one forgets." So said the commentator on a German current affairs television program in 1978. Anyone who has been out of Canada for any length of time cannot help but notice the lack of coverage of all things Canadian, political as well as artistic, in the international press. It was not surprising, then, that John Beckwith, in his seminal article, "About Canadian Music: the P.R. Failure," which first appeared in 1969 in Musicanada, cited editor and critic Robert Fulford as saying that "Canada appears as a great blank on the literary map." Now, thanks to the publication of the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (EMC), no one in the musical community, at home or abroad, can ignore the fact that Canada has a thriving musical life and an interesting and varied past. Without underestimating the individual achievements of scholars such as Willy Amtmann, Beckwith, Kailman, Keith MacMillan, George Proctor, and Clifford Ford, it is the EMC which has put Canada firmly on the musical map.

Beckwith's article, reprinted with additional material in Music (the magazine of the American Guild of Organists and Royal College of Organists) in the summer of 1970, became a kind of classic. It revealed all the blatant misinformation published or the dearth of information available about Canadian music in the world encyclopedias and reference books. It was the kind of model answer you would give your bibliography classes to read in the early seventies, after having asked them to look up "Canada" in the works on the reference shelves of the music library. In its original form in Musicanada, this article was distributed through the foresight of the Canadian Music Centre, to subscribers of Notes: The Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association in the United States. It was to have far more widespread implications. Beckwith threw stones at a large international pond of misinformation. The ripples spread out far and wide. Even if you were unaware of the current state of new music, performance, musical institutions, or scholarship in or about Canadian music, you were aware of Beckwith's articles.

Everyone in the musical community today knows that it was Beckwith's article which became the impetus for publisher and philanthropist Floyd Chalmers to remedy the situation by generously providing the initial funding for a comprehensive musical reference work. He believed that it was essential for Canada herself to fully document her musical achievements before the rest of the world could be expected to talk intelligently about them. This story and its consequences have become history. It is documented in the introduction to the EMC (p. xii) and repeated in most of the reviews. Yet a word of caution is necessary. Beckwith himself is the first to admit that this story, though good public relations, is an oversimplication which does not correspond historically with what happened. Beckwith's article was not a bolt from the blue. Rather, it struck a nerve and in so doing gained a positive response. For Kallmann had already been planning, ever since the appearance of his path-breaking book, A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914, to bring out some kind of reference book in conventional dictionary format as a follow-up. No one can overestimate Kallmann's contribution to our knowledge about Canadian musical life and history and the succes of the EMC is due in no small part to him and to his own tremendous personal knowledge.

With Kallmann at the helm to oversee content, Gilles Potvin and Kenneth Winters responsible for the French and English texts, respectively, this venture grew and grew - like Topsy, as the Toronto Star's William Littler put it - until it finally emerged in that magnificent volume which should be on every Canadian musician's reference shelf. …

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