That song is The Hockey Theme, one of the longest-running theme songs in broadcasting history. It was written in 1968 by the well-known and highly respected Canadian composer Dolores Claman, who also co-wrote another memorable song, A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow (Ontari-ari-ario!), in 1967. That song was used for the Ontario provincial government’s Canada centennial project at Expo 67, and the Academy Award-winning short film, “A Place to Stand” from the same year.
Claman was born in Vancouver, B.C., to a theatre and showbiz-loving father and an opera-singing mother. Her musical talent was nurtured from her earliest years. She began piano lessons at the age of six and in her teen years received a Graduate Scholarship to the world-renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York. Claman was able to hone her skills at Juilliard by taking classes in composition. After Julliard and a few brief stints teaching piano and performing in piano lounges, Claman began to delve more deeply into writing music. She produced numerous works for all kinds of media, especially ballet and theatre, before going on to co-found an award-winning jingle house in Toronto called Quartet Productions. This was the beginning of a prolific and successful career in composition.
The MacLaren advertising agency, which was working on the graphics for the opening of the “Hockey Night in Canada” show, commissioned Quartet Productions to create a powerful commercial jingle suitable for the popular sport.
The two firms had worked together many times before. Claman had never played hockey when she sat down to create the music. However, after composing numerous pieces for advertising, television, film and theatre, she knew how to draw upon inspiration rather than wait for it to come to her. Claman thought about “all those guys with all their gear on – very macho, very fast, like gladiators,” and decided the music should be “very grand, with a lot of dynamics and excitement and machismo attached.” She immediately nailed down the opening melody and created the rest of the piece around it.
It is often referred to as Canada’s “second national anthem,” as significant to Canadian culture as the sport it is connected with. Over the years, Claman received countless requests to purchase or use a copy of The Hockey Theme, but it was not available commercially until 2002. On September 25th of that year, Claman came together with a group of exceptional musicians to record both the opening and closing arrangements of The Hockey Theme at McClear / Digital Recording Studios in Toronto.
As the original composer and executive producer of this recording, Claman, along with producer John Ciccone and conductor and arranger Rick Wilkins, made every effort to capture the spirit of the original. They were joined by 21 outstanding musicians, three of whom were on the original 1968 recording, to recreate this piece of musical history. The original band charts from ’68 were unavailable – damaged, lost, or in a vault somewhere, according to Claman – so Wilkins carefully transcribed the parts from old recordings. The result is that the new official recording is remarkably true to the original.
Claman, along with Ciccone, who is founder and president of Copyright Music and Visuals, have made every effort to make The Hockey Theme available through various media for eagerly awaiting long-time fans. In fact, Mr. Ciccone was instrumental in developing the value of the song since first meeting Claman in 1993 and responding to the ongoing, great demand from the public.
Since the sheet music became available in 2000, it has been a continuous number-one seller and has become a staple in every band library. In addition to sheet music, compact disc and digital download formats, The Hockey Theme has, in recent years, also become available as a mobile phone ring-tone. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto included the score in its Popular Selection List. The simplified and intermediate piano arrangements by Howard Cable are also included in the RCM’s Grade 4 and 7 repertoire.
On November 30, 2009, TSN and Anthem Entertainment Group confirmed that Neil Peart – lyricist and drummer of Canadian rock group, Rush, and fellow 2010 CSHF inductee – would be recording a special rendition of The Hockey Theme. Peart’s version debuted on January 14, 2010, on TSN.
The theme has come a long way in almost forty years, kept alive not only by hockey broadcasts, but also by devoted Canucks who value the place this cherished tune has in their memories, as well as our collective national identity.