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  • There's Music in These Walls: A History of the Royal Conservatory of Music
  • Elaine Keillor
Ezra Schabas . There's Music in These Walls: A History of the Royal Conservatory of Music. Dundurn 2005. 288. $50.00

The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto has been a major force in the musical life of Canada for 120 years. As such, it has long needed a thorough historical account. This book's author, Ezra Schabas, has an ideal background for the task. He was its principal from 1978 until 1983. Schabas wrote a well-researched monograph on Ernest MacMillan, who was principal from 1926 until 1942. In addition, over many of its years the conservatory has had a relationship with the University of Toronto. Schabas first became involved with the conservatory in 1952 and from 1960 was also teaching at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the general clarification of the convoluted relationship between the university and the conservatory. Because Schabas had experiences and involvement in both institutions, [End Page 292] he presents an even-handed account of their differences. In 1888 the Toronto Conservatory of Music, as it was first known, signed an agreement to be affiliated with Toronto's University of Trinity College, and in 1896 established a similar one with the University of Toronto. Presumably the relationship also continued with Trinity, which gave an honorary doctorate to Edward Fisher, the conservatory's founder and music director in 1898. Through an act of the Ontario legislature in 1919 the university assumed authority over the conservatory and created a Faculty of Music, which had as its head A.S. Vogt, music director of the conservatory.

Further developments in this close relationship included the formation of the Senior School and Opera School in 1945, and a reorganized School of Music and Faculty of Music in 1952. The School of Music moved to McMaster Hall in 1963, while the Faculty of Music and the Opera School took over the new Edward Johnson building in 1964. Incidentally the Music Library that the conservatory had built up over the previous seventy-five years became the basis of the University of Toronto's outstanding music collection. After much wrangling over property and facilities in subsequent years, the Governing Council of the University of Toronto granted the conservatory independence in 1990.

Schabas has dedicated this book to the hundreds of teachers who have taught at the conservatory. With colourful anecdotes he has brought some of these important individuals to life. I was sorry not to find one of my favourites told to me by Godfrey Ridout about Humfrey (unfortunately misspelt in the book) Anger. Apparently after being told by his doctor that he had incurable cancer, Anger booked the best dining room in Toronto of the day. Then he invited all of his friends, none of whom knew about his impending demise, for a wonderful meal at the Queen's Hotel.

The author, being a fine wind player himself, periodically refers to the weaknesses of wind players and wind instruction in Toronto, particularly before 1950. For the most part this was certainly true, but I was disappointed not to find any reference to the flutist J. Churchill Arlidge, one of the teachers at the conservatory in its very first year. He had had a triumphant solo career in both Europe and the United States before settling permanently in Toronto in 1885.

Although there is a fine selection of photographs throughout the book, the wonderful multiple cartoon by J.W. Bengough, highlighting the rivalry between the conservatory and Torrington's College of Music, is not included. As well as conveying the concerns of other major musicians in Toronto of 1893, that cartoon would have added much to the author's account in chapter 1.

Generally this is a handsome book but is unfortunately marred by some spelling errors. It should be Trichy – not Trichi – Sankaran, and [End Page 293] Bidu Sayo is mentioned a couple of times with other spellings in each case and omitted from the index. The multimedia teaching techniques described in chapter 12 are rudimentary compared to those going on at the...


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