A celebration in film of Five 20th century western Canadian composers...

May 31, 2017

Last Friday evening I was invited to attend the premiere of a series of short films celebrating the lives of five 20th century composers Murray Adaskin, Barbara Pentland, Rudolf Komorous, Jean Coulthard and Elliot Weisgarber.

The films, commissioned by Sean Bickerton, Director of the Canadian Music CentreBC were produced and directed by Award-winning filmmaker John Bolton. The five short art films range in length from just over eight to fourteen minutes and each film features a performance of a signature work by the composer, juxtaposed against a storyline unique to that piece of music, the performers, or the composer.

Sean Bickerton gave a fascinating introduction to the evening following a clip from The Jazz Singer (in 1927 the 'first talkie') pointing out that this was the same year that Canadian composer Jean Coulthard wrote her first composition..... I found it so interesting and such a perfect 'backdrop' to what we were about to experience I have reproduced his comments below and I hope you will enjoy reading it and watching these moving and beautifully made films......

"I find that link to be more than coincidental. It provides a lens to help us place the music of that generation of composers in a distinct historical, social, and cultural context. And it helps us understand how modern — how revolutionary, in fact — their music was juxtaposed against the times they were living through. As you watch this clip from The Jazz Singer, it’s impossible not to think how old-fashioned it is – Jolson’s ‘silent film’ eyes, the Vaudevillian gestures, the dance steps, the costumes …and yet that generation was one of the most modern, the most innovative in history.

They invented the world we live in. They were the adventurers. They did everything we take for granted first. We’re in fact the old-fashioned ones, plodding along in the well-worn tracks they laid down nearly a century ago.

The Roaring 20s was a time of dramatic social and political change. More North Americans lived in cities than farms for the first time in history. Women had only recently gained the right to vote. That generation was the first to produce and listen to both radio and television. The first generation to drive cars. The first to fly.

They created mass communication, giving rise to the mass culture and mass consumerism we are part of today. The first commercial radio station hit the airwaves in 1920; three years later there were more than 500, and by the end of the 1920s, there were radios in more than 12 million households. Everyone, everywhere listened to the same music – jazz – and did the same dances.

The year The Jazz Singer was released, people bought 100,000,000 records. 75% of the population were going to a new movie every week and nearly one in five people owned a car. By the end of the decade, the Roaring Twenties had crashed into the Great Depression, traumatizing an entire generation.
But what they created lived on. As does the body of work created by that remarkable generation of composers to write the first western concert music from BC.

Our thanks to John Bolton and Maggie MacPherson for creating these delightful art films; and to the BC Arts Council for the grants that made the films possible"

If you click through to the story below you can watch each of the films by clicking on the highlighted link to each composer. Do send me an email if you enjoy them!

Ken Grundy

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