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Edited and compiled by Tim Borlase
Fredericton, Goose Lane Editions in association
with the Labrador East Integrated School Board, 1993.
214pp, spiral bound, $18.95, ISBN 0-86492-156-X. CIP

Subject Heading:

Kindergarten and up / Ages 5 and up

Reviewed by Christine Buchanan

Volume 22 Number 3
1994 May/June

Songs of Labrador is a cultural gold mine. It not only records over one hundred songs, but also includes background notes, assorted local lore, personal stories, and numerous black-and-white photographs and sketches.

The songs were compiled over a ten-year period by Tim Borlase, a music and arts coordinator with the Labrador East Integrated School Board, and reflect many aspects of life in this region--the land, the people, the life of children, the animals, trapping, fishing, hard times, songs of faith, and ballads. Some songs describe social change or highlight problems such as land claims. Some songs are given in Inuktitut and Innu-Amin, and in these cases English translations are provided.

The compiler travelled throughout the area and, with the help of others associated with this project, gathered (often, "at... kitchen tables") a wide variety of songs, most of which were unknown outside their own communities. In one case, one song was saved from extinction when the last surviving individual who knew it contributed it to the collection. Tim Borlase is meticulous throughout in giving acknowledegment to all authors, contributors and participants.

All of the pieces except one have melodies only, but also include chords. The exception is a version of "Tishialuk Girls" (arranged by distinguished Canadian composer Nancy Telfer), which has a three-part vocal score and full piano version. The music is hand-written and is generally quite clear, with the possible exception of the song just mentioned because in that case so much notation is jammed together on each page. Interestingly, two Innu lullabies are given with unusual musical notation since they were sung before western notation came to Labrador.

Some of the best-known songs about the region are also included, such as "The Northern Lights of Labrador" and "Ode to Labrador," the unofficial anthem. The four musicians in my family, who range from beginner to semi-professional, tried many of the songs in this collection on five or six different instruments, some in combination, and we found this music to be both accessible and rewarding.

Songs of Labrador could be used by musicians and music teachers to explore little-known regional music of Canada; it could also be used as a model in a creative music program in which participants write their own songs and tell their own stories. However, one could also read this book from cover to cover without going near a musical instrument and gain a profound respect for and understanding of the spirited inhabitants of this beautiful but challenging area. Teachers at many levels could use this book not only musically but also to enliven programs in Canadian history and geography, sociology, and creative writing. For local history projects, too, this volume can serve as a model and inspiration far beyond its specifically musical aspects.

An informative introdution and an index of titles, first lines, and contributors are included.

Highly recommended for purchase by school and public libraries, as well as for teahchers' college and music libraries.

Christine Buchanan , a former branch head with Toronto Public Libraries, is a teacher with the Scarborough Board of Education in Toronto, Ontario

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