The Passion for the Hockey Theme

Much of the value of cultural works is produced not by creators, but by the audience. I know of no better example than the recent ruckus over CBC’s failure to re-license the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. The response was tremendous. The outrage of fans poured out on CBC message boards and letters to the editor. Argument raged about the value of the song; many pressed CBC to pay the composer, Dolores Claman, whatever it took to secure the license.

But consider: the composer is only one contributor to the value of the Hockey Night in Canada theme. What is unique about the theme is its association with hockey. Claman didn’t create that association: there is nothing in the music itself that says “hockey”. She wrote the notes, but it was the audience who gave them meaning. It was they who, over decades of tradition, made the theme inseparable from the sport they love. It is they who linked it to the events of their lives. The passion shown by fans is a reflection of their own personal investments in the music.

For popular works, the audience are always important contributors to value. That is the essence of popularity; that is how we integrate a work into our shared culture. The audience are co-producers. The contribution of each individual may be small, but together these little tidbits of labor and creativity can be greater than that of the artist.

It is a commonplace that no art is wholly original. This is not a bad thing: allusion, borrowing, integration into the culture and building on the work of others are characteristics of great art. But the process does not end when the artist rests her pen or puts down his camera or the manuscript is sent to the printer. From the moment the audience experiences art they interpret it, they give it meaning, they give it value. Some may even draw upon it for their own art – for every artist begins and remains a member of the audience.

So it is with Claman’s theme. The value of her music – millions of dollars it seems – was the product of multitudes. It is not only her theme. It is theirs too. And that is the source of their passion.

2008-06-23

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