Music in Kitchener-Waterloo

Twin cities in southwestern Ontario. In both, a significant proportion of the population has always been of German and Mennonite stock. Kitchener, the larger of the two cities, was called Ebytown until 1824 and Berlin until 1916.

Kitchener and Waterloo

Kitchener, Ont and Waterloo, Ont. Twin cities in southwestern Ontario. In both, a significant proportion of the population has always been of German and Mennonite stock. Kitchener, the larger of the two cities, was called Ebytown until 1824 and Berlin until 1916. It was settled in 1807 and became a city in 1912; Waterloo was settled in 1806 but became a city only in 1948. The combined populations reached about 235,000 in 1991. Industrial enterprises and insurance companies are major employers, and there are two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University (also in Waterloo), and several community colleges, the largest of which is the multi-campus Conestoga College. Conrad Grebel College is an affiliate of the University of Waterloo, shares its campus, and administers its music program.

Choral singing was cultivated in the early days in both communities. Singing schools were established and choral societies sprang up in their wake. One of the first was the United Male Singing Society of Berlin, Bridgeport, and Waterloo, formed in 1853 under J. Biedermann. An athletic club, the Turnverein of Waterloo, organized twice-weekly singing sessions in 1861. The following year Berlin was host to the first of many subsequent Sängerfeste (singing festivals; see list in entry) which featured competitions as well as performances by massed choirs and small vocal groups, bands, and instrumental soloists. Another memorable celebration was the Friedensfest (peace festival) at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Among the choral groups were three male choirs: the Liedertafel of Waterloo, formed in 1865, the Orpheus Singing Society of Waterloo, formed in 1866, and the Sängerbund of Berlin, organized in 1883. The last two were conducted by Theodor Zoellner, who had arrived from Germany as a child and who became the leading musical figure in the community. Zoellner also conducted the Harmony, an 1894 amalgamation of the Liedertafel and the Orpheus Society, and the Berlin Philharmonic Society, established in 1883 and dedicated to the presentation of oratorios.

Brass bands had gained popularity in Berlin and Waterloo by the middle of the 19th century. One of the first was the Berlin Band under a Mr Kelk. The Berlin Music Band, organized by Heinrich Glebe in 1859, received a grant of $100 from the town council in 1863. Another band was formed by William Kaiser, but the two merged in the mid-1860s to form the Berlin Musical Society under Kaiser. Reed instruments were added ca 1875, and the band was chosen in 1877 as the band of the 29th Waterloo Battalion of Infantry. According to contemporary records the Berlin Musical Society had at its disposal 22 players and a quadrille band of six. Of its various bandmasters in the course of the years, Noah Zeller was the most outstanding. Between two terms as leader of the band, Zeller was the founder and conductor 1881-1900 of the Waterloo Musical Society.

The anti-German sentiment aroused by World War I not only led to the name change from Berlin to Kitchener but also resulted in the eclipse of the German singing societies and the Sängerfeste. A new Orpheus Male Choir emerged ca 1917 and the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir, formed in 1922 by J.L. Yule, eventually grew into a large oratorio choir, directed by Howard Dyck beginning in 1972. The Schneider Men's Chorus, formed in 1938 of employees of the J.M. Schneider Meat Packing Co, merged with the Orpheus Male Choir in 1947 to become the Schneider Orpheus Male Chorus, later the Schneider Male Chorus. Paul Berg, its director 1942-75, was succeeded by Fred E. Lehman. In 1952, 1954, and 1957 it was host to the Big Sing, a series of international male-choral festivals which revived the tradition of the Sängerfest. In 1965 the choir sang in Bermuda, and in 1972 it performed in Vancouver and other cities on a cross-Canada tour.

In 1955 as part of Kitchener's centennial celebrations the city organized its first full-fledged Sängerfest in more than 50 years, and in 1969 and 1970 Alfred Kunz co-ordinated two more. Kunz had organized the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Choir in 1959 and had become assistant conductor in 1962 and principal conductor in 1968 of the Germania Male Choir and also principal conductor in 1968 of the Concordia Male and Mixed Choirs. He became conductor in 1965 of the German-Canadian Choir and has been Master-of-all-choirs for the German-Canadian Choir Association 1968-79 and again from 1981. Kunz also began to conduct the Music Alive choir in 1989. Douglas Haas founded another chamber choir - the Kitchener Bach Choir - in 1968 and conducted it until 1972 when he was succeeded by Howard Dyck, who conducted the choir for tenor seasons until it ceased in 1981. Other choral groups active in the area have included the Menno Singers, founded in 1955 and directed until 1979 by Abner Martin and directed 1979-84 by Jan Overduin, 1984-7 and again from 1988 by William Janzen, and 1987-8 by Leonard Enns; the Inter-Mennonite Children's Choir, founded in 1967 and directed until 1982 by Helen Martens; the Renaissance Singers; the Waterloo Regional Youth Choir; and several barbershop groups. The Menno Singers joined other choristers from southwest Ontario in 1975 to form the Mennonite Mass Choir, which performs annually and has presented many oratorios including The Creation, Messiah, and Elijah.

A major influence in the area of bands and music festivals was Charles F. Thiele, who moved to Waterloo in 1919 and was director 1919-50 of the Waterloo Musical Society's band. He founded the Waterloo Music Co in 1920, served as the first president of the Ontario Band Association, in 1931 helped organize the Canadian Bandmasters' Association (serving also as first president, see CBDA), and in 1932 organized the Waterloo Band Festival, held annually 1932-40 and 1946-58 in Waterloo Park under the auspices of the Waterloo Musical Society. In 1946 Thiele founded the Waterloo Music Camp for Boys, calling it 'Bandberg'. George Ziegler, director 1925-32 of a 94-member Ladies' Band, also contributed to the intensity of band activity in Kitchener. He served 1924-67 as the conductor of the Kitchener Musical Society Band. This band, known in 1980 as the Kitchener Concert Band, was led by a variety of conductors after 1967, including Arthur Freund. The Waterloo Society Band takes its name from the Waterloo Musical Society, which had sponsored its regular concert series. In 1982 it began a series of Old Tyme Concerts, under director John Conrad, which featured such guest conductors as Clifford Hunt and Maj Jim Underwood. The recreation dept of Waterloo assumed funding for and organization of the band in 1991.

After World War I orchestras gradually attained the continuity and prominence that for years had been the province of bands. During the 1920s James Galloway conducted a small orchestra in Kitchener. In 1944 Glenn Kruspe, C.F. Thiele, and the percussionist Archie Bernhardt founded the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, whose first concert was given with the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir in April 1945 at Kitchener's Lyric Theatre (Kitchener).

Raffi Armenian, who became conductor of the Kitchener-Waterloo SO in 1971, formed the full-time, 13-member Stratford Ensemble (Canadian Chamber Ensemble) in 1974 to serve the Stratford Festival as a theatre orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo region as a chamber orchestra, and the Kitchener-Waterloo SO as a regular nucleus. The ensemble also strengthened the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, formed in 1974 by Jan Narveson. (Nathaniel Stroh had formed a similar organization with the same name in 1947.) Armenian also served 1976-9 as conductor of the affiliated Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Youth Orchestra (formed originally under conductor Michael Dergauer in 1967 and called the K-W Junior SO until 1974), led in 1975 by Stuart Knussen. Louis Lavigueur conducted the youth orchestra 1979-80, and Alex Catherwood 1980-3, succeeded by Kitchener-Waterloo SO principal clarinetist Victor Sawa (with Tom Wermuth in his first season) in 1983.

In 1971 the Centre Opera Studio began presenting concert versions and stage productions of operas, conducted either by Armenian or by Jacqueline Richard, with the Kitchener-Waterloo SO and visiting soloists. The works presented in concert versions were The Tales of Hoffmann (1971), La Traviata (1972), Carmen (1973), La Bohème (1974), Don Giovanni (1975), Rigoletto (1976), and Hansel and Gretel (1977). Staged were Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1977), Gianni Schicchi (1977), The Rape of Lucretia (1978), and others. The organization ceased in 1978 but its mandate continued under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Opera Guild.

A branch of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society (Kitchener) was formed in 1959, and Kitchener (later Kitchener-Waterloo) Musical Productions staged from 1963 a major musical each season. Concert life has been enriched by the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Concerts, the University of Waterloo's Performing Arts Series concerts at its Humanities Theatre (taken over by the City of Waterloo in 1989 and called Waterloo Showtime), the Kitchener Public Library concerts and recitals (begun in 1970), the Canadian-German Society recitals, Waterloo's annual Sounds of Summer Festival at Waterloo Park, Kitchener's annual Oktoberfest, and the noon-hour recitals offered by Wilfrid Laurier University's Faculty of Music and the University of Waterloo's Department of Music. A multi-purpose hall, The Centre in the Square, opened in Kitchener in September 1980 and became the permanent home of the Kitchener-Waterloo SO and also presented a large variety of musical and non-musical events, many of which had been held venues such as the University of Waterloo's Arts and Humanities Theatres. Wilfrid Laurier U opened its Aird Centre in 1988, incorporating expanded musical performance and rehearsal space.

Venues for live popular music in the area include the University of Waterloo's Bombshelter pub and Federation Hall; Waterloo's Phil's Grandson's Place and Kitchener's Pop the Gator, Coronet, and Lulu's Roadhouse nightclubs (the last-named claiming to be the largest venue of its kind in Canada); Kitchener Memorial Auditorium; and other venues in neighbouring towns, including Maryhill and Petersburg. Concert Productions International of Toronto promotes a number of concerts in the Kitchener-Waterloo area every year. Radio stations include Kitchener's CKGL-FM (the largest country music station in Canada), Waterloo's CKMS-FM (the University of Waterloo's eclectic student radio station), and CKWR-FM (the oldest community-based station in Canada), among others.

Music education in Kitchener-Waterloo extends back to the time of the early choral societies. Theodor Zoellner served 1897-1922 as singing master in the public school system and at St Jerome's College. George Ziegler founded the Ziegler Associated Studios in 1911. These became the Berlin Cons in 1913 and the Kitchener Conservatory in 1916, and survived until 1974, when Ziegler retired. J.L. Yule, who in 1922 succeeded Zoellner as supervisor of school music, was succeeded in 1928 by Harry Hill. Since the demise of the Kitchener Cons, most private teachers in the area have taught with the teaching materials and according to the syllabuses of the RCMT (which holds local examinations in Kitchener-Waterloo), although some teachers use the WOCM materials. Many students and ensembles in the area participate in the annual Kiwanis Music Festival. Secondary schools with significant music components in the area include Rockway Mennonite Collegiate in Kitchener, Waterloo Collegiate Institute, Elmira District Secondary School, and Waterloo-Oxford Secondary School near Baden. There are academic degree programs in music and many related musical performances at the Faculty of Music of Wilfrid Laurier U and in the Music Dept at Conrad Grebel College of the University of Waterloo.

Kitchener has been the location of several music businesses. In the late 1890s Frederick Schneider, J.M. Staebler, and others financed the Berlin Piano Co, which during its peak years turned out 20 instruments each week and employed 100 workers. Around 1906 the shareholders sold the firm to the Nordheimer Piano Co of Toronto, which, as representative of the US firm Foster-Armstrong, turned out pianos bearing this name at the Berlin plant. Other names used were Marshall & Wendell and Haines Bros. The Berlin Piano Co closed in 1929. Hallman Organs were built in Kitchener 1941-77. The Waterloo Music Co, besides manufacturing music stands, has imported and published music, imported and repaired instruments, and produced recordings.

Musicians born in or near Kitchener-Waterloo have included Joseph W. Baumann, Carlo Boehmer (see Italy: 4/Canadians in Italy), Beverley Diamond, Paul Frey, Douglas Haas, Art Hallman, Herbert Arthur Jeffrey, Daniel Lichti, Mari-Elizabeth Morgen, A.S. Vogt, Robert Witmer, and George Ziegler.

See also Germany; Mennonites


Further Reading

  • Staebler, H.L. 'Random notes on music of nineteenth century Berlin, Ontario,' 37th Annual Report of the Waterloo Historical Society (Waterloo 1949)

    Eby, Ezra, and Snyder, Joseph. A Biographical History of Early Settlers and Their Descendants in Waterloo Township, ed Eldon D. Weber (Kitchener 1971)