Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Composer looks to score hockey winner

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 9, 2008


A little girl's crystalline voice, as crisp as a skate blade slicing into fresh ice, sings a phrase familiar to Canadians for generations.

A dramatic note sounds, followed by a voice of purity and clarity. “It's Hockey Night in Canada,” sings a 10-year-old girl, pausing for a beat after the first three words.

Those notes are then repeated in a different key. The puck is dropped and the game is on – in a musically metaphoric way, that is.

It's hard not to hum the tune after a quick listen.

The 45-second piece of music is Tobin Stokes's entry in the CBC Sports contest to find a new theme for the venerable hockey broadcast. The competition has attracted hundreds of entries, not all of them from amateurs fooling around with GarageBand.

The hopefuls from British Columbia include jingle writers and university music teachers, rock songwriters and at least one comedy duo. Even the guitar great Randy Bachman has sent in seven entries.

Mr. Stokes is a prolific composer whose credits include operas and film scores. He is a composer-in-residence for the Victoria Symphony. His music underscores a video now being shown at the British Columbia Canada pavilion in Beijing. An overture he composed opened the Symphony Splash in Victoria's Inner Harbour last weekend.

Fresh from that success, he posted a theme he hopes might some day be known as Canada's unofficial anthem.

The music had 1,200 listens in its first 24 hours online. As of yesterday afternoon, it was the top-rated theme of the past week. Pretty good result for a man much more adept at wielding a treble clef than a hockey stick.

“I just wanted to write a good song that hockey fans can relate to,” he said.

Like many of us, the composer's early childhood memories include sitting on his father's knee to watch a hockey broadcast on television on Saturday night. They lived in Powell River. “Big hockey town. Big music town, too,” he said. He was attending a music festival in his hometown when he recorded 10-year-old Ildiko Jane Kelly as the opening soloist for his entry.

Mr. Stokes's brainstorm is in writing a piece of music in which the opening can be sung – or shouted, he suggests – by a choir, or a minor hockey team, or a mob of unruly hockey fans, or even a notable personage such as the governor-general.

His 16-year-old son, Vaughn, plays guitar on his entry, which is accompanied by a catchy video in which the composer's hand can be seen writing the score in time to the music. The video ends with the composer placing a puck on the sheet as a paperweight, before showing the palms of his hands. On the left, he has written, “He shoots …” and on the right, “He scores!”

“This competition is doing what the CBC's mandate should be about,” he said. “Which is uniting the country.”

The winning composer gets $100,000 and half the royalties for public performances. (The CBC will donate the other half to minor hockey.) The entries will be culled to a handful of contenders by a panel before voting starts on Oct. 4. A second round of voting will pick between two finalists.

The winning theme will replace the familiar “dunt-da-DUNT-da-dunt” written in 1968 by Dolores Claman, a versatile jingle writer who was a Juilliard-trained composer. She sold the theme to CTV in June after being embroiled for years in disputes with the CBC over credit and royalties.

Wonder of wonders, she had never seen a National Hockey League game in person before writing the music that is as much a part of the nation's official winter sport as hockey hair and missing teeth.

(The 81-year-old Ms. Claman, who was born in Vancouver and now lives in London, England, is also credited with Ontario's unofficial anthem. She wrote the music for A Place to Stand with its “Ontar-i-ar-i-ar-i-o” refrain. With her husband, the lyricist Richard Morris, she wrote jingles that formed the background music of everyday life, from It's a Mutual Affair to Come Home to Stacey's.) The contest has gained entries even in such unlikely musical genres as reggae and new age, the latter of which would perhaps be calming during a donnybrook.

More typical is a song like Blades of Steel, a rollicking, punky rocker about wanting to leave small-town Canada to become a hockey star. The Victoria band Moneyshot includes the number in every live performance.

“It's a crowd favourite,” said vocalist and guitarist Tim Rodier, 31, a Victoria house designer.

The song tells the story of a boy who was a terrific hockey player but never managed to get to the NHL.

“I never played hockey,” Mr. Rodier said, “but it's our identity.”

Mark Leiren-Young has entered Hockey Nut in Canada, a popular ditty written for the Vancouver comedy duo Local Anxiety. The busy playwright is a diehard Vancouver Canucks fan. “I bleed Halloween orange,” he said, “and all the other colours they've had in their sweaters.”

His ode includes the memorable lyrics: “I'm a hockey nut in Canada, I love to watch them pucks. I scream my lungs out at the games and dream of Stanley Cups.”

He half-expects the CBC to choose as the winner Nickelback performing Stompin' Tom's The Hockey Song.

Whatever the winning tune, song, jingle or anthem, Mr. Leiren-Young said the contest has one great side benefit.

“It's cool to be talking hockey in the summer,” he said.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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