At this season’s annual holiday concert, Holidays & The Hockey Sweater, a beloved Canadian story comes to life in the concert hall with HPO Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson Schulte’s orchestral work, The Hockey Sweater! This work is based on the children’s book by Roch Carrier and includes his original text. Complete with the sounds of whistles blowing, hockey sticks breaking, crowds cheering and more, this work brings the audience on a nostalgic trip into an iconic winter tale in Quebec. Hear it live with the HPO at FirstOntario Concert Hall on Saturday, December 9 at 3pm!

Keep reading to learn about the origins of Roch Carrier’s story, Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s orchestral work, and our upcoming perfomance.

Composing The Hockey Sweater

In 2012, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra along with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and National Arts Centre Orchestra commissioned Abigail to set Roch Carrier’s iconic story to music in Canada’s first ever triple commission.

In 1979, the CBC commissioned Roch Carrier to write an essay on French-English relations in the wake of the Quiet Revolution. With a fast approaching deadline, Roch wrote a story about his childhood in rural Quebec and the devastation he experienced after receiving a Maple Leafs’ jersey instead of a Montreal Canadiens’ sweater. “It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t want it and he was treated very unfairly because of it,” remarks Abigail. “That’s really the message and that’s why we feel so strongly for him.” The story has become an iconic piece of Canadian literature. In fact, its opening lines were even printed on the $5 bill for a number of years!

There have been over 180 performances of this Abigail’s composition in Canada and a dozen in France. The work was released by Centrediscs with the HPO conducted by Gemma New and narrated by Roch Carrier. Click here to listen to the full work on Spotify!

Abigail’s sounds of storytelling

With old style sports broadcasting, Abigail uses music to create a sound world of Sainte-Justine, Quebec in 1946. The piece comes to life through music as Abigail illustrates heightened emotions of young Roch. For example, she demonstrates the excitement of playing on the hockey rink while wearing Maurice Richard’s jersey. Nagging woodwinds illustrate Roch’s mother when she insists he wear the Maple Leafs’ jersey. The brass, on the other hand, play the Canadiens’ and Leafs’ theme music.  “I also wanted to get the devastation of receiving the wrong hockey sweater in the mail. So when he opens up the box, we get the most terrible sound from the orchestra, like the world is ending. It’s huge,” notes Abigail.

Abigail traveled to Saint Justine with Roch to his childhood home while creating this work. She played the local church bells and asked him which sounds he remembered most from childhood. “The point is not to put us in a hockey arena today so much, but a hockey arena of the past. Roch remembered the sounds of blades on the ice, so I was obliged to find some way to include that. I put a hockey game right on stage with orchestra players taking on the role of hockey players, conductor taking on the role of referee and a percussionist scraping two floor tiles together to create the blades on the ice sound. Other orchestra players shout and cheer the players on. It’s pretty wild and not at all what you would expect at a concert.” says Abigail.

While Roch’s story doesn’t necessarily end on a happy note, Abigail creates a reflective moment taking listeners to rural Quebec where the piece began. “After Roch prays for a hundred-million moths to eat his jersey, I create the sounds of moths using some unusual techniques with the orchestra flapping their music pages.” Listeners return to the pastoral setting of The Hockey Sweater with country sounds of Quebec inspired fiddling that are reflective of Roch’s story.

Join us for Holidays & the Hockey Sweater

Abigail is looking forward to CBC broadcaster Tom Allen taking on the narrator role of Roch Carrier for this performance. “Tom grew up in Montreal and already has his own old Canadiens jersey for the show. His natural storytelling manner and enthusiasm for the subject makes him a perfect fit.” The HPO will also be projecting the iconic original illustrations by Sheldon Cohen during the performance. 

Get your tickets to hear The Hockey Sweater by Abigail Richardson-Schulte live, along with the other festive works below! Along with narrator Tom Allen, this concert’s guest artists include the Hamilton Children’s Choir and the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

Holidays & The Hockey Sweater (Matinée)
Saturday, December 9 at 3pm

Kalena Bovell, Conductor
Tom Allen, Narrator
Hamilton Children’s Choir, Guest Artists
Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Guest Artists

  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring 
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Christmas Overture 
  • Christopher Eastburn (Arranger), Jingle Bell Swing! 
  • Suresh Singaratnam, Canadian Christmas 
  • Sarah Quartel, Snow Angel
    III. God will give orders/ IV. Sweet Child 
  • Emile Waldteufel, Skaters Waltz 
  • Leroy Anderson, Sleigh Ride
  • Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Selections from The Nutcracker 


  • Abigail Richardson-Schulte, The Hockey Sweater 
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Dance of the Tumblers 
  • John Williams, Somewhere in my Memory 
  • James M. Stephenson, A Holly and Jolly Sing-Along

Published November 8, 2023