A song for Alberta’s centennial

By Salima Bhanji

When Alberta blows out 100 candles on its cake in 2005, Albertans won’t be singing “Happy Birthday,” they will be singing the new Alberta official song.

In order to find the perfect tune, the Alberta Official Song Contest is currently soliciting entries. The winning entry will become the official song and the winning composer will receive $2,005.

After Newfoundland, Alberta will be the second province to have a provincial song. However, there are doubts as to whether such a song can effectively capture the true essence and diversity of Alberta.

“Anthems were done at a time when grand statements about culture were possible,” said Victor Coelho, a Fine Arts Professor in the Department of Music. “Now culture is split up into pockets: learned cultures, unlearned cultures, gay cultures, cowboy cultures. That is the problem about having any type of song that will embrace all of these things.”

MLA for Fort Calgary Wayne Cao’s idea for a contest was inspired by the people and landscape while he travelled through the province.

“[The purpose of the song is] praising the people, the natural scenery, how blessed we are in having this geography, and praising the composition of the Alberta population,” explained Cao. “It’s not an anthem, it’s the official song. This is celebration of Alberta joining the Confederation.”

Coelho is skeptical about finding a song through a contest and would support the initiative more had the province commissioned a known and respected musician to create the song.

“A major songwriter has a particular ability to be able to frame things that are timeless,” said Coelho. “I’m almost frightened by the fact that it’s going to be a David Foster hokie-smokie composition, like the Olympic song. If it’s something like that, then I really have no desire to sing it, and young people won’t sing it all.”

There are also concerns the legislature should be addressing more pressing issues. However, Cao, who introduced the Alberta Official Song Act in 2001, differs.

“There are always urgent issues in health care, education, et cetera, but we need to stand back and celebrate the joining of Alberta into the confederation of Canada,” said Cao. “You have the song, or you don’t have the song. You still have those issues, we can never put that to rest, but what we can do is to rally people emotionally and their feelings about how great our province is or how great our people are.”

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