Oscar Brand was the Canadian born radio host of Folksong Festival, a radio show that ran on WNYC for 70 years. He died September 31 at 96. Besides hosting the long-running program, Brand was a respected musicologist, musician, and songwriter, best known in his home and native land for “Something To Sing About”.
Dubbed Canada’s unofficial national anthem, there was a time, not so long ago, when you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in this nation who wasn’t familiar with the tune. This past weekend on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition, I heard a clip of Brand in interview describing how, during a trip to Canada with his future wife, he approached a random stranger on the street and asked if they were familiar with the song by singing a bit of its tune. Instantaneous recognition led to a spontaneous sing-a-long right there on the street.
Brand’s story made me smile. It made me patriotic, and it made me remorseful. As the interview ended and they played the Travellers’ version of “Something To Sing About”, I realized that if Brand (or anyone) were to approach me on the street and ask if I was familiar with the song, my answer would be hesitant, my recollection vague. I’m certain that I’ve heard the song before, but have never had an appreciation of its history and place in Canadian popular culture.
I grimace at what might come out of Canadians’ mouths if we stopped them on the street and asked about what song every Canadian knows in 2016. I know, I know. Things change. Time moves on. Fashions come and go, but, to paraphrase our boy Shad, a classic tune like “Something To Sing About” stays classic until it’s fashion again.
I’m not naive; I know there’s plenty going on in this land of ours that’s not worth celebrating and singing about. I’m also realistic, and know we’ll never be a perfect, utopian state. I can’t help but be the eternal optimist, though, hopeful that as we progress as a nation and people, we’ll find enough common ground to feel a celebration is in order. Maybe it’s time Canada had “Something To Sing About” again. Here’s hoping we find that something soon.