I just got back from a wonderful week-and-a-half-long trip where I visited two friends in British Columbia, hiked in the Canadian Rockies, and attended the 2016 conference of the Canadian University Music Society (MusCan) at the University of Calgary.
This was my first time visiting western Canada. The Rockies were absolutely gorgeous, particularly Lake Louise and Banff. I also very much enjoyed spending a few days in Kimberley, BC with my friend Sunny, where I got to see her in action as a small-town minister (and I sang in her church choir in a Sunday service!), and spending a night with my friend Kelly and her family at their picturesque home nestled between the mountains outside of Golden, BC. Calgary was a pleasant surprise: for a large city, there are sure a lot of nice, large parks, people are quite friendly, and it was relatively easy to get around on public transit. The large Heritage Park living history museum was a great stop that I’d recommend for anyone visiting Calgary. In addition to learning about the history of trading, farming, the railroad, and oil in western Canada, I gained a greater appreciation of Indigenous history and cultures and the Chinese immigrants who built North America’s western railroads (for little pay and with tragically high mortality rates and few legal protections). I was also pleasantly surprised to stumble across an early 20th-century prairie synagogue, where a “Mrs. Ullman” told me in a heavily Yiddish-inflected accent of the good life she left behind in Europe to come to a more tolerant place for Jews.
Me with Sunny at a waterfall in Kimberley, BC
Me in Banff
The MusCan conference was held as part of the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where 70 different Canadian academic societies for the humanities and social sciences held meetings and conferences. I attended three events open to all Congress attendees, of which I particularly enjoyed the Gay History Walking Tour, where I learned of the impressive work that University of Calgary students, faculty, and staff have been doing to support the LGBT community since the 1970s. I was especially thrilled to see multi-stall “all-gender washrooms” on campus. It turns out the University and Calgary have a rich LGBT history. You can read more about this history at the website of the Calgary Gay History Project.
At MusCan one of the most informative event I attended was a panel on music history pedagogy. I learned of some new teaching resources and strategies that I am eager to implement in my classroom in the fall. The conference was held jointly with the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, so I got to attend a fascinating keynote presentation given by Laura Millar on the challenges that libraries and archives are facing as we enter the digital age. Simply put, the internet has made lots of information accessible to us anywhere and at any time, but there are few mechanisms for ensuring the longevity of this information (think of how often you encounter broken links). Thus, librarians, archivists, researchers, government organizations, and software and hardware developers need to be working together to ensure that the resources we can access on the web today are available for many years to come. I also attended a fun presentation by John Higney about music with anti-Stephen Harper messages in the 2015 Canadian federal election. Harper inspired many attack songs, probably because he was an easy target as a (rather amateur) musician himself and because he had served as Canada’s controversial Prime Minister for nearly ten years. These songs were likely an important impetus behind the recent shift to a Liberal majority parliament.
My MusCan presentation was related to my dissertation work on the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, but went beyond my dissertation to consider the similarities and differences between King’s and Libera, another popular English all-male choir that sings sacred music. Libera sings pop and classical crossover music in concerts that are elaborately staged “liturgies” that include artificial reverb and amplification, whereas King’s sings more traditional classical works in Anglican services and does not use sound manipulation technologies. Despite these differences, I argued that the two choirs are similar, as both sing with the so-called “English sound” for sacred choral music (light, bright, breathy, and with limited vibrato and few changes in expressive elements such as tempo and dynamics), both are part of a longstanding commercializing and popularizing impulse in sacred choral music in Britain (think of the BBC’s many broadcasts of sacred music starting in the 1920s), both present a carefully crafted image to listeners (albeit different images), and both provide moving spiritual and musical experiences to listeners. If you would like to learn more about my presentation, I have uploaded the PowerPoint (both as .pptx and .pdf files) to Dropbox: http://bit.ly/1ORk5Fd. Below are three short YouTube videos that I discussed in the presentation:
1) The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Once in Royal David’s City (first hymn in the video), sung at the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service, December 2011
2) Libera singing “Libera” by Robert Prizeman (2007 concert video)
3) Interview with Libera fan Mark Prouse from 2009 TV documentary (play to 22:21)
Overall, I had a great trip. I am sad that it is over, but excited to get to enjoy another summer back in Montreal!