Arts and Music

Matthew de Zoete: Where Past and Future Meet

De Zoete's music offers listeners an opportunity to reflect upon what was with gratitude and, at the same time, to look toward what will be with optimism.

By Shiona Mackenzie
Published October 31, 2014

Musician Matthew de Zoete has always been interested in history. Since releasing his debut album Across the Sea in 2006, he has enjoyed a successful international career, sharing the stage with talented Canadian musicians like Luke Doucet, Jenn Grant and Great Lake Swimmers, but he often looks back fondly on the times he spent in the early 1990s hanging out with friends on Hilda Avenue and in Gage Park.

Matthew de Zoete (Image Credit: Ian Pettigrew)
Matthew de Zoete (Image Credit: Ian Pettigrew)

"When I was a child, I lived in Chatham, a much smaller town, so living in a bigger city with so many people from different backgrounds was a wonderful opportunity to broaden my horizons as a teenager," de Zoete explains.

His grandparents came to Canada from the Netherlands after WWII and they passed along to de Zoete a profound respect for his heritage as well as for the nation that led the liberation of the Netherlands and hosted the Dutch royal family in exile. The way past experience informs our present existence is a recurring motif for de Zoete.

Powerful lyrics and strong melodies characterize de Zoete's music. Raised in a household filled with folk music, he counts The Beatles, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen among his inspirations.

He gravitates toward topical songs with universal themes and has written a couple songs that very clearly reflect his deep conviction about the importance of remembering and appreciating what has been done for us by others in the past.

One of these songs, Remembrance Day, written five years ago, is on the Canadian Legion website.

"During visits to numerous battlefields, cemeteries, and memorials of both World Wars, I've felt a personal connection to the men and women who served on my behalf," says de Zoete.

"I've also felt a responsibility to honour their sacrifices and to try to encourage others to do the same. Perhaps the meaning of the song has deepened a bit for me now, having had the opportunity to perform it a few times with veterans in the audience."

De Zoete has participated in many special events and festivals, including North by Northeast (NxNE), the Festival of Friends, Supercrawl, Canadian Music Week, Seven Sundays in Gage Park, In the Dead of Winter, and Stukafest (in the Netherlands).

It was at a music festival that east Hamilton-based photographer, Ian Pettigrew, heard de Zoete.

Matthew de Zoete playing at Gage Park (Image Credit: Ian Pettigrew)
Matthew de Zoete playing at Gage Park (Image Credit: Ian Pettigrew)

"My first encounter with Matthew was in Gage Park, at an outdoor concert," Pettigrew said. "It's not hyperbole to say I was stopped in my tracks. What a phenomenal performer. And of course, as a portrait photographer, my second thought was I have to get his picture."

At Sarnia's annual Artwalk on June 6 of 2010, the 66th anniversary of D-Day, a member of Hero to Hero Team Canada heard de Zoete perform this song and decided to make a video with him and post it on YouTube.

In 2011, a song de Zoete wrote in memory of Canada's last surviving WWI veteran, Jack Babcock, was added to the Hero to Hero YouTube channel. This video features de Zoete's personal photographs as well as family photographs graciously shared by Jack Babcock's wife Dorothy.

The description states that the song is "also about the fact that we all lose family and friends to time".

It is this commonality of experience that De Zoete believes unites people as human beings, no matter where they were born and raised, and despite differences in language, religion or nationality.

"It's difficult to overstate the importance of tolerance, particularly in a multicultural place like Hamilton," he says.

"Not everyone in this city will look, act, or think the same way, but we all need to live together as a community. Tolerance is something that we, as Hamiltonians, can practise with each other and with others who come to this city, and, hopefully, it's something that everyone here can see, feel, and live."

De Zoete's music offers listeners an opportunity to reflect upon what was with gratitude and, at the same time, to look toward what will be with optimism.

For more information about Matthew de Zoete, see www.matthewdezoete.com.

Remembrance Day

Standing beneath the cenotaph at Halifax
I heard the bugles on Remembrance Day...
for the girls who went the distance from Victoria,
and the boys who went marching from Saint John.
Oh Canada
Do we know the price they paid?
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day

If I shake the hand of every ancient soldier,
If I wear a poppy and I bow my head…
for the girls who were nurses from Regina
and the boys who bled their lives out for King George,
Oh Canada
Am I worth the price they paid?
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day

I stood below the holy ground at Vimy
trying to walk in someone else's shoes
Oh would I go the distance that good Friday
to bleed my sweet life out in the mud
so far from home?
Oh Canada
Do we know the price they paid?
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day

Oh, do I know the price you paid?
Remembrance Day
Oh, do I know the price you paid?

Lyric reprinted with permission.

A version of this story appeared in The Point community newspaper.

Shiona Mackenzie is a communications professional with 17 years of international experience and a lifelong love of music.

4 Comments

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:03:52

Will he be playing at the Zoetic?

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By The X Guy (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:54:06

I saw him at a private house concert a few years ago. very good performance in a very intimate setting.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 31, 2014 at 16:32:19

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought 9-12 April 1917 This was a Monday (Easter Monday) to Thursday fight.

So I don't quite understand the lyrics of the third verse. It looks like Mr. de Zoete is comparing the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus to that of our soldiers, but it doesn't quite work for me.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-10-31 16:33:14

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By Cristi (anonymous) | Posted October 31, 2014 at 17:34:35

I am a big fan of Mr. De Zoete, and of this song. Gives me chills every time I hear it.

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