With the death of John Beckwith after a brief illness on December 5, 2022, at the age of 95, Canadian music has lost one of its most brilliant and constant champions. Born in Victoria, BC in 1927, Beckwith enjoyed a multi-faceted professional career that spanned eight decades; his vital contributions as a composer, educator, administrator, broadcaster, critic, writer, editor, and performer decisively shaped the musical life of this country during his lifetime. His many and varied achievements represent several careers worth of labour. He wrote over 160 articles, a similar number of original compositions, and many folksong arrangements. He continued to add to this vast output industriously to the end of his life: new compositions appeared regularly up until 2018, and his seventeenth book, Music Annals, was published earlier this year.
“The surname Beckwith is Anglo-Saxon, and it means ‘beechwood.’ My father’s branch of the family traces back to the emigration of Samuel Beckwith from his birthplace, Pontefract in Yorkshire, to the area near New London, Connecticut, in 1638.” So begins Beckwith’s engaging memoir, Unheard of (2012), which offers a frank and honest account of his life in rich detail. Beckwith was proud of the longstanding presence on this continent of his paternal ancestors, and it gave him a deep sense of rootedness. One of Samuel’s descendants moved to Nova Scotia in 1760, beginning the Canadian lineage of the family. A move across the continent in the 1880s took Beckwith’s grandfather to Victoria, where Beckwith’s father, the lawyer Harold Arthur Beckwith (1889–1958), was born. On the maternal line, the immigration from England dated from the late nineteenth century. Beckwith’s mother, Margaret Alice Dunn (1898–1990) was also born in Victoria and was a teacher before her marriage and again after her husband’s death. Both parents were enthusiastic amateur musicians and offered support and encouragement when John, the middle-born of their three children, showed an early talent in that direction.
Beckwith began piano lessons at age six and benefitted from the instruction of two very fine teachers in Victoria: first Ogreta McNeill (later a well-known music librarian in Toronto), and then Gwendoline Harper, with whom he studied for ten years. From Harper he learned not just a wide range of piano repertoire, but also theory, analysis, and general musicianship skills. From the age of eight onwards he appeared in public recitals and played in music competitions, often winning top prize, and sang in local choirs. He also attended live concerts regularly (a lifelong habit) and heard a wide range of music on the radio, including the standard symphonic and operatic repertoire and a healthy dose of modern music, which was to become his main interest. Beckwith thrived as a student at Oak Bay High during the war years, earning a citation for his involvement in journalism, drama, and music.
In 1945 Beckwith did his piano exam for the Associate diploma from the Toronto (soon to become Royal) Conservatory of Music. His examiner was the Chilean-born pianist Alberto Guerrero, who recommended the young pianist for a scholarship to study in Toronto. Guerrero was to be a formative influence; the young Glenn Gould was a fellow student at the time. During Beckwith’s concurrent studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, his professors were Healey Willan, Leo Smith, and Ernest MacMillan. Fellow music students included the singers Lois Marshall and Mary Morrison, the composers Harry Freedman, Oskar Morawetz, Godfrey Ridout, and Harry Somers, and the future music librarian and Canadian music historian Helmut Kallmann. Through his involvement with drama productions, Beckwith met the writer James Reaney, who became a close friend and collaborator. After completing his BMus degree in 1947, Beckwith continued his studies for another year as a non-degree student, supplementing his scholarship money with a stint as the arts editor for the student newspaper The Varsity.
Beckwith began working as the publicity officer for the Royal Conservatory of Music in the fall of 1948, while continuing his piano studies with Guerrero. His public lecture-recital of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1950, the bicentennial of Bach’s death, met with high praise. By then, however, his interests were turning increasingly towards composition as the main outlet for his musical energies. In the fall of 1950, he married the teacher, pianist, and aspiring actor and director Pamela Terry, whom he had known since they were both teenagers in Victoria. The couple immediately set out for Paris, where Beckwith studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. He admired his famous teacher but kept his growing interest in the music of the post-war avant-garde to himself, as Boulanger had no sympathy for this repertoire.
Returning to Canada in the fall of 1952, Beckwith began putting together a varied career in music which included work as a critic, teacher, accompanist, and broadcaster/script writer for the CBC. As he once stated in a CBC interview, he could not recall any time since he was twelve that he did not have “at least three full-time jobs.” His CBC radio series Music in Our Time and The World of Music introduced listeners to modern compositions of the 1950s and 1960s, including electronic music and the work of John Cage.
A major development in his career was a full-time appointment to the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in 1955, after three years of contract teaching there. He remained a full-time faculty member until 1990, served as the Dean of the Faculty of Music from 1970 to 1977 and as the inaugural Director of the Institute for Canadian Music from 1985 to 1991. His teaching duties were varied and included courses in theory, musicianship, music history, and composition; in 1966 he introduced the first course there on music in North America. His many pupils over the years include a who’s who of those active in the fields of composition and Canadian music studies. In retirement he wrote a fine short history of the Faculty for its 75th anniversary titled Music at Toronto: A Personal Account (1995).
As a scholar-composer, Beckwith devoted equal energies to both academic publications and creative work. He contributed to every major Canadian music reference work as an editor or writer, or both, including Canadian Music Journal (1956–62), the monograph series Canadian Composers (1975–86), the biographical dictionary Contemporary Canadian Composers (1975), two editions of the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (1981, 1992), and the 25-volume Canadian Musical Heritage anthology (1982–2003). Most of these projects were bilingual and benefitted from Beckwith’s excellent French-language skills and keen interest in the music of Quebec.
As a critic and commentator on radio and in the local newspapers, Beckwith liked to play the role of provocateur. His views could be forceful and sharp, but they were always insightful and well informed, and inevitably were offered with a view to setting the record straight. You always knew where he stood on matters, and why, and the strength of his opinions reflected the importance with which he viewed the issue at hand. The subject matter of his occasional pieces ranged widely, from Broadway to Boulez and beyond. He was an inveterate reader of the Globe and Mail and often penned letters to the editor when a review or article incensed him; many were published and many more were not. Two anthologies of his writings were published, Music Papers (1997) and Music Annals (2022). A particular labour of love was his study of his teacher Alberto Guererro, which entailed a research trip to Chile in 2003. In Search of Alberto Guerrero was published in English in 2006 and in Spanish translation in 2021. He co-edited a collection of essays about the composer John Weinzweig, another influential teacher and mentor, with his friend and former pupil Brian Cherney; it appeared in 2011.
While he had begun composing as a child in Victoria, it was not until after he had completed his BMus degree that setting notes to paper became a major preoccupation and indeed his main ambition. His creative and scholarly work fed into each other, quite literally in the case of the Concerto Fantasy for piano and orchestra, which was written under the supervision of Weinzweig and earned Beckwith the MMus degree from the University of Toronto in 1961. Beckwith’s compositions reflect many of his interests: Canadian literature and history; the country’s composed and traditional musical heritage; contemporary poetry, both Canadian and international; and the shifting currents of contemporary music. It is a rich tapestry, woven from varied strands of the Canadian experience, and stamped throughout with his personal style, which is by turns lively and introspective, serious and witty, demanding and accessible.
The catalogue of Beckwith’s compositions includes works in many instrumental and vocal/choral genres as well as opera. He proceeded largely by instinct rather than following a preordained method, but at the same time his compositions were carefully planned and executed according to rigorous organizational schemes, a unique one for each new work. Although some of these works were heard only once and then forgotten, many others have been recorded and there have been some notable revivals. His fine detective opera Crazy to Kill, for example, was given a splendid premiere at the Guelph Spring Festival in 1989 and was successfully remounted in a production by Toronto Masque Theatre in Toronto in 2011. Some works enjoy repertoire status, such as his 15-minute monodrama Stacey (1997) to words from Margaret Laurence’s novel The Fire-Dwellers. On numerous occasions, his music has been the sole focus of successful concerts, such as those given by Toronto’s New Music Concerts in 1996, 2003, and 2017. Scholarly interest in his compositions remains high, as witnessed by two recent doctoral theses at University of Toronto, one by Katy Clark on his four operatic collaborations with James Reaney, and another by Bradley Christensen on his prodigious song catalogue. The songs were performed by multiple singers and pianists in three 90-minute online recitals curated by Larry Beckwith for Confluence Concerts to celebrate the composer’s 94th birthday in 2021. It seems most likely that both Beckwith’s creative work as a composer and his scholarly legacy as a writer will endure for a very long time.
The public-facing activities of Beckwith were accompanied by a great deal of behind-the-scenes work as well. He helped to organize and/or served on the boards of the Canadian Music Centre, Ten Centuries Concerts, Canadian Opera Company, Canadian League of Composers, International Conference of Composers (Stratford, 1960), Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, Canadian Musical Heritage Society, Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation, and the performing rights society BMI Canada, a forerunner of SOCAN. With increasing hearing loss in the late 1990s, Beckwith resigned from most such volunteer positions, but was able to continue his many other professional and social activities. His vital contributions to Canadian music were recognized by his appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, by five honorary doctorates, and by numerous other awards.
With his wife Pamela Terry, Beckwith had four children. The couple separated in 1975 and divorced in 1980; Terry died at age 80 in 2006. Beckwith’s life partner for the past 45 years, Kathleen McMorrow, is the former head of the University of Toronto Music Library. The two shared a passion for epic bicycle trips across Canada and in many other parts of the world, for Scottish country dancing, for attending concerts several times a week, and for entertaining in their lovely home in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood. Beckwith’s death leaves a gaping void in the heart of the musical life of Toronto and of Canada, but his legacy will be carried on by the John Beckwith Fund of the Canadian University Music Society and the John Beckwith Award from the Canadian Music Centre. Beckwith was pre-deceased by his sister Sheila and his son Symon Francis, and is survived by McMorrow, his sister Jean, daughter Robin, sons Jonathan and Lawrence (Larry), daughter-in-law Teri Dunn, granddaughters Fawn, Alison and Juliet, great-grandchildren Tristan and Elliott, and many nieces and nephews.
We invite you to enjoy these reflections and personal insights concerning an artist who, over the course of a long, productive and compelling career, became one of the most important figures in the arts and letters in Canada in the late 20th/early 21st century. Murray Schafer the man who walked amongst us will be deeply and sorely missed, but the incredibly rich and multifaceted legacy he has left behind vibrantly lives on, and will continue to delight, nurture, surprise, challenge, and inspire us … and many future generations to come. The Editors
We are pleased to present the first of a projected two dozen or so tributes to R. Murray Schafer which will appear in this collection. Many thanks to Kirk L. MacKenzie, an independent scholar specializing in the work of Murray Schafer, for this inspired idea, and for his sustained efforts in commissioning and editing these tributes for this collection. Robin Elliott
I would like to thank Stephen J. Adams, Professor Emeritus at Western University, not only for his seminal R. Murray Schafer (U. of Toronto Press, 1983)—which laid a very firm foundation for what has become a fairly significant field of Schafer studies—but for being the inspiration behind this tribute project as well. A few days after Murray’s death on 14 August 2021, Stephen sent me his personal remembrance of Murray entitled “I Danced with Anubis,” a short essay he had posted to his personal Facebook account (see below). Adams’ heartfelt and eloquent words were exactly the tonic I needed at a time while I was struggling to come to grips with my own profound sense of loss with Murray’s passing (proving that grief is best dealt with communally). It also occurred to me after reading Stephen’s piece that this loving and elegant ode to Murray deserved the widest circulation possible.
I then asked Robin Elliott if “I Danced with Anubis,” and additional tributes by others who knew Murray could be published on the Institute for Music in Canada’s webpage to accompany Robin’s recently composed and insightful retrospective on Schafer’s life and work. He immediately agreed, has been very enthusiastic about this project from the start, and has been both a wise and generous collaborator and very valuable second set of eyes as co-editor. My sincerest thanks also to Eleanor James, Murray’s wife, and D. Paul Schafer, Murray’s brother, for their gracious support and encouragement of this project, and to our many contributors who have agreed to share their thoughts on and personal interactions with this uniquely gifted artist and thinker—or as composer Hildegard Westerkamp so aptly expressed it—this “complex, unstoppably creative man.” Kirk L. MacKenzie
To begin, I don’t dance. My body has always been awkward, even when I was younger and thin. But the occasion was the performance of Ra that I attended at the Ontario Science Centre in May 1983. The work is a dramatization of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, beginning at sundown, with instruction in the religious beliefs and rehearsal of the audience participation needed to conduct the living soul safely to the other side. It continues through the night, following the sun’s journey through the underworld to its re-appearance many hours later. Because of its length, Murray had provided an appropriate meal, served at midnight with belly-dancing and music, and allowed one hour for a nap on the cold, rock-hard museum floor. We were awakened by the sound of Maureen Forrester’s voice. She was there, I understand, in the dead middle of the night, though we never saw her. After passing a number of tests, including a lone walk through catacombs lined with skeletal corpses (one of them had open eyes), the destination was reached and all joined—actors, musicians, audience—in a general dance as the sun rose. My exhausted brain was reeling, ready to pass out, so I fixed my eyes on the jackal-headed figure of Anubis to steady me. I fell in love with him, and I actually danced.
A few days later, Murray pointed out to me the actor who had played Anubis. He was an ordinary looking guy I would not otherwise have noticed. Murray told me, laughing, that one performance had been bought out entirely by a local coven of witches. At another, a woman suffered hysterics in the catacomb walk and needed medical attention. Oddly, having written a book that analyzes Murray’s music at a time when only Patrias I and II had been completed, I now think of him first as a man of the theatre. His masterwork is certainly the largest unified dramatic cycle written in Canada, and in the history of the arts, one of the largest ever conceived. Its theatricality is more innovative than any other I can think of, and the works have been acclaimed internationally. Yet—such are the rigid categories that rule our minds—he is almost never included in discussions of “Canadian Drama.” I wonder how many courses devoted to the subject even mention Patria?
One of the many innovations of Patria involve the site-specific locations for each work. Princess of the Stars must be performed on a lake in the remote wilderness, in canoes (with the musicians on the shoreline), beginning precisely one hour before sunrise. It has left me memories of riding in a rusty bus over a bumpy logging road in the Canadian north at 4:00 a.m. and sitting on a log in darkness. The Greatest Show takes the form of a county fair. The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos specifies a deserted mine or abandoned factory at midnight (though Schafer, being adaptable, found an adequate substitute in Toronto’s Union Station). And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the cycle’s finale, engages participants in a week-long camping trip in the Canadian wilderness. All of this grows out of Murray’s life-long concern for the environment, which first emerged in his pioneering studies of the acoustic environment—the soundscape—and evolved into a comprehensive lived experience of Canadian ecology.
I do not mean to slight Murray’s catalogue of non-theatrical music. He was prolific as well as endlessly inventive, and his work includes a large body of vocal and instrumental music, including an extraordinary cycle of string quartets, orchestral and chamber works, an opera for television, even a remarkable Symphony in C Minor which I take to be his reconciliation with the institution of the symphony orchestra that he once condemned as obsolete.
I’ve often told how I, as a timid grad student looking for a dissertation topic, wrote a letter to the one person in the world at that time who knew about Ezra Pound and music. Murray had mounted a performance of Pound’s first opera Villon for the BBC and was editing Pound’s extensive music criticism for what later became Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (much of Pound’s music criticism published in fugitive little magazines not held by any library, in particular the weekly newspaper of Rapallo, Italy, through the 1930s.) Instead of the expected rebuff, I received an open invitation from Murray to visit him at Simon Fraser University, where he bestowed all the primary sources I needed to my safekeeping. Our relationship grew from there as I wrote my dissertation and aided with the final stages of his very valuable contribution to Pound studies. Murray’s gift made my career possible.
But aside from that career business, I owe Murray a broadening of my understanding, of my felt life, of my perception of the world that cannot be measured. And I treasure the kindness, the laughter, the confidence . . . . and the opportunity to dance with Anubis.
Editor’s note: Adams also discusses The Princess of the Stars (1981) in his excellent monograph R. Murray Schafer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983); however, at the time, Schafer had not yet (consciously) envisioned Princess of the Stars as part of his Patria universe. (KLM)
Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism; edited with commentary by R. Murray Schafer (New York: New Directions, 1977; London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 430 pp.
Editor’s note: Schafer was very appreciative of Adams’s contribution to Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism and his very genuine and perhaps less well known capacities for graciousness and self-effacement are on full display in the preface (p. xii): “Two graduate students contributed numerous insights and hours of work to this volume: Brian Fawcett of Simon Fraser University and Stephen Adams of the University of Toronto both have repeated revealed that they knew more than the editor [Schafer] about much of the subject matter, and many of their ideas and suggestions have been incorporated in the text. Stephens Adams, now a distinguished scholar in his own right, followed the text in the final stages approaching publication and helped in many more ways than can be adequately expressed here.” (KLM)
We are honored to have a contribution to our Schafer remembrance project by John Beckwith with an essay entitled “Our Murray.” The essay is in a separate PDF document which can be found by clicking here. Sometimes described at this later stage of his career as the “dean of Canadian composers,” Beckwith is a Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, and its former dean (1970–77). A Member of the Order of Canada (1987), Beckwith completed this essay in January 2022 at the age of 94, bearing comparison with how active Igor Stravinsky was late in his life. Having turned 95 in March 2022, Beckwith has now outlived by many years Stravinsky and also Schafer, both of whom, coincidently, died at the age of 88.
Of the number of comparisons that could be made between Schafer and Beckwith, perhaps the most compelling is that, while we first think of them as composers, it is, I believe, hard to overstate the importance of their output as writers and thinkers, including their considerable accomplishments in the realm of music scholarship. Fittingly it was Beckwith who was the editor for the U. of Toronto Press monograph series on Canadian composers in which the first book-length study of Schafer was published. The author of the Schafer volume, Stephen J. Adams, was very appreciative of Beckwith’s oversight, describing him as “the most patient and meticulous of editors.” Also fitting is that in 1984 Beckwith became the founding director of the Institute for Music in Canada (at the time called the Institute for Canadian Music), which is hosting this online Schafer remembrance. Perhaps bringing matters full circle is that my co-editor for this Schafer project, Robin Elliott, currently not only holds Beckwith’s former post as Director of the Institute, but also has worked tirelessly to gather into one volume a collection of Beckwith’s writings on music over many decades. Entitled Music Annals, and a sequel to an earlier collection by Beckwith titled Music Papers (1997), this long overdue and very valuable addition to Canadian music studies is currently in press, and, as one might expect, is a volume in which the Schafer name appears quite a few times.
Beckwith’s attached Schafer retrospective titled “Our Murray” could be best described as a “suite” of short, individual movements, each outlining or commenting on select events or strands from Schafer’s life, the ten movements in the suite being:
Three Contemporaries Teachers
Ten Centuries Concerts
First Orchestra Commissions Patria 3: The Greatest Show Classical Forms Shadowman Recollections
Murray has passed on, but if he were still with us, I am sure that he would join us in wishing John Beckwith many years of continued good health and productivity.
Kirk L. MacKenzie
Editors’ note: The term “dean of Canadian composers” was for many years paired with the name of John Weinzweig and deservedly so, given his importance and influence as a composer and modernizing influence in Canadian music in the 20th Century, and also as a valued mentor to generations of younger composers including both Beckwith and Murray Schafer. Since Weinzweig’s death in 2006 this moniker to signify senior statesmanship among Canadian composers has understandably been passed on to Beckwith, fourteen years Weinzweig’s junior. (KLM & RE).
 Other volumes in this Canadian Composers series overseen and edited by Beckwith were Harry Somers by Brian Cherney in 1975, and Barbara Pentland by Shelia Eastman and Timothy McGee in 1983. Also begun as part of this series, but later completed with other publishers were monographs on John Weinzweig and Jean Papineau-Couture. A biography of Serge Garant written by Udo Kasemets was completed but never published. (RE)
 Stephen J. Adams, R. Murray Schafer (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1983), ix.
“What is the purpose of art? First, exaltation. Let us speak of that… To effect change in our existential condition. This is the first purpose. To change us. It is a noble aim, a divine aim.”
R. Murray Schafer
Step with me gently into the canoe along the keel line. Bend low. Grasp the gunwales. Make your way to the bow. But instead of sitting or kneeling, recline. Yes, lie down in the bottom of the canoe. Lie on the spruce boughs placed to make a soft bed covering the cedar ribs. Breathe in the fragrance. You are looking up into sky. Cerulean blue. Cumulus cloud. The canoe departs almost silently. One slight scrape on a submerged log. The canoe rocks. Lapping at the bow. Faint paddle swish at the stern. Cradled in spruce, moving across the lake, delighted by sky. You hear a thread of song. A single soprano voice. Ethereal at first … then filling the firmament. Could it be the Princess?
Senses alive. Wonder alive. You have made a journey, participated in an Encounter, and entered into Schafer’s theatre of confluence. What lies ahead?
In his three essays on the theatre of confluence Schafer explains his thinking behind a new vision of theatre, one which calls for a synergistic flowing together of all the arts with the aim of creating a transformational experience aligned with a reverence for nature. Schafer’s conviction is sincere, his writing is inspirational, and his realization is actual—the Patria music dramas are life altering for those that give themselves over to the experience. I can attest to this as an audience member, performer, and collaborator in several of his projects. In fact these distinctions fall away as one becomes an active participant in the theatre of confluence and the sacred celebration of the cosmos.
In the final work of the twelve-part Patria cycle, Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, a musical pageant that unfolds in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve in central Ontario, the archetypal characters of Wolf and the Princess of the Stars are united after mythic ages of anguished separation and searching. Schafer provides the outline and grand arc of the narrative and invites participants to co-create dramatic scenarios or “Encounters” and other artistic expressions that flesh out the story.
We canoe into the isolated site, camp, and enact the hierophany, or sacred drama, over eight days. But participants do not just contribute in the area of their expertise. Musicians make costumes, visual artists tell stories, dancers sing, and everyone has a stint at the campfire kitchen. The creation of an artistic community that encourages growth and stretches individual limits is part of the aim. I used to consider myself a non-singer, non-dancer, and not very adept at visual art either. So in the past, I didn’t engage in those activities. Murray changed that perspective for me and for so many others, opening us to possibilities. The point is to make art—of all forms—to enhance your life. Art engenders art. The arts flow together.
For R. Murray Schafer
rivers flow into rivers
reflection scatters into spindrift
wind wails into psalm
so music flows
into the bloodstream
dance into the bones
a brush stroke quivers a pulse
stars jewel a crown
a hunter antlers a stag
an old woman withers into a girl
a carcass births a young man
and wolf rhythms the moon
rivers flow into rivers
I am a tributary of you
you are a branch of me
our waters swirl into clouds
The quest motif in Wolf is not just the redemptive search of Wolf and the Princess but also the parallel journey of the participants to create a meaningful life experience.
Take the trail your footsteps make
Take the end for your beginning
Light the stars you journey by
Wolf and the Princess will dance in the sky.
It begins with a canoe trip pilgrimage. Leaving behind the familiar, and crossing the portage threshold into both the wild and the mythic realm, our senses are sharpened. We attend to cloud formations, birdsong, wind direction. The colourful array of mosses and lichens on the trail. We help each other set up tents, share food, and collaborate on musical compositions and dramatic presentations in the dappled light beneath maple and pine. Attentive living. Intentional living. A journey undertaken to enact a mythic story and also to encourage our creativity. The forest animates our spirit. And we have a spirit guide.
Schafer deplores the desacralization of nature: the forest clear-cutting attitude and urban sprawl acceptance. By shifting the context of his music, taking it out of the concert hall and into the forest or across a lake, he compels us to listen differently, see differently. He advocates for the recovery of the sacred through art. As participants, we too, celebrate a reverence for nature. And Wolf provides an opportunity for the expression of that revelatory experience through the creation of music, dance, drama, storytelling and poetry. Life lived with intensity.
One Ruby-throated Moment
if only for one
your life could hover
you would never let the quiver
out of your bloodstream
seek always the nectar
you sensed was there
if only for one
your heart could beat
a hundred thrilling times
a hundred exclamations
a hundred revelations
a hundred prayers
if only for one
you could drink
from the chalice of the sun
Transformation. Reverence. Exaltation. I am not the only one to experience heightened states of awareness through Murray’s work. Over and over I hear similar exuberant declarations:
“He changed my life … I joined a choir.”
“Thought I couldn’t dance, but look at this …”
“I’m learning to identify birdsongs … types of trees.”
“I never made a mask before, or acted a role.”
“Let’s organize a soundwalk.”
“Now I share my writing. Aloud. Here’s a poem …”
R. Murray Schafer—true to his conviction.
And yes, that was the Princess singing while you were cradled in the hull of the canoe. Beautiful affirmations of sound, but suffering and melancholy too. Listen again. She is calling for help to save the forest. She is calling you. Break out your own songs and dances. Declaim your poems to the sun; share the mythic stories written in the stars. Tell the ancient tales. Embrace the trees. Rediscover and re-tune to the sacred mysteries.
To keep the forest safe—keep the forest enchanted.
I absolutely would not be who I am today without R. Murray Schafer. My first memory of Murray’s music is hearing an incredible performance of his Third String Quartet (by Andrew Dawes, Malcolm Lowe, Steven Dann and Michael Kannen) at the Scotia Festival of Music in 1990, when I was seventeen. I knew immediately that I needed to be a musician, and I’ve since spoken with other musicians who were at that concert for whom it was a similarly transformative experience. At around the same time, I had an opportunity to sing Epitaph for Moonlight with the Halifax High Schools Choir, conducted by Kaye Pottie. As young musicians, we were entranced by the musical and visual beauty of Schafer’s graphic scores; but even more by realizing that here was a composer who valued music made by children just as much as music made by professionals. This empowered us to take our own music making more seriously. I wrote to Murray when I was twenty and received a warm, welcoming, and encouraging response, which helped me to believe that I could really one day be a composer, and emboldened me to pursue my musical interests, whatever they were.
I met Murray in person for the first time when he was the composer-in-residence at Scotia Festival in 1993. I attended the overnight “Wilderness Lake” concert event at Camp Kidston featuring the performance of five of Schafer’s natural environment compositions, and experienced, along with hundreds of other intrepid Nova Scotians, the magic of music created in collaboration with the dusk and dawn, the lakes and skies, the wild animals and humans. In particular I remember the enchantment of two Canada geese flying across the sky and calling near the end of the “Princess’s Aria” from The Princess of the Stars, sung by Judith Forst. I was thrilled to be able to put my outdoorsy skills to use by canoeing Murray out to a raft the middle of Long Lake (see photo above), the position where he used flags to conduct the twelve trombonists situated on and around the lake for Music for Wilderness Lake.
But for me my profoundest connection with Schafer was participating in his collaborative wilderness project And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon from 1993 through 2003 (or thereabouts) for all the reasons mentioned above, but even more for the sense of community: for learning about the amazing art we can create if we value equally the contributions of everyone (whether trained artist or not), and for experiencing the incredible power of making art for and with each other instead of for an abstract audience. The “Wolf Project” was not perfect: in particular, there were issues of problematic cultural appropriation which came to trouble many, though in recent years Schafer and the participants worked hard to put these right.
Indeed, perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned through interacting with Murray and his music over many years, and in many contexts, is that art doesn’t have to be perfect to be incredible. What matters is listening to the sounds around us and to each other, caring for the community, working through the difficult bits, and always staying open to new possibilities. That is where we find real strength and unexpected beauty.
 I wrote an unpublished paper in 2001 entitled “Thoughts on R. Murray Schafer’s Wolf Project.” Please note that this paper now seems quite dated to me: I would reflect very differently on my experiences with the Wolf Project if I were writing this now. However, I’m leaving this up on my personal website for those interested in the history of Schafer’s work. [Full text]
I met Murray Schafer in the late spring of 1987. One of his former students from Simon Fraser University (whom I will refer to as “the Writer”) was in town for the Annual General Meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada. The Writer arranged that the three of us would go out to dinner. I managed to get a reservation at what was then a hip and busy Queen Street West bistro called Stella, and I drove us up to Forest Hill to pick up Schafer from the coach house in which he was staying.
The crowd at Stella was mainly in black, and Schafer was wearing some approximation of lederhosen. I can still see him as he was that evening, slight, tall with grey hair and a bright focused gaze, and with something almost child-like in his enthusiasm, and his passion. I didn’t know then that one of Schafer’s eyes was glass. Not surprising that I didn’t notice, as Murray’s intensity and focus blur all the edges. My friend, the Writer, was mesmerized, adulatory, and I had never seen him like that before.
Schafer was in overdrive, working on the coming production of Patria 3: The Greatest Show and our conversation rushed through topics of myth and music and magic and community involvement and nature and, of course, sound—the glorious sounds of the embattled and beautiful physical world. He was unstoppable and neither of us wanted him to stop.
Suddenly there was a pause and I told him about my own father’s magic show, which toured North America and Europe. In the afternoons I would sit in the darkened theatre watching rehearsals. A woman was sawed up on stage, but she would appear in the evening at our family dinner table. Murray was always in search of collaborators and immediately asked me if I would be a part of The Greatest Show, as he needed a snake charmer. This was not to be, but I too was taken up in the Schafer charisma. Starstruck at Stella. Murray was the magician of magicians.
Years later I did get to work with Murray, not as that snake charmer, but as a collaborator on an issue of the literary magazine Descant for which I served as editor. We devoted our entire issue of Descant 73 (Summer 1991), complete with graphics and foldouts, to thirteen of Schafer essays on the Patria cycle and his method for combing the arts as the theatre of confluence. (Murray subsequently reprinted our entire issue of Descant 73 as a book, Patria and The Theatre of Confluence, through his Arcana Editions.)
The Banff Centre for the Arts offered me a Maclean-Hunter Arts Journalism Fellowship for Summer 1994, a time when my knowledge of Schafer’s work was growing and with it my own desire to write about it. Murray gave that project his blessing as well, and I spent the summer of 1994 in the mountains, where the elk were birthing. I witnessed a ballet to Schafer’s String Quartet No. 5 that was choreographed by Brian MacDonald and was performed at the Banff Centre, and I wrote in a cabin in the woods on Tunnel Mountain. From time to time Murray would respond to excerpts I sent him, sometimes to say he hadn’t said something, so I would have to xerox some passage from one of his letters and send it back as proof of my honesty. (While editing his essays for the special Descant issue, I noted that Murray hated being questioned about his diction and disliked the editorial process. He could be difficult.)
In the end, I wrote two very different essays in the summer of 1994 honoring the work of this passionate, brilliant and extraordinary man. The first, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes toward a New View of Camping” appeared in Descant 88 (Spring 1995); the second, an unpublished essay, “Schaferscapes/ Wolfbound: The Massing of the Elk,” appears in abbreviated form in the literary magazine Border Crossings (Winter 1996) as “Schaferscapes.” A third brief essay “Circumnavigating and Creating: Descant in The Theatre of Confluence” is my editorial introduction to Descant 73 (Summer 1991), Patria and the Theater of Confluence.
Our relationship continued after that glorious summer, and for the next few years Murray and I talked of doing other projects together. By then I also had my own imprint as an acquiring editor at Somerville House Books and one wintry weekend in 1996 Murray drove out to Jane Somerville’s farm, Stonehouse, north of Peterborough to discuss the possibility of doing a book with that press. Although this book project never materialized, we continued as friends—he came to dinner at my home with Jean, and later with Eleanor, and I went to his 80th birthday celebration.
My final sense of Murray was not only the way he brought out so much in so many people—and that was itself profound—but it was in the vision he had for something better, embodied in the monumental performance, in June 2015, of a remount of an earlier work, Apocalypsis, at the Sony Centre in Toronto. A thousand voices are raised to describe the destruction of the world and the rebirth of a new universe. Two hours without intermission was a transformational experience for the audience, bringing each of us into the centre of Murray Schafer’s vision for a new heaven and a new earth.
27 September 2021
Editor’s note: Schafer’s second edition of this book was released in 2002 (Toronto: Coach House Books) with a new title Patria: The Complete Cycle (https://www.patria.org/arcana/arcbooks.html). This revised and expanded edition contains four new essays on Patria works which were still in progress at the time of the first edition; a revised essay on Patria 7: Asterion; a new essay on the theatre of confluence (“The Theatre of Confluence III”); and other materials including two appendices. For those interested in the Patria cycle, the first edition of his book on Patria, which is no longer in print, is still very useful as it contains a number of items which do not appear in the revised edition, such as Mulhallen’s introductory essay noted above; an essay by Mary Neil and another by Tom Sokoloski in the section entitled “Afterwords: Performing Patria” (pp. 216–228); and the original essay on Patria 7: Asterion which is quite different from the later version of this essay. (KLM)
 Karen Mulhallen, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes Toward a New View of Camping,” Descant 88 (Spring 1995): 133–76 and “Schaferscapes,” Border Crossings 15.1 (Winter 1996): 25–31.
Editor’s note: the following tribute was published in The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), 17 September 2021, p. B17. A slightly expanded version appears on the author’s website, and with her permission, is reproduced below.
I can easily think of my life in these terms: the time before I knew Murray, and after. I think that there are many who feel this way; who remember the precise moment that they first met him. He was that sort of person.
For me, it was the late 1980s and I was visiting friends near Peterborough. Murray dropped by. He fixed me with his piercing eye and told me that he had AN IDEA. Murray had a way of making you feel that his idea, an idea of great musical genius, was somehow about you. Or perhaps, you, and the small part that he wanted you to play.
In my case, it was my years spent wilderness camping, cooking over an open fire, and being able to handle a canoe that sparked his interest. That, and the convenience of my being in the right place at the right time. A third person was needed to stern a canoe and help cook for fifteen, for a three-day musical performance planning session in the wilds of Haliburton County. It was the very beginning of what was to become known as “The Wolf Project.”
My role in all of this was so minor. But even so, I felt a deep sense of belonging. Murray believed that everyone played a part, and so even the “kitchen staff” and “sternswomen” were part of the brainstorming, the composition, the music, and most importantly the ritual of it all, from the very beginning.
For five summers, I spent a week as a member of The Wolf Project, helped create masks, costumes, performances, and most especially “Firebird,” constructed of tree limbs and twigs, then floated out over the water at dusk and set on fire, accompanied by echoing, haunting music in the most beautiful place on earth.
Life’s demands led me, by necessity, in other directions. But that involvement would touch every aspect of my life, influencing my work as a visual artist, teacher and writer. I am forever a follower of the creative vision of R. Murray Schafer. I am forever a Wolf.
As fate would have it, my partner and I have lived for twenty-plus years three kilometers south of Murray and his wife Eleanor James. We became close friends, sharing meals, countless bottles of wine, ideas, music, art. Happily, we were able to spend hours listening to the consummate storyteller relate our favourites from his past, again and again and again. In recent years, as his stories slipped away, the bond of friendship turned to caring, and a deep abiding love.
We have listened to a great deal of the music of R. Murray Schafer in the last week or so, music filled with Murray, the sounds of his world, and as fresh and clear as the first light of dawn on that little lake in Haliburton, Ontario, where, for me, it all began.
It is his voice for the world to hear.
Editor’s note: “The Wolf Project” is the widely-used shorthand name used for the final work in Schafer’s Patria cycle—Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon. The three-day “musical performance planning session” referred to by the author above was also the first testing of Wolf Project material in a wilderness environment and occurred in the summer of 1990 at Gunn Lake east of Dorset, Ontario. The first week-long realization of And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon (as called for in the script or outline), took place during the following summer (1991) in what became the permanent home of the Wolf Project, the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Haliburton County, Ontario. (KLM)
Editor’s note: Anne Renouf’s partner, Doug Brown, is a long-time Wolf Project member, whom Schafer lists in the acknowledgments section of his book Patria: The Complete Cycle (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2002; see “In Appreciation,” p. 272). Doug was much valued by the other members of the project for the outdoor expertise and skills he brought to this venture for many years. (KLM)
While Murray and I had many enjoyable experiences throughout our lives, some of the most memorable and precious ones occurred in our childhood and youth. I can still remember taking the train to Manitoba with Murray in the summers to stay at Uncle Mac’s farm, building a couple of interesting contraptions in the garage behind our house at 490 Rushton Road in Toronto, playing in Cedarvale Ravine, going to art classes and singing in a choir, baseball in the street, creating hockey rinks and basketball courts in the backyard, and watching the football teams Murray created and led clobber other teams because they were coached so well.
While Murray had some extremely difficult health problems to contend with when he was young, he also manifested some remarkable talents at a very early age. These included drawing and creating comic books, dreaming up incredible projects for kids in the neighbourhood to do, organizing groups and getting the best out of people, challenging himself more than others, making commitments to causes greater than himself, and putting his whole heart and soul into everything he did. He was extremely creative not only throughout his adult life, but also in his youth. It was impossible not to learn a great deal from Murray that was helpful in life, regardless of where one ended up. This was true for myself and countless others I have talked to over the years who knew Murray or were involved in his projects and creative work.
For a very long time, I wondered why Murray and I both ended up in culture and the arts. Later in life, it became quite clear. It was due to all the sacrifices and contributions my parents Belle and Harold provided for us when we were young. This included classes at The Art Gallery of Toronto (now The Art Gallery of Ontario), paying for piano lessons in monthly instalments, reading stories to us from Journeys Through Bookland in bed at night, and most importantly, getting us into the choir at Grace Church on-the-Hill. While my parents came from farming stock, it is interesting that my mother taught herself to play both the piano and the violin without any lessons, and my father learned to paint beautiful pictures with water colours and pastels by himself.
As the saying goes, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” This was certainly true for Murray and myself during our youth and indeed throughout our lives, and especially for me when I discovered that Murray, who was four years my senior, was there to light the way.
Over the years I have written down in story form some of the many experiences I had with my now rather famous brother when we were young. Five of the most memorable episodes I would like to share as part of this on-line tribute to Murray are, in chronological order:
“The Knife Story”
“Boogie Bass on the Chimes”
“Saloon and Stage Coach Days”
“Don’t Let Them Score”
“I’d Know My Son Anywhere”
The stories are in a separate PDF document which can be found here: schaferstories
Paul Schafer, November 2021.
Editor’s note: Journeys Through Bookland, subtitled “A New and Original Plan for Reading Applied to the World’s Best Literature for Children,” was 10-volume, beautifully bound and illustrated set edited by Charles Herbert Sylvester, published in 1909 by Bellows-Reeve in Chicago. Having had this wide-ranging collection of myths, fairy tales, and other literary classics adapted for children in my own house growing up, I can attest to the effect that these books would have on the imaginations of the young Schafer boys. (KLM)
Paul Schafer has also written a brief retrospective of his brother’s career in honor of the first World Listening Day since Murray’s death; this event is held each year on the elder Schafer’s birthday (July 18th). The piece, entitled “A Tribute to R. Murray Schafer and his Imagination,” appears in IMAGINE, “a new digital magazine celebrating the art and culture of the human imagination.”
Since 1980, my wife Diana Smith and I have designed all of the productions of Murray’s innovative music dramas known as the Patria Cycle. The threads of almost half my life have been woven into a small part of the rich tapestry of Murray Schafer’s creative work.
Interestingly enough, I almost met Murray in 1967. I was on a contract at Simon Fraser University as an illustrator in the biology department at a time when Murray was teaching a course on sound in the environment. My interest in new music brought me close to signing up for this course, but scheduling prevented it. Over the years that followed, I was increasingly aware of Schafer as an artist and creative force, and in 1980 I got a life-changing phone call. I had been studying the art of mask making when Murray called looking for a mask maker for The Princess of the Stars, the prologue to the Patria cycle. However, what Princess of the Stars principally needed was actually not masks, but structures the size of parade floats to be mounted on canoes to represent three of the four main characters in the drama (Wolf, the Three-Horned Enemy, and the Sun Disk). Murray liked my designs and so Diana and I proceeded to turn them into reality. I spent two weeks of the summer of 1981 at Schafer’s farm north of Bancroft creating the armatures for these giant structures, and absorbing Murray’s ideas of theatre and performance.
The Princess of the Stars places musicians and singers around the shore of a small lake in the middle of the night. An audience arrives at the shore just before dawn and the musicians accompany the awakening wildlife while actors and dancers in canoes on the lake present a spectacle of theatre and music that is truly transformative for all involved.
Princess of the Stars was my introduction to the world of theatre, exploding any notions of what I thought theatre might be. Diana and I spent the next three years working on RA, a Patria work which follows the journey of the Sun God of ancient Egypt from his death at sunset to his rebirth in the early dawn. It is a journey of transformation and rebirth which was experienced by ourselves as well as the audience (known as “initiates”) who, as they stepped outside to greet the rising sun, felt that they too had been reborn as divine.
For the Patria works, Diana and I went on to help create many other worlds of alchemy and magic such as a Tang Dynasty palace, a county fairgrounds from the past, or an enchanted forest, among others. Our complete immersion into the world of site-specific and site-responsive performance took us on a unique journey to realms of wonder that would be impossible to duplicate. Murray taught us so much about art and theatre: the magic of sound travelling across the surface of a lake, and performances ranging from close proximity to stages that covered kilometres of lakes, fields, and forests, where the dew on the wildflowers and the mist on the lake became our star performers.
Murray’s vast mythologies carved out of the landscape resound with the themes of transformation, of death and rebirth, and of the search for both the ‘other’ and for self. The archetypal figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur appear and reappear in a variety of guises and reincarnations to drive the narrative; for example, Theseus is Wolf, Ariadne is the Princess of the Stars, and the labyrinths of our minds form the worlds of the journeys we undertake. As members of the team of creative artists engaged to realize Patria in performance, we were given the threads that we followed not to escape the maze, but to find our way to its heart.
Diana and I have been so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with one of the world’s truly innovative artists and thinkers. The Patria works opened so many doors, leading to challenging and exciting ways of engaging with performers, the audience, and with the natural world, the stage upon which many of these dramas unfolded. Our lives have been deeply enriched by the experience of working with Murray and the friendship that developed with him as a result. The early stages of each of these productions—where we would throw ideas back and forth and learn how to dream really big—were among the most rewarding times in our careers.
Murray, you have left an incredible body of works that have truly inspired both those of us who were instrumental in bringing them to light, and those who were fortunate enough to experience the results, leaving us all to wonder at the profound ways you expanded the possibilities of this medium called art. Thank you for your work and for the opportunity to be a part of it.
Out on Wildcat Lake, with the moon full and low in the sky behind us. Round and creamy and clear. Pulling us heavily toward it and providing lighting in front of us for the final scene of And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the conclusion to the twelve-part Patria cycle. We are suspended between the moon’s gravitational pull and a spotlight of dramatic focus. The Princess climbs into the canoe. Her voice trilling and skipping up the scale higher and higher: high echoes of loon indistinguishable from human voice along the rock walls. Silence intervening . . . no microphone. Just the solo human voice of the finest of opera singers filling a long canyon-like lake. No one else but us, the forest, the animals, the lake, the sounds. Breathtaking. The end of the day that began before dawn. Now late, and still canoeing to be done to get back to campsites. But no matter, because time has stopped except music time. Except beauty time.
Except Wolf time.
I remember my first “Wolf Project” adventure, I was driving up from New York City over two days and it was much farther and more complicated than expected for a first timer using only a paper map. I missed by a hair the convening by the wolf sanctuary in the parking lot of The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. I was driving my old stick-shift Honda Civic around and up and down dirt roads trying to find the group and wondering how I was ever going to catch up to the canoes when I couldn’t even locate a single person from the group. After about half an hour, a car pulled up and stopped behind me. I saw someone get out and wave boldly—it was Murray. He didn’t scold but instead said with deep compassion, “I was so worried!” I was awestruck. Here was Canada’s most famous living composer making sure everyone—even this Canadian-born, USA-dwelling participant—was included.
Another time, he asked if I thought the “Wolf Project” would continue after he died. I didn’t want to lie. I said truthfully that I didn’t know, but also that I did know that everyone who has ever participated will never forget the experience—they will have been indelibly marked. I said, “Think of all the children who were babies in shoulder packs participating who then grew up to become adults participating and every year of their lives in between. Everyone who has been touched will touch others.” Like sound echoing out without resistance, the reverberations will never end.
What does it mean when someone is gone? How to possibly capture what they have meant to us? I recall little details of Murray—the corduroy pants, the wafting pipe smoke, the one bright gleaming eye that saw more than enough for two—and I remember his deep passion for music and nature, and the infinite possibilities of relationship between them.
Murray Schafer changed my life, as he changed many. I first met him at “The Tuning of the World”: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology (1993) at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, which was also a celebration of Murray’s 60th birthday. I said to him, “I love the way you knit together ecology and theatre,” and he replied, “Well, you should come and join us on the Wolf Project.” The conversation was more nuanced, of course, and my journey to exploring intersections of ecology and theatre more varied, and yet he showed me—at a time when few could imagine linking theatre and ecology—that it could be done in a myriad of ways. I always felt blessed to be included although I am not a musician, and my own participation confirmed his belief that everyone should sing and have an organic relationship to music and its connection to the natural world.
I remember creating a wind chime out of forest elements that would stay all winter.
I remember creating huge sculptures and delicate theatrical “Encounters”.
I remember canoeing back home on dark nights and moonlight-bright nights.
I remember performing Great Wheel Day in a relentless deluge so loud we could hardly hear each other.
I remember the rhythm of the morning rituals and songs—waking to erase demarcations between art, ritual, and life.
I remember the garbage bear encounter.
I remember all the remarkable people Murray brought together.
I remember standing in the Great Meadow performing, and first hearing then seeing a tree crack and fall—the work of beavers.
I remember the questions, always: What does it mean to be a human in the natural world? How can we be better ecologically? What is it like to try to make every moment of a week an artistic creation?
I remember going to visit Murray and Eleanor for an interview for PAJ: AJournal of Performance and Art. Every day for three days coming and having tea. We walked his land and he told me stories about his home. Every block a mile long on Rural Route #1.
The other day I woke before dawn in a small coastal town in Sicily and watched the emerging light become magnificent, then dazzling. I remember Murray saying dawn is “the most neglected masterpiece in the modern world”—and yet most of us are sleeping through it.
Every time I’m around a campfire,
Every time I hear the sound of lake water
rhythmically slapping the hollow hull of a canoe,
Every time I hear a loon’s haunted voice,
I hear Murray,
In the way he taught me to listen.
 “Eco-Theatre: R. Murray Schafer and Eleanor James in Conversation with Sarah Ann Standing,” PAJ: AJournal of Performance and Art 36, no. 1 (January 2014): 35–44.
 “Patria: Prologue, The Princess of the Stars,” in Patria: The Complete Cycle (Arcana Editions, 2002), p. 114.
Remembering R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project
It could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world.
Aside from his work as a composer and music educator, Murray Schafer is best known around the world for his creation a half century ago of the World Soundscape Project (WSP) at Simon Fraser University (SFU). In fact, in the soundscape community he is often referred to as the “father of acoustic ecology,” with his seminal book The Tuning of the World as its bible. His concern for the sonic environment in which we all live has, if anything, become more urgent over the years, and today new generations of students and others continue to find inspiration for their own work in his, whether in research, sound design or soundscape composition. Schafer put the emphasis not just on being anti-noise, but on listening and what is positive and worth preserving in the soundscape, as experienced, for instance, in a soundwalk. Indeed, given the influence of his approach to our sonic environment, it could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world.
I had the good fortune to be invited by Murray to join the WSP as a research assistant during his SFU period (1965–75) in the newly established Department of Communication Studies and the Sonic Research Studio. I arrived at SFU in the summer of 1973, following my postgraduate work in the Netherlands at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht. Murray assured me, with characteristic understatement, that they were “probably doing the world’s most important work,” and so the allure was irresistible.
Once at SFU, I joined the enthusiastic group of research assistants who were putting the final touches on the first major publication project The Vancouver Soundscape (a booklet and two LPs), soon to be followed up by a cross-Canada recording tour, which lead to ten one-hour radio programs called Soundscapes of Canada, broadcast in stereo on the CBC program “Ideas” in October 1974. In 1975 Schafer embarked on a European combination lecture and research tour with his second wife, Jean, and three research assistants, which involved studying five villages in different countries which could be regarded as acoustic communities, all of which were documented in the booklets European Sound Diary and Five Village Soundscapes, now included in the online WSP Database. Since I was the only WSP member who had any scientific as well as musical training, I was put in charge of the multi-disciplinary terminology project initially called the “Dictionary of Acoustic Ecology,” later re-named the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, a project that has accompanied my entire career as it evolved from print to online versions, and been a foundational resource for both our teaching program at SFU and the larger soundscape community.
I and my new colleagues were also impressed by the intellectual milieu that this new Communication Department offered, with scholars coming from a myriad of social science and humanities backgrounds and establishing a new interdisciplinary model of human and social communication. They in turn recognized that those disciplines had traditionally ignored the acoustic aspects of communication, and hence a fruitful exchange of ideas and practices began to emerge within a critical interdisciplinary framework called soundscape studies and acoustic communication.
I have many fond memories of this period where the entire WSP group and many students and assistants worked together collectively on these projects, including Hildegard Westerkamp, who grew into a leading role in the acoustic ecology movement and an internationally acclaimed composer in her own right. A young and already radical student named John Oswald also worked in the studio for some time and laid the groundwork for his own creative approach to sounding art, as well as numerous others whose names can be found in the credits to each WSP document.
One such memory is of an all-night recording session in June 1974 on the grounds of a rural abbey near Mission, British Columbia, as we took hourly samples of the natural soundscape. The nocturnal chorus of frogs was in full voice with their characteristic echolalia textures lasting several minutes, anchored by individual low-croaking bullfrogs. After listening to several rounds of this impressive bioacoustic soundmaking, Murray remarked, “That is the best piece of contemporary music I’ve ever heard!”
Inevitably we started listening to the soundscape as if it were music.
In true collective fashion, the group shared their contributions to each project and discussed them endlessly in the studio. Murray distributed drafts of what would become The Tuning of the World for discussion, and some of us attempted to modulate some of his more outrageous characterizations, but with little effect as Murray was fearless when encountering bureaucrats, and little inclined to academic niceties. We marveled that he demanded and received full editorial control of the ten-part Soundscapes of Canada program from the CBC, so when WSP member Howard Broomfield wanted to reverse the position of the CBC’s formal intro and extro for the ninth episode in the series, his experimental collage entitled A Radio Program about Radio, it went unchallenged. As a result, the broadcast program ended with the CBC announcer suggesting that what followed—regular programming—should be listened to as part of Broomfield’s composition.
Little did I imagine then that after two years of working and teaching together, I would become Murray’s successor when he abruptly left SFU in 1975, and that my entire academic career would be focused on what I call acoustic communication and soundscape composition. Nor would I have imagined that a few decades later the field of sound studies would emerge and regard SFU’s early work as pioneering and inspirational, and the initial seeds planted by the WSP would grow into a worldwide organization called the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (https://www.wfae.net/). With today’s concerns over environmental sustainability, these groundbreaking efforts and what they have led to seem more urgent and relevant than ever.
When we combine Murray’s prodigious and innovative musical output with what he accomplished in his ten years at SFU with the World Soundscape Project, it is clear that he leaves an important legacy for both the country and the world. It is also clear, however, that it is up to us to ensure that this legacy is preserved and put into practice.
Editor’s note: The important The Vancouver Soundscape LP recording received a digital format update and expansion in 1996 with a double CD issued through Truax’s audio self-publishing venture Cambridge Street Records. Arising out of Soundscape Vancouver 1996, a four-week composition workshop with accompanying symposium and concert, the two CDs—entitled “Vancouver Soundscape 1973” and “Soundscape Vancouver 1996” respectively—can be accessed online via the World Soundscape Project (WSP) Database. For more details on Soundscape Vancouver 1996 see https://www.sfu.ca/~truax/vanpromo.html and https://www.sfu.ca/~truax/vanscape.html. (KLM)
Echolalia: a chorusing effect where a leading voice starts and ends the soundmaking to which all other individuals contribute, thereby producing a complex texture
“The mistake in recording the environment is in trying to pull a huge spread of events, far and near in all directions, into a single focus. The soundscape isn’t stereophonic, it’s spherical. The stereophonic preoccupation in recording results from stereoscopy rather than any real understanding of the listening experience, in which one is always at the centre.”
R. Murray Schafer
What is Winter Diary and Why Revisit It?
The above quotation is an excerpt from an unpublished, 13-page essay [click link to download Word file] which Murray wrote at his farmhouse on 15 February 1997 in the course of creating Winter Diary, a radio program by the same name, for a commission which he received in 1996 from the Akustische Kunst department of the West German Radio or WDR. Produced by Klaus Schöning, Winter Diary is a radio program about the winter soundscapes of rural Manitoba. Murray needed a hand in the production of this piece and hired me as a recordist, editor and mixer, but also as a driver and scout.
The unpublished essay “Winter Diary” is a brilliant piece of writing by Murray detailing not only our adventures in the cold in Manitoba but also his reflections on a number of other issues such as deep listening, art history, philosophy, his dreams, literature, and the use of the microphone. The following excerpt regarding the unique sounds and significance of the screen door serves as a good example:
One sound characteristic of the Canadian countryside is the slap of a screen door. I’ve known it since my childhood. Of course, it is intended to keep the insects out of the house in summer but out of laziness the screen door is often left on during winter too—as mine is. The door has a coil spring attached to it so that it will slap shut quickly. Usually there is another contraption on the side with a hairpin spring to snap it firm. If it isn’t oiled, it squeaks. So, the entire sound event is actually quite complex, consisting first of a swish as the door opens, then a swoosh as it closes followed by a residual snap as the second spring is released to hold it shut. The subject of doors could occupy a doctoral thesis or two. Every continent and climate has its own vocabulary and rhetoric of doors as different as the languages of the people who open and close them.
Murray’s thought-provoking text inspired me to create a sonic illustration and interpretation of the essay I called winter diary revisited as an homage to Murray for both the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and this online tribute project. In this soundscape composition, I “revisit” this 1996 rural winter journey with Murray by illustrating Schafer’s text with new winter soundscapes recorded in Ontario and Quebec in 2022, including recordings from Murray’s farm in Indian River, Ontario; a conversation with Eleanor James on 19 January 2022; as well as recorded artifacts from my archival soundscape recordings.
The 25-minute documentary and 40-minute soundscape composition appears as the final episode of Season 3 of my program conscient podcast/balado conscient on the theme of “radical listening,” which I invite you to listen to:
(A video presentation of this podcast is also available in both languages at the above link.)
Why Murray Was Important to Me
Murray’s music, and in particular his research and writings on acoustic ecology, have had a great influence on me as well as on many composers, educators, researchers and sound artists around the world. Among other things, Murray taught me how to listen deeply, both with my ears and with a microphone. Take for example, his lesson to me about distant listening from a July 1990 conversation we had in a restaurant in Peterborough:
If the microphone replaces your ear, there’s something wrong. And as you see, in a lot of our listening the microphone has replaced the ear. The mere fact that, for instance, we demand presence on all recorded sounds and they’re all close mic’d, is a recognition of the fact that the microphone, which is an instrument for getting closeups, is respected more than our own sort of hearing experience. The fact is that we can no longer listen to the distance. Now, if you’re going to get involved, really, with ecology in the environment, you have to rediscover how to listen to the distance, because an awful lot of the sounds you’re talking about are distant.
I did get deeply involved with acoustic ecology and listening deeply to our environment, and I am grateful for Murray’s advice and support. Another example of his wit and playfulness is this excerpt from his essay concerning me as a recordist:
Claude confesses his excitement for recording. He is almost like a fighter pilot seeking out the enemy, the elusive sound object, slating his various dives at the material we’ve targeted for a take, hoping the desired event will occur on cue, wondering whether to stalk it silently or prompt it—or forget it and seek another campaign. “So many things can go wrong,” he says excitedly. Ruefully I agree.
We had a lot of fun working together. Thank you, Murray.
When I created winter diary revisited, I chose not to address areas in which Murray’s and my perspectives and world outlooks differ—such as around issues of cultural appropriation or having a greater awareness of the colonial attitudes at the foundation of our culture in North America—because it did not feel right to me at a time so close to Murray’s death. In fact, it remains difficult for me to write about now in a way that is fair and balanced because of my great affection and overall admiration for Murray. However, I believe it is vitally important to look at Murray’s (or any artist’s) work critically as well as in celebration. One thoughtful example which I invite readers to review is Episode 30 of Phantom Power™: A Podcast on the Sonic Arts and Humanities, hosted by Mack Haygood, and featuring Jonathan Sterne, Mitchell Akiyama, and Hildegard Westerkamp. In the following excerpt from the podcast’s notes, the authors, I believe, fairly ask and discuss some of these compelling questions as follows:
How to think about the contradictory figure of R. Murray Schafer? A renegade scholar who used sound technology to create an entirely new field of study, even as he devalued the very tools of its trade. A gifted composer who claimed a sincere appreciation for indigenous cultures, yet one who, perhaps, could only love them on his own terms, only as they fit into his sweeping vision for Canadian music. An erudite reader with a deep knowledge of world cultures, who nevertheless dismissed Canada’s most multicultural areas as less than truly Canadian. And a man, who despite a bomb-throwing persona on the page, is described by those who knew him as a kind and generous person.
My experience of Murray was largely that of a kind and generous person whose ego and driven nature sometimes got the better of him (not uncommon among great artists and thinkers); but who cared deeply about the people around him, was a committed environmentalist and, without doubt, a visionary. In evaluating Murray’s seemingly countless contributions to arts and culture, it is perhaps wisest to take a four-fold approach, as would be the case with any influential and important figure (or with any of our lives, for that matter):
Celebrate their contributions;
Critique their work fairly by taking into account the times and context in which they lived;
Learn from any of their (and their generation’s) mistakes or shortcomings;
Carry forward the best of their legacy.
The Murray Schafer I got to know and love would not have had it any other way.
Our Listening Goes On
I conclude this article the same way I conclude the podcast episode, with the last lines from Murray’s 1977 book Music in the Cold:
Saplings are beginning to sprout again in the moist earth. Beneath it animals can be heard digging their burrows. Soon the thrush will return. The old technology of waste is gone. What then remains? The old virtues: harmony; the universal soul; hard work. I will live supersensitized, the antennae of a new race. I will create a new mythology. It will take time. It will take time. There will be time.
Rest in peace, Murray, and thank you. Our listening goes on.
May 2022, Ottawa, Ontario
(I would like to thank Eric Leonardson, President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and Kirk MacKenzie and Robin Elliott, editors of this online project, for this opportunity to remember and honour Murray.)
 The final mix of winter diary revisited was realized and presented while in residency in February 2022 at the New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in South River, Ontario, as part of its 2022 Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art.
A Soniferous Garden: Singing Schafer’s Choral Music
In my forty-eight years as conductor of the Vancouver Chamber Choir, my greatest privilege was to be a colleague, friend, and champion of the great and genius Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Schafer was a ground breaker in many musical forms from intimate string quartets to vast musical dramas, but the Vancouver Chamber Choir and I remember him most for revolutionizing choral music and choral notation during his lifetime.
We were honoured to partner with Murray frequently. Between 1971 and 2019, the Choir sang, toured and recorded 478 performances of twenty-eight choral works from his “soniferous choral garden” as we might call it. The compositions range from large to small and simple to complex, but all are fascinating and ingenious. Listed below is the approximate order that each piece was introduced into our repertoire and also the number of times we performed it.
Miniwanka (41 performances) Gita (1) Gamelan (32) Epitaph for Moonlight (49) A Garden of Bells (86) Felix’s Girls (37) Snowforms (2 versions) (18) Fire (17) Psalm (2) Magic Songs (18) The Star Princess and the Waterlilies (5) Sun (24) Lu-li-lo-la (1) Once on a Windy Night (46) Beautiful Spanish Song (4) A Medieval Bestiary (40) Seventeen Haiku (4) The Enchanted Forest (2) Vox Naturae (2) Alleluia (25) The Fall into Light (1) Hear the Sounds Go Round (2) Three Hymns (from The Fall into Light) (3) Imagining Incense (1) Rain Chant (8) Chant for the Winter Solstice (2) Narcissus and Echo (3) The Love that Moves the Universe (4)
Many of these works were commissioned or premiered by the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and several received a large number of performances, especially when we were able to include them in our repertoire for domestic and international tours when multiple performances of a work could add up quickly. For instance, at home and on tour we sang the evocative A Garden of Bells an astounding 86 times and the audacious Once on a Windy Night 46 times.
We recorded nearly all of this repertoire on four all-Schafer CDs: A Garden of Bells; Once on a Windy Night; Imagining Incense; and The Love that Moves the Universe. This last work, a sublime composition for chorus and orchestra, also became the focus of our gala Schafer/85 concert in honor of Murray’s 85th birthday in July of 2018.
Over the years, Murray spent quite a lot of time with us. He was present for most of our CD recording sessions, and he would sit in on rehearsals for premieres and special events like the twelve all-Schafer concerts we presented at Expo 86 in Vancouver. During rehearsal and recording sessions he would offer suggestions and occasionally fine tune certain details, and while in the process of composing A Garden of Bells, he tapped into our singers’ own creativity by inviting them to invent onomatopoeic words for the sound of bells.
There might not be what we would call a “typical” choral piece by Murray, for each work was unique in character and often involved the invention of all-new notational devices. However, two of the earliest choral works, Epitaph for Moonlight (1968) and Miniwanka (1971), stand out for their amazing breakthroughs in graphic choral notation, and they certainly became “hits” in the world of avant-garde choral composition! Newly-invented graphic notations can be daunting at first to singers and conductors, but we soon learned that we could rely on Murray’s latest conceptions to be not only innovative, but supremely musical.
The first time the Choir and I connected with any of Murray Schafer’s music involved the second of these two now-famous Schafer choral works. It was in 1973 during the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s second season, when CBC Radio asked us to represent Canada in the BBC’s international radio choral competition Let the Peoples Sing. The CBC producer George Laverock suggested that for the contemporary music category we might use a piece by Schafer, one he had just completed called Miniwanka, or The Moments of Water. The new composition was at the publishers but hadn’t been printed yet, so Universal Edition said they would rush us seventeen copies of the printer’s proofs by airmail.
One of the unusual aspects of the highly graphic presentation was that each score was to be printed on one long continuous sheet of paper, in order to represent the way that the cycle of water gradually and seamlessly evolves from rain to stream to lake to river to ocean, and then to evaporate back into the clouds to start the eternal cycle over again. When the proofs arrived we were astonished to find them in one hugeroll, like a giant Gouda cheese or a huge, flattened onion. We peeled each score off the roll and then folded them accordion style to sing from. That was our amazing introduction to the unique imagination of Murray Schafer. (And yes, we and Miniwanka did win the first prize.)
The Vancouver Chamber Choir has created an online video project entitled The Unique Music & Scores of R. Murray Schafer, which calls attention to this intriguing graphic aspect of Schafer’s musical mind. Twelve of his choral compositions are presented with scrolling scores in the way experienced by the conductor and singers, but rarely by audiences and listeners. As the score rolls out before you on the screen, you can see how Schafer has ingeniously tried to make the performer’s music look on the page like the sounds the listener is hearing in the air. This is a process he sometimes referred to as synaesthesia, and which he was uniquely suited to accomplish with his dual musical and visual art talents. (Four of the compositions discussed here—Epitaph for Moonlight, Miniwanka, A Garden of Bells, and Once on a Windy Night—are included in this engaging online collection.)
Now that Murray has passed—may he revel in eternal song—the Choir and I miss him tremendously already. I think time will prove that singing, recording and championing Murray’s ground-breaking choral music was perhaps the highest contribution the Vancouver Chamber Choir made to the choral art— locally, nationally and internationally—during the forty-eight years that I was privileged to lead them. To me personally, it was a wonderful chance to know and collaborate with a truly creative genius, and to help him leave his unique stamp on the musical history of our country and our era.
Editor’s Note: An elegant video narration of an early version of this tribute by Jon Washburn, along with a recording of a live performance of Schafer’s Narcissus and Echo by the VCC from their Schafer/85 concert, is available with the link below. This video was created for the The Tlaxcalteca Institute of Culture which wanted to mark Murray’s passing at their Tenth International Choral Festival in November of 2021 in Tlaxcala, Mexico: https://youtu.be/PKwzKKKb4zc. (KLM)
Editor’s note: Schafer discusses the concept of “The Soniferous Garden,” as Chapter 18 of his seminal 1977 book The Tuning of World, reprinted in 1994 but with the new title The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny books). In the book’s glossary, soniferous garden is defined as “A garden, and by analogy any place, of acoustic delights. This may be a natural soundscape, or one submitted to the principals of acoustic design.” (p. 273–74). It has been my experience that a Vancouver Chamber Choir concert or any of their exquisite all-Schafer recordings are indeed a place “of acoustic delights.” (KLM)
Editors’ note: we invite our readers to view the tributes to Murray Schafer offered by members of The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE). Below is a brief description of the WFAE’s online remembrance of Schafer. Also attached is more information about both the WFAE and the related “World Listening Day,” an event which occurs each year on Murray Schafer’s birthday, July 18th.
World Forum for Acoustic Ecology’s Murray Schafer Tribute
“Schafer leaves us with many invaluable gifts: a legacy of music, ideas, and literature for us to examine and celebrate. He will be remembered as one of Canada’s most influential composers and ‘father of acoustic ecology’.”
The WFAE was founded in August of 1993 at The Tuning of the World: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, a landmark global gathering of many leading figures involved in acoustic ecology and soundscape studies/exploration. The specific timing of this week-long conference provided the opportunity to honor Murray Schafer’s seminal role in the founding of this discipline in conjunction with the celebration of his 60th birthday.
The WFAE’s online Schafer remembrance includes posts from the following (with more tributes to be shared as they become available):
Carol Ann Weaver (Waterloo, Ontario)
Helen Dilkes (Australia)
Helmi Järviluoma (Finland)
Tadahiko Imada (Japan)
The Molinari Quartet (Montreal)
links to tributes by Sabine Breitsameter, Claude Schryer, and the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology
The quest narrative provides a useful framework for considering the life and career of R. Murray Schafer, who died on 14 August 2021 at the age of 88, following a years-long decline brought about by Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949, p. 23) summarizes a typical quest story: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Any quest narrative worth relating is beset with obstacles for the hero to overcome; in Schafer’s case, he was dealt a serious one early on. At the age of eight he developed glaucoma in his right eye, and the eye had to be removed. Schafer begins his autobiography (My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, 2012) with the loss of his eye, the defining event of his childhood, and he describes the pain and suffering that resulted. Known from then on as the boy with one eye, he was the target of mean comments and bullying from uncouth classmates.
One-eyed characters do not get good press in mythical accounts—think of Polyphemus, the man-eating giant; Balor, the mythical Irish king who could kill enemies by merely glancing at them; or HAL, the sinister computer with one camera eye in 2001: A Space Odyssey. More pertinent to Schafer’s story, though, is Wotan the Wanderer from Wagner’s Ring cycle, who sacrificed an eye to drink from the well of knowledge. Schafer has often been compared to Wagner, and Schafer’s Patria cycle of music theatre works can be thought of as the Canadian Ring cycle, so the comparison with Wotan is apt. But unlike Wotan, who exerted great power as the king of the gods, Schafer after losing his eye found himself in a vulnerable position. Shy by nature, he was forced by his school bullying experiences to turn even more inward; his greatest solace during his adolescent years was found in the solitary exercise of the visual arts. His sketches and cartoons showed great promise, and eventually he decided that a life as an artist might be his calling.
In the second chapter of his autobiography, titled “Artist or Musician?”, Schafer relates that he took a portfolio of his youthful drawings to an audition for the Ontario College of Art; when the interviewer noticed Schafer’s glass eye, however, he said “With sight in one eye only I wouldn’t recommend a career in art.” It was then that the object of Schafer’s quest turned decisively from the visual arts to music. His training in the visual arts has certainly left its mark on his work as a composer, however. His manuscript musical scores are themselves works of art, and indeed have been displayed in art galleries.
Schafer’s first sustained exposure to music was as a choir boy at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill, an Anglican church in a well-to-do Toronto neighbourhood. The eight years that he spent in the choir, supplemented by piano and music theory lessons, provided him with an excellent basic grounding in music, and a keen ear for choral sounds—including the British sacred choral music tradition. He included a set of three hymns as part of a larger choral work titled The Fall into Light (2002–03). The first of those three hymns is an evocation, later in life, of those early choral experiences at Grace Church on-the-Hill.
After graduating from high school and the church choir, Schafer enrolled in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. He studied piano with Alberto Guerrero, who was also Glenn Gould’s teacher, and composition with John Weinzweig, a key figure in the introduction of post-war avant-garde styles of musical composition to Canada. Another mentor during his two years at the University of Toronto was Marshall McLuhan, whose classes he audited in the company of a friend. From McLuhan, whose reputation at the time was mainly local rather than global, Schafer learned about James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and heard incipient versions of McLuhan’s ideas about communications theory and pop culture.
Music education in Canada in the early 1950s, especially in the field of composition to which Schafer was gravitating, was underdeveloped in comparison to Europe and the United States, and so students with serious aspirations in music often travelled abroad to complete their studies. In Schafer’s case, the decision was forced upon him when he was expelled from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music for insubordination. He later honed the story of his expulsion into an amusing narrative that reached its ultimate form during a convocation address that he gave when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 2006.
Schafer spent a year as a sailor on an oil tanker to raise money, and then left for Europe in 1956 to continue his quest for musical understanding and enlightenment. His goal was to spend time in Vienna, the centre of the classical music universe. Armed with a letter of introduction from Greta Kraus, a Viennese musician with whom he had studied in Toronto, the young musician arrived in this musical Mecca in April 1956, not long after the occupying Allied troops had departed. His goal was to study the music of Schoenberg and his school; under the influence of Weinzweig, Schafer had come to believe that Canadian music should follow a growing international trend that held the music of Schoenberg and his pupil Webern to be the one true path forward. To his keen disappointment, he quickly realized that this avant-garde idiom was no more popular in Vienna than it had been in Toronto. The ruling spirit in Vienna was not Schoenberg but rather Mozart, for 1956 was the bicentennial of that composer’s birth. Mozart is a composer with whom Schafer has little affinity, and the Mozart celebrations rather soured his time in Vienna. Mozart’s music was everywhere in Vienna that year, as though he were not just another composer, but rather the earthly incarnation of the spirit of music itself. The point was not lost on Schafer; he later commented satirically and with more than a trace of bitterness, “If God had intended Canada to have music, Mozart would have been born in Regina.”
Frustrated in his attempts to acquire suitable composition lessons in Vienna, Schafer stopped composing music for nearly two years. Instead, he studied the German language intensively, including medieval German. This interest resulted in his first major composition, Minnelieder, a set of 13 songs to epigrammatic medieval German love poems. The work has been performed often both in its original version, for mezzo-soprano and wind quintet, and a later arrangement for voice and orchestra; numerous recordings have been made of it as well.
Schafer’s interest in German was in part a discovery of his own roots. His ancestry is German on his father’s side, as one might guess from his surname, which is the German word for ‘shepherd’. Notwithstanding a serious interest in Mittelhochdeutsch, his main preoccupation, both then and subsequently, was with the music and literature of the German Romantic era. He published a fine book on the writings of the German writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. Schafer also set to music texts by several German Romantic era writers, and was strongly influenced by the mainstream of German Romantic music, from Beethoven to Wagner to Richard Strauss. The British sacred choral tradition provided a jumping off point in his quest for a distinctively Canadian music, but it was the music of German Romanticism that would prove to be an ever-present guide on his journey.
Realizing that Vienna provided more frustration than inspiration in his quest, Schafer packed his bags and roamed widely across Europe. He supported himself by writing music journalism and taking on odd jobs; for a while he even taught English at the Berlitz school in Trieste—the same job once held by James Joyce. His travels took him not just to the major centres of Western culture—Paris, London, Athens, and so forth—but also to isolated communities behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. He visited Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. He attended the meeting of the International Folk Music Council in Bucharest, visited with Zoltán Kodály in Budapest, and was a guest of the Bulgarian Composers’ Union in Sofia. Schafer seems to have sensed that if Canada could not live up to the noble art music traditions that Vienna and Mozart represented, perhaps the officially sanctioned ideology of folk-music-inspired composition that he found in Communist Eastern Europe would provide the way forward to a distinctively Canadian musical idiom. He made many recordings of folk music on his travels and thought deeply about the relationship between folk and art music traditions.
But even before attempting to incorporate folk music idioms into his own compositions, Schafer came to the realization that for the purposes of creating a distinctive Canadian musical idiom, this movement was a dead end. Canadian composers of the generation before Schafer, such as Ernest MacMillan and Leo Smith, had made some attempts to fashion a national repertoire based on folk music arrangements in the 1920s and 1930s. But nothing like the renewal of the art music repertoire that came about after the folk music research of Kodály and Bartók in Eastern Europe ever happened in Canada. Instead of a hearty meal, Canadian composers made only a few appetizing hors d’oeuvres out of the folk music of Canada. In an article that he wrote in 1961 titled “The limits of nationalism in Canadian music,” Schafer dismissed the folk music phase of musical nationalism in Canada as follows:
Some people still think the reason Canada has no national school of music which would distinguish us in the world’s ears is because no Canadian composer has been bright enough to utilize Canada’s folk music properly. They might as well give up the idea at once. Canada may not have produced her Beethoven yet, but she will certainly never produce her Smetana. [Schafer, On Canadian Music, p. 9]
He outlined three cogent reasons why folk music could not serve as a basis for a distinctively Canadian music:
The first emigrants to Canada were Philistines; they were men of energy and vision, but culturally bankrupt. The vast majority came not to propagate European culture but to escape from it, and this hostility to the fine arts left us suspicious of the value of whatever culture we do possess and reluctant to do much about making it more distinctively our own. [Secondly], progressive urbanization has rendered large portions of the population less conscious of folk art of all kinds; such material is much less meaningful for Canadian audiences than is the case in Eastern Europe. Why employ Canadian folk music if it signifies nothing to Canadian audiences? And finally, owing to our common background, the vast majority of Canadian folk music has its origins on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and—at least in the English-speaking part of the country—is practically indistinguishable from that of the United States.
In the midst of his folk music explorations and ruminations, Schafer realized that he still needed a mentor to guide him in the intricacies of contemporary composition. After his travels through Eastern Europe, he settled in London for two years and got down to the serious business of perfecting his craft as a composer. Reflecting on this experience later, he stated “Vienna was a washout and in Paris one heard only French music. But in London at the time all kinds of music were available as they were in no other European capital.” (Adams, R. Murray Schafer, p. 23) Schafer’s teacher during those years was Peter Racine Fricker, whose thorough but informal approach to teaching composition suited Schafer well—many of their lessons took place in a London pub. Fricker fell broadly within the post-Schoenberg camp of contemporary music; he taught Schafer a new appreciation for form and a mastery of the principles of organizing large stretches of abstract, non-texted music into convincing, logically unfolding structures. The major piece that Schafer wrote under Fricker’s guidance was a cantata titled Brébeuf, completed in 1961—the year of his article on the limits of nationalism in Canadian music, and also the year that he returned to Canada for good after his five-year-long European sojourn.
Brébeuf is a major step forward for Schafer, both in the ambition and scope of the work and in his quest for a Canadian music. Schafer compiled the English-language text himself, drawing upon the Jesuit Relations and other primary sources. The work relates the story of the Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf and his encounters with the Huron/Wendat people in the period from 1625 until his death in 1649; this narrative is interspersed with a series of hallucinatory outbursts about the saint’s premonitions of his martyrdom, along with commentary by others about it. The twenty-minute-long work is scored for solo baritone and orchestra; the style recalls Berg’s Wozzeck or Schoenberg’s Erwartung. There is nothing particularly Canadian about the musical idiom, which as suggested is in the post-tonal idiom of the Second Viennese School. But the decision to set the work in Canada and deal with one of the most important missionaries active there in the seventeenth century demonstrates that even as Schafer was concluding his European sojourn, his thoughts were turning decisively to Canada and Canadian themes.
One of Schafer’s first aims upon returning to Canada was to revolutionize the country’s music education system. Drastic measures were needed to turn those “culturally bankrupt Philistines” who were “suspicious of the value of culture” into a nation of music lovers who might one day be prepared to offer moral support to the idea of a distinctively Canadian music. He went back to first principles. Music lessons in Canada, he observed, often meant “little more than memorizing Monkeys in the Tree for some year-end social function.” (Adams, p. 22) His position was that the fundamental goal of music education should be to produce good listeners rather than expert performers. Working for short but intensive periods with students in Toronto area classrooms, he evolved a novel and revolutionary system of music education that replaced performance with composition and rote learning with creative experimentation in sound. He issued a series of pamphlets that were later republished as a manifesto titled Creative Music Education (1976). “What we need,” he wrote “is a notational system, the rudiments of which can be taught in 15 minutes, so that the class can immediately embark on the making of live music.” Drawing upon his strengths in the visual arts, he evolved a graphic notation system, or rather many different graphic notation systems, a unique one for each work that he wrote for young performers, all of them simple to understand and interpret. Several works for youth orchestra and/or choir resulted, among which are some of his most popular and often-performed compositions.
The most celebrated of these works, and the one which established his international reputation, is Epitaph for Moonlight. The score was published in 1968 by Universal Edition of Vienna, and also appears in his music education pamphlet When Words Sing, which was republished in Creative Music Education. The impending US moon landing inspired Schafer to pen this elegy for moonlight. The piece grew out of an exercise that he gave to a grade seven class in Vancouver to invent their own words for moonlight. The text for the work is derived from the students’ inventive responses. The work is an ear-training exercise, notated graphically in relative rather than absolute pitch. The choir begins on a randomly chosen high note, and subsequent entries are indicated by interval signs. The opening provides a clear example; each section of the four-part choir is subdivided into four sections, with each sub-section entering a semi-tone lower than the previous one, giving a series of 16 descending semi-tone entries.
Even though he had no academic qualifications, in the expanding and innovative educational climate that prevailed in Canada in the 1960s Schafer became a university faculty member. After spending two years as an artist-in-residence at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL he moved to the opposite coast and joined Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC when it opened in 1965. He was recruited to the university’s Centre for the Study of Communications and the Arts, an interdisciplinary unit that was inspired by the work of Marshall McLuhan and aimed to break down traditional barriers between the arts and sciences. Schafer’s most lasting contribution to the Centre’s mandate was the World Soundscape Project, which he founded, and in particular his book The Tuning of the World (1977) that arose out of the project. Schafer has been credited with coining the word ‘soundscape’ and with creating the discipline of acoustic ecology, which is the study of all aspects of sound in the human environment. In The Tuning of the World, he describes and analyzes historical and contemporary soundscapes, and provides important guidelines for acoustic design (the ecologically prudent management of sound). The World Soundscape Project produced many other interesting projects, including an LP recording and pamphlet titled The Vancouver Soundscape (later reissued and updated on CD) and Five Village Soundscapes, a study of the sonic environment of five European villages. Schafer’s heightened sensitivity to the particular quality of individual soundscapes increasingly informed his work as a composer, notably in the series of twelve linked music theatre works that he titled Patria.
But it was to be in the intimate genre of the string quartet that the revelation of how to create a distinctively Canadian music first came to Schafer. The breakthrough came when he realized that he could combine his scientific work in acoustic ecology with his creative life as a composer in a fruitful and imaginative way. The first successful work to result from this discovery was his String Quartet No. 2, subtitled “Waves”. Schafer began to write the quartet in 1976, and he has explained how his soundscape research was translated into the music of his string quartet:
In the course of the World Soundscape Project, we recorded and analysed ocean waves on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada. The recurrent pattern of waves is always asymmetrical but we have noted that the duration from crest to crest usually falls between 6 and 11 seconds. Few ocean waves are of longer or shorter duration than this. It is this wave motion that gives the quartet its rhythm and structure. The listener will hear the dynamic undulations of waves in this piece, and as it develops several types of wave motion are combined. I have sought to give the quartet a liquid quality in which everything is constantly dissolving and flowing into everything else. That is to say, the material of the work is not fixed, but is perpetually changing, and even though certain motivic figures are used repeatedly, they undergo continual dynamic, rhythmic and tempo variation.
A time log in the score marks off the duration in units that expand in one second increments from six seconds up to eleven seconds and then decrease back to six seconds again. Schafer’s idiom in “Waves” is related to the style and procedures of minimalism; the musical materials are severely limited, and the work creates its effect largely by the hypnotic repetition of simple melodic patterns that weave in and out of synchronization. The overall impression of the work reflects the simple beauty of ocean waves—ever unchanging but ceaselessly varied. The string quartet was to prove a fruitful medium for Schafer; he left a superb corpus of 13 works in that genre, including a final short movement poignantly titled Alzheimer’s Masterpiece (2015).
His increasing sensitivity to natural soundscapes led Schafer to quit his position at Simon Fraser University in 1975 and move to a farm in southern Ontario. The final transformative discovery in his quest for a Canadian music came about as the result of an unusual commission he received in 1978, to write a work for 12 trombones. Realizing that the robust sound of a trombone choir was well suited to outdoor performance, he decided to make the Canadian landscape an integral part of his composition, and he titled the resulting piece Music for Wilderness Lake. It is the first of what he referred to as his environmental compositions, in which the Canadian soundscape and landscape are integral to the work concept. In Music for Wilderness Lake, the 12 trombones are dispersed along the shoreline of a small lake and take their cues from colored flags that the conductor displays from a raft or boat in the middle of the lake. The work is in two parts, Dusk—to be performed at sunset, and Dawn—to be played at sunrise the next morning. Although intended for performance in a Canadian wilderness setting, the work is popular with trombonists and has been done in urban locations such as the Amstel River in Amsterdam and Central Park in New York City. On Schafer’s 80th birthday on 18 July 2013, the work was performed on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario.
Schafer’s quest for a Canadian music achieved its ultimate realization with And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the epilogue to the Patria cycle. Planning for the Wolf Project, as it is known for short, began in 1983. It is a week-long ritual enacted in August each year in the wilderness by up to 64 people who are simultaneously the creators/performers/audience. Schafer was the guiding spirit of the Wolf Project, but the music, text, and rituals of the work were collectively created over the years by the participants themselves. Several aspects of the Wolf Project set it apart as a unique theatrical work. It is entirely self-funded by the participants; no government assistance or arts council funding was sought, nor were any tickets sold. The only way to experience the Wolf Project was to be invited to become a participant in it. Technology was not permitted in the project; it was never filmed, and cameras were not allowed on site during the week-long retreat. The only concession made to the outside world is that musical excerpts from the work were published and recorded (in the exact wilderness location where the work was mounted each year) and may be performed outside of the context of the work itself. Schafer offers the following description of how the week unfolds:
We’re divided into clans. There are eight adult members in each clan, and we are at four different campsites. The campsites are three or four kilometers from one another—quite a distance in fact. It’s a total wilderness environment, and we created our own campsites, our own trails and everything else. The work lasts for eight days, and it is a ritual throughout the eight days, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t time for recreation. There is, but from the moment you arrive on the first day, you’ve started to participate in this work which is theatre, music, and ritual, and it goes on until the last day, when all the clans, all the people come together, for what we call the Great Wheel Day, which is the final celebration and drama which concludes the work. It’s the same every year, although we add more from time to time, and it gets more refined and more beautiful each year, actually.
The Wolf Project was founded upon the idea that music can create a powerful sense of community. Many of the participants were involved with the work for over 20 years; they took a week out of their lives each August to travel to a remote part of Ontario, where they were cut off from all contact with the outside world, in order to reenact the rituals and perform the music of this epilogue to the massive Patria cycle. Their dedication to Schafer’s ideals indicates that they subscribe to his belief that it is more important to create works of art that are deeply meaningful to a small number of people, rather than score widespread success by catering to popular taste.
Schafer was a many-sided creative artist—author and scholar, composer, educator, visual artist, and environmentalist. It is difficult to summarize a career that was so abundantly fruitful or a musical idiom that has changed so frequently over the years. His lifelong quest has taken him to many corners of the earth, but in the end, he found a Canadian musical idiom not during his sojourn in Europe or through sonic explorations in South America or the Middle East, but rather in the natural surroundings of his modest farm in southern Ontario. Like Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring cycle, he learned the truth from a bird’s song. For Schafer, the truth that the bird sang to him was to pay close attention to the sounds of the Canadian environment. It was a lesson that he took to heart; he was more attuned to the Canadian soundscape than anyone has ever been. In true romantic fashion, he followed his own line of reasoning to its logical conclusion and turned his back on many aspects of modern techno-culture. He never owned a computer, nor did he have an email account; he maintained no website and it was even difficult to reach him by phone. The one sure way to get in touch with him was to visit him on his farm; there he might have invited you to share a meal consisting of food that he had grown himself, and he certainly would have invited you to listen to the eternal symphony of Canada’s abundant, ever changing natural soundscape—the source of his own creativity and of his path to a distinctively Canadian music.
To mark the 94th birthday of the composer John Beckwith today, Confluence Concerts has created three 90-minute online recitals featuring the majority of his songs. The recitals were first webcast on YouTube on Sunday, March 7 at 2 pm, 5 pm, and 8 pm EST; they are available for viewing online until March 21st (click here for Concert 1, Concert 2, and Concert 3; the texts are available from the Confluence Concerts website). The event also included videotaped birthday greetings, and interviews by Larry Beckwith (John’s son) with the composer, with the pianist and poet William Aide, and with the singer Mary Morrison. A live chat during the event fostered a sense of community for the hundreds of appreciative audience members listening to the webcast. The congenial hosts for the event were Larry Beckwith and his daughter (and the composer’s granddaughter) Alison Beckwith. Rather than discuss the works in the order they were presented, I will talk about them here in chronological order.
The earliest work performed was Beckwith’s first song cycle, Five Lyrics of the Tang Dynasty, completed in 1947 when the composer was 20 years old. While the composer was self-deprecating about the cycle in his spoken comments, and Mary Morrison noted that she does not usually teach the songs any longer because they are so short and difficult to program, no less an artist than Jon Vickers recorded the cycle for Centrediscs towards the end of his career. On this occasion the cycle was beautifully performed by three young singers from the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Abigail Sinclair (nos. 1, 2), Ana Isabella Castro (nos. 3, 5), and Alexandra Delle Donne (no. 4), accompanied respectively by Ria Kim, Suzy Smith, and Ivan Jovanovic.
In his memoirs, Beckwith describes the Four Songs to Poems by e. e. cummings (1950) as “student works,” but they were written for the eminent soprano Lois Marshall, who premiered the set at her solo debut recital in Eaton Auditorium on October 12, 1950. Appropriately enough the set was performed by Leslie Fagan, who is a faculty member at Wilfrid Laurier University; during her studies at the University of Toronto, Fagan was a pupil of Marshall. She was accompanied by fellow WLU faculty member Anna Ronai. Beckwith would write a second song cycle to the poetry of cummings thirty years later.
Also dating from 1950 is Two Songs to Poems by Colleen Thibaudeau, consisting of “Serenade” and “The formal garden of the heart”. The year after these songs were composed, Thibaudeau married Beckwith’s friend and frequent collaborator, the writer James Reaney. Both songs received exemplary performances, the first from Russell Braun accompanied by his wife Carolyn Maule, and the second by WLU Associate Dean Kimberly Barber, with Anna Ronai.
In the interview with his son, Beckwith remarked that he is not fond of the term “art song,” finding it “a bit pretentious”. Indeed, few of the works in his catalogue comfortably fit the designation “art song with piano”. There are arrangements of traditional songs, monodramas, songs with other instrumental accompaniment, and so on … but few “art songs” in the traditional meaning of that term. (Mind you, this did not stop the Canadian Art Song Project from co-producing the event.) Beckwith also had interesting observations to make on the subject of setting Canadian English to music, remarks that are pertinent not just to his arrangements of traditional Canadian songs in English, but also to his many settings of lyrics by Canadian poets.
“Never work with children or animals,” W.C. Fields once famously observed, because they will steal the scene. And indeed the children of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC) did just that in their performance of Ten English Rhymes (1963). As Larry Beckwith explained, the set was inspired by the beloved collection of nursery rhymes Lavender’s Blue (Oxford University Press 1954), a family favorite. The composer selected ten poems not linked with any traditional tune, and supplied lovely settings for treble voice with piano accompaniment. The seven solos and three duets in the collection were exquisitely sung by thirteen CCOC choristers ranging in age from 8 to 15, accompanied by the CCOC accompanist Christina Faye. Teri Dunn, Larry Beckwith’s wife and the Music Director of the CCOC, was justly proud of the terrific singing of her young charges on this occasion.
Beginning in the 1960s, Beckwith turned to making vocal arrangements of traditional Canadian music from diverse cultural groups at the urging of the CBC radio producer John Roberts. The first such set was Four Love Songs for Baritone and Piano (1969), written for Donald Bell. The set includes two songs in English, one in Gaelic and one in Tsimshian. Only the two English songs from the set were given, sung by the young baritone Giovanni Rabito, a Grade 12 student at Unionville High School, where Larry Beckwith is on the music staff. Not only does Rabito have an extraordinarily beautiful voice, he also delivered the stagy humour of “St. John’s Girl” with a deft comedic talent. This is a young singer to keep an eye on.
Five Songs from Canadian Traditional Collections (1971) includes texts in French, English, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian to tunes collected by Kenneth Peacock. The set was written for and recorded by Maureen Forrester, accompanied by John Newmark. I acquired the LP not long after it was issued; it was my introduction to the music of Beckwith and remains one of my favorite performances of any of his works. The five song settings are beautifully arranged for the voice with sparkling, imaginative piano accompaniments. Maria Soulis sang the first two songs in the set with superb flair, accompanied by Suzanne Yeo. The last three songs, including the challenging and hilarious cumulative song “L’habitant de Saint-Roch,” were ably taken by Kari Rutherford, a master’s student and pupil of Krisztina Szabó at the University of British Columbia, accompanied by Derek Stanyer.
In his interview, Aide remarked that Six Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings (1982) is “one of the best cycles produced by a Canadian composer”. Upon being told of this, Beckwith remarked modestly that Aide was exaggerating, but I am sure many would agree with Aide, including the numerous baritones who have this work in their repertoire. It is extraordinary how aptly Beckwith captures not only the deeper meaning of these six poems, but also their idiosyncratic syntax and form. The set has been beautifully recorded by the baritone Doug MacNaughton with Aide for Centrediscs; the cover of that CD, pictured here, captures a telling moment of the rehearsal process. The fine bass-baritone Giles Tomkins sang the second and fifth songs of the set, accompanied by his wife Kathryn Tremills. The other songs were nicely rendered by the upcoming young singers Cameron Martin (nos. 1, 3, 4) accompanied by Suzy Smith, and Clarence Frazer (no. 6) with veteran collaborative pianist Michael McMahon.
The monodrama Avowals (1985), to a text by bpNichol, is about the existential crisis of a pop singer. Aide observed that it is a difficult work for the keyboard player to practise, as it calls not just for piano, but also harpsichord and celeste; often two of the instruments must be played simultaneously. The CD pictured above features a superb recording of the work by the University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield, accompanied by Aide. Butterfield gamely agreed to reprise Avowals for the Confluence Concerts event, partnered by Robert Holliston, Head of Keyboard at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.
Whatever else Stacey (1997) might be, it certainly is not an “art song”. In his memoirs, Beckwith refers to it as a “sung monologue or one-character mini-opera”. It is a much-loved classic of the Canadian music repertoire, and has been recorded by Monica Whicher (twice), Caroline Schiller, and Teri Dunn. The text, consisting of six selections from Margaret Laurence’s novel The Fire-Dwellers, tells of another existential crisis: Stacey MacAindra vents her feelings about life as a 1960s suburban Vancouver housewife in a series of wryly humorous and poignant monologues directed at God. The six sections of the 15-minute monodrama were divided up among three gifted University of Toronto graduate students, the sopranos Elizabeth Legierski (nos. 1, 2), Morgan Reid (3, 4), and Heidi Duncan (5, 6), all from the studio of Darryl Edwards; they were accompanied respectively by Kathryn Tremills, Christopher Mokrzewski, and Andrea Grant.
The set of five arrangements of Canadian traditional songs titled Young Man from Canada (1998) features texts in Gaelic, Hungarian, English and French. This was the opening selection of the first of the three concerts, and was jointly performed by the tenors Colin Ainsworth (nos. 1, 2, 4 accompanied by the versatile University of Manitoba pianist Laura Loewen) and Jacob Abrahamse (nos. 3, 5 accompanied by Kathryn Tremills). Ainsworth and Loewen are old hands at virtual performing, having worked together on a series of online collaborations called “Iso-recitals.” Bookending the event, the set of four arrangements for soprano and piano titled I Love to Dance (1999) ended the third recital. The set features lyrics in English, Russian, German, and French. Patricia Wrigglesworth, a first-year student at Western University, took the first song, accompanied by Marianna Chibotar. Natalya Gennadi sang the heartbreaking second song in Russian, accompanied by Kathryn Tremills; this performance also featured a very beautiful and artistic video. The celebrated Canadian soprano, conductor, and new music specialist Barbara Hannigan sang the third song with impeccable German diction, and also accompanied herself at the piano. The set concluded with the fine young University of Toronto soprano Gabrielle Turgeon singing “La danse” accompanied by her mother, Anne-Louise Turgeon.
The Three Songs to Poems by Miriam Waddington originated in 2000 as a setting of “A Man and His Flute” and was completed with the addition of two further poems, “Old Chair Song” and “The Snow Tramp” in 2003, a year before Waddington’s death. The songs were performed by three young Canadian sopranos all on the cusp of promising careers: Sara Schabas of Toronto, currently based in Geneva (accompanied by Valerie Dueck), Nova Scotia native Allison Angelo (with Andrea Grant, piano), and Alberta-born Caitlin Wood (with Kathryn Tremills).
Two works from 2008 were heard in performances with the singer simultaneously providing the instrumental accompaniment. In the three Beckett Songs for baritone and guitar, the Irish writer’s sparse lyrics are beautifully captured in music by Beckwith. Doug MacNaughton, who commissioned the work, gave an absolutely spellbinding performance of the short cycle. Play and Sing is a suite of eight short pieces, five for cello solo, two for voice and cello, and one for voice alone. The charming set was written for the composer’s granddaughter Juliet Beckwith as a gift for her ninth birthday. The work is a wonderful tribute to the confidence that the composer had in his young granddaughter’s mature musicianship. The three texted pieces feature lyrics by the composer which comment amusingly on the music (“This is double counterpoint, in case you didn’t know”). The superb performance was beautifully filmed in Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, where Juliet is now a chorister, following in the footsteps of her great-grandmother and her grandfather, both of whom sang in the same church choir many decades ago.
Singing Synge (2011) offers monologues from three different plays of the early 20th century by the Irish playwright John Millington Synge in dramatic settings (“character studies” the composer calls them in his memoir) for baritone and piano. This set was also written for MacNaughton, who gave the first performance with William Aide at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto on February 13, 2012. On this occasion the set was performed by the New Zealand baritone Bradley Christensen, a DMA student at the University of Toronto, with Trevor Chartrand at the piano. Christensen is working on a doctoral thesis that will offer a pedagogical guide to the song repertoire of Beckwith (excluding the arrangements); a short video about his research is available on the Confluence Concerts YouTube channel here.
The most recent music heard was the brief cycle Four Short Songs (2014), a setting for medium voice and piano of surreal texts from the 1912 book of poems titled Klänge [“Sounds“] by the artist Wassily Kandinsky, translated from the original German into English by Elizabeth Napier. The set is dedicated to Daniel Weinzweig, who helped to fund this event, as did Vern and Elfrieda Heinrichs and the Koerner Foundation. It was performed by the excellent Hungarian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, who became an assistant professor at the UBC School of Music at the start of this academic year. She was accompanied by Derek Stanyer. [A year after this performance, Szabó made a video recording of this song cycle with the pianist Steven Philcox for the Canadian Art Song Project in honour of Beckwith’s 95th birthday; it can be viewed here.]
This ambitious undertaking was a first-class production on every level. All of the musicians, from the youngest CCOC chorister to the most seasoned professionals, sang and played with insight, understanding, and dedication. The audio and video mixes by Ryan Harper were superb; he took what was no doubt a very disparate set of recordings and created a unified, high quality webcast that was a pleasure to view and hear from start to finish. The production of the text files and the overall coordination of the project was an immense undertaking. Hats off to the remarkable Larry Beckwith for envisioning this event in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and bringing it to such a successful conclusion. And finally, kudos, bravo and much love to John Beckwith, whose creative genius was the cause for this wonderful celebration. Happy 94th birthday, John … you are an inspiration to us all.
The administrator, broadcasting executive, and cultural policy adviser John Peter Lee Roberts was born on October 21st, 1930 in Sydney, Australia. After studying music in Australia and London, he immigrated to Canada in 1955, becoming a music producer at CBC Winnipeg. Two years later he moved to CBC Toronto, rising over the years to a series of successively more senior and influential positions and inaugurating a wide variety of programs and policies that defined serious music at the CBC for over two decades. He invited major composers to CBC Toronto, including Igor Stravinsky, Michael Tippett, and Pierre Boulez. Roberts was also a firm proponent of Canadian music; during the period between 1965 and 1975, he was responsible for overseeing about 150 CBC commissions from Canadian composers. In his autobiography My Life on Earth and Elsewhere (2012), R. Murray Schafer noted “I was grateful to John for his faith in my work. He was certainly the most daring and dedicated music director the CBC ever had. John put much more money into commissioning composers than any director before or since him and he was open to experiments” (97–99).
After leaving the CBC, Roberts enjoyed a second career as a university administrator, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary in 1987 and serving in that capacity until 1995. During the 1995–96 academic year, he was the first Seagram Visiting Fellow in the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University. As an indefatigable organizer and animateur, Roberts was an active member of dozens of music, arts, and cultural policy boards, organizations, and committees. He served as President of the Canadian Music Council, the International Music Council, the Canadian Music Centre, Les Jeunesses musicales du Canada, and the Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans, and as the Founding President of The Glenn Gould Foundation, where he established the Glenn Gould Prize (R. Murray Schafer was the first recipient of the prize; the most recent winner, announced earlier this month, is the Abenaki filmmaker and musician Alanis Obomsawin).
Among the many honours which Roberts has received are honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Victoria (1992) and the University of Manitoba (1997), and investiture as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 (promoted to Officer in 1996). Roberts donated his personal papers to the University of Calgary in 2014, where they form the John P.L. Roberts fonds. In celebration of this donation, a two-day symposium titled ‘John Roberts, the CBC and Music in Canada’ was held at the University of Calgary 1–2 October 2015. The symposium in turn led to the book John P.L. Roberts, the CBC/Radio Canada, and Art Music edited by Friedemann Sallis and Regina Landwehr, which is due to be published soon by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. The book includes chapters by the two editors, as well as by Robert Bailey, Josée Beaudet, Norma Beecroft, Brian Cherney, Ariane Couture, James Deaville with Keely Mimnagh, Robin Elliott, Kimberly Francis, Allan Morris, Paul Sanden, Jeremy Strachan, and Richard Sutherland, and also an interview with Roberts by Brian Garbet. It is a fitting tribute to Roberts on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Professor Emeritus Ezra Schabas of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music died in Toronto on October 12, 2020 at the age of 96. Schabas was born in New York City on April 24, 1924. Specializing in clarinet performance and music education, he completed an Artist’s Diploma (1943) and a BSc degree (1948) from the Juilliard School, and an MA (1949) at Columbia University. He served with the US Armed Forces during World War II and was stationed in Germany and in France, where he studied at the Conservatoire in Nancy and, after the war, at the Fontainebleau School for the Arts. After academic appointments in Massachusetts and Cleveland (1948–52) he became the Director of Concerts and Publicity at the Royal Conservatory of Music (then a constituent part of the University of Toronto) in 1952. He subsequently became a Special Lecturer at the Faculty of Music in 1960, an Associate Professor in 1961 and a Professor in 1968. He served for ten years as the chair of the Faculty of Music’s opera and performance departments (1968–78) and then was principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music (still part of the University of Toronto at the time) from 1978 to 1983. After two more years at the Faculty of Music he retired as Professor Emeritus in 1985.
Concurrent with his activities at the University of Toronto, Schabas enjoyed a busy career as a freelance clarinettist and a consultant and administrator. He played with the CBC Symphony Orchestra and was a founding member of the Toronto Woodwind Quintet (1956–60). Among his clarinet pupils were the jazz musician Brian Barley, Paul Grice and Howard Knopf (both members of the York Winds), Peter Smith (a founding member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra), the music librarian S. Timothy Maloney, and Patricia Wait-Weisenblum (a clarinet instructor at York University). Schabas was the music manager for the Stratford Festival (1958–61) and in 1960 he helped to found the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, for which he served variously as an instructor, auditioner, and administrator during its first five seasons. Two other projects which he founded were the Orchestral Training Program at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Musical Performance and Communication program at the University of Toronto, both funded by the federal government. He served as the first president of the Association of Canadian Orchestras (1972–74) and the Association of Colleges and Conservatories of Music (1980–84). He was an active member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, serving as its President from 1996 to 1998.
Schabas’s most enduring legacy may be his work as a music researcher and writer. His first book was Theodore Thomas: America’s Conductor and Builder of Orchestras, 1835-1905 (University of Illinois Press, 1989), a detailed biography of the indefatigable German-born US orchestra builder. Five years later came Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian (University of Toronto Press, 1994), the definitive study of the leading Canadian musician of the mid-twentieth century; Schabas won the City of Toronto Book Award in 1995 for this biography. For his next project, Schabas collaborated with the musicologist Carl Morey to write Opera Viva (Dundurn Press, 2000), the official history of the Canadian Opera Company, which is both a handsome coffee table book and a scholarly study of the leading opera company in Canada. Next came There’s Music in These Walls: A History of the Royal Conservatory of Music(Dundurn Press, 2005), for which Schabas conducted extensive archival research and interviews. While the book remains the definitive history of the Con, it is not the ‘official’ history of the institution, as Schabas was characteristically unwilling to surrender editorial independence for the project. For his last book, Schabas returned to biography for a study of the Czech-born opera singer and actor Jan Rubes (Dundurn Press, 2007) who was also, like Schabas, an enthusiastic tennis player.
Among his many honours, Schabas was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2001. He is survived by his wife Ann, a former Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Science at the University of Toronto and the daughter of Barker Fairley, whose paintings of local musicians adorn room 130 in the Faculty of Music’s Edward Johnson Building (the Barker Fairley Room). He is also survived by five children, twelve grandchildren (including the soprano Sara Schabas, University of Toronto BMus, 2012; and Marguerite Schabas, Executive Assistant to the General Director of the Canadian Opera Company) and eleven great-grandchildren. His personal and professional papers are held by the University of Toronto Archives.
The eminent Canadian musician Victor Feldbrill died in Toronto on June 17, 2020 at the age of 96. He is remembered by generations of Canadian music lovers for his outstanding services to music in Canada, which stretched over a period of some 75 years. A dedicated orchestra builder, he devoted much of his professional energy to educating young musicians in Canada and Japan, and led professional orchestras around the world as a guest conductor.
Feldbrill was born in Toronto on April 4, 1924 to Nathan Feldbrill and Helen Lederman, Jewish immigrants who had arrived in Toronto in 1920 from their native Poland. The family later grew to include two daughters, Ruth and Eileen.
Feldbrill’s initiation to music making came at the age of nine with the family’s purchase of a violin for him, which led to lessons with Sigmund Steinberg, a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with whom he studied from 1936 to 1943.
When Feldbrill began secondary school studies at Toronto’s Harbord Collegiate in 1937, he had already amassed valuable orchestral experience; he had formed a string ensemble at King Edward primary school and had played with the Toronto Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra. Harbord was renowned for its music program and for the achievements of its students, many of them Jewish like Feldbrill; recent alumni of the school included the composers Louis Applebaum and John Weinzweig. Feldbrill immediately integrated into this milieu, becoming the concertmaster of the school orchestra in Grade 9 at the age of 13. He was also given the chance to conduct the orchestra on occasion. His interest in conducting was furthered by encouragement from Ernest MacMillan and lessons with Ettore Mazzoleni.
While still at Harbord, Feldbrill made his local conducting debut on February 25, 1943 with the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which had been founded in 1934 by his friend and mentor John Weinzweig. A month later he appeared as a conductor with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the waltz Artist’s Life by Johann Strauss II. It was while he was a student at Harbord that Feldbrill met Zelda Mann (1925–1995), whom he would marry on December 30, 1945. The couple had two daughters, Deborah and Aviva, and remained committed partners in life until Zelda’s death in 1995.
After graduating from Harbord, Feldbrill joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a violinist for the Meet the Navy show in 1943. This was a musical revue that played for enlisted servicemen and civilians across Canada and then travelled to the United Kingdom in 1944 and to Europe in June 1945. The quality of the show was outstanding, and it gave command performances for Prime Minister Mackenzie King in Canada and the British royal family in the UK. Feldbrill took advantage of his time in the UK to sit in on rehearsals of several professional orchestras. He also met many leading British musicians and had lessons with Herbert Howells (harmony) and Ernest Read (conducting).
Returning to Canada after Meet the Navy disbanded, Feldbrill began studies on a Department of Veteran Affairs grant in the Artist Diploma program at the Toronto Conservatory (renamed the Royal Conservatory in 1947), studying violin with Kathleen Parlow, an eminent Canadian violin soloist and former pupil of Leopold Auer in St. Petersburg. His fellow students at the time included John Beckwith, Harry Freedman, and Harry Somers. Graduating in 1949, Feldbrill joined the first violin section of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; he also conducted pops and children’s concerts with the orchestra. He took every opportunity to further his conducting studies, travelling to Tanglewood (for lessons with Robert Shaw, 1947); Maine (Pierre Monteux, 1949 and 1950); Hilversum, Netherlands (Willem van Otterloo, 1956); and Salzburg (Meinhard von Zallinger, 1956).
In addition to his work with the TSO, Feldbrill enjoyed conducting opportunities with CBC orchestras, including the flagship CBC Symphony Orchestra in Toronto, on both radio and television. From 1957 until the 1980s he made regular guest appearances in the UK with various BBC orchestras, often introducing Canadian works in his programs there.
In 1956 Feldbrill resigned his position as a violinist with the Toronto Symphony to devote himself to a full-time conducting career. It was a brave move, especially considering that he did not have a permanent position with an orchestra at the time. After a year as an assistant conductor with the Toronto Symphony (1956–57), he took over the reins of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 1958 as the ensemble’s second music director, succeeding Walter Kaufmann, who had led the group for ten years. Under Feldbrill the orchestra expanded in size and became a full-time professional organization; at the end of his tenure it moved into the newly built Centennial Concert Hall, which remains its main concert venue.
Among the many eminent guest soloists that Feldbrill worked with in Winnipeg was Glenn Gould, who played his first Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor there in October 1959. The performance was released on the WSO Live label in 2012 to mark the orchestra’s 65th anniversary (it had earlier been released on the West Hill Radio Archives label in 2011). Feldbrill gave the first performances of many Canadian compositions in Winnipeg, reflecting his life-long dedication to the work of Canadian composers. In 1967 he was awarded the Canadian Music Citation from the Canadian League of Composers in recognition of his efforts in promoting Canadian music. Feldbrill returned to conduct the Winnipeg SO in March 2004 to mark his 80th birthday, and again in 2017, at the age of 93, for the opening concert of the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season. He was also a special guest conductor with the Toronto Symphony in January 2017, in a concert marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.
During the Winnipeg years, Feldbrill maintained a busy schedule of guest appearances across Canada and abroad. He conducted the first performances of the Harry Somers / Mavor Moore opera Louis Riel for the Canadian Opera Company in 1967, as well as revivals in 1968, 1969 (for CBC TV), and 1975 (in Washington, DC). (He also led the premieres of the Somers operas The Fool in 1956 and Serinette in 1990). He conducted orchestras in the Soviet Union in 1963 and in December 1966 and January 1967, introducing Canadian works such as Pierre Mercure’s Kaleidoscope and Weinzweig’s Symphonic Ode to audiences behind the Iron Curtain.
Upon finishing his contract in Winnipeg, Feldbrill returned to his hometown to become the conductor of the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1968. He would remain on staff at the University of Toronto until 1982, returning numerous times thereafter as a guest conductor; his last appearance was in April 2013, just after his 89th birthday, during his term as the Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Music at the university. In addition to leading the UTSO in the great works of the standard orchestral repertoire, Feldbrill introduced much Canadian music to his young charges. To mark the end of his 14-year stint with the university, Feldbrill led the UTSO in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony in 1982. [The last 16 minutes of that performance can be heard online here.] The program on that occasion noted that 166 musicians who had played under Feldbrill in the UTSO went on to professional careers as orchestral players, and it listed 122 different works by 59 composers that he had programmed, including four world premieres and four Canadian premieres.
Feldbrill’s work with young musicians included appearances on many occasions with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada between 1960 and 1975, and serving as the founding music director of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra from 1974 to 1978. He worked with young orchestral musicians at the Banff Centre, the Vancouver Academy of Music, and during summer workshops in the Czech Republic. During the 1980s he devoted much energy to training young orchestral musicians and aspiring conductors in Japan at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he was on faculty from 1981 to 1987 and led the university’s Geidai Philharmonia Orchestra. That appointment led to many further guest conducting appearances in Japan, China, and elsewhere in the Far East.
A recurring role that Feldbrill played throughout his career was rescuer of orchestras in need. An early example was when at short notice he was named the resident conductor of the Toronto Symphony upon the unexpected death of its music director, Karl Ančerl, in 1973. In 1979 he stepped in to lead Ontario’s London Symphony Orchestra, which was experiencing one of its periodic financial and artistic crises at the time. He served for two years as acting music director, reviving the orchestra’s morale and finances. A decade later he stepped in under very similar circumstances to help out the Hamilton Philharmonic, first as interim music adviser and then as music director. For the National Arts Centre Orchestra, he led a 1992 Canadian tour of 32 cities to mark the 125th anniversary of Confederation.
After the death of his wife Zelda in 1995, Feldbrill found consolation in a relationship with Mae Bernstein, a widow and amateur violinist who would be his devoted companion for the last 24 years of his life. They divided their time between residences in Toronto, New York, and Florida. Feldbrill continued to conduct on a reduced and more leisurely scale with amateur groups in Florida and Canada, mixed in with occasional guest appearances with professional orchestras.
Over the years Feldbrill received a long list of honours and awards, including Captain of the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1968), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Hamilton College of Music (1978), the inaugural Roy Thomson Hall Award (1985), investiture as an Officer of the Order of Canada (1986), an honorary LLD from Brock University (1991), appointment to the Order of Ontario (1999), Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), Ambassador of the Canadian Music Centre (2009), Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music (2014), winner of the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Award (2014) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Toronto Musicians Association (2014). A biography by Walter Pitman, Victor Feldbrill: Canadian Conductor Extraordinaire, appeared in 2010 from Dundurn Press.
During his 75-year career, Feldbrill achieved prominence as a violinist, a conductor and orchestra builder, a promoter of Canadian music, and a superlative educator of young musicians. He retained an infectious enthusiasm for and commitment to music until his final days. His many contributions to Canadian music are unparalleled and will always be remembered. He is survived by his companion Mae Bernstein, his sister Eileen Cohen and her husband Mel, his two daughters Debbi Ross and Aviva Koffman and their husbands, and by six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Initiatives in Support of BIPOC Artists and Scholars
In response to demonstrations against ongoing police brutality, racism, and other forms of systemic oppression of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour] communities in North America, the University of Toronto has launched several initiatives:
President Meric Gertler released a statement on June 1, 2020 in support of the University of Toronto Black community and condemning anti-Black racism and discrimination
the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO) has been offering virtual events and activities to educate, organize, and support the university community
Prof. Maydianne Andrade, Vice-Dean Faculty Affairs and Equity at UTSC, released an episode of her weekly podcast The New Normal on June 12 on anti-Black racism, with Mark Campbell, an assistant professor at UTSC and a member of the graduate faculty at the Faculty of Music, and by Julius Haag, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga Department of Sociology
In a recent statement, Don McLean, the current Dean of the Faculty of Music, noted some of the anti-racism initiatives that the Faculty of Music has undertaken, but admitted that “we must do much better going forward”. The Dean’s statement was in response to an impassioned and eloquent Call to Action letter that was signed by 372 alumni of the Faculty of Music. This is an issue that will elicit both bottom up and top down responses. Every one of us in the University of Toronto Faculty of Music community is responsible for reflecting upon how we can do our part to address past injustices and help to make the Faculty of Music an equitable, diverse, and welcoming community now and into the future. As the Director of the Institute for Music in Canada, I will continue to think about ways to contribute to this ongoing process of redress and reconciliation. The following initiatives are a starting point:
The mission statement of the IMC to date has been “Promoting, supporting, and producing scholarship in all areas of Canadian music studies.” The mission statement has now been changed to: “Promoting, supporting, and producing research and creativity in all areas of Canadian music studies by an inclusive and diverse representation of Canadian scholars and musicians, including historically underrepresented voices.”
The IMC will fund two annual $2,500 awards for research or creative projects involving music and the BIPOC community in Canada. The award can either be for a research or creative project that has as its subject any aspect of the contributions of the BIPOC community to music in Canada, OR for a BIPOC researcher or creative artist who is working on any project related to music in Canada. There is no deadline for applying for this award; for further details, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to the monetary award, the IMC will assist in the research and/or creative process and in the communication of results arising from the funded project. Winners of the award will have the opportunity to present a lecture, concert, or other public event at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in connection with their research or creative project.
As the Director of the IMC I undertake to make equity and diversity central to all IMC activities, and will work with others to share ideas about best practices regarding these issues at the Faculty of Music. I will invite BIPOC speakers to share their experiences, expertise, and viewpoints with the Faculty of Music community.
——————- Update on June 22, 2020: The COC announced today the cancellation of its Fall 2020 season due to the pandemic, and the postponement of its performances of Parsifal for two years:
Update on April 27, 2022: The COC announced the programming for its 2022–23 season via email today. Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of Parsifal, which seems to have disappeared from COC publicity and planning as swiftly and unexpectedly as Klingsor and his castle do at the end of Act II.
In the autumn of 2020 the Canadian Opera Company plans to perform Parsifal, which has not been staged in Toronto for 115 years. Inspired by this singular occasion, I decided to research the history of Parsifal performances and reception in Canada. Parsifal has not been seen very often in Canada—once in Toronto and three times in Montreal, for a total of 14 performances—but it has had a big impact on musical life here in other ways, especially early in the 20th century. This research project mushroomed into a document of over 14,000 words and an accompanying compilation of documentary sources that runs to 38 pages. These are available as PDF files by clicking here (the article) and here (the documentary sources). This website post provides a brief summary of this research.
The premiere of Parsifal in Bayreuth on 26 July 1882 was the subject of extensive coverage in Canadian newspapers, attesting to the fame that Wagner had attained in North America during his lifetime. Wagner wanted Parsifal to be given only at the Bayreuth Festival Theatre, and after his death in 1883 his wish was strengthened by the force of law with the adoption of the Berne Convention copyright agreement in 1886. However, only staged performances were covered by copyright protection; excerpts from the work quickly entered the repertoire of orchestras, soloists, and choral groups in Canada, as elsewhere, and all manner of adaptations of both the music and the drama flourished as well.
Parsifal excerpts and adaptations
Toronto first heard the Prelude from Parsifal just four months after the Bayreuth premiere of the work, when it was played by the (Leopold) Damrosch Symphony Society from New York in a concert given in the pavilion of the Horticultural Gardens (now the Allan Gardens) on 1 December 1882. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, excerpts from Parsifal were presented in Canada by visiting US orchestras led by Walter Damrosch (Leopold’s son), Emil Paur, Anton Seidl (who had assisted Wagner in preparing the premiere of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth), and Theodore Thomas, among others. Thomas presented a series of five concerts in Montreal in June 1884 that included many Wagner excerpts; although nothing from Parsifal was programmed, the concerts featured three singers who had premiered leading roles in Parsifal at Bayreuth just two years earlier: Hermann Winkelmann (Parsifal), Amalie Materna (Kundry), and Emil Scaria (Gurnemanz). The Montreal composer Guillaume Couture reviewed the concerts with great enthusiasm and wrote a series of three articles about Wagner to acquaint local audiences with the composer. Twenty years later, Walter Damrosch brought a touring program of extensive selections from Parsifal in concert form to Toronto, given in Massey Hall on 5 April 1904. In addition to conducting the excerpts, Damrosch gave explanatory comments to link the scenes together and illustrated the principal leitmotifs on the piano. The cast included the Quebec baritone Francis Archambault as Amfortas.
While these orchestral visits were mostly confined to Toronto and Montreal, visiting concert bands under leaders such as Giuseppe Creatore, John Duss, Frederick Neil Innes, and John Philip Sousa toured to smaller centres as well, and brought Parsifal excerpts to audiences across Canada, from Ottawa to Vancouver, in the period between the late 19th century and World War I. Arrangements of music from Parsifal were soon being performed by choirs in concerts and in Sunday church services, by organists and pianists in recitals, and by amateurs at home. Canadian and visiting musicians lectured about Wagner and Parsifal, often for women’s musical clubs, illustrating their talks on the piano, or sometimes with the help of the Aeolian Orchestrelle, a self-playing reed organ.
Numerous spoken play versions of Parsifal criss-crossed North America. A certain Bruce Gordon Kingsley even offered a one-man show version of the work, in which he related the story, played excerpts on the piano, and unveiled nearly 100 paintings of the drama. The Victoria Daily Times (7 June 1913, p. 5) improbably claimed in 1913 that Kingsley’s performance “is conceded by both public and critics to equal the grand opera rendition itself”. The 50-person Martin & Emery company toured its four-hour stage play version of Parsifal in 1906 and 1908, with many stops in Canada. Parsifal was also made into a silent film twice, by the US director Edwin S. Porter in 1904, and then by the Italian Mario Caserini in 1913.
The Prelude and Good Friday music from Parsifal in time became standard repertoire items for orchestras across Canada, and other excerpts were also heard on occasion. Frank Welsman’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra gave Act 1, scene 2 of Parsifal in Massey Hall on 19 January 1910 with the National Chorus (trained by Albert Ham). In Winnipeg, local performers mounted excerpts from Parsifal in 1925 (the Grail Scene, conducted by Arthur Egerton), 1931 (Good Friday Music), and 1934 (a choral excerpt). Luigi von Kunits led the Toronto Symphony and two vocal soloists in three excerpts from Lohengrin and six excerpts from Parsifal in a performance in 1930 that was heard from coast to coast in Canada on the CNR radio network. The Vancouver Symphony Society performed the Prelude from Parsifal for the first time on 3 February 1935 under Allard de Ridder, and repeated it later that same year. Extensive excerpts from Parsifal under the Montreal-born conductor Wilfrid Pelletier were heard in the closing event of the Montreal Music Festival on 3 June 1938; the concert included the start and finish of Act 1 and all of Act 3. Concert versions of Act 2 from Parsifal have been given by the Kitchener-Waterloo SO in 1988 with Jon Vickers (in his last public performance ever) as Parsifal, Gail Gilmore as Kundry, and Claude Corbeil as Klingsor; and also by the Montreal SO in 1991 with Siegfried Jerusalem as Parsifal, Jessye Norman as Kundry, and Oskar Hillebrandt as Klingsor.
Parsifal on stage
The prohibition on stage performances of Parsifal applied to those countries that were signatories to the Berne Convention. The USA did not join the Berne Convention until 1988, and so was not bound by the Parsifal ban. Excitement about Parsifal rose to a fever pitch in North America with the publicity surrounding the first Metropolitan Opera production of the opera, which opened on Christmas Eve, 1904 at 3:00 pm. A legal case had been brought by Cosima and Siegfried Wagner to halt the Met production, but it was unsuccessful. Newspapers across Canada reported on the legal proceedings at length, and on the Met production. In the wake of the huge interest in Parsifal that the Met production generated, a US impresario named Henry W. Savage took a touring production of Parsifal on the road to 45 cities during the 1904–05 season, including stops in Toronto and Montreal in April 1905. The 200-member Savage company production was closely modelled on the original Bayreuth staging, except that the work was sung in English. An idea of the look of the production can be gleaned from various widely circulated illustrations of it (see below). The Toronto reviews of the Savage company production singled out the “Canadian” tenor Francis Maclennan, who sang Parsifal, for praise; he was born in Michigan, but had moved to Collingwood with his parents, and reviews in Canadian newspapers of his performances throughout his career consistently claimed him as a Canadian. His wife was the eminent soprano Florence Easton, who was born in England but raised in Toronto, and was later to become a famous Kundry.
Toronto has not seen another staging, or indeed a complete live performance, of Parsifal since the Savage company left town in April 1905. Montreal, however, had the opportunity to see it again in 1954, sung in German this time, performed by a local orchestra and chorus, with the Canadian baritone Napoléon Bisson as Klingsor, and the other major roles taken by soloists brought in with the cooperation of the Metropolitan Opera: Ramon Vinay (Parsifal), Rose Bampton (a last-minute replacement for Doris Doree as Kundry), Martial Singher (Amfortas), and Dezső Ernster (Gurnemanz). The five performances were conducted by Charles Houdret, a Belgian musician who had recently moved to Montreal. The production was modelled on the New Bayreuth aesthetic, with a mostly bare stage and scenic effects created by lighting. The staging enjoyed the twin benefits of being both au courant and inexpensive to mount.
A complete concert performance of Parsifal was given on 6 August 2017, as the closing event of the 40th Lanaudière Festival just north of Montreal, led by the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Seguin. It was a trial run for him, before conducting in 2018 the Metropolitan Opera production by the Canadian creative team of François Girard (director) and Michael Levine (set designer), the same staging which the COC plans to mount in the fall of 2020.
Some Canadian singers and their Parsifal roles
A number of Canadian opera singers have excelled in international performances of some of the leading roles in Parsifal. Notable Canadian Parsifals have included Edward Johnson (the first to sing the role at La Scala), Paul Frey, Ben Heppner, and most famously Jon Vickers, who sang the role at Bayreuth, Chicago, Covent Garden, Geneva, the Met, Paris, and Vienna. Two who have sung Kundry are Florence Easton (at the Met in the 1920s, in both English and German) and Odette de Foras (at Covent Garden in 1931, during her brief career). The baritone Morley Meredith from Winnipeg sang Klingsor at the Met 22 times during his long career there, and the bass Robert Pomakov from Toronto is set to make his debut in that role in the COC production. Three Canadians have sung Amfortas: Brett Polegato made his role debut in the 2017 Lanaudière concert performance; Gerald Finley has sung it at Covent Garden, Vienna, and in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic; and George London, one of the greatest interpreters of the role, sang it at the first Bayreuth production after World War II in 1951, and on many other occasions both there and at the Met.
Canadian scholarship on Parsifal
Canadian scholars have written about Parsifal with eloquence and insight. One of the best short introductions to the work is by Father M. Owen Lee, who often gave intermission talks during Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. One such talk on Parsifal was later published in his book First Intermissions (1995) and then in expanded form in The Olive-Tree Bed and Other Quests (1997). The eminent literary scholar Northrop Frye gave an insightful talk on Parsifal for the Toronto Wagner Society in 1982, published as Chapter 27 in his Complete Works, vol. 17. William Blissett, Linda and Michael Hutcheon, and Jean-Jacques Nattiez have all written imaginative articles or book chapters about Parsifal. The Canadian-American musicologist William Kinderman is the author of the most in-depth study in English, the book Parsifal(Oxford UP, 2013), and with his wife Katherine R. Syer he also co-edited A Companion to Wagner’s Parsifal (Camden House, 2005), a book of nine essays about the work.
The Vancouver conceptual artist and musician Rodney Graham (b. 1949) created a series of art works inspired by Parsifal that are in the Tate collection and are well worth a look online here. And finally, to end on a note of levity to offset the serious nature of Parsifal, here is a poem by Healey Willan, from the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto Monthly Letter (Feb. 1962): p. 4.
Though Liszt and Wagner ne’er excelled In writing oratorios,
They both achieved real eminence, When young, as gay Lotharios.
But later on, to make amends For doings somewhat shabby,
Wagner wrote his Parsifal And Liszt became an Abbé.
European Refugee Musicians in Canada, 1937 to 1950
The 75th anniversary of the end of the European campaign of World War II is a good time to reflect on the contributions to music in Canada of musicians who arrived between 1937 and 1950 as refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. The total number of those who were admitted from Europe during that time was small—not many musicians managed to navigate Canada’s restrictive immigration policies to find safe haven here. Abella and Troper have shown in detail in their book None Is Too Many the obstacles to Jewish immigration that were in place at the time, as well as the antisemitism that was rife in the country, up to and including the highest political and civil service offices. Despite such formidable hurdles, dozens of Jewish musicians (as well as some non-Jewish musicians who left for moral and/or political reasons) did manage to escape Europe and arrive in Canada, and went on to enjoy important professional careers in music over many decades, from the time of their arrival until well into the twenty-first century.
Background and Context
Between 1937 and 1950, ca. 100 refugee musicians from Europe immigrated to Canada. The vast majority came only after 1948, when Prime Minister Mackenzie King in his final year in office slowly began to ease the restrictive immigration laws that had been in place up to that time. The routes that these musicians travelled to arrive in Canada were as varied as their musical interests. A small number arrived directly from Europe; others followed a more indirect path—typically via Britain or the USA, but also from Shanghai (whose sector for stateless refugees provided safe haven for thousands of Jews during the war), Palestine, and other places to which Jews had fled during the Nazi era. Quite a few arrived as interned enemy aliens; they were arrested in Britain, shipped to Canada in 1940 to be placed in prison camps, but then chose to stay on in Canada after their release, as described by the late Eric Koch (1919–2018) in his book Deemed Suspect: A Wartime Blunder. Some of the musicians had received advanced training in elite European music schools; others received much of their training only after arriving in Canada. These refugee musicians are of interest today not only because of the harrowing nature of their personal history and tortuous journeys to Canada, but also because collectively they made such a significant contribution to music in Canada during their careers in a wide variety of fields of activity, ranging from concert management to music scholarship. Collectively, they did quite remarkable work in fostering the spread of European classical music culture in Canada, but they were also involved in the growth of other fields such as Canadian music studies and ethnomusicology.
One prior source attempted to tell the story of these musicians in detail: Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada. Helmer is a musicologist and professional pianist who taught at McGill University from 1972 to 2002. His specialization as a musicologist was medieval music; this book resulted from a late-career project to document the experiences of European émigré musicians in Canada, many of them his teachers, colleagues, and friends. His book examines the contributions to the musical life of Canada by 123 people exiled from Nazi and Communist regimes in central Europe between 1933 and 1948, who arrived in Canada between 1937 and 1965. These men and women made important and lasting contributions to the growth and development of Canada’s musical life through diverse musical activities, including performance, education, composition, administration, scholarship, and patronage.
The life and work of some of these émigrés has been the subject of previous research, commentary and analysis in monographs and other writings, but most of the figures discussed by Helmer are little known and many had not been written about before at all. The United States attracted famous émigré musicians such as Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, and Béla Bartók, whose contributions to the musical life of their adopted country is the subject of an extensive and steadily growing scholarly literature. Canada was much more restrictive than the United States in its immigration policies during most of the period under consideration here (the reasons for this are described in painful detail in None Is Too Many). As a result, far fewer exiled musicians found a home in Canada than in the United States, and none of those who did so are internationally renowned. Nevertheless, these refugee musicians did have a profound and lasting impact on the musical life of their adopted country in many areas.
Helmer did archival research and conducted interviews with many of the people that he discusses in his book. It was timely that he took up the project when he did, as all the musicians whom he interviewed have died in the interim. Helmer deposited recordings and transcripts of the interviews, and other primary and secondary research material for his book, in the Marvin Duchow Music Library at McGill University, where it is accessible to researchers. A description and finding aid are available online here.
The story of each refugee musician is singular and unique to that individual, but at the same time is only comprehensible within the framework of the bigger historical picture that unfolded during this time. Variable factors include the conditions of the subject’s pre-migration life (their age at the time of leaving their homeland, prior education and training, socio-economic status, severity of persecution and trauma), the circumstances of their transit (length/uncertainty of the travel, direct or indirect route, duration of time spent in intervening locales), and features related to the resettlement process (degree of economic success, relations with the host society, adaptation to new cultural surroundings). In considering European refugee musicians in Canada, all of these factors must be taken into consideration, on both individual and collective levels.
Many of the musicians who migrated from Nazi-occupied Europe to Canada between 1933 and 1950 enjoyed significant careers in music and exercised a profound impact on the cultural life of this country. As a brief sample, here are a dozen snapshots of refugee musicians and their contributions to four areas of musical activity in Canada: composition, education, performance, and scholarship.
The composers Istvan Anhalt, Otto Joachim, and Oskar Morawetz received their early musical training in central Europe and arrived in Canada in the 1940s. Morawetz migrated to Toronto in 1940 to join his parents, whereas Anhalt and Joachim came on their own to Montreal in 1949.
Oskar Morawetz was born in Czechoslovakia and studied music in Prague, Vienna, and Paris. With abundant musical talent but no academic credentials, he enrolled in music studies at the University of Toronto and completed a BMus in 1944 and a doctorate in music in 1953. He had a lengthy career as a professor at the University of Toronto and as a frequently commissioned and performed composer. His most popular works, including Memorial to Martin Luther King (1968) for cello and orchestra and From the Diary of Anne Frank (1970) for voice and orchestra, received numerous performances across Canada and internationally. Morawetz explored novel instrumental colours and new harmonic effects in his music, but nevertheless was regarded as a conservative composer by his contemporaries at a time when this was not a prized characteristic in the academic music circles in which he operated. Despite this fact, he enjoyed a lengthy and successful career from the mid-1940s until his creative activity was curtailed by depression and mental health problems in the mid-1990s; he passed away in 2007.
In contrast to Morawetz, Anhalt and Joachim were two of the leading figures in avant-garde composition during the second half of the 20th century in Canada. Born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1919, Istvan Anhalt was conscripted into a Hungarian forced labour battalion, but managed to escape and live in hiding until the end of the war. He emigrated to Canada in 1949, making his home at first in Montreal, where he taught at McGill University until 1971, and then in Kingston, where he was a faculty member at Queen’s University until his retirement in 1984. He made use of modernist compositional techniques and media including dodecaphony, electronic music, and extended vocal techniques. Many of his most significant compositions are for orchestra, but he wrote in all of the major genres, from solo instrumental works to opera. From the mid-1970s onwards, he began to use more traditional compositional techniques, from which he fashioned an original, distinctive, and evocative idiom that was capable of expressing both musical logic and extra-musical ideas. Anhalt’s stature as a composer, together with a steadily growing body of scholarly work on his music, suggest that he will retain his place as an important voice in Canadian music of his era. In addition to his work as a composer, Anhalt had a lengthy and important career as a university professor and administrator, and he was known for his publications as an insightful and imaginative music theorist, especially for his writings on music for the human voice. He died in Kingston in 2012 at the age of 92, after being hospitalized for a year with cancer.
Otto Joachim was a pioneer in electronic music in Canada, as well as a composer in more traditional media. He was also a fine professional violist, and later in life took up painting and sculpture. Born into a Jewish family in Düsseldorf, he studied music there and also in Cologne. In 1934, he fled Nazi Germany and spent the war years in Singapore and Shanghai. With the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Joachim and his brother Walter, a professional cellist, emigrated to Montreal. Walter and Otto enjoyed prominent careers as performers in the Montreal Symphony, McGill Chamber Orchestra, and Montreal String Quartet. As a composer, Otto Joachim was at the cutting edge of modernism in Canada. He was among the first to employ aleatoric and serial methods in his compositions, and in the mid-1950s he set up an electronic music studio in his home, the third such facility in Canada and the first private one. His long and varied career as a composer, performer, and teacher continued until shortly before his death at the age of 99 in 2010.
Two of the most prominent figures in Canadian post-secondary music education in the second half of the twentieth century are Helmut Blume and Arnold Walter. Both men were educated in central Europe, including studies in Berlin during the interwar years. They left Berlin in the 1930s, mainly for political reasons, although Blume did have a Jewish grandmother and so, as he remarked sardonically to Paul Helmer, “according to the racial policies of the time, I was besudelt (polluted)” (Growing with Canada, p. 325 n. 48). Both men made their way to England and arrived in Canada within a few years of each other, Walter in 1937 to take up a teaching job in Toronto, and Blume in 1940 as an interned enemy alien.
The two exerted a decisive influence on music education in Canada in the post-war years, Blume at McGill University and Walter at the University of Toronto. Each man helped to lead university music education in Canada away from an outmoded British system that was geared to training church organist/choirmasters, towards a modern synthesis of European and American systems. With their elite European upbringing and education, Blume and Walter decisively transformed their respective educational institutions, creating new professional standards that exerted an enormous influence on the musical life of Canada, an influence that continues to be felt today.
In the field of vocal training, three refugee women musicians had an extraordinary influence on the musical education of young Canadian singers in the postwar era. Emmy Heim and Ruzena Herlinger both enjoyed leading professional careers as singers in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s. Heim associated with many of the leading composers, poets, and artists of the day (Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hoffmannsthal, and Rilke were among her acquaintances; Kokoschka made a portrait of her in 1916 –see left) and she had many contemporary works in her repertoire. Herlinger commissioned and premiered Der Wein, a concert aria for soprano and orchestra by Alban Berg. Irene Jessner enjoyed a flourishing opera career in central Europe during the 1930s. All three women had fled Europe by 1938, and eventually ended up in Canada. Heim and Jessner became highly sought after vocal teachers in Toronto; Herlinger taught in Montreal. Heim’s pupils included Lois Marshall and Mary Morrison; Herlinger’s pupils included Joseph Rouleau and Huguette Tourangeau; Jessner’s pupils included Teresa Stratas and Mark DuBois. Collectively, these three women helped to establish Canada as a vocal powerhouse in the postwar musical world.
Eminent performers among this group of refugee musicians included the harpsichordist Greta Kraus and the pianist John Newmark. Kraus (whose portrait hangs in my office) studied at the Vienna Academy of Music with Heinrich Schenker (analysis) and Hans Weisse (piano). She arrived in Toronto in 1939 and her performances and broadcasts as a harpsichord soloist and continuo player, as well as a director of early music ensembles, made a decisive contribution to the appreciation of Baroque music in Canada. Newmark studied music in his native Bremen and also in Leipzig, and later settled in Berlin. While living in London in 1939 he was interned as an enemy alien and sent to Canada. After his release, he settled in Montreal and became a much in demand accompanist. He performed thousands of recitals in Canada and during lengthy tours abroad, working with hundreds of Canadian and international artists. He also made many recordings and was frequently heard on radio and television broadcasts.
Canadian music studies and ethnomusicology both benefitted from the contributions of refugee musicians. Helmut Kallmann was born into a Jewish family in Berlin and as a teenager he was sent to England in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport program. Like Newmark and Blume, he was interned as an enemy alien and sent to prison camp in Canada. Upon his release in 1943, he enrolled in music studies at the University of Toronto, graduating with a BMus degree in 1949. During his long career in music librarianship, first with the CBC and later as the founding Head of the Music Division at Library and Archives Canada, he was a tireless champion of Canadian music studies. Ida Halpern completed a PhD in musicology at University of Vienna in 1938 on Franz Schubert, and emigrated to Vancouver in 1939. In addition to teaching at University of British Columbia (including the first courses in ethnomusicology there) and fostering classical music performances, she recorded and documented some 500 songs of First Nations peoples. As Kenneth Chen notes, Halpern’s achievement in assembling one of the most extensive collections of First Nations music of the west coast is remarkable, especially considering “the technical, technological, physical, sociocultural, historical, institutional, legal, attitudinal, and many other challenges she had to overcome in her fieldwork” (1995, p. 47).
Given the widespread contributions to music in Canada that these refugee musicians made, which the above description has only begun to document, research on this topic is sorely needed. The forthcoming European Refugee Musicians in Canada research project at the Institute for Music in Canada will engage with the wider debate on the flight of artists from Nazi-occupied Europe, and position that debate within Canadian intellectual history.