Arrangers. As a profession, arranging involves the centuries-old practice of changing the instrumentation or texture of a musical composition, often to adapt it to a performance medium that is different from the original.
Arrangers. As a profession, arranging involves the centuries-old practice of changing the instrumentation or texture of a musical composition, often to adapt it to a performance medium that is different from the original.


Arrangers. As a profession, arranging involves the centuries-old practice of changing the instrumentation or texture of a musical composition, often to adapt it to a performance medium that is different from the original. Arranging first became widespread during the 14th through 16th centuries in Europe, when vocal works were often adapted for a keyboard instrument or lute. Arrangements of instrumental works for other instrumental mediums appeared in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In the 19th century arrangers usually worked with music from earlier periods, as contemporary composers were writing music that was not easily adapted to other mediums; most arrangements of 19th-century works were written by their composer. Also in the 19th century, piano arrangements of orchestral and chamber works, in both domestic and virtuosic performance, were widely popular.

The arranger's profession became a highly skilled one in the 1920s and the decades following, adding decisively to the success or failure of a given song and ensemble. The demands of dance orchestras, big bands, radio and TV created many specialists. However, many arrangers have also been composers, band leaders, choral conductors, and musicians, among other professions, often fulfilling one function in connection with the other. The practice of arranging became widespread also for choral and band music repertoires, light orchestral music, incidental and background broadcast and film music, and pageantry (eg, Canada Day celebrations; opening of the Olympic Games), not necessarily in a pop idiom. In the 20th and 21st centuries, working with contemporary material is complicated by copyrights, as permission must be obtained for the use of works not in the public domain.

This survey presents broad trends and developments in musical arranging in Canada. Lists of individuals and genres are not exhaustive, and many arrangers work within more than one musical genre.

Early Canadian Arrangers

Sacred Music
The rise of printed music in Canada created a market for musical arrangements in various combinations of performance mediums and levels of difficulty. Canada's earliest publications of printed music were for religious use. These publications sometimes contained harmonizations for particular hymns, and occasionally arrangements for instrumental accompaniment. For example, Father Jean-Denis Daulé (1765-1852) anonymously published the collection of hymnsNouveau Recueil de cantiques à l'usage du diocese de Québec (1819). While comprising mostly unaccompanied melodies, it is suspected of including what may be arrangements for keyboard or wind instrument duets (H. Kallmann, A History of Music in Canada, 1534-1914). The index of The Canadian Musical Heritage, vol 5 (Hymn Tunes) includes a list of composers and arrangers.

Folk Music
Other early Canadian arrangers worked in the genre of folk music. Frederick Glackemeyer's circa 1817 manuscript arrangements of "Mon père a fait faire un Étang" and "En roulant ma boule," for voice and piano, are the first 19th-century arrangements of voyageur songs. It is not uncommon for a folk melody to be adapted by various arrangers. For example, among the earliest print arrangements of À la claire fontaine is one by a Mlle M.B.J. (Album littéraire et musical de la Revue canadienne, Montreal 1846). Subsequently this same tune was arranged "comme on la chante en France" ("as sung in France") by Antoine Dessane (1861); for orchestra by Robert Farnon (1958); for soprano, alto, and piano by Violet Archer (1970); and for SATB choir by Anthony Petti (1976). Other folk music arrangers from the mid- to late 19th century include Ernest Gagnon, whose numerous choral arrangements were printed in Les Soirées de Québec (1887), Cantiques populaires du Canada français (1897) and Chants canadiens (no date), as well as Achille Fortier, Susie Frances Harrison, and Jules Hone.

Band Music
Military and civilian bands were integral to Canada's early performances of instrumental music and the dissemination of larger non-choral works such as symphonies, oratorios, and operas. Accordingly, there was desire for such works as well as popular tunes to be adapted for the instrumentation available within individual bands, the earliest of which included the Sharon Band and the Société Ste-Cécile band. The activity of early band music arrangers is difficult to trace until the mid-19th century, when the repertoire began to circulate in print as piano arrangements. Many other genres of music have also been arranged for band, including marches, dance tunes, and medleys of traditional songs. An example of the latter is Joseph Vézina's Mosaïque sur des airs canadiens (1880), in which he arranged a medley of Quebec folk and patriotic tunes. Band music arrangers active during the first half of the 20th century include J.-J. Gagnier, Arthur Wellesley Hughes, Louis-Philippe Laurendeau, Charles O'Neill, and Charles Thiele. Arrangers from the latter half of the 20th century included Kenneth Bray, Kenneth Campbell, William McCauley, Jack Sirulnikoff, and Morris Surdin.

20th Century Onwards

Folk Music
The early 20th century witnessed an initiative to elevate respect for folk music and increase its appeal as compositional material. This trend created a desire for arrangements to suit various performance mediums, such as vocal quartet, choir, band, and orchestra. Canada's 20th-century folk music arrangers include W.H. Anderson, Gabriel Cusson, Achille Fortier, Pierre Gautier, Hector Gratton, Alfred La Liberté, Ernest MacMillan, Oscar O'Brien, Leo Smith, Roberta Stephen, J.-Antonio Thompson, and Healey Willan.

Choral Music
Arrangements of Canadian folk tunes comprise a substantial repertoire of choral music. Such arrangements first appeared in the early decades of the 20th century and were encouraged through festivals during the 1920s-30s. For example, at the 1928 Canadian Folksong and Handicraft Festival in Quebec, choral arrangements by Ernest MacMillan and Alfred Whitehead were among the winners of the E.W. Beatty Competition for compositions based on French-Canadian folksongs. Throughout the 1950s-60s, the repertoire expanded with the renewed national interest in Canadian culture and heritage as well as the growth of music in schools. Choral arrangements were a popular medium, in numerous combinations of voices and skill levels, until the late 1960s-70s when the popularity of folk music arranging began to decline (G. Proctor, Canadian Music of the Twentieth Century). Arrangers who have contributed to this repertoire include Lydia Adams, Leslie Bell, Keith Bissell, Victor Bouchard, George Brandon, Kenneth Bray, François Brassard, Howard Cable, Stuart Calvert, Claude Champagne, Donald Cook, Lori-Anne Dolloff, Robert Fleming, Patricia L. Guy, Derek Healey, Richard Johnson, Clarence Lucas, William McCauley, Oskar Morawetz, Imant Raminsh, Godfrey Ridout, Gino Silvi, Harry Somers, Carl Tapscott, Nancy Telfer, Eric Wild, Healey Willan, and Don Wright.

Orchestral Music
The repertoire of Canadian orchestral music includes orchestral arrangements of songs from other musical genres. For example the Imperial Oil McPeek Pops Library, initiated by Ben McPeek in 1982, is a collection of Canadian pop songs arranged for symphony orchestra. The collection includes works by arrangers such as Lucio Agostini, Michael Conway Baker, Peter Bjerring, Robert Farnon, Marc Fortier, Murray Geddes, Paul Hoffert, Milan Kymlicka, William McCauley, Bob McMullin, John Mills-Cockell, Glen Morley, Eric Robertson, Paul Ruhland, Brian Sexton, Fred Stride, Jerry Toth, and Rick Wilkins. Composers may arrange their own works for larger performance mediums; Claude Champagne, Jean-Josaphat Gagnier, Hagood Hardy, and Georges-Émile Tanguay are among those that have done so. Other Canadian orchestral arrangers include Léon Bernier, Kenneth Bray, Alexander Brott, Howard Cable, Johnny Cowell, François Dompierre, Harry Freedman, André Gagnon, and Scott MacMillan.

Jazz and Popular Music
Arranging assumed a new significance in the early 20th century in the field of popular music, as a songwriter would often write merely a voice and piano score, or simply a melody line with basic harmonies. A publisher would then engage an arranger to create a "stock" orchestration, from which various instrumental parts could be omitted or adjusted. However, in practice, the instrumental ensembles accompanying or playing the tunes required scores tailored to their specific instrumentation and style. Similarly, in jazz, when only a melody and basic chord progressions are provided, an arranger can be responsible for any or all of the harmonization, rhythmic interpretation, and orchestration. An arranger's artistic contribution can vary from entirely practical in purpose to highly creative re-composition.

Toronto-born Gil Evans (1912-88) and Robert Farnon are regarded as among the greatest arrangers in jazz and popular music respectively; Rob McConnell and Percy Faith are also widely respected internationally. Canadian Gordon Delamont wrote Modern Arranging Technique (1965), a guide to arranging and orchestration. Other Canadian arrangers who have contributed to the jazz and popular music repertoires include Tommy Banks, Jules Brazil, Johnny Burt, Neil Chotem, Ron Collier, Denny Christianson, Jean Derome, Phil Dwyer, Hugh Fraser, Jerry Fuller, Lee Gagnon, Guido Basso, Bobby Hales, Buster Harding, Hagood Hardy, Johnny Holmes, Andrew Homzy, Oliver Jones, Moe Koffman, Pierre Leduc, Russ Little, Phil Nimmons, Bert Niosi, Ron Paley, Pat Riccio, Doug Riley, Dave Robbins, Renee Rosnes, Norman Symonds, Vic Vogel, and Kenny Wheeler.


Most arrangers have learned their craft through practical experience in playing and composition, but many were initially exposed to the field through courses introduced in the 1970s and 1980s at several conservatories and universities, for example, the Capilano, Grant MacEwan, Humber, Selkirk, and Vancouver community colleges. In the 21st century most universities and colleges with music programs offer courses in - or that include - arranging or orchestration.

Best Known Arrangers

Over 100 arrangers have entries in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (EMC). The best known include Lucio Agostini, Jack Arthur, Tommy Banks, Kenneth Bray, Johnny Burt, Howard Cable, Neil Chotem, Ron Collier, François Cousineau, Morris Davis, John Dobson, François Dompierre, André Durieux, Maurice Durieux, Gil Evans, Percy Faith, Robert Farnon, André Gagnon, Hagood Hardy, Ricky Hyslop, Jack Kane, Milan Kymlicka, William McCauley, Rob McConnell, Jim McGrath, Allan McIver, Bob McMullin, Ben McPeek, Art Morrow, Phil Nimmons, Doug Parker, Eric Robertson, Ivan Romanoff, Jerry Toth, Denny Vaughan, Vic Vogel, Eric Wild, and Rick Wilkins.

Further Reading

  • Delamont, Gordon. Modern Arranging Technique (New York 1965)

    Delamont, Gordon. "The nature of arranging," Canadian Musician, vol 1, no. 5, Nov-Dec 1979

    Proctor, George. Canadian Music of the Twentieth Century (Toronto 1980)

    Ford, Clifford, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol 2: Sacred Choral Music I (Ottawa 1984)

    Beckwith, John, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol 5: Hymn Tunes (Ottawa 1986)

    Kallmann, Helmut. A History of Music in Canada, 1534-1914 (Toronto 1960, rev edn 1987)

    Poirier, Lucien, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol 7: Songs II to French Texts (Ottawa 1987)

    Collier, Ron. "In session: Maybe I'll take arranging," The Jazz Report, vol 2, no. 3, Dec 1988

    Keillor, Elaine, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol 15: Music for Orchestra II (Ottawa 1993)

    Keillor, Elaine, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol 16: Music for Orchestra III (Ottawa 1995)

    Maloney, Timothy, and Clark, Stanley H., eds. The Canadian Musical Heritage, Vol. 21: Music for Winds I: Bands (Ottawa 1998)

    Boyd, Malcolm. "Arrangement," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London 2001)