A Maple Leaf Forever for Canada's Sesquicentennial

  • Posted on: 29 November 2016
  • By: Tom Holden

This rearrangement is the outgrowth of a search for a song to honour the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation​ ​in 1867. The Music Committee of the Northumberland Hills Ontario Chapter of SPEBSQSA, Inc. wanted a well​-​known,​ ​quintessentially Canadian song in barbershop style for the Ganaraska Chordsmen to perform through 2017​ ​and maybe beyond. This Land Is Your Land was popular but it is really an American song with relocated​ ​geographical references. Oscar Brand’s This Land of Ours is a good candidate but there is yet no barbershop​ ​arrangement as is the case for Bobby Gimby’s Ca-na-da from Centennial ’67.

The Maple Leaf Forever was composed by Alexander Muir at the time of Confederation. It was an unofficial national​ ​anthem, particularly for Canadians of British stock, for over a century and is still played and sung at special occasions.​ ​There is a beautiful TTBB arrangement of it by Ron Smail with lyrics from the winning submission in a CBC Radio contest in 1997 but it’s not barbershop style. Dug out from the BHS Library stacks in Nashville was an old but stirring​ ​barbershop arrangement by Phil Embury with Muir’s original lyrics. The famous Buffalo Bills quartet performed many​ ​of his arrangements and it seemed appropriate that an American arranger for an essentially American style could be party to a Canadian Sesquicentennial edition – after all, many Americans moved to Canada and contributed greatly in​ ​its progress.

Those 1867 lyrics don’t fit well to the contemporary Canadian community and the 4 verses with repeated chorus make​ ​for a long, repetitious hymn. Vladimir Radian’s winning 1997 lyrics do fit but take 4 verses and 5 refrains in English​ ​and French to do so. The lyrics I chose to use are efficiently inclusive in just 3 verses and chorus and are faithful to the​ ​spirit and arc of the original while encompassing our country’s history and geography. They were written by Ian Robb​ ​and Shelley Posen, two members of the Ottawa vocal trio Finest Kind which recorded the song on their 2003 CD​ ​Silks & & Spices. The trio sang it at the 2014 ceremonial planting of two silver maple seedlings descended from the tree​ ​which graced Alexander Muir’s front yard in Toronto.

Thanks to Shelley Posen and Ian Robb for permitting me to use their lyrics, on the condition that they be given credit​ ​when the song is published in any type of medium and that performance playlists submitted to SOCAN include their​ ​names and affiliations (BMI and SOCAN, respectively).​ 

Because of the new lyrics and changes to the ​chordal ​arrangement, I ​​had to obtain a Permission to Rearrange from SPEBSQSA and now have a licence for a limited number of copies​ ​for use solely by our chapter. I'm trying to get it released to be freely usable by, at least, any Canadian Chapter,​ ​if not placed into the Public Domain. After all, the original melody and lyrics are public domain and it would be a​ ​virtuous gift for BHS to relinquish its copyright. 

If you are interested in getting copies of either the original ​Phil ​Embury arrangement​ ​or my rearrangement, contact Janice Bane at jbane@barbershop.org 

Tom Holden
Northumberland Hills Ontario Chapter of SPEBSQSA, Inc.