Hockey and the symphony come together in HPO Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s nationally acclaimed The Hockey Sweater at the HPO’s Home for the Holidays on Saturday, December 20 at 7:30pm.
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 work to music.
“It’s quite charming to have a younger look at the story from another generation,” says Abigail, who was read The Hockey Sweater by her elementary school librarian. In 1979, Roch was commissioned by the CBC 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 and the opening lines of which were even printed on the $5 bill for a number of years.
With sounds of old style sports broadcasting, Abigail uses her musical adaption to create a sound world that takes us back to 1946 in Sainte-Justine, Quebec. The piece comes to life through music as Abigail illustrates heightened emotions of young Roch and demonstrates the excitement of playing on the hockey rink while wearing Maurice Richard’s jersey. Abigail employs nagging strings to illustrate Roch’s mother when she insists he wear the Maple Leafs’ jersey and the brass from the Canadiens’ and Leafs’ theme music. “I also wanted to get the devastation of receiving the 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 where she played the local church bells and asked him which sounds he remembered most from childhood. “The point is not put us in a hockey arena today so much, but a hockey arena of the past,” says Abigail.
While Roch’s story doesn’t necessarily end on a happy note, Abigail creates a reflective moment as she takes listeners back 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.
Abigail’s composition The Hockey Sweater has been performed by major orchestras across Canada. The Quebec Orchestra is set to perform Abigail’s work for the first time this season with Roch narrating his story in French.
Check out these highlights from the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s performance of Abigail’s The Hockey Sweater with Roch Carrier.