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Tuning in to the Past

Faculty of Music library acquires first tune book in Upper Canada

Although more than a century separates them, Mark Burnham and Prof. John Beckwith (BMus 1947, MMus 1961) are connected by one item: a tune book of songs, which was recently acquired by the Faculty of Music Library.

Burnham, an entrepreneur and choir conductor who emigrated from New Hampshire to Port Hope, Ont., in the early 1800s, published Colonial Harmonist in 1832. The collection was the first tune book in Upper Canada, and included original and popular pieces sung in church, singing circles and homes.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2000. John Beckwith, a music professor emeritus and a researcher of Canadian tune books, was fascinated with the history of Colonial Harmonist. While on a visit to one of Burnham’s descendants near Port Hope, he was shown a rare, hand-written, second-edition manuscript of the tune book, dated 1836.

“These tune books represent the social music history of Canada,” says Beckwith.

The Faculty of Music Library acquired the manuscript with help from the Friends of the Fisher Library.

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