Oration | Address to Convocation
Donald Cook has been active for over 35 years as a music educator and administrator, pianist, church organist, composer/arranger, and choral director.
A native of St. John's, Newfoundland, Dr. Cook graduated with a B.Mus. (composition — 1957) from Mount Allison University, a M.Mus. (church music — 1965) from the Union Theological Seminary, and the PhD (musicology — 1982) from King's College, University of London in England.
After 10 years as a school music teacher in Newfoundland, Dr. Cook joined the faculty of Memorial University of Newfoundland where he played a major role in the establishment of a School of Music. He became the school's first director in 1975, a position he held until 1990. During his tenure as director, a new music building was opened in 1985 and the school grew to become one of the largest and best-equipped music facilities in Atlantic Canada.
In September 1992 Dr. Cook moved to London, Ontario, to become principal of the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music (now Conservatory Canada), a position he still holds. A number of his arrangements of piano pieces and songs for solo voice are included in the conservatory's New Millennium Series, scheduled for publication this coming June.
Two of his folksong collections, Sing the Sea (arranged for elementary and junior high choirs) and Twelve Songs of Newfoundland (creative experiences for choir and classroom instruments), are popular with youth choirs.
Dr. Cook has served as board member of a number of musical organizations including the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, the Canadian Music Educators' Association, the Canadian Music Centre, the Canadian Music Council, and the London (Ontario) Youth Orchestra. He is a past-chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, the Canadian University Music Society and the International Mozart Chamber Music Competition. He has also served as
juror for both the Juno Awards and the Ontario Arts Council.
In 1993 Memorial University of Newfoundland named its new recital hall in his honour, and that same year he was named as a member of the Order of Canada.
Dr. Cook will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Oration honouring Donald Frederick Cook
Dr. David Graham, university orator
“Movers and shakers”: no phrase more aptly captures in today's parlance the combination of ability and drive so highly prized in the halls of corporate and political power, where “movers and shakers” are builders, people who get things done, who stir things up, make things happen. Few people today can know that the origin of the statement lies in the first stanza of an ode by the obscure 19th-century poet Arthur William Edgar O' Shaughnessy, whose opening and closing lines make a brilliant counterpoint:
We are the music makers, We are the dreamers of dreams, We are the movers and shakers, Of the world forever, it seems.
Mr. Chancellor, the man who stands before you today perfectly embodies these words. He has long been an outstanding music maker. He has a doctoral degree in musicology. He has taught music at Bishop Feild Boys' School, at Memorial University and at Western Ontario Conservatory of Music (now Conservatory Canada). No mere academic, however, he has made many church sanctuaries ring, including during his lengthy and influential service as organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas's Anglican Church and the Newfoundland Cathedral. Within Memorial, he was probably even better known as the conductor of the Festival Choir, of the Chamber Choir and of annual opera productions including works by composers as varied as Gilbert and Sullivan and Henry Purcell. He was also the organist who officiated at any number of convocations in this very hall!
Far from being simply a “music maker,” Don Cook has always been a great “dreamer of dreams.” When he joined Memorial's faculty in 1968, he found that music study had no physical or disciplinary home. Recognizing a gilt-edged opportunity, he laboured tirelessly to promote his dream of an academic unit where the study of music could be housed, and when the Department of Music was finally created within the Faculty of Arts in 1975, it was perfectly fitting and proper that he should be appointed its first head, in which position he oversaw the introduction of the first degree programs in music. Now this is where the real “moving and shaking” begins. In a rousing crescendo of outstanding achievements, Don played a key role in forming the Music Council of the Newfoundland Teachers' Association, and persuaded the Provincial Department of Education not only to appoint a music consultant but to mandate that music should be taught in the schools only by specialist teachers, a requirement unique to this day in Canada.
Having thus created a continuing demand in the provincial school system for qualified music teachers, he ably set about filling it. How could a mere department in the Faculty of Arts produce enough qualified teachers to meet the stipulated requirement for specialists? Clearly it could not, and Don brilliantly orchestrated the construction of a magnificent new building and the transformation of his department into a highly successful and vastly more independent new School of Music, of which he was appointed the first director in 1985.
As director of the School of Music, Don took full personal responsibility for the academic and social success of the program. Each year would begin with the same team-building ritual, composed anew by him: faculty and students would embark on a scavenger hunt, ranging all over St. John's in search of the wildest imaginable collection of unlikely items before gathering for a triumphant conclusion, invariably at the “Big R” for fish and chips. Where the Music Building was concerned, any slovenly student who thought to slip an empty chip bag or soft-drink can into one of the potted plants could be sure that the director himself would appear as if by magic to sound a sudden and terrifying sforzando of public excoriation. Where attendance at rehearsal was concerned, his unique blend of irascibility and humour was legendary: when one inconsolable student telephoned to say that she would have to miss choir rehearsal because her horse had just died, his riposte was a characteristic growl: “Can't you take a taxi?!”
As anyone who ever had to contend with Don for a share of university resources can testify, he could be ferociously hard-nosed, combative and stubborn. But he had the knack of always getting what his school needed, and for every student who muttered darkly about the supposedly exaggerated importance given to music education, another could be found to testify that the director had taken a warm personal interest in his or her well-being, even to the point of extending a loan from his own pocket. This fierce sense of ownership was perfectly appropriate, given that in truth he had been so instrumental in creating, virtually from nothing, the need for music and music teachers, the programs to fill that need, and the facility to
house those programs. The quality and strength of his affiliation with the school were permanently recognized when its main performance space was baptized the Donald F. Cook Recital Hall.
Since leaving Memorial in 1992, Don Cook has continued to go from strength to strength, but his memory will long endure here for his vital contributions to the musical fabric of this province. I therefore present to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, this extraordinary music-maker, dreamer, and mover and shaker, Donald Frederick Cook.
In all my years as a faculty member and administrator at Memorial University it was always a source of mortification to me that, among my several academic and musical qualifications, not one of them carried the respectability of being from Newfoundland's most honorable educational institution. For years, I soldiered on, trying day after day to suppress my guilt of alma mater inadequacy, and to control my feeling that surely I must be viewed by many of my colleagues as being academically naked.
Mr. Chancellor, I want to thank you, the Board of Regents, and the Senate, for making things right today. I am now out of the shadows and can at last stand tall (I use the word in the relative sense) as a proud graduate of Memorial University; an institution that, for over 30 years, has played an important role in the lives of my wife and me. At the same time, I am humbled that the degree is the second honour bestowed upon me by my former colleagues at Memorial. The first was the naming of the D. F. Cook Recital Hall in the School of Music. I must confide that I live in fear and trepidation of a possible third honour, which, if it comes, must surely be having my portrait installed along with those of the 15 or so musicians from Newfoundland and Labrador that hang in the musician's gallery of the M. O. Morgan Building. The one single canon associated with becoming part of this distinguished group is that the recipient is deceased. Today, I feel very much alive and ready to celebrate. I know that those candidates who sit in this auditorium awaiting the conferring of their degrees in a few moments also have reason to celebrate. We congratulate each of you, as well as those parents, spouses and friends who have supported you throughout your studies.
For most of today's degree candidates, this convocation will be their first. For a few others it will be the second, and for even fewer, the third or fourth. I want you to know that today marks the 104th convocation of Memorial University that I have attended. I suspect I'm the only person alive who had to attend 104 convocations to get one degree. You will appreciate, therefore, that in the process I have heard 103 convocation addresses. Some were tolerable; a few were interesting. But in all honesty, most were too long, and boring. I am acutely aware that I could be at risk of falling unwittingly into the last category, and it is for this reason that I come to you today with little to say, and certainly with no profound message to leave with you.
So, what can I speak to you about? Because this is an assembly of learned scholars, it is probably appropriate for me to talk about something academic. How about a brief account of my post-doctoral research into Italian music of the 16th century? Surely this is a topic that will excite your thirst for truth and knowledge. I propose, therefore, to relate to you, for the first time anywhere, an unbelievable tale of a previously unknown music manuscript that my research has brought to light. Listen carefully.
I'm sure that students of music history will remember coming across the name of Orlando Lassus, that famous Netherlands composer and blind organist, who was head of the ducal chapel of the Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria from 1557 to 1594. The facts about Orlando's life are well known. What has not been known until now is that Orlando had a half-brother, Morendo Languini Lassus, who was himself a bit of a composer. I have unearthed only a few scanty details concerning Morendo's life. He was a few years younger than Orlando, and was known to his friends simply as Moe. Unlike Orlando, Moe was apparently somewhat of a reprobate who, at the tender age of 19, left home to seek his fortune in Italy. The story unfolds that Moe eventually settled in Vaselino, a small town on the island of Sicily, where he became a rather greasy character.
For the researcher, breakthroughs often come unexpectedly, and from the most unlikely sources. And this happened to me one day in the summer of 1995. I was in Vaselino to examine records at the local parish church in the Piazza San Marco, and decided to have a quick lunch at a small hamburger place on the other side of the square. As I sat there wolfing down a Big Mac, I struck up a conversation with an elderly woman, dressed all in black, and well over 90 of she was a day. Our chat came around to my reason for being in Vaselino and to Moe in particular. Apparently his name and his unsavory reputation were legend in this tiny village, even after the passage of 400 years. I became excited. Indeed, she volunteered that there once was a manuscript of five motets (for the layman, unaccompanied anthems set to Latin words), composed by Moe and which were at one time in the possession of a Signor Intensivo Care, Count of Vaselino. This volume, supposedly copied in Moe's hand, had disappeared sometime in the late 19th century.
As you are aware, scholars and collectors frequently give such manuscript volumes a name, and quite often in volumes of sacred choral works the title is derived from the first line (or incipit) of the first motet in the collection. In the case of Moe's manuscript, the incipit of the first motet is Benedicamus ubitas nomine sancti. You may also be aware of our penchant for acronyms whereby the title of a book or manuscript volume is compressed to one word representing the first letter of each word. So it is that Historical Anthology of Music by Davidson and Apel is lovingly called HAM. Likewise, Moe's manuscript is now referred to by the initials of its title B.U.N.S., or BUNS. Sadly, I have not been successful in tracing the present whereabouts of the BUNS manuscript. You may not believe what comes next, but listen carefully. Further research has given me good reason to suspect that the BUNS manuscript was brought to Newfoundland about 1905 by a sea captain from Scilly Cove, a picturesque inlet nestled a few miles from New Perlican in Trinity Bay. I wonder if the name Scilly Cove is related in any way to the island of Sicily. Until the BUNS manuscript of Morendo Lassus is rediscovered, I fear that he remains condemned to obscurity. If any one here has family roots in Scilly Cove, I ask for your help. Please see me afterwards if you have ever heard your mother or grandmother mention anything about Moe Lassus' BUNS.
Those here who heard my story will pass it off as a pleasant, and perhaps mildly humorous, diversion. Those who listened to it will have come to the conclusion early on that my flawed account was the product of an over-active imagination. It was, what my mother would have called, a fib. Please bear with me, Mr. Chancellor, lest I be accused of trivializing these proceedings by the introduction of untruths. Allow me to explain. Firstly, I did state clearly at the beginning that I was about to relate a tale that was unbelievable. Indeed, my use of the word 'tale' itself was intended as an admission that I was about to relate what the Oxford Dictionary describes as “idle fiction; a usually fictitious narrative, especially one imaginatively treated.” Secondly, on several occasions throughout my account, I did advise the audience to listen. And it is generally recognized that, compared to hearing, listening is a much more intense and sophisticated proposition. My fib was a gentle tap on the ear to alert you all. Or as Shakespeare put it in the Taming of the Shrew, “This cuff was but to knock at your ear and beseech listening.” You will understand that throughout my 40-year career as a musician and also a teacher, (as many of you here are or will be) my principal mandate was to teach students to listen. Listen to the pitch, the volume, the tone, the diction, the rhythm, the articulation. Mine was and is a profession totally focused on listening. The other day I was attending a toddler's gym program with one of my six grandchildren. The teacher announced excitedly that she was introducing something new called auditory stimulation. Well, that turned out to be pedagogical jargon for learning to listen. As the class went on, I came to realize that throughout my musical career I have been on the cutting edge of this field and didn't know it.
Listening. Sometimes I heard things I didn't want to hear. At the age of 21, I began teaching at Bishop Feild College (in those days an all boys' school). One day, I had spent an inordinately long time trying to get a Grade One student to identify the difference in pitch between two notes. He heard the notes, but he wasn't listening. In my frustration, I decided that I must focus his attention on his ears. So I ask, “What are your eyes for?” “To see with,” he replied without hesitation. I continued, “What is your nose for?” “To smell with.” “And your mouth?” “To eat with.” He was exuding confidence now. It was time to deliver the climax. “And what are your ears for?” I could sense that success was imminent. He paused and said, “To keep clean.”
Sometimes I heard things I couldn't fix. Most university music degree programs require the successful completion of one or more courses in aural training, and most students have a pathological fear of such a course. One summer, I found myself providing private remedial sessions for a fourth-year music student who has taking this course for the third time. It was the only course stopping her graduation. Alas, in the end she failed it again. Obviously, I had been of little help. But all was not lost. A few days later she appeared triumphantly in my office with a doctor's note confirming what I already had suspected. She had a severe hearing disability. The irony was that the medical expect (who was unquestionably correct in his diagnosis) went on to state that this student should be exempt from completing this abominable course in aural training (which for the music profession would be unthinkable). Her note was processed through the appropriate university channels, her request for exemption was approved, she graduated, and today she is a music teacher who is unable to listen.
Sometimes I heard things I couldn't understand. This sad state of affairs was usually connected with the singing of words, and occurred most frequently in my role as a church musician. Sunday after Sunday, I heard the cantor intoning the invitation “Let us spray.” And more than once I heard that great hymn Gladly the Cross I'd Bear sung as if it referred to a visually-impaired relative, named Gladly, of that famous mascot of the forest fire service. (Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.)
Sometimes, I think we simply may not want to understand, and this may have been the case with Archibald Leach. (Better known to all of us as English-born Hollywood film star Cary Grant). The story is told that he once received a cablegram from a reporter that read “How old Cary Grant?” The film star cabled an immediate reply, “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”
We've been talking about the investigation and interpretation involved in listening to physical or audible sounds. As I get older, I have come to realize that there is another type of listening that is crucial to our personal development. We must learn to listen to non-audible sounds that are transmitted, and can only be heard within the parameter of our own being. Sounds that cannot be recorded on an oscilloscope but that, nevertheless, influence and direct our lives and experiences. American President Harry Truman once wrote: The President HEARS a hundred voices telling him he's the greatest man in the world. He must LISTEN carefully indeed to the one voice that tells him he's not.
Mr. Truman did not need to explain that the one voice to which he must listen to came from within. That inaudible voice of our conscience, or of common sense, or of the memory of our upbringing, or of our moral code, or of our personal character. We must listen to these sounds too. They come from the heart, from the mind, and from the spirit. And we must learn to listen to them when we need them most — before we become old. Nowhere is the lesson of listening more important than when it comes to your inner knowing; what good is such divine knowledge if you don't tune in and hear the message?
There are other times when we just need to listen to the silence. If you've read Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree, you may recall the line “That man's silence is wonderful to listen to.” The famous composer Mozart also celebrated the virtue of silence by admitting that the best part of his music was the rests, that is, the silent parts. No, he was not being facetious; he knew quite well that a period of silence, however brief, enhanced the focus and character of the note or chord that followed it.
Mr. Chancellor, I say to our graduates that my fondest wish for them today is that they enjoy a career and a life of all kinds of listening. May your dreams come true. But I must challenge you that if they all do, you will have dreamed too little.
Finally, as I bring this address to a conclusion, I reach a career record, bringing the total number of convocation addresses I have heard to 104. It remains only for me to leave it to each of you to reflect upon which category this current address falls into; tolerable, interesting, or too long and boring. If I conclude now, without further ado, perhaps charity will still permit you to adapt Thomas Hardy's phrase, and say of me that at the least, my silence is wonderful to listen to.
I was touched by a short story I read in a magazine during an airline flight several months ago. A young lad (about seven or eight years old) and his grandfather were inseparable. Even since the boy was born, his grandfather had been his mentor and protector. The two had played together, learned from each other, confided their personal thoughts, and shared a love that was unequalled. When the grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the two discussed the inevitable, and determined that the impending separation would be only a physical inconvenience. Their love would continue. One day, several weeks after the grandfather's funeral, the boy was sitting at the breakfast table when his mother overheard him quietly say, “I love you too, Grandfather.” His mother reminded the boy that his Grandfather, being dead, was unable to communicate with them. The boy nodded that he understood. Nevertheless, she felt she should concluded by saying, “I didn't hear anything.” To which the boy replied, “That's because you weren't listening properly.”
Honorary Degree Recipients: Fall Convocation 1999
James H. Rogers
John Kenneth Galbraith
David Christian Ward
Donald Frederick Cook