Murray Adaskin (March 1906 - May 2002)
Convocation Address, Brock University October 21, 2000
President and Acting Chancellor Atkinson, Faculty, Graduands, Parents
and Friends of Brock University
It is a great and unexpected honour for me to be here at Brock University
today and to receive this degree. I thank you with a feeling of tremendous
Some of you will remember Mae West and her quick-witted ways. She once
said, "too much of a good thing is wonderful". That is exactly how I
feel today receiving my sixth honorary degree. It is too much but wonderful.
It is also a happy moment for me because it gives me another opportunity
to do what I have loved for so many years as a teacher, another chance
to speak to talented young people. I say speak to, not lecture because
I would merely like to pass on a few things said to me that have influenced
and have perhaps guided me my entire lifetime. You may already have
experienced that a single thought or idea can have a great effect on
the direction you take.
In the late 1940s I studied in California with the French composer,
Darius Milhaud. We had the daily assignment of composing at least a
few bars of music. As you know, we donít always get assignments done.
One day a young woman was asked to present her work, but she was unprepared.
Perhaps a bit chagrinned she reached in the back pocket of her jeans
and pulled out a piece of paper and meekly said to Milhaud, "it is just
an idea". With that Milhaud turned to the class saying, "did she say
just an idea? I wish I had an idea." This comment set the stage for
several lectures. I feel certain that young woman survived but I would
like to pass on to you that it is best to do your homework, hone your
knowledge and never let an idea escape you. It is through this that
you will find your genius.
After my final class with Milhaud he told me that from this time on
I must learn by writing and not through further study. This was my commencement
and possibly like you, I was nervous about setting out on my own. It
was difficult at times. For instance, I would be in the middle of a
composition and could find no way to proceed. I disciplined myself not
to continue until the problem at hand was resolved. I would look at,
what you might call the playing field where I was stuck and say to myself,
"I have to kick the ball from where it lies." However, the trick was
to locate the ball so that I could move on. I had yet another way of
helping myself out of a predicament. I would say to myself, if it were
possible to ask Milhaud, Beethoven, Mozart or Copland they would each
have several solutions and all I needed was one! This process
encouraged me to come up with my own idea knowing there are so many
Simply put; trust yourself and what you have learned. You can find
solutions based on your knowledge and your own inner direction.
Yes, I say this with great confidence. I know full well there are times
my work has been questioned. While studying with Milhaud I received
a devastating telegram from Winnipeg signed by an unknown man named
Graham. It read,
"First performance of your work (Suite for Orchestra) received with
revulsion. Have you seen a psychiatrist." Milhaud sensed I was troubled
and when he read the telegram he put his hand on my shoulder saying,
"Congratulations". I looked surprised and asked, "what ever for?" He
replied, "this shows Canadians are reacting to your music".
In closing, I would like to add one more thought. I, like you
or your parents are in Canada because our parents or grandparents were
immigrants. My parents left Russia during difficult times. Life in Canada
was not always easy for them but their appreciation of their freedom
and opportunity was overwhelming.
They marveled that in Canada their children were not excluded from
an education. As we four brothers grew up, our parents reminded us that
we must do something for Canada, that we must give something in return
for the advantages that had been given us.
It is my hope that I have done my best to do this.
I pass this idea on to you. Whatever direction your lives take, honor
your parents, your university and our beloved Canada. Things may not
always be easy but you have had the advantage of preparation for your
I have no doubt you will find solutions and direction.
What an advantage you have had and how privileged you are.
May your lives become full of magic, exiting and fulfilling.
I wish the best of luck to each and every one of you.
Murray Adaskin Convocation Address, Brock University October 21, 2000