Music and Memorializaton at the Canadian War Museum. Article by Kip Pegley. Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

War is Peace. When Canadians make war, we really make peace.1

{1} The Government of Canada has long recognized the importance of music in representing Canadian war and peacekeeping efforts.2 Visitors to the Canadian Veteran’s Internet website, for instance, can listen to songs popular during the First World War while simultaneously reading their lyrics.3 Staff members at Veterans Affairs, a government branch mandated to assist military veterans, meanwhile, can participate in The Canada Remembers Chorus, a choir established in 1994 to perform songs of the First and Second World Wars. In the Canadian War Museum’s Military History Research Centre in Ottawa, one also can examine sheet music and recordings from Canada’s numerous international conflicts and peacekeeping tours.

{2} Although music occupies an important place in “official” portrayals of Canadian war history, little attention has been paid to its role vis-à-vis the government’s most public and interactive live attraction: the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.4 Explanations for this oversight are numerous. First, sound, including music, is not what comes to mind for most people when thinking about this museum, or indeed any museum, and this is partially explained by the history of the institution. As Max Ross (2004) argues, from the 19th century to the 1960s, museums were understood as elitist institutions that unilaterally legislated which objects should be displayed for the public, perpetuating a  ‘top-down,’ formal, and unidirectional flow of  information. Since the 1970s, however, economic, political, and social pressures have forced administrators and curators to focus less on the collections and instead on creating a more engaging experience for visitors (Ross: 84). This has resulted in what has been called a ‘new museology,’ that is, a more reflexive, visitor-centered approach that values interactivity and sees the museum and patrons as co-interpreters of the collections.5 As a result, museum spaces and exhibits have become more fluid, performative, and theatrical (Jackson and Leahy, 2005; Beattie, 2011). The Canadian War Museum is such an example, incorporating a number of participatory sites where visitors are invited to walk through swamps and around artillery as if as though they were “in the shoes” of the Canadian soldiers. Academics have theorized how museum spaces, collections, and people all contribute to the performance narrative, and some have even touched upon how sound—and in particular, voices—plays a part in shaping visitor experiences (Hutchison and Collins, 2009). Despite this shift, little attention has been paid to sound in conjunction with musical parameters (tempo, instrumentation, timbre, etc.) and how these sonic landscapes shape visitors’ interpretation of their physical surroundings. An appreciation of music’s complex role in creating museum experiences too often is eclipsed by visual parameters, even in contemporary museum studies.

{3} The second reason that music may be overlooked at the Canadian War Museum is because war museums prefer to avoid moral controversy. To this end, they showcase technologies—aircraft, tanks, guns, and other artifacts that tend to be uncontroversial—and supply them with technical information that does not raise moral questions (Lubar: 7; Whitmarsh: 5). Within this context, music must be handled carefully, and highly affective music is usually avoided. If, for instance, a state-supported museum played music featuring a quiet, expressive legato string melody with acoustic piano accompaniment in a slow tempo to represent the “enemy,” visitors might wonder if their state used excessive, inappropriate force in that conflict. On the other hand, if this same music were used to represent the state’s own citizens, visitors might question whether their government did enough to protect “their own.”  In war museums, then, music—and especially emotionally-loaded selections like that described above—is carefully controlled.

{4} Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when music is omitted from scholarly and public discourses its ideological influence can go unchecked. As James Deaville argues, “The very invisibility (unhearability?) of music in media contexts, to consumers as well as researchers, is a significant part of its power to subliminally shape public opinion” (43). For this reason, many private and public institutions simply would prefer that music slip through the analytical cracks.6

While it is important to understand music’s persuasive power within all realms of the public sphere, it is particularly critical to explore how it is used within the museum setting to shape public opinion. Here, music contributes to a physical space that is separated from our everyday lives and designated as culturally unique, thereby preparing visitors to receive more “important” messages. Carol Duncan argues, for instance, that art museums function

…like temples, shrines, and other such monuments. Museum visitors today, like visitors to these other sites, bring with them the willingness and ability to shift into a certain state of receptivity. And, like traditional ritual sites, museum space is carefully marked off and culturally designated as special, reserved for a particular kind of contemplation and learning experience and demanding a special quality of attention—what Victor Turner (1970) called “liminality.” In all ritual sites, some kind of performance takes place. Visitors may witness a drama—often a real or symbolic sacrifice—or hear a recital of texts or special music; they may enact a performance themselves, often individually and alone, by following a prescribed route, repeating a prayer or certain texts, reliving a narrative relevant to the site, or engaging in some other structured experience that relates to the history or meaning of the site (Duncan, 1991: 91–92).

Following Turner, Duncan views the art museum as a ritual site, reminding us that ritual is often transformative: “it confers identity or purifies or restores order to the world through sacrifice, ordeal, or enlightenment” (92).  In other words, visitors leave their everyday lives, enter this special space, and, through ritualistic practices, may experience a subjective transformation after which they exit the premise changed in some way. The degree to which visitors are able to engage in these rituals, of course, depends upon the individual’s level of preparedness, openness, and willingness to participate in a performative event. As Ashlee Beattie points out, “In a museum, the audience can become more than just spectators; they can become performers. By performing their past, visitors might find themselves better able to make sense of it” (2011: 175).

{5} While all museums—and particularly those at the national level—are designed to transform individuals and shape public opinion, this agenda is particularly critical at national war museums. As Reesa Greenberg (2008: 183) points out, national war museums can be distinguished from other museums because they combine what might first seem like paradoxical agendas: to glorify military triumph and to display the human cost of that conflict, all in a way that reassures the visitor that they are safe.7 The agenda at the Canadian War Museum is no exception: visitors view, listen to, and interact with the exhibits as they learn about a particular version of Canada’s military history, including the experiences of those “in theatre” as well as civilians “at home,” all the while being reassured that their security is well in hand (I will discuss this final point more below).

{6} In the pages that follow I explore in depth how music—as well as some extra-musical sounds—work alongside the visual components of the Canadian War Museum to create compelling representations of combatants that range from political adversaries, to First Nations peoples (Aboriginal peoples in Canada), to Canadian soldiers.  In particular, I focus my attention on the permanent exhibits that flow chronologically from the first permanent exhibit (“Battle Ground: Earliest Times to 1885”) through the last (“A Violent Peace:1945–Present”). Such representations, I argue, convincingly persuade museum visitors that while hegemonic Canadians are fully-developed subjects, cultural “others,” both at home and abroad, lack a fully-fledged subjective self. As a result, the War Museum’s sonic content sways visitors to believe that Canada’s military is critically needed to maintain peace at home and on the international scene, thus supporting the government’s involvement in increasingly unpopular international conflicts.

{7} Sound is heard throughout the Canadian War Museum via a wide range of media, from individual television monitors, to overhead speakers, to full-scale films. Because the museum uses movable walls that do not reach the ceiling, sounds often bleed between exhibits. Visitors, therefore, hear a plethora of sounds as they move chronologically through the exhibit. This is not to suggest that visitors experience a clear and static narrative. Given the museum’s wide array of media choices, including television, film, and sound, that sonically and visually overlap (and sometimes overwhelm), each visitor’s experience is reliant upon individual choices that render their experience unique. The ability to move backwards or to skip a historical period also frustrates coherent story lines. For the purposes of analysis here, however, I will progress through the permanent exhibits chronologically and examine music and diegetic sound—that is, the everyday sound of birds, children playing, machinery, and the like—each time they are heard from overhead speakers. In other words, these six locales incorporate sounds deemed sufficiently important to the museum’s soundtrack that every visitor should hear them as she or he moves through the exhibits. This is not to suggest that the sound is so dynamically powerful in these locales that it always demands our attention; sometimes the volumes are actually rather subdued.  But inconspicuous sound arguably can be an even more powerful medium: to be effective as a film score, Claudia Gorbman reminds us, music “depends upon it not being listened to” (57). I will argue that how we are encouraged to hear but not listen at the War Museum is of critical importance to understanding the Museum’s preferred reading of its text.


Where This Work Began: Two Memories

{8} My interest in how the government publicly represents the Canadian military began as a young adult while serving in the Canadian Naval Reserves. From 1984 through 1987 I played trumpet in the Naval Reserve National Band in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and participated in the Nova Scotia Tattoo, a military showcase of dance, music, and simulated combat operations.


Participating in the Canadian naval subculture was challenging, and I found it impossible to integrate my life as a critically thinking university student with what was unquestionably expected of me as a low-ranking reservist. Accordingly, at the young age of eighteen I did not expect to learn much from my military experience. I was very wrong.

{9} While I have many short stories to tell of my inglorious and short-lived naval career, two memories from those years have stayed with me and prompted my interest in the present research; they belong to that category of memory one can describe years later with surprising detail. The first involves members from the American Marine Band from Quantico, Virginia who performed annually in the Tattoo. I remember vividly the band’s impeccable, complex marching routines as well as the feeling that we naval reservists who watched them rehearse wanted, for a moment, to be Marines. I spent time with the Marines backstage—we often waited endless hours to perform—and on one particular evening when I inquired about the rigorous Marine training, one of the recruits recounted, in tears, how he was forced to strangle small animals to demonstrate his resolve. This momentary glimpse into his distress stunned me, for I was not accustomed to seeing Marines convey such strong emotions. Thereafter I walked amongst the iron-clad soldiers backstage wondering what strategies they engage to repress their pain and trauma.

{10} The second memory involves members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment from Petawawa, Ontario. This military unit was a specialized, immediate-response, mobile parachute force who took to the Tattoo stage with bravado, parachuting with hand weapons from the rafters to the music of Van Halen, and the delight of spectators. Backstage, however, they presented as young, immature military cowboys. On one night I recall the Airborne enthusiastically demonstrating hand-to-hand combat on stage that resulted in a soldier’s accidental stabbing. So hyped were the Airborne members that they seemed unable to differentiate between a public exhibition and an actual threat. The memory of watching the man bleed backstage will remain with me for my lifetime. (I will return to the Airborne Regiment and discuss the politics surrounding some of their soldiers’ extreme behavior in more detail later in this essay.)

{11} Both the Marines and Airborne performed their skills impressively in public, yet behind the scenes they seemed fractured, broken, insecure, and considerably less recognizable. Which version of them was I to believe? It is this split between what was displayed for public consumption and what I experienced in private that has led me to the work I have undertaken on the War Museum in Ottawa. I am interested in how, as an important public face of the Canadian military, the museum represents the country’s armed forces, both past and present, and how that representation reinforces dominant cultural discourses and, in turn, facilitates particular political agendas.


The Museum and the “Search” for Canadian Identity

{12} Since the 19th century, one of the important functions of museums is to display and reinforce nationalist narratives (Bennett, 1995), and nowhere is this mandate more pronounced than in Canada, where forging national unity is challenging, ongoing, and never a straight-forward process. The contemporary narrative of Canada as a tolerant and inclusive nation is, of course, not “natural” but was injected into public policy in the late 1960s by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his Liberal government. As Reesa Greenberg (2008: 189) points out, Trudeau sought to replace Canada’s mid-century colonial identity with that of a postmodern, tolerant, and compassionate nation. This was accomplished through the Official Languages Act (1969), which provided, among other powers, equal status to both English and French languages, and through an official multicultural policy (1971), the first of its kind in the world.  On the heels of these new legislations was a national museums policy (1972), which led to almost two decades of improved federal government investment in museum infrastructure. Moreover, 1974 marked the release of “The Museum and the Canadian Public,” the first national survey of museum-visiting habits, reflecting the government’s confidence that museums would help further Canadian national unity. A new museum policy instituted under the Conservative government in 1990 continued to see significant amounts of money invested in Canadian museums (Gillam: xxii).

{13} Since the late 1960s, then, Canadian identity has been produced discursively through instruments of the state as a multiculturally tolerant and compassionate cultural “mosaic.” This narrative is strengthened by publicized statistics on Canada’s sizable immigrant population, particularly that within the country’s largest city, Toronto.8 On the surface, this mosaic narrative frustrates a unified Canadian imaginary, for we are too diverse to claim any sense of cultural cohesion. At the next level, however, this narrative quietly serves Canadian solidarity: holding up the idea of plurality allows Canadians to successfully differentiate their citizenship from Americans, for whom nationhood is represented as considerably more unified (particularly in times of international conflict). As Richard Day argues, the Canadian “mosaic” metaphor therefore provides substance to the country, unifying its citizens, serving “as the object of a Canadian identity that forever fails to achieve its goal, and thereby achieves its aim, which is to perpetuate itself” (42–43). The debate over Canada’s definition is, in other words, intrinsic to the nation’s identity project.


The Canadian War Museum and the New Canadian Soldier

{14} For over three decades, Canadian museums have been an important public site for this unending struggle for national identity. Massive amounts of money have been invested in these institutions, particularly in Ottawa-Gatineau (previously Ottawa-Hull), where new buildings for the National Art Gallery (1988) and The Canadian Museum of Civilization (1989) have been erected, and federal support for these museums has been significant. In this enormous financial shadow, the Canadian War Museum, which only received its own dedicated facility in 1967, was housed in two Ottawa locations. Because the primary site was small, much of the collection was stored off-site. The idea for a new unified facility was proposed in 1997 and predicated on the fact that the existing sites were unsatisfactory and unable to support proposed expansion. This description of a deficient and neglected war museum in the nation’s capital initially might seem incongruent with the government’s commitment to museum infrastructure described above. The War Museum, however, was ideologically singular: Canada’s post-colonial, compassionate, welcoming image was not congruent with an overt display of its military history. The War Museum, accordingly, was financially neglected. By the end of the twentieth century, however, Canada was considerably more active in conflict abroad and the national narrative in turn shifted to emphasize the country’s peacekeeping ideology through an expansion of its international military presence.

{15} But how could an increased military force on the world stage result in further peace? And why would Canadians tolerate their armed forces’ engagement in more violent conflicts? According to an extensive 2008 survey conducted by Ipsos Reid (Canada’s largest marketing research company) for the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces is a “brand with historical roots that [Canadians] clearly admire and respect” and the image of the Canadian peacekeeper in particular “is one that has taken hold in the Canadian national psyche” (“Canadian”: 1). According to this survey, 71% of Canadians see their military as a source of pride and “cling to the romanticized notion of brave soldiers standing between belligerents.” As one respondent commented, the international peacekeeper is a non-threatening figure: “I do not picture a Canadian soldier carrying guns” (1).

{16} As Ian MacKay and Jamie Swift argue, however, the image of the benevolent Canadian peacekeeper in blue berets patrolling ceasefires—articulated by Prime Minister Pearson in 1956 and since beloved by millions of Canadians—no longer resembles the reality of the modern Canadian soldier (2012: 294). As the Canadian government increased the frequency of active military deployments over the past several decades, it has become evident that the Cold War peacekeeper, whom Canadians imagined to be building strong international fences (and then standing on our side of them), was entering willfully into international conflict zones. Indeed, by the onset of the Afghan War, the Canadian government officially began rebranding the sentimentalized icon, setting the stage for a new “warrior nation”:

In Canada today a determined right-wing elite is [attempting] to change how we think about our country and its history. Canada, these “new warriors” declaim, has nothing to do with peaceful accommodation and steady improvement in the public good prompted by movements for fairness. Rather, it was created by wars, defended by soldiers, and kept free by patriotic support of military virtues. It is a Warrior Nation. It is a place where the horrible emotions of war are deployed for political gain, in the hopes of gaining a patriotic sense of shared purpose (Mackay and Swift: xi).

This new brand purports that civility can only come from war, or, as A.J. McCready has phrased it, Canadians have been told that they are “waging dubious wars of aggression in the interests of peace and (somehow) democracy” (2010: 34, as quoted in Mackay and Swift; 273).  To successfully convince Canadians that the peacekeeper must engage more actively in armed conflict globally, the government must invest in what Mackay and Swift call the public’s “ideological reprogramming” (294). The construction of a new War Museum, then, reflected a post-Trudeau national identity that now linked an active military with social justice and brought the War Museum out of the margins (Greenberg: 189). The museum became the ideal stage for performing the new “warrior nation.”

{17} Since the new Canadian War Museum opened in 2005, it has become a geopolitical cornerstone in Canada’s Capital Region. As Reesa Greenberg rightly suggests, the museum is

the most important element of the recent institutionalization of a Canadian identity that is inseparable from the nation’s military history. The scale and location of the new museum, so close to the Parliament Buildings, serve as advocates for the importance of Canada’s military in the national psyche… and the museum’s role in a new ceremonial landscape at the architectural heart of the nation’s capital (183).

Located beside the Ottawa River, just west of Parliament Hill, the War Museum is situated in a culturally vibrant area. The museum is also in close driving proximity to a series of Ottawa landmark museums including two high-profile cultural centers: the National Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.9


With over 600,000 patrons a year, the War Museum is the busiest military museum in Canada. Initially, we might visualize the typical patron as a Canadian visiting the nation’s capital. Indeed, museums historically have serviced large numbers of local patrons, but the ratio of local visitors to tourists is shifting as the number of visitors increase. In 1994, for instance, tourists comprised almost two-thirds of all visitors to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; that same year the Louvre drew almost six million visitors, most of them tourists (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: 137). Accordingly, as we analyze the Canadian War Museum, we must not only consider how it is designed, like all museums, to shape domestic public opinion, but how it also sways international tourists. But visitors to this museum, unlike those who patronize other cultural centers, are not simply inquisitive civilians: new Canadian military recruits are required to visit the museum during their basic training and subsequently are tested on its contents.10 Whereas the Canadian government under-financed earlier versions of the War Museum, the new 21st-century institution was provided with significant monetary support. The ideological returns for this investment have been significant: the museum has been imbued with historical meaning that is interesting and informative for domestic and international civilians, and its content has been tied with citizenship examinations for new immigrants to Canada and deemed essential knowledge for new military personnel.


A Sonic Analysis of the Permanent Exhibits

{18} So what do all of these patrons—domestic and international, civilian and military—see and hear when they visit the Canadian War Museum? The first museum exhibit opens with a site devoted to First Nations Iroquoians. The physical artifacts here consist of reproductions of weapons, including artifacts like war clubs and tomahawks, with a caption reading “war and preparation for war shaped many aspects of day-to-day life among Iroquoians.”


Importantly, there is no music at this site, only the diegetic sounds of birds, water, and construction. The absence of music here could have multiple effects: first, as Gorbman notes, diegetic sound in the absence of music can make spaces seem “more immediate, more palpable” (18). Like the transition from the silent film to the “talkies,” museums too have transformed previously silent exhibits to include sounds that give the artifacts, like silent films, the “impression of reality” (45).  Yet, the museum’s narrative of historical “progress” warrants questioning as the only exhibit dedicated exclusively to a First Nations people appears at the opening of the museum. This observation echoes Beverley Diamond’s analysis of Native musical traditions in several influential Canadian music history textbooks, wherein First Nations musics were ghettoized and severed from the mainstream culture (286). Further, not only do the diegetic sounds strengthen a perception of reality, they also create a sense of actual lived duration. Unlike an entirely silent film scene that is temporarily indeterminate, diegetic sounds give a sense of temporal reality which, as Michel Chion argues, limits the representation to this moment in time (quoted in Gorbman; 49—50). This use of diegetic sound here, then, could be argued to be liberating (it helps bring these people “to life”) while simultaneously restricting them sonically to a specific moment in Canadian history as though they lack contemporary and ever-changing musical traditions.11

{19} The music from the next three sites is closely related and thus will be considered together. The first musical example heard in the museum is “The British Grenadiers” from the “The War of 1812” exhibit.


The instrumentation for this march features fifes and percussion; the instrumental texture is thin, like the recording quality itself, which situates it as historically dated and creates a sonic impression of “authenticity.” If you listen carefully, you can also hear the diegetic sounds of a military confrontation in the mix. The music and diegetic sounds are included to help capture the impression of actually standing in the conflict zone.

{20} To enter the next site “For Crown and Country: The South African and the First World Wars” visitors pass under an arch while hearing a rendition of “God Save the King.”


This recording features winds and percussion and a slow tempo, the combination of which effectively communicates “aristocracy” and power. This piece is looped in with several other lighter, familiar marches.

{21} The last of this group of three is a site entitled “Back to Blighty.”12


The tunes here are used to evoke images of soldiers listening to music in British music halls while on military leave. The selections are historical recordings that sound “dated,” and include, among other songs, “Bicycle Built for Two,” “Good Old Summertime,” and “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty.”

{22} All of the music heard thus far—and particularly the songs heard at the last station—are selections with which visitors already might be familiar. The music up to this point could be likened to a compiled soundtrack, that is, music based on preexisting, known material. Such soundtracks offer what Anahid Kassabian calls “affiliating identifications” (2001: 3), the success of which depends upon the pre-existing relationship the individual spectator has with that particular music. Therefore, the level and types of identifications with these sounds are widely varying: the war veteran likely has a different musical history she or he brings to the museum, possibly quite unlike that of the elementary-school student. If I may take this compiled soundtrack comparison one step further, I would also argue that such historical recordings do more than bring us back to our various individual pasts. As Jonathan Crane notes, relative to the Top 40 hit list, the inclusion of “golden oldies” in movies is not just about returning us to music of the past, but “by hearing how technologically and historically dated the material sounds in comparison to new music… we are also… continually aware of our place within the affective parameters of the present” (1986: 68). It is, in other words, “a continual reminder of one’s place in the present state” (68). In these three sites, then, we may have individual relationships and associations with the music, but close identifications are frustrated by technically-limited recordings, thinner instrumentations, and the inclusion of historically dated songs and marches.

{23} At this point in the chronology we experience a significant musical shift as we move from preexisting songs and marches to a newly-scored and more heavily-produced composition for the site entitled “Amiens: The Breakthrough.”13 The music for this site was provided by Sound Venture, an Ottawa-based production company. As we begin to hear unfamiliar melodies with full orchestrations, the museum’s score now opens up the possibility of what Kassabian calls “assimilating identifications.” We no longer have specific, personalized relationships with this music, but instead draw upon socially encoded associations. Such paths, Kassabian argues, “are structured to draw perceivers into… historically unfamiliar positions, as do larger scale processes of assimilation” (2). This music is somber, fairly quiet, and sustained dramatically by the sound of a relentless snare drum. The snare, of course, historically signifies “battle,” but little else in the music is encoded to convey militaristic power and confidence. Instead, the music seems to encode fear itself. Two melodic fragments dominate the piece; the first is characterized by quarter-notes and longer-sustained durations with increasing dissonance; other than the sound of the snare drum this piece contains little rhythmic propulsion:


The introduction of a second melody, several minutes later, brings in a slower tempo, eighth-note figures, and more melodic direction.


While the tempo suggests deliberate intent, the melodic line, which begins in the brass section, is completed by the strings, resulting in a somewhat reluctant melody. This is not convincingly ‘heroic’ music; although its energy is determined, it is also pained, and not entirely sure of its direction. This first instance of non-diegetic scored music, then, is not intended to give us a glimpse into what music the soldiers marched to in the fields or danced to in music halls. Even if visitors were to hear the music for only a minute—likely a minimum estimation given the size and density of this particular site—the lack of melodic decisiveness and somber, uninspired energy provides insight into the Canadian soldiers’ own fraught interiority. We will fight, the music tells us, not because we want to, but because we must.

{24} Before we approach the last musical site, we first must pass through a section entitled “Forged in Fire: The Second World War, 1931-1945.” This site is significant not because of its inclusion of music, but for the absence thereof. Here, as we pass by German and Japanese soldiers’ uniforms that are clean, and lack human content, we are met with no sound (to the extent possible in a museum where walls do not reach the ceiling).


Whereas visitors previously passed by Canadian soldiers with no sonic accompaniment, we were also provided glimpses into their emotions through the occasional inclusion of music, particularly in the last site I discussed. But what happens when the “enemy” is never provided music? If, as Eisler and Adorno argue, “all music belongs primarily to the sphere of subjective inwardness,’” (quoted in Gorbman:67), then what could be the effect of no music as we gaze upon these political and cultural others at this point in the exhibit?

{25} As Des O’Rawe argues, silence can signify in many ways—it can communicate despair, uncertainty, reverence, fragility, tension, and so on—depending upon the filmic context (2006: 401, 405). Indeed, silence signifies differently within various locales in the War Museum. There are two spaces that are not part of the chronology under consideration here, for instance, that invite visitors to engage with silence contemplatively. In Memorial Hall, the concrete walls are grooved in vertical rectangular shapes to imitate white grave markers. A gravestone from Canada’s Unknown Soldier is the only artifact on display in the room; across from it is a bench where visitors can sit quietly. Regeneration Hall, meanwhile, is a quiet passageway with angled, imposing walls; at the end of the Hall is a window through which visitors can see the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. The structure of the Hall, therefore, is intended to represent looking forward and hope for the future. In these two spaces—one of which looks temporally backwards, the other, forward—visitors, without music to guide their impressions and left to their own quiet thoughts might well contemplate human vulnerability and the cost of war. While we know important moments in filmic and televisual texts most often are cued by sound, the absence of sound signals the absolute importance of the visuals (the gravestone and the Peace Tower) and such is the case here.

{26} Unlike these two spaces that are void of sound and separated off from the rest of the museum, in the “Forged in Fire” exhibit visitors can hear faint sounds from other exhibits coming over and through the movable walls. Soldiers—like the Canadians previously discussed—are “brought to life” with their own music, even at a distance. As we look at the German and Japanese soldiers, here, however, their “silence” seems to create suspense associated with the unknown and, through the extensive display of weaponry, the “dangerous other.”14 But the effects their silence do not end there: if, as Michel Chion suggests, a silent movie shot is temporarily indeterminate (Gorbman: 49—50), then might the Japanese and Italian soldiers here also lack temporal boundedness? Could that in turn unconsciously suggest that their danger is also indeterminate?

{27} The last section through which all visitors must pass includes a three-screen presentation on the contemporary Canadian peacekeeper. It is the only section with a darkened space and seating where it is expected that all visitors watch. It is not surprising that music provides an important accompaniment to these visuals; indeed, music is necessary for its success. As Gorbman argues, “any reminders of cinema’s materiality which jeopardize the formation of subjectivity—the process whereby the viewer identifies as subject of filmic discourse—are smoothed over… by the carefully regulated operations of film music” (67).

{28} Wendy Brown has argued that films at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance rely upon imagistic presentations on multiple screens which imply that the Museum is fair and non-didactic while frustrating accusations of narrative-driven bias (2006: 132). The structure of the Canadian War Museum’s final film similarly appears to provide patrons unproblematic video footage and pictures of the contemporary Canadian peacekeeper that welcomes their interpretations and avoids questions of morality.15 The film also avoids controversy by establishing a simplistic binary narrative between Caucasian Canadian peacekeepers and racialized “others,” that is, people of color in other parts of the world who either desperately need our help or the terrorists who lack moral fortitude and are intent on committing violence against us (in which case they too need our help to reform their immoral ways). Further, when names of places plagued in recent history by conflict and warfare appear on the screen (Rwanda, Afghanistan, Bosnia, etc.) the geo-political location of the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 is not named but rather is simply identified as “9/11.” This identification serves to remind us that an attack did happen “close to home” years ago and that potential danger always lurks (read: we need our armed forces). That the “United States” is not written amongst the names of the “racialized” countries further away that are responsible for “terrorist” attacks, however, further separates “us” from “them,” de-politicizes North American governments’ involvement as active agents in international instability and war, and eclipses our possible contributions to ongoing conflicts.

{29} While an in-depth analysis of the film’s music—provided once again by Ottawa’s Sound Venture—is beyond the scope of this article, I would like to highlight a few moments that are crucial in depicting Canadian military personnel. Structurally, the music is in four main sections plus a coda. While the instrumentation, melodic content, chord progressions, and numerous other musical parameters differ between these sections, they are all linked by a number of shared musical codes. To understand the meaning of these codes, I borrow from Philip Tagg’s phenomenological study of stereotypes in television and film music (1990). Between 1979 and 1984, Tagg played ten themes from television shows or film scores to hundreds of students in Swedish schools; the majority of these respondents were Swedish (88%), mostly without a formal musical training (70%), and largely under the age of thirty.16 The test protocol involved free induction, meaning that there were no prescribed responses from which students could choose. Instead, they were asked to actively engage with the sounds and produce their own imaginal interpretations. While this procedure usually results in far-ranging and varied narratives, the analysis instead showed extensive correlations between the group members’ responses. Of particular interest for the present work is the consistency with which the respondents identified the gender of the characters musically represented. Unfortunately, I believe the associations the participants made between the musical codes and gender are still relevant today, and will help us unpack how Canadian peacekeepers are subjectively constructed here. In short, Tagg’s participants identified a number of musical parameters as stereotypically “male,” including a faster tempo, electric instrumentation, staccato articulation, and rhythmically and intervalically active bass lines. Melodically, themes for male characters include syncopations and repeated notes; further, the first destination of their melodic motifs, that is, the first accentuated beat in a complete melodic idea, tends to be the highest pitch. In other words, their melodies possess angularity and upward direction.

{30} With these features in mind, I will examine the peacekeeping film. The first section opens with an acoustic piano, an undulating melody, a slow tempo, and a compound time signature, all of which create a lullaby effect. That we hear the voices of children occasionally speaking over the music secures this connection.


The children’s voices, however, do more in this excerpt than simply strengthen a lullaby effect. As Alan Prout and Allison James have argued, within Western psychological and scientific discourses of the 20th century, children have been repeatedly encoded to represent what is humanly “natural” and “universal” (2004a: 12); when extended into the realm of the social, children often are used effectively as social actors to represent these virtues, and such is the case here. All children must be protected, the film tells us, and this is an important role of the Canadian peacekeeper. Moreover, discourses of childhood have also tended to relegate children to designate “the past” (i.e., the way things “used to be”), or the future in the form of the next generation (2004b: 234). Indeed, within this filmic context, these “anonymous” and “universal” children represent the future, in other words, our “hope,” which we as Canadians can help protect.17 Finally, the voices heard here serve one more important function: part of the spoken text includes the words “My world was filled with violence and death. My family was safe, but my world was not.” The child’s voice emphasizes the word family with a rise in pitch, reinforcing, as is the practice at most war museums, that on the micro level civilians are secure, but that the world beyond our borders is utterly dangerous (and again, we need our military to make sure what’s outside doesn’t come in).

{31} The melody in the second section is telling: it is orchestrated for strings (again, gendered “female”), and the highest note in the melody is not the destination, but is heard in passing as the melody descends to the downbeat of the next measure after which the melody continues to descend:


Whereas the end of the first two phrases peaks on the highest melodic pitch, the concluding fourth phrase ends an octave below, once again frustrating the sense of musical heroism.

{32} The third section foregrounds a solo trumpet. Like the snare drum in the previous Amiens site, the trumpet also signifies battle. Here, however, it is heard with slurred and legato articulations; the trumpet features another undulating melodic line and, again, has minimal bass accompaniment. Overall, save the solo trumpet, the melodic direction, instrumentation, tempi, and articulations present the peacekeepers as gentle, vulnerable, and stereotypically feminized subjects. The sound of the trumpet, not by chance, coincides with the appearance of the Canadian flag, which then is conflated with a red cross, linking the gentle soldier with the Canadian brand, and then with humanitarian aid. As you watch this example, please also note the pervasiveness of the light blue color in the sky, which is reinforced by the UN soldiers’ blue berets and medical gloves, and, at the end, blue turbans. This blue is a receding color, cool, and, like the sky itself, it seems to represent healing and freedom.


{33} What struck me when I first walked into this final exhibit was the compelling performance of peacekeeping in the absence of any controversy. This should not be surprising: as Barbie Zelizer reminds us, places of commemoration, like museums, are designed to create new collective memories; it is, as she argues, a graphing “of the past as it is used for present aims… and woven into the present and future” (1995: 217). Certain controversial past events, in other words, might best be forgotten, especially during wartime. What would happen to the museum’s compassionate peacekeeper, for instance, if we were asked to remember the “Somalia Affair,”18 a scandal made public in 1993 when Canadian soldiers were accused of torturing and killing Somali civilians? How is this particular controversy handled at the War Museum?

{34} In the same room as the peacekeeping film one painting representing the “Somalia Affair” hangs quietly off to the side. It is an image many Canadians cannot forget: Master Corporal Clayton Matchee from the Canadian Airborne Regiment holding a baton to the mouth of teenage Somali Shidane Arone. While the violence of the image is undeniable, it is significantly softened by the peacekeeping film music described previously that envelops the listener from overhead speakers. The music goes far in transforming Matchee from the abusive aggressor into a broken peacekeeper, who, in the face of enormous stress, may have been traumatized. According to Sharene Razack, this image of the man who bears witness to the savagery of Third World nations and is overcome by it, has recently in fact become a Canadian icon (2004: 10). To convince visitors of this particular narrative, much is asked of the peacekeeping music.


Unlike the representational music in the 19th-century exhibits, sounds the soldiers actually heard in battle, the music here is encoded to function purely on the ideological level. What might happen, I wondered, if the music the Airborne soldiers consumed while in Somalia was heard instead? How might the visitor’s reading of Canadian peacekeeping missions change?

{35} Less than a two-hour drive north-west of Ottawa is Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, an army facility with a population of 14,000 people. This base also houses the Petawawa Military Museum where the Airborne soldiers have created their own exhibit. Although much smaller than the War Museum in Ottawa, this exhibit nonetheless displays uniforms, insignia, and other artifacts common in military museums. Importantly, it also shows a film depicting the Airborne’s training and combat missions before their dishonorable disbandment in 1995 (a result of the “Somalia Affair”). In this film and throughout the exhibit, hard rock and fusion genres accompany the Airborne visuals—decidedly unlike the tinkling pianos and legato strings heard in the Canadian War Museum. Elsewhere in the same space, art work the soldiers created themselves depicts their interpretations of war; now, soft blue skies are erased, replaced by advancing reds and yellows.


{36} Arguably the most powerful site at this exhibit, however, does not include sound at all: in the “Hall of Remembrance” stained glass depicts fallen and heroic Airborne soldiers; visitors who enter this room read but one word in the doorway: “Valour.”


This room, like an empty church, is silent. Like the two halls in the Canadian War Museum discussed previously, the absence of sound here signals the absolute importance of the visuals. The Airborne’s exhibit, then, becomes a composite of active visuals reinforced by musical texts encoded as stereotypically male, alongside silence and stained glass emulating a religious experience. For this representation the Airborne is unapologetic. I believe the curators’ desire is to depict a more exciting story of what their lives were like as Airborne soldiers before the regiment was disbanded, as well as their pride in it. In Petawawa, the Airborne’s service is depicted through a “performance” that attempts to glorify their training and service (complete with music that bears some resemblance to what the Airborne actually consumed), and helps establish a history that, for local soldiers and visitors, at least, will not be soon forgotten.19

{37} I have included a brief analysis of the Airborne exhibit in Petawawa to contrast representations of actual soldiers’ service with the “official” version supported by the Canadian government in Ottawa. At the War Museum, Canada’s abusive past is raised, but musically softened, perhaps with the hope that it will be explained away, and fade from our collective memory. As such, music at the War Museum moves chronologically from pre-existing songs and marches to newly-scored works, always forwarding the narrative of Canada as a feminized and compassionate country, but one which will not be afraid to flex its muscle if called upon to do so. Unlike the silent “enemy,” Canada’s modern soldiers are assigned music that gives a glimpse into their internal struggle, and helps to explain their traumatic psychological stress and collapse. This narrative, in turn, communicates to visitors that while Canadians are reluctant warriors in international battle, they will engage to provide hope and keep our common future safe, justifying the government’s agenda to participate in conflicts that are militarily dangerous, politically controversial, and, increasingly, publicly unpopular.

{38} I would like to conclude by returning to my opening story of the Marines and Airborne soldiers with whom I worked almost three decades ago. It is not surprising to me now that they shocked me backstage with their heightened emotionality—we are so rarely given an opportunity to glimpse their emotional landscape, their fears, their frustrations, or their anger. Instead, the public witnesses their emotions most often when we are shown incriminating photos of their actions “in theatre,” images that are often leaked to the press. It is at this moment that the government usually tries to excuse particular individuals’ inappropriate, “isolated” responses to a crisis, and sometimes the public is so outraged that we demand the government disband battalions and uproot families to show our displeasure. These soldiers are not as emotionally “iron clad” as I thought as a teenager; they are neither exclusively Van Halen warriors nor broken peacekeepers, but complex individuals whose public performance is highly regulated and carefully distilled on the web, on television, and in museums. If more complex and thoughtful “official” representations were possible, new meanings of Canada’s history might result, meanings that both engage the public in discussions surrounding our complicated military history and our questionable current international missions, and, importantly, do justice to the memory of all those whom have served.


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  1. Ian MacKay and Jamie Swift, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2012), x. Many thanks to the authors for allowing me to read their manuscript prior to its publication.
  2. I would like to thank Katherine Mazurok for her excellent research assistance and Echos reviewers for their helpful criticisms of an earlier version of this work. I would also like to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Finally, special thanks to Catherine Kellogg for her tremendous support as I researched and prepared this article.
  3. To access the Veteran’s Affairs song website, go to <> (accessed 12 July 1008).
  4. The name “Canadian War Museum” might sound harsh to some readers’ ears. The United States, for instance, does not have a comparable national “war” museum (although smaller museums, like the Virginia War Museum and other military history museums are scattered across the country). The name “Canadian War Museum” is part of a commonwealth lineage, echoing back to the Imperial War Museums in Britain. For more information on these museums, please see <> (accessed 31 January, 2012).
  5. Many controversial exhibits have resulted in public outcry, including the highly publicized 1989 boycott of Into the Heart of Africa (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto), and the 1995 backlash to the  Crossroads exhibit featuring the newly-restored Enola Gay (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.), among others. The Canadian War Museum has also been the site of considerable controversy from its location to its design to its individual displays, particularly the exhibit entitled An Enduring Controversy, which displeased veterans groups. For more information on how the public shaped decisions at the War Museum, see David Dean, “Museums as Conflict Zones: the Canadian War Museum and Bomber Command,” Museum and Society 7/1 (March 2009): 1–15.
  6. The corporate desire for people in the public sphere to “hear” music but not “listen” to it is highly successful. It is interesting how many individuals do not notice music around them and cannot describe it at all after visits to museums or after watching a televisual or filmic text.
  7. National war museums should be separated from other military museums. As Andrew Whitmarsh (2000: 3) points out, there are many types of war, military and armed forces museums internationally. Some military museums function on a small scale to remember an individual unit (including the museum in Petawawa, discussed in this article), some are run by local municipalities, and others by private citizens. National war museums are unique for the amount of government funding they receive and the large number of visitors they often attract. As one Museums and Galleries Commission (1990) articulated, British military museums—and I would extend this to Canadian museums, including the National War Museum—function “as memorials, not simply to the wisdom or folly of particular foreign or domestic policy decisions, but also to individual courage, suffering and death” (as cited in Whitmarsh, 2000: 3).
  8. Toronto’s municipal government, for instance, often cites the city’s diverse multiculturalism as a means of drawing visitors and business investment. See <> for such an example (accessed 4 January 2012).
  9. The Museum of Civilization Corporation manages both the Canadian War Museum and The Museum of Civilization. Visitors can purchase tickets for both museums on the same website and can receive a discount if they purchase a pass to both facilities, thus strengthening the connection between these two institutions.
  10. Thanks to Cynthia Boucher for bringing this point to my attention.
  11. Thanks to Susan Fast for bringing this point to my attention.
  12. “Blighty” was a slang term for Britain during the First World War.
  13. This 1918 battle, in which Canada played a critical role, was the opening phase of an Allied offensive that led to the end of the First World War.
  14. Thanks to David Schroeder and the article reviewers for bringing the plurality of meanings associated with silence to my attention.
  15. The images for the film, presented in montage on split and multiple screens, were chosen by an in-house team at the museum.
  16. While 88% of Tagg’s respondents were Swedish, 2% were Norwegian, and 10% Latin American. All were studying at Swedish state schools, sixth form colleges, weekend courses, music schools, and in adult education programs between the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1984. The number of respondents to each of the selections varied, with most responding to the first four selections. In total, over 600 individuals responded to the first three examples, over 400 to the first four examples, and 105 to the last example.
  17. Thanks to Virginia Caputo for bringing this point to my attention.
  18. Dubbed “Canada’s National Shame,” the “Somalia Affair” involved the public humiliation and torture of Somali civilians and the killing of six Somalis at the hands of members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. When a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Company uncovered evidence of a military cover-up of the events, the leadership of the Airborne Regiment was called into question. This led to a public investigation (the “Somalia Inquiry”), after which the Airborne regiment was disbanded and the morale of the Canadian military was severely depleted. For more information on this event and its aftermath, see Sherene H. Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
  19. The Airborne museum not only looks to the past, but also to the future: although the Airborne Regiment was disbanded in 1995, each regular force army battalion today includes a parachute company. The Airborne website describes these special forces as a modern-day incarnation of their Regiment: “Although a shadow of its former self, this capability ensures that the art, skill, and more importantly, the airborne spirit survive.” As such, I would argue that the Airborne museum does more than remind us of the Regiment’s history: it also serves as a recruiting tool for the military’s Parachute Companies. For more information, see <> (accessed 7 February, 2012).