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Wednesday, 26 April 2017 15:47

TSO – The Return of “The Hockey Sweater”

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy
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TSO to Perform Musical Adaptation of Canadian

children’s classic story this Saturday afternoon, April 29th

Two performances at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Noted author Roch Carrier to Narrate

It’s been almost five years since the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of the musical interpretation of Roch Carrier’s popular children’s story “The Hockey Sweater.”


It was quite an afternoon back in May 2012!  Stanley Cup hero Ken Dryden, the great Montreal Canadian goaltender hosted, dressed in his famous No. 29 sweater.  Author Roch Carrier playfully narrated and acted out the story, at times skipping across the stage to Canadian composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s music, to the delight of many children who, with their parents, filled Roy Thomson Hall.

Then, the climax happened.  During an outdoor ice hockey game, the little boy, the hero of the story, has a tantrum, screams and throws his stick on the ice, breaking it.  The referee, a priest from the local parish, punishes the boy, ordering him to go to the church and pray for forgiveness for his outburst.

Indeed, the casting was perfect with Carrier, his alter ego, the little boy of the story, and Ken Dryden – we had the Father (referee), the son and the Goalie Host.

For two performances this coming Saturday afternoon, Roch Carrier returns to narrate his story with the orchestra.  This time, the host is composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte.  Alain Trudel is the conductor and French Horn player Christopher Gongos is featured.  Sheldon Cohen’s illustrations for the NFB film and tie-in book edition that followed will be projected on two screens hanging above the musicians.

“The Hockey Sweater” has brought Abigail great success.  By 2015, within three seasons of the work’s premiere, nearly every professional orchestra throughout Canada had performed it before more than 60,000 audience members.  She is presently composer-in-residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic.

Translated into English by Sheila Fischman, Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater” is one of Canada’s most beloved stories for children of all ages, a distinction it has achieved, in part, because of our country’s love for our national sport.

Carrier based the story on his own memories of an actual experience he had in 1946 as a child in his hometown of Sainte-Justine, Québec.  He writes about the love of hockey he and his friends shared and, in particular, their obsession with Maurice Richard, No. 9, the superstar of the Montreal Canadiens NHL team.  (Ironically, Carrier was nine-years-old then.)

When his red, white and blue Canadiens jersey wears out, his mother writes a letter in French to the address of Eaton’s mail order catalogue, written only in English.  They boy is horrified, when the package arrives and he discovers Eaton’s, by mistake, sent him the sweater of the Canadiens’ arch-rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He argues with his mother, but she refuses to return it at the risk of offending “Monsieur Eaton.”  What happens next is the story.

With the Calgary Philharmonic and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony co-commissioned Abigail Richardson-Schulte to write a symphonic setting.  She creates a “sound world,” says program notes from the Hamilton Philharmonic, “that evokes the year 1946 in Ste-Justine Québec.”  “The point, Abigail explained, “is to not put us in a hockey arena today so much, but a hockey (rink) of the past.”

She complements the sounds of “old style sports broadcasting” with music to portray the children’s excitement as they play on ice rink all dressed in Maurice Richard’s No. 9 jersey.

Abigail employs French Horns and “sagging strings,” the notes explain, “to (depict) Roch’s mother when she nags him and insists he wear the Maple Leafs’ sweater. `I also wanted to get the devastation of receiving the (wrong) hockey sweater in the mail,” said Abigail. `So when he opens up the box, we get the most terrible sound from the orchestra, like the world is ending.  It’s huge.’”

The story ends in church .. cure the hymn music… where the boy prays for God to send “a hundred-million moths to eat his Toronto jersey.”  Abigail said she creates that sound by using the unconventional and odd technique of having the orchestra’s musicians flap their music pages.  Listeners then return, the notes say, to the pastoral setting of Ste-Justine with country sounds of “Québécois fiddling” that evoke Carrier’s story.”

Carrier published “The Hockey Sweater” in 1979 in French titled “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” (“An abominable maple leaf on the ice”.)  In 1980, the National Film Board (NFB) released a 10-minute animated short film … (titled “The Sweater”) … narrated by Carrier with illustrations by Sheldon Cohen.  It has since won many awards and remains one of the NFB’s most popular films.  In 1981, it received the “Best Animated Film” award at the BAFTAS, the British Academy Awards.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgydkfnUEi8 -- The Sweater, animated film, National Film Board


Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk took a copy of it in 2009 to the International Space Station as a gesture of support for reading and Canadian literacy. Also, Carrier became the first author quoted on a Canadian banknote when a line of his was quoted on the 2001 series five-dollar bill that featured an illustration of children playing shinny outdoors.  In English and French, it read:

“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons.  We lived in three places – the school, the church and the skating rink – but our real life was on the skating rink.”

Leonard Maltin, noted American movie critic, in his review noted how hockey “is an obsession, a country-wide preoccupation that dominates many lives… `The Sweater’ is one of the National Film Board’s best animated works that combined humor with cultural significance.”

Now, music gives Roch Carrier’s classic story an entirely new dimension.

Tickets:  TSO – “The Hockey Sweater”

To order tickets and for information, call the box office at:

416-598-3375 or visit www.tso.ca


Roy Thomson Hall

60 Simcoe Street

Toronto, ON.

Contact Song & Script to order a copy of the National Film Board’s animated DVD of “The Hockey Sweater” or visit Ben McNally Books at 360 Bay Street for the book.

By Dennis Kucherawy

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 15:54
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