Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘Scott Macmillan’

I’m phasing out this blog…

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Hi, everyone:

I’m phasing out this blog, and concentrating all my efforts — including my Sunday columns — on the blog at The Green Interview, which will soon become my only blog. I hope you’ll move over there with me.

To do that, please go to www.thegreeninterview.com, where you’ll be asked to register with your email and a password. When you’ve done that, click over to “BLOG.” If you subscribe to this blog by RSS — and there’s no other way — just sign up for an RSS feed on the Green Interview blog, and that should be that. I’ve just posted last week’s column there, but for your convenience I’ll paste it in below as well. It’s about a fine piece of work by Nova Scotian composer Scott Macmillan that will be performed tonight at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

SUNDAY HERALD COLUMN – November 7, 2010

WITHIN SIGHT OF SHORE

by Silver Donald Cameron

At 6:30 AM on April 16, 1945, HMCS Esquimalt was patrolling the eastern approaches to Halifax Harbour while a sister ship, HMCS Sarnia, cruised westward towards Sambro. They were scanning the ocean floor with a primitive sonar known as ASDIC, looking for German submarines.

There was one down there; U-190 lay submerged near Musquodoboit. The ASDIC operator had not actually identified the echo of the submarine among all the various echoes coming back from the shallow bottom – but when U-190′s crew heard the distinctive ping! of the ASDIC signals striking the hull, they assumed they were being hunted. When they raised their periscope and saw Esquimalt heading directly towards them, they fired a torpedo and fled seaward.

The torpedo struck Esquimalt near the stern, where its depth charges were stored, and the aft end of the ship instantly blew off. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship. Sailors scrambled for the life-rafts. The last man to leave the ship, in accordance with nautical tradition, was the captain, who stood on the bow as the ship fell away underneath him. The vessel was gone in four minutes.

Two hours later, when HMCS Sarnia reached the rendezvous point, Esquimalt was nowhere to be seen. Sarnia’s skipper radioed the Halifax Dockyard for instructions, but the Dockyard gave no orders. It was three hours before the Dockyard figured out that something must be terribly wrong – three hours during which Esquimalt’s crew clung to life-rafts awash in the icy sea, slowly dying of hypothermia. Near noon, search planes were dispatched at last, and Sarnia picked up the survivors. In the end, 44 men died, and 27 survived.

HMCS Esquimalt was the last Canadian ship to be lost in World War II. A few weeks later, the war was over. Among the survivors was Lt.-Commander Robert Macmillan, the captain, who became the father of the celebrated composer Scott Macmillan. In 2008, 63 years after the sinking, Scott Macmillan lifted his baton in the glorious old church of St. John’s in Lunenburg. An orchestra drawn from the naval band at HMCS Stadacona and from Symphony Nova Scotia delivered the debut performance of a four-part orchestral work called “Within Sight of Shore,” commemorating the event and telling the story in musical terms. The piece was later presented at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Stephen Pedersen described the composition as “Macmillan’s most impressive and exciting original work since his 1988 masterpiece, Celtic Mass for the Sea.” It was also short-listed for the Lieutenant- Governor’s Masterworks Arts Award. It has not been heard since 2008 – but on November 13, in honour of the centenary of the Canadian navy and to mark the 65th anniversary of the sinking, many of the same musicians will combine to present the piece at the Maritime Museum once again.

“Within Sight of Shore” runs about 40 minutes, and it will occupy the second half of the program. The first half will be the premiere of a 45-minute film, also called “Within Sight of Shore,” by filmmaker Ian Macmillan, the son of Scott Macmillan and Jennyfer Brickenden.

The film covers both the actual sinking and Scott’s quest to capture its essence through music. It includes visits to the spot where the ship went down, and to the city of Esquimalt, BC, which annually holds a memorial service to remember her. The film also provides fascinating insights into the very nature of composition, as Scott sits at his keyboard in the studio, explaining how he derives the themes and melodies that weave together in the work. One poignant touch: Robert Macmillan liked to sing “Beautiful Dreamer,” and phrases from the song represent the skipper’s presence in the musical story.

Ian Macmillan interviews Joe Wilson of Victoria, the only living survivor of the sinking, and Werner Hirschmann, now a Canadian, who was the chief engineer on U-190. In one of the film’s most affecting moments, the Macmillans cast a wreath at the site of the sinking, and Hirschmann casts another in memory of U-190 and its crew, expressing his deep regret that the two crews had to meet as enemies, and not as friends.

That, too, is something to remember, as we honour those who lie at the bottom of the sea.

– 30 –

Within Sight of Shore

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

November 7, 2010

At 6:30 AM on April 16, 1945, HMCS Esquimalt was patrolling the eastern approaches to Halifax Harbour while a sister ship, HMCS Sarnia, cruised westward towards Sambro. They were scanning the ocean floor with a primitive sonar known as ASDIC, looking for German submarines.

There was one down there; U-190 lay submerged near Musquodoboit. The ASDIC operator had not actually identified the echo of the submarine among all the various echoes coming back from the shallow bottom – but when U-190′s crew heard the distinctive ping! of the ASDIC signals striking the hull, they assumed they were being hunted. When they raised their periscope and saw Esquimalt heading directly towards them, they fired a torpedo and fled seaward.

The torpedo struck Esquimalt near the stern, where its depth charges were stored, and the aft end of the ship instantly blew off. The skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship. Sailors scrambled for the life-rafts. The last man to leave the ship, in accordance with nautical tradition, was the captain, who stood on the bow as the ship fell away underneath him. The vessel was gone in four minutes.

Two hours later, when HMCS Sarnia reached the rendezvous point, Esquimalt was nowhere to be seen. Sarnia’s skipper radioed the Halifax Dockyard for instructions, but the Dockyard gave no orders. It was three hours before the Dockyard figured out that something must be terribly wrong – three hours during which Esquimalt’s crew clung to life-rafts awash in the icy sea, slowly dying of hypothermia. Near noon, search planes were dispatched at last, and Sarnia picked up the survivors. In the end, 44 men died, and 27 survived.

HMCS Esquimalt was the last Canadian ship to be lost in World War II. A few weeks later, the war was over. Among the survivors was Lt.-Commander Robert Macmillan, the captain, who became the father of the celebrated composer Scott Macmillan. In 2008, 63 years after the sinking, Scott Macmillan lifted his baton in the glorious old church of St. John’s in Lunenburg. An orchestra drawn from the naval band at HMCS Stadacona and from Symphony Nova Scotia delivered the debut performance of a four-part orchestral work called “Within Sight of Shore,” commemorating the event and telling the story in musical terms. The piece was later presented at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Stephen Pedersen described the composition as “Macmillan’s most impressive and exciting original work since his 1988 masterpiece, Celtic Mass for the Sea.” It was also short-listed for the Lieutenant- Governor’s Masterworks Arts Award. It has not been heard since 2008 – but on November 13, in honour of the centenary of the Canadian navy and to mark the 65th anniversary of the sinking, many of the same musicians will combine to present the piece at the Maritime Museum once again.

“Within Sight of Shore” runs about 40 minutes, and it will occupy the second half of the program. The first half will be the premiere of a 45-minute film, also called “Within Sight of Shore,” by filmmaker Ian Macmillan, the son of Scott Macmillan and Jennyfer Brickenden.

The film covers both the actual sinking and Scott’s quest to capture its essence through music. It includes visits to the spot where the ship went down, and to the city of Esquimalt, BC, which annually holds a memorial service to remember her. The film also provides fascinating insights into the very nature of composition, as Scott sits at his keyboard in the studio, explaining how he derives the themes and melodies that weave together in the work. One poignant touch: Robert Macmillan liked to sing “Beautiful Dreamer,” and phrases from the song represent the skipper’s presence in the musical story.

Ian Macmillan interviews Joe Wilson of Victoria, the only living survivor of the sinking, and Werner Hirschmann, now a Canadian, who was the chief engineer on U-190. In one of the film’s most affecting moments, the Macmillans cast a wreath at the site of the sinking, and Hirschmann casts another in memory of U-190 and its crew, expressing his deep regret that the two crews had to meet as enemies, and not as friends.

That, too, is something to remember, as we honour those who lie at the bottom of the sea.

– 30 –

Memories of War, and the Music of Peace

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

The bullet, said Johnny Mauger, went in one side of his friend’s head, but it didn’t quite come out the other. Johnny tapped his temple. The bullet made a little bulge, like a pimple, right here. His voice was soft and sad as he remembered his friend, another young kid from Cape Breton, dead in a European trench.

Johnny’s story is in The Crimson Flower of Battle, a television documentary that my friends Charlie Doucet, Scott Macmillan and I created in 1995, telling the stories of the men and women of Isle Madame during the war which had ended exactly 50 years earlier. The vets will never talk to you, their families said. Johnny absolutely refuses to talk about the war. But when I asked him, Johnny thought for a moment and then he said Yes. He and his comrades were getting old, and they needed to record their stories.

What stories they were. Boys of 16 on convoy ships, watching other ships exploding, the water burning, dying men screaming. Ships entering Liverpool after Dieppe with their scuppers running red with blood. Ace pilots telling themselves they were shooting down airplanes, not men. Slave labourers from Petit de Grat building the airport in Hong Kong.

Funny stories, too. Being captured by the Germans three times in a single day as the front line surged forward and back. Flying a plane under — that’s right, under — the Eiffel Tower. Looking beneath your tank after an air raid, and discovering a schoolmate from Arichat hiding there. Love stories, and war brides from England and Holland living quietly in Isle Madame.

I loved those people, their quietness, warmth and humility. And Johnny was right. Thirteen years later, very few survive. I remember them every November. Indeed, I remember them all the time.

On November 2, we celebrated Muriel Duckworth’s 100th birthday with a fund-raising concert for Oxfam at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax. The concert — called Stand Up! Speak Out! – began with a reception featuring 100 birthday cakes. The crowd was a virtual roll call of Nova Scotia’s movement for peace and justice.

The Women of We’koqma’q opened the show with drumming and singing. They were followed by the Truro Youth Singers, the Aeolian Singers, the Gaia Singers, the Raging Grannies and Four the Moment. The show included Muriel’s own words about peace and justice, about opera, about marriage and children. We heard a moving tribute to Muriel’s husband, the late Jack Duckworth. The afternoon concluded with a song written for Muriel by Rose Vaughan and Cheryl Gaudet.

The concert reflected Muriel’s lifelong opposition to every form of injustice — racism, sexism, poverty, disease, exploitation of all kinds. But no cause is nearer to her heart than peace. She and Jack Duckworth were pacifists during World War II, which demanded great courage, and she has been a passionate, tireless peace activist all her life.

As the Faithful Reader knows, every Christmas Marjorie and I give minor gifts to the people we love, and a larger gift to a worthwhile charity. This year, in Muriel’s honour, we’ll give that contribution to Oxfam’s Jack and Muriel Duckworth Fund for Active Global Citizenship.

The days after the concert rightly belonged to the veterans. But I kept feeling an imbalance in the remembrances, a ghostly absence in the documentaries and newspaper stories and silences. I wanted people like Muriel Duckworth at the cenotaphs, to remind us that even a just war represents a tragic human failure — and that in most wars, the nobility of the soldiers greatly outstrips the nobility of the cause. There are soldiers on both sides, after all.

I remember December 31, 1999, watching on television as the new millennium arrived in a wave that rolled clear around the globe. From every nation, in every language, in song and speech and poem, when the human race declared its most profound wish for the new millennium, we spoke — we, the people of the earth — with a single voice. What we want, we said, is peace.

That wish should be part of our remembrances. We best honour the ones we lost to war when we dedicate ourselves to peace. Then, and only then, we can tell our veterans this: You did not suffer in vain.

– 30 –

Silver Donald Cameron’s interview with Stephen Clare is now running on www.haligonia.ca