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GODFREY RIDOUT Fifty Years of Music in Canada? Good Lord, I Was There for All of Them! 1930 was, perhaps, a low point in the history of music in Canada. The economic conditions were not entirely to blame; they just administered the coup de grace. The flourishing life of the nineteenth century, mostly visible in the two major cities, Toronto and Montreal, was first brought low by World War I; and conditions after the war militated against a full revival. Much of that flourishing life was amateur (if you wanted music you had to make it yourself); musical accomplishment was a social rather than a professional asset, and professional music was mainly in the hands of touring artists or immigrants, although Montreal's French community had a number of native professionals, reflecting a longer tradition and a different attitude to the arts. The means of livelihood for the professional musician were mainly teaching and playing in theatre orchestras. In all parts of Canada the aristocrat of the professionals was the church organist , although he could not make a living from the church alone. The status that his position gave him meant that he was in demand as a teacher, sometimes in musical areas where he was least qualified. In some communities he was the only professional: not only was he organist and choirmaster, but he taught organ, piano, theory, and singing, he would be the logical conductor for the local operatic society (what would he have done without Gilbert and Sullivan?), and he was even expected to assemble the local worthies into a raggle-taggle amateur orchestra. In Anglophone Canada he was often an Englishman or a Scotsman (indeed, in one church, Metropolitan Methodist in Toronto, the organ endowment specified that the incumbent must have a music doctorate and be a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, requirements which for many years precluded anyone other than a Britisher from holding the post). In many ways, in those pre-1914 days musical life was a copy, at some distance, of practices in France and Britain. Promising youngsters whose parents did not fear the taint of professionalism were sent abroad for advanced study, if they were from Quebec to Paris, or if from Ontario to Leipzig (where, alas, the fresh fragrance of Mendelssohn and Schumann had turned into an odour of sanctity - but that is where young Britons had been sent since the 1850S, so what further need have we of witnesses?). In the cities conservatories of music thrived. In Toronto i the early years of this century there was a professional symphony MUSIC IN CANADA 117 orchestra which gave several series of subscription concerts. It was made up of string teachers from the conservatories, players from theatre orchestras, and wind players from bands as well as theatres. Always financially precarious, the orchestra evaporatedwith the outbreakof thewar. The waves of immigration of Europeans, many of them Jews, signaled change. If the children of these immigrants showed any signs of musical-. ity, they were trained, not to achieve social graces, but for a musical profession. A career in music was a way of assuring that the children would move a step up the social ladder to better things than their parents themselves could ever have attained. By the time World War I ended, these youngsters were ready. If conditions after the war were not the same as in the pre-war period, they presented new opportunities. The moving pictures, even if they spelled the end of the large-scale amateur entertainments, slowly throttled live professional theatre and (with the still imperfect gramophone) rendered home entertainment less important ; they even built their own temples, with enticing orchestra pits and sometimes organs. When I was a youngster in the twenties in Toronto there were at least five cinemas (Loew's Uptown, Loew's Yonge Street, Pantages, Tivoli, Shea's Hippodrome) that had orchestras big enough to play the symphonic repertoire, even if they did not do so, except for the occasional overture (although the late Margaret Miller Brown as a young pianist did a two-week stand at the Uptown, playing Saint-Saens's Piano Concerto in G Minor) . Other theatres had smaller orchestras...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 116-134
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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