Music about Transportation

Of the various means of travel by land, sea, and air, only the railways, with the rhythmic clickety-clack of the wheels and the scream of the locomotive whistle, have provided an obvious subject for imitation in music.


Transportation. Of the various means of travel by land, sea, and air, only the railways, with the rhythmic clickety-clack of the wheels and the scream of the locomotive whistle, have provided an obvious subject for imitation in music. Perhaps the best known international example is Arthur Honegger's orchestral work Pacific 231, inspired by a US locomotive. Canadian composers fascinated by railroad sound have included André Mathieu, who at four composed a piano piece, Les Gros Chars (The Big Train), subsequently published by Southern; Eldon Rathburn, in his Aspects of Railroads for orchestra (1969); and Godfrey Ridout, in the second movement ('From the Caboose') of his Music for a Young Prince for orchestra (1959). Louis Applebaum set railway timetables in his chamber work Algoma Central for soprano, harp, and flute (1976). Rathburn's Turbo, composed in 1978 for Canadian Brass, celebrates the modern fast train. Oskar Morawetz' symphonic poem The Railway Station (1980, commissioned by the NYO) was inspired by Archibald Lampman's poem of that name. In a three-part narrative song, 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy,' Gordon Lightfoot recounts the story of the building of the CPR. 20th century songs include Mac Beattie's 'Train Wreck at Almonte,' Willie P. Bennett's 'Come on Train,' Dennis Brown's 'Crossties on a Railroad,' Wiz Bryant's 'The Hinton Train Disaster,' Tom Connors' 'The Flying C.P.R,' Bill Garrett's 'North Shore Train,' Félix Leclerc's 'Le train du nord,' Gordon Lightfoot's 'Steel Rail Blues,' Marcel Martel's 'J'entends le train,' Murray McLauchlan's 'Never Did Like That Train,' 'Train Song' and 'Railroad Man,' Joni Mitchell's 'Just Like This Train,' Stu Phillips' 'Champlain & St.Lawrence Line,' Orval Prophet's 'Judgement Day Express,' Wayne Rostad's 'Highway 11,' and Hank Snow's'I'm Movin' On' and 'The Golden Rocket'. Songs of the Iron Trail, an album by Tim Rogers and Barry Luft includes 11 Canadian railroad songs (1983, Sefel SEF-83IT01). Rogers prepared 'Canadian Railroad Songs' (CFMB, vol.16, April and October 1982). Also of interest is 'Canadian Railroad Eulogy' (Toronto Star, 21 October 1989).

Most other Canadian pieces ostensibly inspired by the railway are 19th-century dances which, typically for their time, bore any label which, by referring to a current matter, might promote sales. Railway building was a topic of great importance in 19th-century Canada, and the purveyors of dance took notice. Examples are The Canadian Grand Trunk Railway Gallop by 'W.H.' (1853); The Grand Trunk Waltzes by Charles d'Albert (featuring a picture of the newly opened Victoria Bridge in Montreal, ca 1859); the C.P.R. Lancers by N.S. Smith (1880s); Chemin de fer du Pacifique, a quadrille by Jules Hone (no date); and Q.M.O. & O. Galop (Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental) by Roch Lyonnais. Ottawa & Gatineau Ry. is the title of a march by Alice Allen-Heeney, published in 1898. Descriptive pieces include A Trip to Niagara (1905) by Clifford V. Baker and A Trip from Montreal to Lachine on the G.T.R., reported by the Toronto Musical Journal (15 Jul 1887) to have been performed by the Victoria Rifles band on Dominion Square in Montreal to the accompaniment of 'bells, whistles, steam, etc.'

Sea travel by steamship on the Great Lakes, on the St Lawrence and its tributaries, or on the waters of Manitoba and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was not only a necessity but a popular recreation. The names of many steamships have been celebrated in music. Examples include Success to the Steam Ship 'Secret' (ca 1871) by E. George Straker, dedicated to the mayor of Quebec, Pierre Garneau; the Parisian Lancers (1888) by Henry Bourlier, named after an Allan lines steamship; and the Peerless Rockaway (no date) composed by C.J. Arthur Marier of Ottawa and played on Ottawa river moonlight excursions. The Chicora Waltz (1881) dedicated by Edwin Gledhill to the captain and the officers of the palace steamer Chicora, the Cayuga Two Step (1906) by W.H. Hodgins, and the S.S. Noronic March (1921) by W.D. Martin recall famous Great Lakes ships. (See also Disaster songs.)

The airplane and the automobile developed in an age when sheet music titles related less often to everyday objects. Songs written about aviation in 1918 include Morris Manley's 'Up in the Air'; Florence M. Benjamin's 'Come with Me in My Aeroplane,' dedicated to the boys of the Royal Air Force; and Will J. White's 'Flying.' World War II produced Wishart Campbell's 'We're Flying to a New Horizon' (1943), Walter Ewin's 'The Eagle of the Sky!' (1941), R. Beaudry's 'Votre avion va-t-il au paradis?,' and Mario Dépangher's La Marche des aviateurs (1946). Canadian automobile songs include D.F. Harrison's 'My Ragtime Automobile' and Charles Tanguy's 'La Jackson' (a US car), written in the early 20th century, and Nelson H. Bell's 'Mister Buick: ''The Hero of the Road''' (copyright by the McLaughlin Motor Car Co of Oshawa, Ont) and '''Pontiac'': That's the Car for Me' (copyright by General Motors of Oshawa), both dating from 1927. Later examples include Vance Rockwell's 'Uncle Henry's Ford,' Charlie Russell's 'The Bricklin,' and Bob Ruzicka's 'Volkswagen Micro-Bus'. Highways, trucking, travel, and the general impact of the automobile on the modern lifestyle provide an ongoing source of inspiration for many songs among them BTO's 'Roll On Down the Highway,' and 'Freeways,' Dick Damron's 'Eastbound Highway' (recorded by Orval Prophet), Eddie Eastman's 'Eastbound 401,' Stevedore Steve Foote's 'Highway, White Lines,' Robert Gillet's 'Sur les routes du vieux Québec,' Ian and Sylvia Tyson's 'Some Kind of Fool,' 'Lonely Girls,' and Trucker's Cafe,' Joni Mitchell's 'Ray's Dad's Cadillac,' Roy Payne's 'Willie's Yellar Pick Up Truck,' Gene Pitney's 'Trans-Canada Highway,' Luc Plamondon and André Gagnon's 'Les Chemins d'été' (recorded by Steve Fiset), and Trooper's 'The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car'. Hitchiking songs include Willie P. Bennett's 'White Line' and Gordon Lightfoot's '10 Degrees and Getting Colder'. Murray McLauchlan's 'Sixteen Lanes of Highway' and Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi' comment of some of the negative impacts of the car. The third movement of George Fiala's orchestral suite Montreal - 'Métro: allegro giusto' - is descriptive of the city's subway. Gordon Monahan'sCome on Baby Ride With Me, Just Like You Did One Thousand Times Before was composed for the Dade County (Florida) Art in Public Places for the 1988 New Music America Festival It was banned by Dade County Transit after the initial run. Urban mass transit songs include the Amper's 'Le Metro,' the Guess Who's 'Bus Rider,' Daniel Lavoie's 'Le metro n'attend pas,' and the Shuffle Demons' 'Spadina Bus'.

See also Sports for music related to bicycles, canoes, sleighs, and yachts.