Sunday, September 14, 2008

Johnny Canuck's the Lad II

Johnny Canuck II
Peter Steven

Popular music in these years between 1896 and 1914 covered a broad range. Much of it was simple tunes easily played by amateurs: marches and ballads for street bands; sentimental parlour songs or comic airs for lone pianos. But a good portion of this music also comprised sophisticated compositions that required expert playing skills. Nevertheless, all of these works were professionally composed, commercially viable, and popular. This was music wafting up from the city street and careening out from the vaudeville and burlesque houses. In the western cities the music blew in with the new Wild West shows. To the young generation this was not their parent’s folk music for fiddle and barn dance.
Patriotic - with a swing and a dash.
Perhaps the most widespread musical genre from this time was the Patriotic. Many hundreds of songs and poems extol the virtues of the Canadian landscape, such as A Handful of Maple Leaves by William Westbrook, written during the Boer War, or Herbert Godfrey’s Way Up in Fair Muskoka. Other works in the patriotic mode boost the British Empire, or specifically praise the fortunes of Canadian soldiers and their wars. He Sleeps in the Transvaal Tonight, for instance, written by J. Cecil Rhodes in 1899, stirs a melancholy yearning between South Africa and Canada.

Of course patriotic meant different things to different groups, even within English Canada. A tune like Godfrey’s Johnny Canuck’s the Lad reflects the new Canadian nationalism. For Canada’s Hymn of Empire, on the other hand, Godfrey links Canadian fortunes to the cause of British imperialism. And with Hark! The Drum, as befits its commercial appeal Godfrey could play to both crowds. At the end of this period the patriotic shifted with full force into recruiting songs for the Great War. There were even songs to praise the role of the U.S. volunteers of the American Legion who made up the 97th Canadian Battalion in the early years of the war. Thus, Morris Manley’s 1915 hit Good Luck to the Boys of the Allies ended with these rousing words:
They’ll win the fight their hearts are right,
You bet they’re filled with pluck.
Right on their track, when they come back,
We’ll cheer our Johnnie Cannuck.

These patriotic compositions could take countless musical forms, from marches, to waltzes, to the sentimental – sometimes touching, sometimes syrupy. But the common denominator for many songwriters was the challenge of finding a fresh rhyming scheme for ‘Canuck.’ In his 1910 composition Jack Canuck, Ravenor Bullen solved it thus:

If you want to meet a man who stands out far above the ruck,
Come along, my lad, come a-long.
For I’d like to introduce you to my friend Old Jack Canuck.

“I have been favored with a new patriotic song, ‘Johnnie Canuck’s the Boy,’ by Jean Mulloy, wife of Trooper S.W. Mulloy of Kingston, the blind Canadian hero of the South African War. It has a rollicking chorus that goes with a swing and a dash that is sure to make it both a favorite with the public and Tommy on the march. The song is a gift by Mrs Mulloy to the Red Cross Society, Kingston, a generous and kindly act.”
– L.W.H., Musical Canada, February, 1915.