March 2, 2003
Did I Know: A Sister's Memoir of George Little, Musician
Matthew Mc Farland
Co-founder of CAMMAC, director of the Montreal Bach Choir and head of the
Music Division of the Québec Ministry of Education, George Little (1920-1995)
was many things to many people. The Canadian conductor and organist was also
Edna Knock's beloved big brother and the subject of her recently published
biography, Little Did I Know. The book speaks not only of
his devotion to music but to his family as well.
Edna Knock, former educator at
the University of Brandon, has penned a biography rich in detail on the life of
one of Canada's foremost classical musicians. Born in the Maritimes of mixed
French and English parentage, George Little was introduced to music at an early
age. During the Second World War, since he was unable to serve due to poor
eyesight, Little was bandleader at Camp Aldershot in Nova Scotia, perhaps
foretelling his foundation of the Otter Lake Music Camp and its successor,
CAMMAC, in 1953.
Little envisioned that the
CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians/Musiciens Amateurs du Canada) camps would
operate as places where the increasing passivity of classical music audiences
would be broken. He envisioned an environment where all who played an instrument
or sang could participate in a non-competitive and relaxed musical environment.
The family summer camp, now operating at Lake MacDonald near Lachute, continues
to offer a variety of musical programs to amateur musicians.
Knock quotes Desmond Fegredo, an
Ottawa research scientist and frequent camp participant since 1965:
"It might seem strange but I
remember the days of my first year at CAMMAC more vividly than most others
probably because everything was new. I found, on registering, that morning choir
was compulsory and was to be conducted by a George Little. I showed up, more out
of curiosity than anything else, and was astounded to find that I was expected
to sing a Bach cantata. I didn't know how to sing from music anymore then than I
do now but I fake a lot better now. George started off by demanding a 'lah' and
I let out a howl that startled everyone within range. George never scolded or
made fun then or later but always encouraged and he is certainly one of the
reasons why I returned to the camp in following years."
Little's patient yet demanding
nature brought great success to his choirs as well. From its foundation in 1951
until 1965, the Montreal Bach Choir achieved critical acclaim both here and
Knock's biography is an
important addition to the available literature on Canada's great musicians. A
series of tributes to Little's contributions, particularly in regards to CAMMAC,
round out the biography. Knock recalls that one of CAMMAC's participants, Sister
Marie-Lucienne of Moncton, NB, said to her brother on living the camp, "Oh, Mr.
Little, when you get to heaven, Mr. Bach is going to be the first person to
shake your hand!"