Tag Archives: Canada

Joni Mitchell and 1960’s women’s sexual freedom

Born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta in Canada, a young Joni Mitchell (born Joan Anderson) moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan with her parents shortly after World War II. Inspired by an older friend, she begged her parents at age 7 to allow her to take piano lessons which lasted for a year and a half. After moving to Saskatoon, Mitchell contracted polio, which she recovered from with the care of her family and her interest in music. As she recalled in a Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe in 1979, “I guess I really started singing when I had polio. Neil [Young] and I both got polio in the same Canadian epidemic. I was nine, and they put me in a polio ward over Christmas. They said I might not walk again, and that I would not be able to go home for Christmas. I wouldn’t go for it. So I started to sing Christmas carols and I used to sing them real loud. When the nurse came into the room I would sing louder. The boy in the bed next to me, you know, used to complain. And I discovered I was a ham. That was the first time I started to sing for people.”

In her teens, Mitchell scraped together enough money to buy a ukelele and performed regularly at parties and coffeehouses in Saskatoon. Following high school, in 1964, Mitchell attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but only for a year. Instead, she preferred performing at a local Calgary coffeehouse called The Depression—she moved to Toronto soon after in search of success as a folk singer. In 1966, she managed to secure a spot on the bill of the Newport Folk Festival. It was at this time that her marriage to fellow folk singer Chuck Mitchell ended, and with nothing to tie her down, Mitchell moved to New York City to be closer to venues on the U.S. eastern seaboard. With the recording of The urge for going by Tom Rush and other cover versions by a variety of artists, she was able to get bookings west to Chicago and south to Florida. New York was still elusive but with the help of manager Elliot Roberts she landed gigs in town. While performing in Coconut Grove, Florida she met David Crosby of The Byrds who was impressed enough with her talent to convince Reprise Records to record and release the Joni Mitchell album in 1968.

Mitchell’s early records mapped the sexual terrain of the mid-1960s–the period during which premarital sex lost its taboo status and became a normative part of maturation and development–from a woman’s perspective. Mitchell’s songs employed a strong storytelling component, putting into popular circulation narratives of sexual freedom that engaged with emerging social practices in a manner consistent with countercultural values while helping to legitimize the new choices available to young women of the 1960s.

Learn more in “Feeling free and female sexuality: The aesthetics of Joni Mitchell” by Marilyn Adler Papayanis (Popular music and society XXXIII/5 [December 2010], 641–656) and in an entry on Joni Mitchell in The Canadian pop music encyclopedia (2020) in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Below is Joni Mitchell’s 1969 performance of Chelsea Morning, a song addressing the moral codes governing so-called appropriate sexual conduct for women.

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Filed under North America, Performers, Politics, Popular music, Women's studies

Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq

Indigenous artists are often placed within the tidy binary of traditional vs. modern. Indigenous culture is considered frozen and incompatible with modernity. The creative and communicative outputs of Inuk avant-garde vocalist Tanya Tagaq demonstrate a larger political project of undermining mainstream representational practices regarding Indigenous identity (particularly in Canada) and presenting Indigenous-centered sounds and perspectives. While Tagaq has constructed an artistic identity that challenges the simple binaries of past/present and traditional/modern, mainstream media has relied on representational practices of a settler colonialist mindset. Tagaq makes her agency clear in both her artistic output and in her social media activity. Media coverage of Indigenous artists and Tagaq in particular, dismantle the self/other and modern/traditional binaries with reference to her albums–Animism (2014) and Retribution (2016)–and social media wars in which Tagaq’s celebrity status has incited both reactive and active critique of Indigenous (and specifically Inuit) representation in Canada. In turn, she presents her own narrative as a deliberate strategy of cultural and political self-determination.

Cover art for Animism

Tagaq’s music often tackles themes of environmentalism and Indigenous rights. The Inuk throat singer uses live performance and audiovisual media to engage themes of climate change and environmental violence. Her work diversifies the discourse of environmentalism to include the voices and environmental trauma experienced by marginalized peoples, specifically North American Indigenous-centered sounds and perspectives. Songs such as Fracking and Nacreous respectively are simultaneously expressions of ecological protest and healing, as Tagaq listens with urgency and uses embodied musical practice to explore the aurality of pipeline politics and other forms of ecological imbalance and harm.

Read on in “Welcome to the tundra: Tanya Tagaq’s creative and communicative agency as political strategy” by Alexa Woloshyn (Journal of popular music studies 29/4 [2017]) and “The aurality of pipeline politics and listening for nacreous clouds: Voicing indigenous ecological knowledge in Tanya Tagaq’s Animism and Retribution” by Kate Galloway (Popular music XXXIX/1 [2020], 121–144).

Below is an improvised throat singing performance by Tagaq, followed by the video for the song Colonizer (from her 2022 album Tongues).

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Filed under North America, Performers, Politics, Popular music

The Mozart Post Office

In 1904 Ole Lund, a Swedish immigrant living in Minnesota, applied to the Canadian authorities for a piece of land under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. On receiving the allotment, he moved there with his wife, Julia.

The next year the province of Saskatchewan was established, and the Canadian Pacific Railway began its expansion westward; surveyors chose the Lund farm as their base of operation, and it became apparent that there would be a station depot not far from the Lund Homestead.

The railroad company offered to name the place Lund. The Lunds declined, and Julie Lund suggested that the hamlet be named after her favorite composer, Mozart. The name was accepted, and Mozart, Saskatchewan, officially came into being on 1 April 1909.

In the 1970s postcards with a line drawing of the town’s post office (above) were made available for sale in a nearby cooperative store. Mozart’s 222nd birthday, 27 January 1978, was an extremely busy day for the postmaster of the Mozart Post Office, who had to oblige stamp collectors from all over the world who were anxious to have the anniversary cancellation.

This according to “The Mozart Post Office” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 376 [January 2016] pp. 54–55). Below, the celebrated “Letter duet” from Le nozze di Figaro.

More articles about Mozart are here.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography

Musicworks

Thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Magazine Fund, the SOCAN Foundation Publications Assistance Program, and the Canada Periodical FundMusicworks has been issuing articles, reviews, and scores focusing on Canadian music since 1978; since 1983, issues have included sound recordings as well. While Canadian composers and performers are most often featured, the magazine also covers Canadian traditional music in both native and non-native cultures.

Recently Musicworks sent us a full run of their back issues; now we are confident that all of their articles are fully covered by RILM.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Music magazines, RILM news