Jon (Spencer) Washburn. Choir conductor, viola da gambist, composer, b Rochelle, Ill, 4 Jul 1942; B SC music education (Illinois) 1965. Jon Washburn studied conducting at the University of Illinois and musicology at Northwestern University and the University of British Columbia. He moved to Canada in 1965 and became a founding member and gambist of Hortulani Musicae in 1969 and the Vancouver Society for Early Music in 1970. He founded the Vancouver Chamber Choir in 1971 and played the violone in L'Age d'or baroque orchestra in 1973.
From 1970 to 1974 Jon Washburn was assistant conductor of the Vancouver Bach Choir and led its Ladies' Bach Choir to first place in the International Koorfest in Scheveningen, Holland, in 1971. He was artist-in-residence at Simon Fraser University in 1974, and was director of choral activities 1974-87 at Vancouver Community College where he also directed the apprentice program in choral conducting. He conducted the Amity Singers of Victoria 1975-80 and became director of the Vancouver Chorale in 1977. He was conductor of the Ontario Youth Choir for its 1976 session and was a guest conductor of the Festival Singers in January 1979 in Toronto. He was also active as co-artistic director of the Masterpiece Chamber Music Series. From 1977 to 1980 Washburn was host of the CBC radio program "Choral Concert," and in connection with that series compiled the 1979 Canadian Choral Records List (CBC Vancouver).
Jon Washburn's most significant achievement has been his directorship of the Vancouver Chamber Choir. As its conductor, he has earned a reputation not only for his polished interpretation of the standard Western repertoire, but for his commitment to the growth and longevity of contemporary Canadian music. With the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Washburn has commissioned or premiered more than 100 new choral works by established and emerging Canadian composers, and in particular has demonstrated an affinity for the music of R. Murray Schafer, Imant Raminsh, and Stephen Chatman. Washburn and the choir have released more than ten recordings of Canadian works; the album An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts, a compilation of music by Healey Willan, won them a Juno nomination in 1995 and the outstanding choral recording award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors in 1996. Other notable recordings have included Schafer's A Garden of Bells (1986), Raminsh's Songs of the Lights (1992), and Chatman's Due West (2000).
An active composer and arranger, Washburn's music has been performed and recorded by his own choirs and throughout North America. In 1987 his Rossetti Songs were performed by the Washington Singers at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and in 1988 his The Star was performed by the Chicago Symphony Chorus. In 1986 his "Golden Vase Carol" was recorded by the Elmer Iseler Singers (CBC SM-5055). A number of his choral compositions have been published by Grouse Publications, Thompson, and Jaymar.
Washburn is a distinguished teacher of choral conducting. His pupils have included Douglas Dunsmore (Memorial University), Diane Loomer (Elektra), and Robert Hunter Bell (St Mary Magdalene Singers). He taught a biennial course (1983-7, 1990) for young conductors at Naramata (BC) Summer School of Musical Arts, and beginning in 1981 established a series of educational programs for young composers and musicians. He founded the National Conductor's Symposium in 1981, followed by the Young Composers' Competition in 1992. Washburn and the Vancouver Chamber Choir have since initiated five other programs for music students from elementary school through university.
Awards and Honours
Washburn was given the Distinguished Service Award by the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors, and in 2000 he won Chorus America's Louis Botto Award. That same year he received the Friends of Canadian Music Award from the Canadian Music Centre and the Canadian League of Composers, and in 2001 was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2002 Jon Washburn was honoured with Canada's Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. Washburn was named an ambassador of the Canadian Music Centre in 2009.