When news broke on May 24 that The Tragically Hip’s lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Canadian music fans were stopped in their tracks. Out of the blue, one of the country’s most beloved artists was truly facing his own mortality in a very public manner.
Out of that saddening revelation came lots of love from the Canadian public in the form of a bevvy of flattering social media posts; wide-ranging newspaper articles; and musical tributes from the artists in which Downie and The Tragically Hip have inspired.
One of the most thoughtful and goose bump-inducing salutes to Downie has come in the form of elementary school teacher and choir director, Ian Jack, leading a gymnasium filled with Newcastle Public School students through a singing of The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century.”
“As much as there are other Hip songs I like even more, this is the sweetest one,” offered Jack when asked by Maclean’s why he chose ‘Ahead by a Century’ as the song his students would sing. “It’s their most far-reaching song. It’s a song I’ve used with my Grade 5 and 6 kids for years, because it has a real story you can relate to. It’s ambiguous enough: some people interpret it as young love, some people see it as innocent friendship, looking at one’s life in the future.”
He continued: “When I pick a song for kids to sing, obviously, it has to have some kind of relation to their lives. Lyrically and melodically, it just works. I did move the starting chord to F from D, just to match their voices. The JKs and many of the primaries were learning the song phonetically. Even though the words are on a screen, a lot of them learned the song just through memory.”
In honour of the City of Toronto declaring today (August 10) Tragically Hip Day, we felt it would be great to mark the occasion by sharing the video of these wonderful kids singing their hearts out for Downie and the gang.
-Photo by: David Bastedo