Canada, the land where we eat green peppers (not ‘bell’ peppers), where we eat the centres of donuts (called ‘Timbits’), where we can hop on a boat into three oceans, and where many eat their weight in poutines and donairs each year. It’s a great country to celebrate, eh?
Canada’s iconic national anthem now has five versatile and appealing arrangements by five of Canada’s premier living composers. Many Canadian public events begin with the singing of our national anthem, including school assemblies, Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11th, school graduations, official ceremonies, sports games, Canada Day (of course) and for piano teachers who belong to the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Associations, Canada Music Week joint recitals which are held in the third week of November each year across the country.
O Canada was first written by French Canadian composer Calixa Lavallée in 1880. We’ve taken his melody and written new piano arrangements of different levels. Rebekah Maxner’s solo and Susan Griesdale’s duet are both for Early Intermediate piano. Joanne Bender’s piano solo is Intermediate, Martha Hill Duncan’s is Early Advanced, and John Burge’s, Advanced.
This blog post is designed so that you can read samples of the music while you listen to the YouTube performances. I hope this sparks ideas of how you can include our arrangements of O Canada in your next special event!
O Canada by Rebekah Maxner, Early Intermediate, Level 3
This is an easy version of O Canada, perfect for the lay musician or Early Intermediate piano student. It can be a piano solo or an accompaniment for audience singing. The score includes the anthem words in English et en français.
- What makes it easy: The highly-recognizable melody is written exactly as it is sung, making it easily accessible for pianists of this level. It is in the key of D, familiar to intermediate students and a good key for singing.
- The challenge: The left hand has some larger intervals for this level, so repeating each leap will help with accuracy.
- What makes it beautiful: This arrangement takes a melody that is already very beautiful and adds a clean-cut, simple yet harmonically satisfying left hand part. It has the mature sound of a four-part arrangement, in primarily two parts.
O Canada Duet by Susan Griesdale, Early Intermediate, Level 4
This is an engaging duet arrangement of O Canada for two players that can be used either as a piano performance piece or as an accompaniment so audience members can sing along.
- What makes it easy: The first few bars serve as an introduction that easily cues when singing can begin and the melody stays true to the highly recognizable original. Also the piano music is written to specifically fall easily into the hands for each player with minimal leaps and no hand clashes which makes it easy to learn.
- The challenge: The players need to be ready for the delightful eighth note fragments that provide unexpected melodic variation and contrast to the main melody.
- What makes it beautiful: The contrasting melodic fragments in each part add depth and heightened interest making this rendition fresh and musically very satisfying.
O Canada by Joanne Bender, Intermediate, Level 6
Here’s an arrangement of O Canada that will make your intermediate students proud of our great country, and make you proud of your students!
- What makes it easy: Students know O Canada, so when they play it on the piano, they will be singing it in their minds, making it sound like the patriotic anthem that it is.
- The challenge: Playing a series of 3-and 4-note chords is challenging for the Level 6 student. Keeping the chords connected, in singing style, using legato fingering and pedalling, will require practise. Voicing the melody is important here. This gives the student great preparation for chorale playing.
- What makes it beautiful: The melody goes into the L.H. for a short time, giving this arrangement more interest and a change of texture. The L.H. tremolo at the end is dramatic and fun for the Level 6 student.
O Canada by Martha Hill Duncan, Early Advanced, Levels 8-9
This expressive arrangement of O Canada has jazzy rhythms, joyful ringing bells and hopeful contemporary harmonies at the early advanced level. It is a piano performance showpiece.
Starting with a lush introduction in C Major, the melody makes its way into both hands ending with a downward reflective fadeaway and finishes with a glorious and triumphant A Major final chord flourish.
My favorite and the most challenging section is the climactic chordal bell ringing with grand movements across the keyboard in both hands. I also love the occasional touch of gospel articulated cadences as well as the quartal descending chords. Since Canada welcomed me as an immigrant so many years ago, I wanted my version of its anthem to include varied stylistic moods, rhythms and harmonic colour as well. Enjoy! – Martha Hill Duncan
O Canada by John Burge, Advanced, Level 10
This arrangement of “O Canada” was first published in my collection of solo piano pieces titled, Piano Reflections. The impetus to write down the arrangement came in 2015, when Adèle Barclay, a writer and former first-year harmony student of mine at Queen’s University, happened to mention my solo piano arrangement of “O Canada” in a Literary Review of Canada book critique. Indeed, the book that she was reviewing at the time was a biography of Calixa Lavallée, the composer of “O Canada”. As this arrangement had often changed character over the years due to its improvisational underpinnings, it seemed an ideal time to finally write the notes down. The arrangement has its virtuosic moments and can be effectively used in supporting an audience to sing with full-voiced enthusiasm. – John Burge
The composers featured in this blog post belong to Red Leaf Pianoworks, a group of composers who work together.
Here is a complete list of our group: Martha Hill Duncan, Susan Griesdale, Beverly Porter, Rebekah Maxner, Janet Gieck, Teresa Richert, Irene Voros, John Burge, Peter Rudzik, and June Armstrong. Please visit our collective website, here. We each host individual websites as well, and would welcome your visit. Look for us at your next conference. We’d love to say hi to you! We are going to be at the CFMTA conference in Winnipeg in July, 2019.
If you are a Canadian piano teacher and have a Facebook account, you are invited to follow the Red Leaf Pianoworks Facebook page, here.
Also, check out Piano Teacher Canada, a Facebook forum that discusses all things piano with a special emphasis on Canadian conservatories and how music teaching works in Canada, here.
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