Wilkins and Music 

As a twenty-five-year old, Wilkins joined Stefannson’s Canadian Arctic Expeditions (CAE) as a photographer. When he left he sported tweeds and a bowler hat. He was on a learning curve. He nearly lost his life on one of his early outings on the ice. He explained that had been singing a popular song of the day, when he heard a hissing sound accompanying him. The ice was breaking. He was able to make it to shore, but resolved to be more alert in the future. The Arctic was not very forgiving of mistakes—even when they were set to music.

Wilkins had so many skills and interests and music was one of them; he made an unusual, and often overlooked contribution to this Arctic expedition in the domain of ethnomusicology. It appears he invented a kind of musical shorthand of his own, with which he transcribed the music and rhythms of the ‘Eskimo’ songs he heard. On his return to civilisation, these writings enabled him to chant a close resemblance of what he had heard and so give ethnologists an almost lifelike reproduction of Eskimo songs (Grierson 1960, p. 48). The notes regarding this must still be available in the archives of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. They would perhaps make for an interesting study for an ethnomusicologist—as these notations were likely some of the first of their kind.

Certainly, his time studying Cello and music theory at Adelaide’s Elder, along with his part-time job as organists at Church services and weddings in Adelaide, made it possible for him to supplement the scope of the Canadian Arctic Expedition.

His love of music stayed with him all his life.

The small organ which Wilkins took with him on the Nautilus is in the collection at The Ohio State University.

The Incredible Lightness of Flight

by Gordon Walker Taylor, Composer

Wilkins’ love of flying and his adventurous spirit is somewhat paralleled by my father’s flying adventures, which inspired this song. My father, Frank Tayler, was a Royal Australian Air Force pilot during WWII. Twice shot out of the sky over Egypt, he survived and was rescued in the desert by the Allied Forces. Returned by the RAAF to Australia, his job was to fly new planes from Sydney to Perth before the planes were shipped to the war zones in Europe and Africa.

On their nine-day cross-country passage, the group of about six planes would stop each night in small outback towns to re-fuel and rest. Inevitably, the townsfolk would turn on a big party and dance for these RAAF celebrities, and the next morning, the pilots would again take to the skies, often somewhat hung-over. No aviation authorities to bother them then! These journeys across the Nullarbor, heading westward into the endlessly setting sun, were perhaps the happiest time in my father’s life. In later years, he would describe with great animation his love for flying.

My father and I did not see eye to eye on many things, but on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1995, with a large gathering of family and friends, I sang this song for him. He was extremely moved, and the song went a long way towards healing the rift that had divided us for years—the power of music and song!, Some years later as he lay dying, I held his hand and sang this song to him one last time.

LYRICS:

THE INCREDIBLE LIGHTNESS OF FLIGHT

© Copyright 2014 Music & lyrics by Gordon Tayler All Rights Reserved

How can I describe to you the clouds, the wind, the bird’s eye view
Life is so different way up there, no Earth, no sea, just light and air
Where planets revolve in the cosmos of blue
And the pilot guides his plane through the sun and rain

There’s room to move, to dream, to breath
To spread your wings, to dive and weave
To gather your thoughts and survey all you see
To rise on the wind, to rise and be free

Into the sunset, into the golden sun
Into the sunset between earth and sky
Finding some magic that money can’t buy

It’s just unforgettable, the wonder of flight
Like the passage of morning from darkness to light
Like an old friend remembered from days gone by
With both feet on the ground, I still fly around

I’ll always love to fly, fly away
Fly, fly away, fly, fly away, fly, fly away

How can I describe to you the clouds, the wind, the bird’s eye view

Frank Tayler