Katherine Gilks, Projects Coordinator

Heritage often brings up difficult questions. As noted in our Feb. 18 blog, everything in our lives relates to heritage and it makes us who we are. It forms our personal, familial, communal, and national identities. As such, discussing heritage brings out many emotional ties that we have.

Music is one such aspect of our identity. Music of all varieties, including songs and poetry with no accompaniment, shapes and reflects our heritage. Our families expose us to music from before we are born (whether they intend to or not) and this shapes our likes and dislikes as we age. The music that we heard as children at home, the music that our parents listened to or performed, and the music that we enjoyed as teenagers or young adults all form a significant part of our personal identities. Sometimes, we rebel against what our parents enjoyed – such as the person who can’t stand country because it was all their parents ever played. Sometimes, we really connect with the music that we heard as children – such as those that take up the same instrument as their family members and perform with them. Most of us fall somewhere in between. Some of us just have odd musical tastes in general.

As it happens, I enjoy military music, among other genres. However, upon further reading about the massacre that took place on March 15 in New Zealand, I stumbled upon an article that listed all of the music that played in the murderer’s video. One of the songs was a standard British marching tune that is quite well known.

This song was in my songbook for childhood piano lessons. It appeared in snippets of pieces I played for the school band. It is still the official march of the regiment in question. All in all, it is not only a catchy tune, but it is also firmly woven into my heritage – as well as that of many others, including a man who thought nothing of killing 50 people. Despite the lyrics being no more offensive than the Saskatchewan Roughriders theme song, it is still a military march. Was I just upset that this incident reminded me how many people the British (and Canadian) military have killed?

This brings up one such difficult question: reconciling various aspects of our heritage with what they mean to us, to others, and to the world at large. Keeping with the theme of music, couples often talk about having a song that is “theirs”. Perhaps the song played at an event where they met, or they had their first dance to it, or it is one that they realised they both really enjoyed. To them, and perhaps their family, the song is very deeply meaningful on a personal level. To others, the song might represent something harmful: the lyrics of a love song might come across as possessive, unhealthy, or abusive, depending on one’s age or life experience. Many songs have become international hits for the fact that they are fun to dance to or because they were in a popular movie, with no meaning attached. The same song, therefore, has different levels of importance and relevance.

It is not just music or art, but every aspect of our heritage that needs to be reconciled. Who are we, as Canadians? What did we absorb as children that others would find horrifying? What are we clinging to possessively because they bring back fond memories? Is it wrong to like something even though the meaning of that something has evolved?

Young people – especially children – are the ones who often bring up these difficult questions. They are learning about things for the first time. They study historical events with which they have no direct experience and of which they have no memories. They hear what their families say, what their teachers say, what their friends say, and what the media says. They try to understand their heritage.

And in so doing, they try to help all of us understand our heritage as well. We are challenged to think critically about our past, present, and future. It is not to blame, shame, ridicule, or destroy the stories that we have told ourselves. Rather, we need to face these questions and – like for all stories – we need to edit and add new chapters.