Within Sight of Shore


April 16, 2023 marks the 78th Anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt.

Scott won the ‘2012 ECMA Award Classical Recording of the Year’ for  ‘Within Sight of Shore’ while son, Film Director, son, Ian Macmillan wins the ‘2012 ECMA DVD of the Year’ for his documentary  ‘Within Sight of Shore’.

This award winning package includes Scott Macmillan’s composition on CD plus Ian Macmillan’s documentary on DVD of the tragic events surrounding HMCS Esquimalt and the livelong effects on it’s Captain, RC Macmillan, the crew and families of HMCS Esquimalt and the crew of, the rescue ship HMCS Sarnia, .

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Within Sight of Shore was shortlisted for the 2008 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Arts Award.Creator: Scott Macmillan Nominator: Barbara Butler
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Scored for a unique mix of traditional and orchestral instruments, Within Sight of Shore is one of Scott Macmillan’s finest compositions, and certainly his most personal, describing the sinking of his father’s minesweeper as it approached Halifax Harbour in the last days of World War II. Programmatic in the best sense of the word, the composition cleverly and movingly draws the listener into its story through a remarkable integration of musical genres. The torpedo blast, the ASDIC ping, the calls of the survivors in the frigid Atlantic waters are all graphically realized without surrendering the musical integrity of the work. This is a mature, complex example of contemporary serious music, with an emotional staying power that leaves a profound and lasting impression.

Program Notes

Within Sight of Shore by Halifax composer Scott Macmillan is a personal reflection in 4 movements: The Hit, The Wait, The Rescue, Ashore, recalling the events of the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt on April 16th 1945 just outside Halifax Harbour. My father, Lieutenant Commander Robert C. Macmillan, was the commanding officer of that ship. Of a crew of 71, 44 lives were lost.

Within Sight of Shore features:

Scott Macmillan, Guitar and Banjo, David Greenberg and Tempest Baroque Ensemble; David Greenberg 1st violin, Karen Langile, 2nd violin, Kirsty Money, Viola, Hilary Brown Cello, Max Kasper Bass, Members of the Stadacona Band of the Maritimes Atlantic: Brian Coughlan, Alto Sax/Bb Clarinet/Boatswains Call, Trumpet, John Cuming and Tim Elson, Trumpet/Flugel Horn, Julie Cuming, French Horn, Tim Keels, Trombone/Tuba, Tom Roach, Drum Set, Darcy Gray, Percussion (4 timpani, tubular bells, glockenspiel, tambourine, shaker), John Overton, Piano, Steve MacNeil, Electric Bass, Peter Allen, Bell Ringer, in Lunenburg.


Composer Notes
Within Sight of Shore by Scott Macmillan

On April 16, 1945 the Bangor Class minesweeper, HMCS Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship sunk in World War II. The ship was under the command of my father, Lieutenant Commander Robert Cunningham Macmillan DSC and Bar, RCNVR, from Charlottetown PEI. Lieutenant Morris Shonfield of HMCS Sarnia reminisced that in the evening of April 15th drinks were shared with the Commanding Officer of the Sarnia, Lieutenant Bob Douty and Commanding Officer of the HMCS Esquimalt, my father Bob Macmillan. In the early morning of April 16, 1945 the two sister ships went out to patrol for German U-boats that were rumored to be in the area. The Esquimalt headed eastward 20 km from the mouth of Halifax Harbour towards Musquodoboit and the Sarnia headed westward agreeing to rendezvous at 0800 hours off Chebucto Head at Buoy “C”.

Higher Submarine Detector, (HSD) able seamen, Joe Wilson and George (Buck) Taylor were on duty on the bridge of the Esquimalt. They were manning the ASDIC Sonar (Anti-Submarine Detection Inspection Committee) that fateful morning. The ASDIC was well known for its unreliability and neither Wilson nor Taylor heard any reflections coming from below the water’s surface. However the German submariners from U-boat 190 did hear the distinctive pinging of the ASDIC Sonar coming from HMCS Esquimalt and at 5:45am fired their torpedoes, hitting the Esquimalt in the stern where the depth charges were stored, sinking her in 4 minutes. With all lifeboats and communications lost, the survivors, including my father, clung to a few Carley Floats and endured 6 hours in the frigid North Atlantic waters before rescue arrived. Of a crew of 71, only 27 survived.

Every year on April 16 in Esquimalt B.C. there is a memorial service held in commemoration of the sinking of the HMCS Esquimalt. With arrangements made with Al Fluery VP of the HMCS Esquimalt Memorial Association Victoria, BC I attended that memorial service in 2007. My son Ian, who is working on a documentary film about these events and my composition, joined me. While there we had the opportunity to interview survivor of the HMCS Esquimalt, able seaman HSD (higher submarine detector), Joe Wilson, and the second in command of the sister ship to the Esquimalt, Lieutenant Morris Shonfield of HMCS Sarnia. Once back in Halifax, Ian and I were taken to the sight of the sinking on April 25th 2007 by the navy tugboat, Glenivis. A few weeks later in Toronto we met the chief engineer of the German U-boat 190, Werner Hirschmann. He told me that their orders were to fire on supply ships not patrol ships. However hearing the ASDIC ping and fearing they were under attack from HMCS Esquimalt, U-boat 190 struck first. Leading up to composing Within Sight of Shore we went to PEI to talk with my cousin David Macmillan and family friends and I also had several conversations with my brothers John and Mark and their memories of our dad. John has traveled from Colorado to be here for the premiere.

Within Sight of Shore, the 4 movements: The Hit, The Wait, The Rescue, Ashore

The Hit:
It was a calm morning sunrise on April 16 1945. The second in command, Lieutenant John Smart was on watch. My father slept in his cabin below the bridge. The ASDIC Sonar sounds; the church bells ring and the ensemble begin. German U-boat 190 struck, splintering the calm plunging the HMCS Esquimalt to the ocean’s bottom. Throughout the movement rhythmic pulses symbolize Esquimalt hit, Esquimalt sinking and Esquimalt sunk, telling the frantic story of my father climbing to the bridge, calling abandon ship, the ship sinking and finally my father sliding off the bow of the HMCS Esquimalt as she disappears below the water. The guitar and saxophone represent an imaginary dialogue between my father and the captain of the U-boat 190 as each looks upon the tragic event of that morning.

The Wait:
This movement starts with the guitar representing my father and his shattered dreams. From the four corners of the concert venue the brass quartet exchange various musical motifs, with the guitar. This call and answer represents the survivors in the water calling out their names and my father calling back to acknowledge them. The strings play a rolling ostinato, like the calm waters on that April morning. The bass plays a long falling line depicting the Esquimalt’s descent to the sea floor. During their six-hour wait in the frigid water an airplane flew overhead and the crew cried out in hope to no avail. Once ashore a hymnbook folded open to Rock of Ages was found in my father’s breast coat pocket. The drone of the strings symbolizes the airplane, the brass representing the survivors singing out to be rescued.

The Rescue:
The music starts with the HMCS Sarnia coming from the distance. Gradually adding melodic layers as the ship approaches until the dead and the living are all retrieved from the cold waters of the North Atlantic, safely on board and heading to shore. The bittersweet carnival like music is my imaginings of the mixed emotions of the survivors, coming to terms with their own survival and with loss of their comrades. Of the 44 sailors lost about half went down with Esquimalt and they rest were laid out on the deck of the Sarnia and escorted to shore along side the 27 survivors. The movement ends with the Sarnia arriving at the dock.

The music begins with a solemn moment to grieve and pay respect to the lost crewmen. A survivor, Bill Henderson, was photographed in his hospital bed, banjo in hand entertaining some friends. I use the banjo to conjure up feelings, both in celebration of surviving as well as the cruel reality of time forging on and somehow we have to go along with it. The last section comes back to the guitar, symbolizing my father and life’s dreams. My feeling is that the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt was very hard on my father. There was very little spoken about the events of April 16, 1945, and our family attended the annual Battle of the Atlantic Sunday ceremonies held in Halifax faithfully. My father was somewhat of a dreamer and I often wonder how different his life would have been had this tragic event had not occurred. My hope is that by living our dreams we can be open to forgiveness and somehow bring happiness to our world and making it a better place.

Thanks: Within Sight of Shore was composed with assistance from the Culture Division of the NS Dept of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. I would also like to thank; Jennyfer Brickeden, Duncan Macmillan, Ian Macmillan, John Macmillan, Mark Macmillan, David and Judy Macmillan, Barbara Macmillan, Al Fluey, Joe Wilson, George Taylor, Pat Jessup, Dorothy Smith, Morris Shonfield, Hirschmann, Barbara Butler, Roy MacCauley, John Hennigar-Shuh, William F. White, Chris Gilbert, Trevor Sutherland, Steinar Engeset and Capt Peter Matthews, Labrador Sea, the Camp Norway Foundation, & Clearwater, Meiro Stamm. RH Thompson, Hayward Parrott


April 24, 2008
Saga in the key of sea: Within Sight of Shore is composer
Macmillan’s commemoration of HMCS Esquimalt torpedoing


Within Sight of Shore is Scott Macmillan’s composition commemorating HMCS Esquimalt, the last ship sunk off Halifax during the Second World War, and his father, the ship’s captain. Macmillan’s piece tells the story of this tragedy, and of the soldiers who survived six hours in freezing water awaiting rescue. (Blake MacEwan)

THE LAST Canadian warship sunk during the Second World War went down 22 kilometres east of Musquodoboit Harbour on April 16, 1945. The German submarine U-190 thought it was under attack and fired a torpedo at the stern of the patrol vessel Esquimalt, where its depth charges were stored.

It was a direct hit. The ship exploded, then sank like a stone, stern-first, in four minutes. Out of a crew of 71, 27 survived for six hours clinging to Carly floats in the frigid North Atlantic. Esquimalt’s captain, Lt. Commander Robert Macmillan, also survived.

“My father was the last one to jump in the water as the bow went down,” recalled his son, Scott Macmillan. “He was never court-martialled, and he never talked about it. My feeling is that the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt was very hard on him.”

Macmillan, one of the East Coast and Canada’s most active and prominent musicians, has written a four-movement instrumental suite about the incident. It is called Within Sight of Shore and features himself on guitar and banjo, David Greenberg’s Tempest Baroque Ensemble, and members of the Stadacona Band of Maritime Forces Atlantic, with John Overton on piano and Steve MacNeil on electric bass.

The work premieres at the St. Cecilia Series April 26 at 7:30 p.m. in St. John Anglican Church, Lunenburg. Macmillan is this year’s artist-in-residence. Pianist Peter Allen will ring the Church bells in Lunenburg. The production, with tubular bells instead of church bells, will be presented in Halifax at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic April 27, at 7:30 p.m.

Esquimalt and her sister patrol ship Sarnia were checking out lighthouses on that spring morning in 1945. U-Boat 190 was not supposed to fire on patrol ships, only on cargo ships.
But a “blind spot” in the reflection of their sonar signal meant Esquimalt failed to detect the U-boat. “Since the Germans heard a ping, but not the reflection, they thought they were under attack and fired,” Macmillan said.

“Twenty five or more went down with the ship, the rest either survived or died in the water. The ship went down too fast for Esquimalt to get a distress message out. They were torpedoed at 6 or 6:30 a.m. When the Sarnia came out to rendezvous at 8, there was no Esquimalt. Sarnia radioed for an hour and a half, but no-one was at their post on shore.”

Sarnia got a call at 11 from shore to check out Esquimalt. It was another hour and a half before they began to pick up survivors. “Had the guy been at his post ashore at 8 they could have been there at 9.”

“Last year on my birthday, (April 24), I was taken out on the tugboat Glenevis to the actual site of the sinking. The shoreline was just a little smudge,” Macmillan said. “It was pretty emotional. Stad band trumpeter John Cumin played the Last Post and then the Saints. I played on banjo. I put banjo in this piece because one surviving crew member played the banjo.”

In coming up with musical ideas for the four movements, The Hit, The Wait, The Rescue and Ashore, Macmillan said he didn’t want to use standard chord progressions.

“Instead I played a technical game, using the spelling of the ship’s name. E is the tonal centre (which is perfect for guitar). The next letter was S so, using the white notes of the keyboard, starting from E, I counted up the alphabet until I hit the S, which was an F. I did the same thing with each letter in the name, and also with the Sarnia’s name. I got a note row, E, F, G, Ab, F, Gb, Bb, B, C. I made it into melodies, turned it upside down and backwards, and it didn’t let me down.”

Macmillan took the phrases, Esquimalt hit, Esquimalt sinking, Esquimalt sunk and made them into Morse Code, which he used as rhythmic pulses for the sinking.
“A couple of other serendipitous things happened, too,” Macmillan said. “At the beginning, for the sunrise,

I wore a dreamy, tinkly kind of piano E minor ninth chord in 9 / 16 time, then found out there are nine letters in Esquimalt and it went down on April 16.”

U-190 even gets a musical interpretation. Macmillan used it as a metronome marking for the rhythmic pulses accompanying the encounter between it and Esquimalt. Macmillan also quotes Lili Marlene (a tune common to both sides), and Beautiful Dreamer. “It was the one song my father could sing. He used to sing in church, really loud and really bad.”

The instrumentation of the work was purely pragmatic. St. Cecilia artistic director Barbara Butler had the idea of teaming up with David Greenberg and Tempest. To this string ensemble Mac­millan added a brass quartet, and to represent the Germans he brought in saxophonist Brian Coughlan, who dou­bles on clarinet and also plays bosun’s whistle. A drum set, an electric bass to team up with the electric guitar, a pi­ano and tubular bells complete the or­chestra.


April 29, 2008
Macmillan hits the mark.
Within Sight of Shore ranges from rich, gritty, savage to smooth, sweet

Arts Reporter, Halifax Herald

Ordinarily a baroque ensemble makes an odd fit with a concert featuring members of the navy’s elite Stadacona Band. But the group Tempest, headed by David Greenberg, really is a fit with Scott Macmillan’s Within Sight of Shore.

It was the Halifax premiere of his blazing new work which depicted the final hours of HMCS Esquimalt — the last Canadian navy ship sunk by a submarine, less than a month before the end of the Second World War.

Tempest opened the concert with three sets of baroque pieces, as well as members of the Stadacona Band along with John Overton on piano, and Steve MacNeil on electric bass. Macmillan played lead electric guitar and conducted.

Macmillan is a prolific composer, but this tightly written, dramatically scored four-movement suite (The Hit, The Wait, The Rescue, Ashore) is his most impressive and exciting original work since his 1988 masterpiece, Mass For The Sea.

The sonic texture, rich, gritty and savage in the dramatic tone-painting of The Hit, ranges all the way to smooth, sweet and lyrical in elegiac and scene-setting passages. The complexity of the writing is set off by Macmillan’s superbly insightful mastery into his resources, and his unerring ear for orchestration.

The simple elegance of Macmillan’s use of imagery is exemplified in the way he deploys his brass quartet (John Cuming and Tim Elson, trumpets, Julie Cuming, French horn, and Tim Keels, trombone/tuba) to dramatize the surviving sailors of the Esquimalt hailing one another across the water. The quartet surrounds the audience as they call and echo across the hall.

Also striking is the interplay of solo guitar and saxophone to represent an imaginary dialogue between LtCdr Macmillan and the U-boat captain characterized by Brian Coughlan with his overtone-rich alto sax sound.

The musical language is that of a jazz ensemble in which extended harmonies and driving rhythms are mixed down into a riveting score. There is no dead time in this work, not a bar or a section that does not compel attention and reward the ear with sounds it can bite into and chew upon.

Macmillan works with extreme musical cunning in combining rhythm and harmony into a musical documentary. He finds suggestive musical imagery to characterize both the action and his father, already a war hero for his distinguished service in the Mediterranean, whose dreams are now shattered along with his ship and the loss of 44 of his 71-man crew.

The concert, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, began with David Greenberg on violin and Macmillan on acoustic guitar playing a medley of mostly traditional Cape Breton tunes, echoing their long-time collaboration in Puirt a Baroque.

Then Greenberg led the Tempest string quintet (Karen Langille. second violin; Kirsty Money, viola; Hilary Brown, cello; Max Kasper, double-bass; with John Overton on harpsichord) in music by Vivaldi, Jean-Fery Rebel, and Henry Purcell. It included Vivaldi’s violin concerto Tempesta di Mare (Storm at Sea).

Greenberg is unique in his approach to this repertoire. It is sculptural sound rather than stone, its material creating forms and substances that arise and vanish, leaving behind an impression of rhythm, energy and tone shaped into space and contour.

His players work as one with him, inflecting their notes with length and weight of sound to create accents and rhythmic impulses.

So convincing is Greenberg’s musical authority you come away thinking you don’t want to hear Vivaldi played any other way.

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