Alberta’s Story through Song

Alberta means so much to me every time I play
My old guitar, a melody a song
And Rose I know you’re waiting out Alberta way
For me to come back home a settle down”

So sang the late, great Stompin’ Tom Connors in his song “Alberta Rose”. It’s a beautiful tune. In fact Iike it so much, I’ll be putting it on my next album. Of course Tom was from Skinner’s Pond P.E.I. and he wrote about almost every corner of the country, but it’s fitting that he wrote about Alberta. After all, the Canadian West had a big impact on Tom.

It had a big impact on another east coast cowboy singer a generation earlier, a fellow who went by the name of Montana Slim in the USA, the one and only Wilf Carter. Wilf came west to Calgary from Nova Scotia in the 1920s and became the musical voice of Alberta. An early cultural export as Canada’s first big country music star, he rose to fame all across North America singing the songs and stories of old Alberta.

Alberta’s always had a strong crop of songwriters and an equally strong collection of tributes from out-of-province songwriters. For every “Four Strong Winds” by Albertan Ian Tyson, there’s n “Alberta Bound” by Ontario’s Gordon Lightfoot. As much as we like telling our stories, visitors seem equally inspired to sing about Alberta. It’s not just country music either. Early in his career Joel Plaskett wrote some great tributes about Alberta, “The Day We Hit the Coast” in particular. Medicine Hat native, Gordie Johnson’s “All Hell for a Basement”, is Alberta’s unofficial rock anthem.

Our songs really do tell our stories. That’s something I really focus on at the National Music Centre when I’m teaching the program Melodies & Memories. The program is about Alberta’s music history and we go through the decades using songs as our guide. One song I sing is “High Rider” by Diamond Joe White. It’s a song about legendary Alberta cowboy John Ware. The lyrics are a simple but effective biography of a cowboy who was known for the ultimate Albertan traits, being a hard worker and a good neighbour.

Now that the winter is upon us, I have a feeling there are large numbers of Albertan songwriters warming up by the fireside with pen and guitar in hand. After the crazy summer we had I know there are lots of stories out there waiting to be told and I for one, can’t wait to hear them.

Matt Masters

If you are a Calgary-area teacher and interested in the Melodies & Memories program, please visit our website for information on the program and how to book. Click here to view a video of the program.

NMC is also offering a free teacher workshop on Thursday, March 6, 2013. Using provincial folk songs and contemporary favorites, participants will explore how song lyrics can be used as primary sources and entry points to student writing. Learn how to incorporate music into the social studies and language arts curriculum by developing basic songwriting techniques including rhyme, rhythm, and mood.

Register here.

Location: National Music Centre, 134 11 Avenue SE, Calgary, AB
Date: Thursday, March 6, 2013
Time: 5 – 7pm

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