Some might say working in the mining industry is nothing to sing about, but the results of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame’s (CMHF) mining song contest prove that shovels, shafts and mine safety measures can inspire musical creativity.
The contest winners were announced in January at the CMHF’s induction dinner in Toronto.
A three-person panel listened to the 26 contest entries and judged them on melody, lyrics and topic, in two categories: parody and original song. In each category the winner received $1,200, with $800 for second place, $400 for third and $100 for honourable mentions.
Entries came in from across the country from professional and amateur musicians.
Sudbury musician Andrew Lowe took the top prize for his original song “Smiley’s Crew.” Lowe was put to the task by Gordon Slade, who earned the nickname “Smiley” for his cheery demeanor while working underground as a shift boss. In the song Lowe sings about the nicknaming culture of underground miners.
The parody category’s winner was another Sudbury native, Daniel Thomson, who won for his song “The Mucker.” Thomson has performed during Mining Week in Sudbury and is the son of the former vice-president of operations at the Kidd Creek mine in Timmins.
“Miners like to sing about their work,” says former CMHF director Don Worth, who was on the judging panel and helped organize the contest. “You’ll see songs about miners that go back to the California gold rush, when ‘Oh My Darling, Clementine’ was written.”
Worth argues that mining is represented in song more than most professions. “The form of recreation in some of the old mining camps was to get together and sing at night around a piano,” he adds.
In the spirit of this musical tradition, CMHF held the contest to commemorate the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The organization held a similar contest once before in 2001.
“This whole thing was made possible through the generosity of Mike Muzylowski,” says Worth, who buttonholed him to support the contest after he sang a line from “Dark as a Dungeon” — popularized by Johnny Cash — after his 2011 induction. Muzylowski put up $5,000 in prize money for the cause.
Some CMHF directors worried they would get only songs lamenting the darker aspects of mining, which turned out not to be the case, Worth says. In fact, the contest mostly displayed “the pride that people have being associated with this industry.”
The CMHF invited second-place winner Leo Cameron to perform his original tune “Five-Point Safety System Song” at the induction dinner. While not a first-place winner, Cameron was invited because he is a miner (retired), and because his song is positive, Worth says. The song is about the popular safety system in many Ontario mines. It was written in a lunchroom 2,000 metres below the surface during an episode when Cameron spent 20 hours underground due to a hoist malfunction.
Worth hopes the songs will be widely available in the near future.
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