“Big news” stories out of Canada can be gleaned from headlines. A great many small stories, on topics beyond the mainstream, deserve notice too. In that spirit, here’s a nice obituary by Shelley Page in the Ottawa Citizen on the passing of Helmut Kallmann (1923-2012). Kallman died in February, at age 89.
A librarian at CBC for 20 years, he rose to become chief of the music division at the National Library of Canada. He was responsible for the content of the unprecedented and unsurpassed Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. And his A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914 was the subject’s first comprehensive treatment and established the field for subsequent researchers.
Page goes on to detail Kallman’s life, including a childhood that spanned tumultuous times:
When Kallmann left Berlin in 1939, his lawyer father and social worker mother, along with his sister, were unable to get papers to leave. But Britain had organized the Kindertransport, which took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied countries. The family decided it best for Kallmann to go, even though they worried that he hadn’t graduated from high school, according to [Dawn] Keer’s thorough thesis on Kallmann.
For a time in London, the “refugee from Nazi oppression” was free to explore its libraries, reading books on music and history. Then the British government changed the status of Jews to “enemy aliens” and he was imprisoned on the Isle of Man, before being sent to a prison camp in Canada.
In 1940, Kallmann arrived in Quebec City on board the Sobieski, part of a convoy of 2,000 other “prisoners of war.” For the next three years, he was moved from one camp to another, starting in one near Fredericton, in the middle of a forest surrounded by barbed wire.
His family perished in concentration camps. Remaining in Canada, Kallmann went on to become
… a “one man authority on Canadian music,” according to his longtime friend and protégé, Maria Calderisi. She said the “humble and generous” Kallmann was sought out world wide as this country’s leading expert and did much to either set the record straight about Canadian music, or just get it included in the international record.
…told the University of Toronto student yearbook at the start of his career that his ambition was “to be useful” – a modest aim that in my view he more than realized.
Classical music doesn’t get a lot of attention. Canadian classical music is practically a sub-set of a sub-set. So, here’s to those who toil to study, preserve and share precious things, big and small.
Here’s to being “useful.”