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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 6

Book Review

March 2, 2003

Little 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 abroad.

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!"

(c) La Scena Musicale