Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

The first thing you see when you visit composer John Beckwith’s home is his bicycle, standing in the hallway. At 83, he’s an avid cyclist, and can be often seen on the streets of Toronto. He lives in the Annex, a neighbourhood of fine old houses, about a 10-minute pedal from the University of Toronto, where he taught for almost four decades. Fittingly, it was at the U of T’s Walter Hall that a full program of his music was presented by Toronto’s New Music Concerts in September.

As a composition teacher, he gave instruction to over 100 students, up to his retirement in 1990. It’s an impressive list, containing some of the country’s leading figures in new music: Robert Aitken, Bruce Mather, Henry Kucharzyk, Peter Hatch, Kristi Allik, Alice Ping-Yee Ho, John Burge, Omar Daniel, Clark Ross and James Rolfe, among others.

He’s also maintained a parallel career as a writer, penning reviews and essays on a variety of musical subjects as well as a series of books. In Search of Alberto Guerrero (about his piano teacher) appeared in 2006, and a new book about composer John Weinzweig (co-edited by Beckwith and composer Brian Cherney and published by Wilfred Laurier University Press) will be launched this month, funded in part by the SOCAN Foundation.

But most of all, Beckwith is a composer, with a substantial number of works in his catalogue. “The number is probably close to 150 nowadays,” he says. “And some of them are fairly big pieces. My opera Taptoo! takes two and a half hours.”

Some of his pieces have received numerous performances — and he has mixed feelings about a few. “My most performed pieces, Five Lyrics of the Tang Dynasty (1947), are very slight. But they were published and they’ve been done over and over. Since then, I’ve written songs that are much more substantial.” On the other hand, he quite likes his String Quartet (1977), and is happy to see that his Sharon Fragments (1966) have found a place in the choral repertoire. “They’ve been done a great deal,” he says, “which surprises me, because they’re rather difficult.”

And he admits to a few personal favourites in his catalogue. “I’m very pleased with the flute concerto I did for Bob Aitken. He’s played it with two different orchestras, but it’s never been played in Toronto, even though it was commissioned by the Toronto Arts Council.”

Of course, when Beckwith was born, in Victoria, B.C., in 1927, there was virtually no such thing as an arts council or a commission for a composer. Throughout his career, he’s seen the gradual professionalization of composition in Canada. Indeed, he’s been actively involved in many of the institutions that have aided composers: the CBC, the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Music Centre.

“Today there are about 700 associate composers of the Canadian Music Centre,” he says with a pride that’s tempered by a concern that this number might be too high. “How many of them are really serious composers, writing pieces of serious length and serious demand?” he asks. “To become an associate of the CMC you don’t have to do much. It sounds snobbish and elitist to say it, but you can’t get into the College of Surgeons and Physicians without proving you know what you’re doing.”

Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2011 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

Stirring singer-songwriter Royal Wood’s latest album, The Waiting, is his pop record, something he felt he could tour behind. The release before that, The Lost and Found EP, was, he says, just a stop-gap to follow his second full-length, 2007’s A Good Enough Day. “I made that EP an art-boutique piece where I wrote songs I knew would not be immediately catchy but were purely lyric-driven,” Wood says. “I saved my pop writing for The Waiting.”

The Peterborough, Ont. native, now living in Toronto, is very particular about the songs he releases. He started playing piano at age four and soon picked up guitar, bass, drums, clarinet and trumpet, but never put anything out commercially until 2002’s The Milkweed EP. “I struggled with having an original voice, which is why I didn’t release anything until I was 23, 24,” he says. “I could play at a young age. I wrote like crazy and I played in lots of bands and tried lots of genres, but I always felt like I was wearing someone else’s hat. Nothing ever felt true.

But then something clicked. Since The Milkweed EP, of which he’s still proud, Wood lets a song write itself, coming out “the way it’s supposed to land,” as he puts it. “The majority of my writing is cathartic, but once you hear the melody and the emotional core, you can tell the direction.

In the case of The Waiting, producer Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan) helped shape the sound by recording the first three songs: “You Can’t Go Back,” “Do You Recall” and “The Island.” The lyrical catharsis was the self-described “me-centric” Wood turning 30 and shifting his priorities. “There’s an antithesis to everything that we go through,” he says. “I had friends who were having their first kids and I lost friends to illness and we buried my grandmother and others got married for the first time [including him]. And you see there really is that mirrored experience for everything. Nothing is ever permanent and what you really should be doing is existing in the now. If you exist in the now, you understand what is valuable and what is important and what is meaningful.

“There was some huge philosophical wrestling that I went with,” he says. “It wasn’t just that I wanted to write songs and be a professional musician. It was some deep search for meaning and, even more so, what I wanted my art to say. I wanted there to be something to be reflected on when you hear it.”

Les traductions pour les articles avant l’hiver 2011 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

Alberta-based singer-songwriter Gord Bamford has clearly ascended to the top ranks of Canadian country artists. His fourth album, Day Job, is still generating radio hits, and he took home more hardware from the recent CCMA Awards than any other artist, with his haul including Album of the Year and Male Artist of the Year wins. Bamford isn’t taking this hard-won success for granted, noting that “being able to make a living, especially with a family of three, in today’s business is tough. This is not an overnight success. Anytime you have to work at something, you appreciate it more.”

In fact, Bamford still toiled nine to five as recently as three years ago, an experience reflected in the title track of Day Job. “My worst day job was working in a hog barn, cleaning it out and shipping the pigs to market,” he says. “The best one was driving a concrete truck. I always joked that I’d go back to it if I had to.”

Time alone in that cab helped spawn song ideas, some surfacing on Bamford’s debut album, God’s Green Earth. Its title song was co-written by ace Nashville songwriter/producer Byron Hill (George Strait, Alabama) and Gil Grand, and a subsequent meeting with Hill proved a crucial career turning point. “I sent my record to Byron, and later came upon his website. He had a blurb talking about a Canadian kid he was quite impressed by. I was blown away by that. I’d just got married, and my wife and I moved to Nashville for two months. I met Byron and that’s how the relationship started,” says Bamford.

The pair now co-produce and co-write the bulk of the material on Bamford’s albums. “I tell people I’ve been able to apprentice under one of the best songwriters in the world. Byron Hill has been something of a mentor of mine for 10 years now,” says Bamford. “I see songwriting as a trade, like being a carpenter or a welder, one where you apprentice. Now I can definitely call myself a legitimate songwriter in the country market and I really enjoy it. I’m getting a lot more calls to write with other artists.”

Stylistically, the virile-voiced Bamford comes down on the traditional side of the country fence, citing Merle Haggard and George Strait as key influences. “I don’t think there’s a much more country sound on Canadian radio than mine right now. Some of the favourite songs I’ve cut are maybe a little too country for country radio.”

He estimates he’ll play 100 dates in Canada this year, many in small communities off the beaten touring track. Such a booking policy has helped cement Bamford’s populist reputation. “I think a key to my success is that I grew up in a small town and I still live there. I feed on making sure we hit marketplaces people wouldn’t ordinarily see an act come through. That has really paid off for me. It gives everybody a chance to see what kind of guy I am.”


Track Record

. Gord Bamford was born in Australia, moving to Lacombe, Alta., with his mother at age five. Lacombe recently erected “Home of Gord Bamford” signs.

. In 2009, Bamford’s hit single “Stayed ‘Til Two” received a SOCAN Award. It was one of the three most-played songs on Canadian country radio in 2008.

. His annual charity golf tournament has raised over $200,000 in two years to support central Alberta charities.