“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places – the school, the church and the skating-rink – but our real life was the skating rink …” – The Hockey Sweater – Roch Carrier

 

When was it composed?

Abigail Richardson-Schulte was commissioned to compose the work in 2011 by the NAC Orchestra, the Calgary Philharmonic and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

 

When was it premiered?

It was first performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on May 12, 2012 with author Roch Carrier narrating.  Hockey-great Montréal Canadien goalie Ken Dryden hosted the concert.

 

What instruments does Richardson-Schulte use?

2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons / 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 tuba / keyboard / percussion including hockey sticks and music scores

Narrator

 

How long does it last?

Like all good hockey periods it’s scheduled for 20 action-packed minutes.

 

 

A few things about the orchestral version of The Hockey Sweater.

 

  • Abigail Richardson-Schute first read The Hockey Sweater in Grade 4 and it became a favourite. She was quick to accept the commission to adapt it for symphony orchestra. She worked on the score for over a year. Her goal was “not to put us in a hockey arena today, but a hockey arena of the past.”

 

  • Carrier was not entirely convinced that Richardson-Schulte was the right composer to adapt his iconic story. However, after hearing her initial sketches and discussing ideas he felt she has captured the spirt of the time and place. He later remarked “It’s not (just) sport or bombastic music — it’s subtle, it’s a lot of variety, it’s entertaining. There is a lot of humour, there is nostalgia, there is a bit of folklore, allusions.”

 

  • The composer accompanied Roch Carrier back to his childhood home in Sainte-Justine. She played the church bells and organ; and wanting to recreate the sounds of a hockey village hockey rink in 1946 asked him about the sounds he remembered from his childhood.

 

  • Amongst the unusual instruments the percussionists are asked to play are hockey sticks, a vuvuzela, broken construction tiles, and a whistle. At one point the rest of the entire orchestra joins in using the page of their scores to bring the story to a close.

 

  • Since the premiere in 2012 it has been performed by most major Canadian orchestras, often with Roch Carrier relating his story. It was first performed in Québec in 2015 by L’orchestra symphonique de Québec with Carrier narrating in French.

 

Abigail Richardson-Schulte introduces The Hockey Sweater prior to performances by the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, where she is composer-in-residence.

 

 

Is there a recording or video available?

In December 2018 Roch Carrier recorded it with the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gemma New. It is a two track CD with the story in English and French. The Canadian Music Centre released it on November 15, 2020 just in time for our concert.  We are pleased that we will have a limited number on hand at our concert for sale.

 

 

A few things about Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater

 

La Guerre, Yes Sir! Roch Carrier’s first novel had been an instant bestseller but by his own admission he had a family to feed and car payments to meet. So, when the CBC Radio called with an offer of $150.00 (big money in the late 1970s) to write an essay answering the question “what does Québec want?” he agreed.

 

By Wednesday of the week before the broadcast he had come up with nothing and tried to cancel and was bluntly told that he had a radio spot to fill and to write whatever he wanted. On Thursday he began to think about what to write about.  On Friday he sat down at the kitchen and wrote, in French, a story from his childhood in Sainte-Justine. On Saturday he had his friend and translator Sheila Fischman turn it into English. On Sunday he recorded it at CBC Montréal. On Monday morning it was broadcast.  The response was overwhelming and it’s been overwhelming ever since.

 

  • The story was published in 1979 in a collection of Carrier’s short stories, first in French then in English.

 

  • A year later filmmaker Marrin Canell approached the author about turning it into an animated short. Carrier was not convinced.  The first cel that animator Sheldon Cohen presented to Carrier was that pivotal moment when Mama unwraps the despised Maple Leaf sweater.  Carrier was convinced.  Cohen was to spend the next year creating the 10,000 cels that were to become the award winning National Film Board short.  Film critic Leonard Maltin has cited it as one of the NFB’s best animated short films.

 

  • In 1984 Cohen adapted his illustrations for a children’s book of The Hockey Sweater published in French and English by Tundra Books. It has never been out of print and almost 300,000 copies have been sold.

 

  • In 2001 the Bank of Canada issued a five-dollar note with the opening lines from the story, in French and English, on the verso. Carrier was the first Canadian author to be quoted on a banknote.

 

  • In 1991 the Prince of Wales was presented with a copy for his, then nine-year-old, son William.

 

  • Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk took French and English copies of the book with him on his 187 day sojourn on the International Space Station.

 

  • In 2012 Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s orchestral score was premiered and soon became popular with orchestras across Canada, often with the author narrating. It has also been performed in France as part of the Canada 150 celebration.

 

  • During their 2017 season the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts presented a musical version with book and lyrics by Emil Sher and music and lyrics by Jonathan Monro, directed by Donna Feore. The following year it transferred to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

“It’s my revenge, you see. I was not a very good hockey player. I wasn’t going to be another Rocket Richard or anything. That was my one dream. My other dream was to sing in the church choir, but I could never make the choir. I get to perform my little story with an orchestra. Now it’s a musical. So, I have my revenge.” – Roch Carrier on the success of his little story and it’s many adaptations.

The Hockey Sweater is available in hardcover or paperback at Bookmark in the Confederation Mall.

 

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