Music in Edmonton | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music in Edmonton

Edmonton, Alta. Capital of Alberta. Established in 1795 as a Hudson's Bay Co post, it was settled first in the mid-1860s. The population had increased to approximately 2500 by 1900 because of the Klondike gold rush.

Edmonton, Alta. Capital of Alberta. Established in 1795 as a Hudson's Bay Co post, it was settled first in the mid-1860s. The population had increased to approximately 2500 by 1900 because of the Klondike gold rush. Edmonton was incorporated as a city in 1904 and was made the capital of Alberta when the province entered Confederation in 1905. By 1990, with a population of 605,000, Edmonton had become a centre of business, administration, and education. Its main industries are oil, meat packing, and agricultural products.

In 1880 Edmonton had a population of only 275, most of whom served the large numbers of Cree and Blackfoot Indians who came to trade their furs and whose drums provided the background for their work. Musical activities took place primarily in churches and at dances and other social gatherings. The music performed consisted of anthems, folk songs, and popular songs from the British Isles. John A. McDougall brought an organ for his wife, Louisa, to Edmonton by ox-cart in 1879 and by 1883 the four churches in Edmonton were supplied with organs.

After a railroad reached Edmonton from Calgary in 1891 Edmonton was visited regularly by a steadily growing number of touring vaudeville and light opera companies. In 1892 Edmonton supported the Edmonton Brass Band. and the Edmonton Fire Brigade Band. In the same year Robertson's Hall, a concert hall that served as the location for many theatrical and musical events until it burned down in 1906, was built, and also in 1892 A.G. Randall, a British organist and choirmaster, began work at All Saints Church, subsequently organizing the Edmonton Philharmonic Society (1894) and the Apollo Glee Club (1898), neither of which survived for long. Among the first celebrities to visit the city was the soprano Emma Albani, in 1901.

The turn-of-the-century population explosion brought an influx of musicians, one of whom, Vernon Barford, was an Englishman who arrived in 1900 to succeed Randall at the organ of All Saints Anglican Church. In 1904 Barford founded the Edmonton Choral Society and the Edmonton Operatic and Dramatic Society, both of which he also conducted. The latter society produced operettas such as The Chimes of Normandy and those of Gilbert & Sullivan. In 1908 the Edmonton Musical Club (also called the Women's Musical Club) was formed to organize concerts and lectures. One of the Edmonton area's first permanent performing groups was the band of neighbouring Strathcona, well established in 1910. The Edmonton Musicians' Association was formed in 1907.

In 1914 the Musical Times could report: 'Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, is a fine city striding the hills, but music is overdone here. The number of studios opened during the past year is out of all proportion to the demand. No pianoforte teachers are required for many a long day. There may be a little more opening for qualified vocal teachers, for there are as many quacks, in proportion, ruining voices in Canada as there are in the more sophisticated European musical centres'. Among the dependable teachers, performers, and organizers who settled in Edmonton were William J. Hendra, who arrived in 1906, Edgar Williams in 1912 (Williams played in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra until 1976), Mrs J.J. Duggan (b Bessie Evans) in 1914, Arthur Putland in 1918, Mrs J.B. Carmichael in 1919, and Jenny Lerouge LeSaunier in 1922.

In 1920 radio station CKUA was opened, Mrs Duggan formed the Women's Musical Club Chorus, Herbert Wild founded the Kiwanis Operatic Society, and A. Weaver Winston directed the first concert (14 November) of the Edmonton SO. Although the Depression is blamed for the demise of the orchestra in 1932, it did not prevent the formation of the Edmonton Civic Opera in 1935 under Mrs Carmichael and the Elgar Ladies' Chorus in 1936 under Hendra.

During World War II Abe Fratkin and Ranald Shean formed the Edmonton Philharmonic, and in 1947 Lee Hepner began the Edmonton Pops Orchestra. These groups amalgamated to become the Edmonton SO in 1952, the same year that the Edmonton Junior Symphony (Edmonton Youth Orchestra) under Keith Bissell and the Edmonton Chamber Music Society came into being. Harry Farmer founded the Edmonton Boys' Choir in 1958, and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Band was posted in Edmonton 1959-68. In 1965 the Alberta All-Girls Band was founded under the direction of Bob Nagel.

The Light Opera of Edmonton under H.G. Turner was established in 1950. In 1963 the Edmonton Professional Opera Association (Edmonton Opera Association) was organized, with Jean Létourneau as the first artistic director.

The Women's Musical Club (1908-73) sponsored recitals 1922-8 in the 1500-seat Empire Theatre (Edmonton), presenting, among others, Vladimir Rosing, Florence Austral, Amelita Galli-Curci, Fritz Kreisler, Tito Schipa, Edward Johnson, Jascha Heifetz, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. After World War II, when the Empire Theatre no longer was available, the club presented concerts in McDougall Church and, after growing audiences necessitated larger quarters, in the Stock Sales Pavilion ('Cow Palace') in the exhibition grounds. Lily Pons, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Jan Peerce, Marian Anderson, and Victoria de los Angeles performed there. The Cow Palace remained in use until 1957, when the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium opened.

School music took a step forward in 1912, when J. Norman Eagleson was appointed school music supervisor. Eagleson was succeeded in 1949 by Keith Bissell. Alberta College offered music courses from its inception in 1903. Three years later, the University of Alberta was founded but the Music Dept was founded, under John Reymes King, only in 1945. Teachers, there or at Alberta College, have included Violet Archer, Arthur Crighton, Richard Eaton, Malcolm Forsyth, Sandra Munn, Thelma Johannes O'Neill, Robert Pounder, Manus Sasonkin, Alfred Strombergs, and Bernard Turgeon.

The Alberta Music (competition) Festival, first held 5 May 1908 in Edmonton, was the earliest of its kind in Canada. Acting on the suggestion of George Bulyea, Alberta's lieutenant-governor, Vernon Barford and Howard Stutchbury (1874-1957) organized and initiated it, bringing in two Winnipeg adjudicators who judged 30 groups and individual contestants the first year. So popular was the festival that by its fourth year it had 28 competition categories. With an emphasis on choral singing, the festival culminated annually with a performance by a combined chorus of around 200 singers accompanied by 50 instrumentalists before an audience of 2000.

Choral groups in Edmonton have included Les Chantamis, the Da Camera Singers, the Edmonton Centennial Singers, the Edmonton Columbian Girls Choir, the Edmonton Male Chorus, the Edmonton Welsh Male Chorus, the Leo Greene Singers, the Orpheus Male Voice Choir, Pro Coro Canada - a professional chamber choir established in 1980 by Michel Gervais - the Richard Eaton Singers, and the St David's Welsh Male Voice Choir.

In July 1978 Edmonton was the site of the Festival of the Arts which accompanied the 11th Commonwealth Games. The idea of Horst A. Schmid, then Alberta's minister of culture (see Alberta Culture), the festival received funding from the Western Canada Lottery and was organized by Robert Dubberly. It featured Canadian and foreign concerts and exhibitions. The Alberta Composers' Association was founded in Edmonton in 1977 and held its first festival there in April 1979.

Noteworthy developments in the musical life of the city after 1980 have been the growth of a professional jazz and musical theatre program at Grant MacEwan College; the successful TriBach Festival of May 1985, the proceeds of which established a visiting artist program at the University of Alberta; the continuing efforts of the Cosmopolitan Club under Harry Pinchin to encourage amateur music making; and plans for a new downtown concert hall to be completed in the mid-1990s. Edmonton is also the locale for the Jazz City International Jazz festival and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Among musicians born in Edmonton are Agnes Butcher (Boucher), the composer Dorothy Cadzow, Eleanor Collins, Avrahm Galper, the pianist Robert Gariepy, Betty-Jean Hagen, Lee Hepner, the guitarist Peter Higham, the violinist Robert Klose, the harpist Janice Lindskoog, Leslie Mann, Don McManus, Ron Park, the singer Mona Paulee, the teacher-conductor Albert Rodnunsky, Roy Royal, Bob Ruzicka, Daniel Scheidt, Ranald Shean, and Bernard Turgeon. Among those who were raised or lived in Edmonton are Tommy Banks, the violinist Tamara Fahlman, Robert Goulet, John Hendrickson, Marek Jablonski, and Ermanno Mauro.