A Canadian Playlist by Maggie Morrison

My guest writer this week is Canadian pianist, teacher, adjudicator and musicologist Maggie Morrison. Maggie (pictured below) is studying for her doctorate at the University of Toronto, where she is researching the piano music of Canadian composer David L. McIntyre. I asked her what qualities pervade David’s music and what drew her to study the music of contemporary Canadian composers.

When Melanie and I met this past March as adjudicators in Hong Kong, my grandfather was alive. He now rests in the Eternal Garden, a niche cremation wall in Brantford, Ontario.  After his death I began spending every Thursday with my Nana. During one of our Thursdays together, I noticed a hunter green chest tucked away in a corner with the title “J. WRATTEN” printed on the top in big black lettering.

I opened it up and found my great grandfather’s immigration slip from England dated 1913, from the port of Liverpool – the immigration slip!  I hadn’t thought or realized until that moment that my gramps was first generation Canadian. He instilled values that serve me today – work hard, be kind, and get the job done.

My grandpa grew up in the Salvation Army playing the tuba; he encouraged my mom to be a musician as a young girl, driving her to lessons and local Kiwanis competitions.  She is now an established teacher, life coach and mentor; blazing a trail for badass entrepreneurs with her online business The Music Teacher’s Teacher.

I grew up with Boris Berlin’s pedagogy books as a beginner pianist, attended Sharon, Louis and Bram concerts as a little girl, and later blasted Alanis Morissette and The Tragically Hip on my car speakers as a young driver, ripping around southern Ontario.  As a teenager I studied with Dr. E. Gregory Butler who encouraged me (and his entire studio) to learn and perform Canadian pieces every year.  My first advanced piece of Canadian repertoire was Jacques Hetu’s Impromptu Op.70.  I love the freedom that new music brings, the map is a familiar landscape among a different terrain.

I’ve come full circle with my love of Canadian music: I’m focusing on the piano music of David L. McIntyre for my doctorate dissertation at the University of Toronto.  Back in 2011, I asked David to write a piece for me.  We exchanged many emails – he was interested in getting to know me both as a musician and an individual.  He asked me many questions, from favourite colour to country to cuisine.  The piece he wrote for me, “Transmissions”, is now a part of Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus for the Diploma level.

David’s music is completely captivating.  His compositional style is very pianistic; he himself is a pianist.  His music for beginners is full of humour and personality.  Listening to the Sun and A Small Band of Smart Rodents are two of my favourites. There is often a rhythmic force – a pulse, a pattern that drives his music.  In Transmissions, David’s compositional style ping pongs between two main focuses: rhythm and melody.  The first section pushes forward with intense rhythmic drive – from the first bar McIntyre doesn’t spare a second – it begins with sixteenth notes in both hands chromatically crashing to the second bar where an intense motive then takes over.  There is an element of satirical humour heard here, with an almost Prokofiev-like approach. The feeling of breathlessness and intensity doesn’t let up until a few minutes into the piece.  The contrasting section is dreamy and melodic – highly pianistic and soulful writing – using the lowest and highest ends of the piano simultaneously, featuring languid rhythms in a bluesy section and ostinato in the bass.

David’s inspiration for this piece came from the first telephone call ever made by Alexander Graham Bell from Paris (Ontario) to Brantford, about 15 kilometres away.  David thought it was interesting that I was originally from Paris, but was premiering this piece for a fundraising concert in Brantford.  Thus blossomed his idea of a transmission – a wave of energy through technology, from the earth to the stars (or satellite) and back.

We often don’t know how our environments influence us. Sometimes it’s very clear, sometimes it is less obvious.  I am proud to be the granddaughter of a man who valued music.

Here is my Playlist of Canadian music for you to explore and enjoy:

  • The Tragically Hip – Bobcaygeon
  • Alanis Morrisette – Ironic
  • David L. McIntyre – Transmissions, for Maggie
  • Alexina Louie – Scenes from a Jade Terrace
  • Francois Morel – Etude de Sonorite, No.2
  • Heather Schmidt – Nebula

The following video comes from one of my Bachelor’s Degree performances at The Cleveland Institute of Music in 2012.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.