The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hockey Night in Canada

As it turned out, it was Hockey Night in the United States, just after the last game of the most recent Stanley Cup, when the bombshell dropped. The licence to use the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, which had marked hockey evening Saturdays since it was written by Dolores Claman in 1968, would not be renewed by the CBC.

Some term the Hockey Night in Canada theme song an unofficial second national anthem.

I would not go that far, although I suspect that Canadians may recognise it much more quickly than they do the Canadian national anthem, and perhaps it is more widely known as well. Certainly the theme is one known by virtually every Canadian, even those Canadians who don't really follow hockey. It is learned at some point by every Canadian musician: many play it as part of their first gig. Play the theme, and virtually every Canadian knows that hockey emotions are soon to be involved. Even those Canadians who really don't care for hockey (and yes, there are some) recognise the theme instantly.

It has been in airplay for nearly forty years, one of the longest-running theme songs ever. Had the licence been renewed, it would have celebrated its fortieth anniversary next year.

All of which makes it as legitimate a piece of Canadiana as they come.

Grassroots protests were immediate.

According to the CBC, the change occurs not because of the cost -- a paltry $500 per use of the theme per game broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada -- but because of a desired change of image. Ongoing litigation between the composer and the CBC, initiated in 2004 over uncompensated and unlicenced use of the theme song outside the game broadcasts, is not a precondition of any licence renewal for use during the game broadcasts.

It makes an interesting footnote that, only hours after the initial announcement by Copyright Music & Visuals' president John Ciccone, the CBC rephrased, with Scott Moore, executive director of CBC Sports, specifying that negotiations for a new licence fee are ongoing.

Negotiating tactic? Much ado about nothing? Or an aborted attempt by the CBC to jump on the reality competition bandwagon and cheaply replace a cultural icon?

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