A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Sidebar: The Immigrant Trail

THE IMMIGRANT TRAIL

For early Norwegian settlers in Canada, one of the most treasured traditions of their heritage was filling their churches, homes, schools and community halls with the sounds and stories of their ancestor's music.

New Norway's Sivert Westvick set his family on a musical path. He went so far as to take it upon himself to bring a piano teacher to his small town, persuading her with the offer of a house at cheap rent. She was convinced and became the piano teacher for all of his five daughters, and for most of the children in New Norway.

It was school by day and music by night. Weekend entertainment was community dances at the town hall. Irene Westvick became famous for her talents on the piano: once she got playing, it was said that the piano had to be tied down to the floor because it moved as she belted out the tunes. There was, afterall, a community to celebrate.

The Westvick sisters, however, had the bright lights of the city in their heads. The lives of the twins began to diverge when Kakei quit school to manage the family store for her dad. Irene went to teachers college in Camrose, at the Camrose Lutheran College. But she didn't leave her music behind when she left New Norway. She sang in the Camrose College À Capella Choir.

Conducted by another Norwegian, Chester Ronning, the choir had won the Alberta Choral Competition three years running. In 1942, choir master Ronning boasted that his choir had become one of the most popular activities of the school:

It has been gradually developed, over a period of years, and is making a contribution to the musical life of the community by specializing in the singing of chorales and choruses arranged and composed by Dr.F. Melius Christiansen, familiar to all music lovers as the genius under whose leadership the St. Olaf College Choir has achieved unique success. Last year, in presenting two arrangements of old Norwegian songs at the Alberta Music Festival, the Choir received the highest mark given to any chorus and was pronounced by the adjudicator to be one of the most efficient choirs in Canada. The Norwegians in Canada have a heritage in music on the basis of which it is their duty to make a contribution to the life of the country which they have chosen as their home.(1)

From their beginning in the early 1900s, the various religious colleges the Norwegians established in Canada were renowned for their excellence and leadership in sustaining a rich heritage of chorals. The base of this commitment to chorals was the Norwegian Lutheran church.(2)

Most musical organizations, such as the Camrose Lutheran College, were very closely associated with the Lutheran church, where choirs and singing groups had thrived from the churches very beginnings among parish communities. The hymns of the Lutheran church provided a lively form of Norwegian expression, both at church and in the home. Lutheran hymns still sung today often tell stories of Norwegian history: of the Norse explorers on their dangerous expeditions over rough seas in search of the new world; of immigrants who left their homeland in search of a better life; and of pioneer pastors and their long journeys on horseback along poorly marked wilderness trails to serve the needs of far scattered congregations.(3)

Singing these stories of their ancestors, church choirs have, since the early years of the 1900s, been popular features in Dominion Day celebrations, country fairs and exhibitions, Grain Grower's conventions and concerts in towns all over the western prairies.(4)

In more recent times, the Concert Choir of Camrose Lutheran College has maintained its reputation for fine performances of quality music from a choral repertoire that greatly enriched the cultural life of the West. The choir has sung in many parts of Canada, performed at the New York World's Fair and travelled to Norway for concerts. The choirs and various musical groups from the other colleges also engage in an annual spring or summer tours and always perform before enthusiastic audiences.(5)

The folk music of Norway has also been kept alive in Canada by such men as the noted Norwegian accordionist, Olaf Sveen. Since coming to Canada in 1949, Mr. Sveen has published 180 compositions, mixing the contemporary Norwegian folk styles, which borrow from jazz and pop, with the more traditional sounds of the fiddle that date back to the 1800s. His folk music delights radio listeners and is available on records and tapes all across the country. As a full-time musician, he has made it his life's work to preserve and cultivate the lively but nostalgic folk music of the Old World in his new country.(6)

And in the Westvick family, the tradition of Norwegian music has been passed on through the generations. Irene used to help her granddaughter, Joanna Couture, with her violin lessons. Irene would start banging on the table -- fast, fast ,fast -- to a rhythm she had memorized in her head. It was as if Irene thought she was still playing the music herself, no doubt on a piano that was lifting off the floor.

Footnotes:
1,2,4,5,6
From Fjord to Frontier, A History of the Norwegians in Canada, by Gulbrand Loken
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980).

3
Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, by Marilyn Kay Stulken
(Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1981).


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